Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wide Cherry Boards

Black-or wild-cherry trees do not like competition for sunlight from other trees.

Roy Underhill, The Woodwright's Shop, 1981

This morning I took a trip to a local Home Depot to see if I could find some nice Douglas fir to use in the rehabilitation of my old workbench. (More on that in other post!) I found only four boards that were really usable, I wanted more so I thought I would head over to Lowe's to check out their inventory.

On the way to Lowe's, I stopped at a local flea market to see what hard wood they had on hand, all I wanted to find was some nearly quarter sawn cherry for a guitar neck or two.

I walked back to the stacks of walnut, cherry and oak and when I saw what was there I knew I'd never get to Lowe's...

...this is what I found!

I have never run across cherry boards this wide here in Colorado.

The first one was fifteen inches wide, the second one, in the above photo, was sixteen inches...

...the third one was 18 inches wide! Another was at the very back of the stack that was 10 feet long! Now I wish I had taken the time to move the thirty or so boards that were in front of that one.

The gentleman who helped carry the boards to my trailer told me that he was a retired furniture maker and that I was very fortunate to find such wide boards at a great price. Each board was under sixty dollars.

When I spoke of my regret for not getting all the wide boards, he smiled and said,

"Come back in a couple of weeks, there will be more."

Yep, I'll go back!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What I've Learned About Woodworking - Hand Tools and Machines

Modern technology, with its vast capacity to produce cheaply everything needed by a burgeoning world population, has replaced the hand tools and the hand craftsmen which have attended mankind since its earliest days.

Alex W. Bealer, Old Ways of Working Wood, 1980

Perhaps I could cut out the back of the bubinga/ebony guitar faster with a bandsaw, but the coping saw makes me be aware of the wood and when I am done with this task the coping saw will hang on a peg.

A bandsaw makes noise, requires more space and electricity. I get to burn a few calories using a coping saw.

Now, if I were making doors and sashes for a living I would have shop full of power woodworking machines, I see their value in speed and efficiency for that kind of wood working.

I don't make doors and sashes for a living, I make guitars in a small shop.

Hand tools best suit my work...

...because they allow me to be intimate with the wood.

A guitar is a very intimate instrument, especially for the player.

Yes, I know that these days the sound of a guitar must be able to bounce off the back walls of a 3,000 seat concert venue, that is because the majority of people are use to loud noises and have lost the ability to listen well. I wonder, is that inability to listen well due to the noise of modern technology?

For me, woodworking is about taking my time to understand the tools and how they work with the wood...

...which means I learn how to work with the wood.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Another Use for Cam Clamps

There is quite a variety of clamps to meet the needs of the various kinds of work to be clamped.

Harry F. Ulrey, Audel's Carpenters and Builders Library No.1, 1965

There are days when I dislike using my Shop Fox vise to hold thin pieces of wood and today I needed to taper down a piece of ebony that is going to be inserted into a bubinga guitar back.

I used a technique that I figured out a while ago to hold the wood, a cam clamp front and back on the piece.

The clamp in the front gets butted up against the bench stop and the clamp on the back helps steady the piece while I plane away with my no.7 jointer plane.

This is what the back will look like, I still need to joint all edges before I proceed with the glueing process.

Yes, I do use exotic woods, but Auburn Hardwoods, where I got the bubinga and Luthiers Mercantile International, the ebony, both assured me that both woods were from sustainable sources.

Now, turn off the computer, get into your shop and do some work! I'm going for a run!

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Monumental Tree

You have heard people say, "He cannot see the woods for the trees." Meaning, that he cannot grasp the meaning of the big thing because a part of the thing holds all of his attention. This could apply to the average man's understanding of the importance of forests. The average man does not see the forests except as so many trees.

Ned H. Dearborn, Once in a Lifetime: A Guide to the CCC Camp, 1935

I enjoy collecting photos of a photographer who worked out of Susanville, California in the early decades of the last century. I am always looking for postcards of the logging scenes that he captured with his camera, especially those that he took near where I was born and raised in Northern California.

I recently acquired this postcard, it's a great shot of two loggers preparing to fall a huge ponderosa pine.

The logger on the left has a Puget Sound style double bit axe, the logger on the right has a "misery whip", a two man crosscut saw over his shoulder and is holding an axe in his right hand.

If you look at the base of the tree you can see a sledge hammer with wooden falling wedges. The one thing I don't see is a bottle of "coal oil", kerosene, a lubricant for the saw.

The photo was copyrighted by the Red River Lumber Company, which owned a huge sawmill and plywood plant in Westwood, California. Click here to see more photos of the Westwood mill.

This is a photo from my family's collection, it was probably taken by Bob Stinson, a photographer from Red Bluff, California, who traveled to the local logging camps and took photos of the loggers and logging operations just after the turn of the last century.

These three gents are making a face cut on what appears to be a sugar pine that has a rotted out heart, if you look real hard you can see a void in the tree just behind the crosscut saw.

The man on the far right is in a photo that Stinson took of the logging crew at Ed Byrant's camp, which was near Lyonsville, California, I assume this tree isn't too far from where that camp was.

This sugar pine wouldn't have been considered a big tree in that area...

...since loggers were bringing out monsters such as the sugar pine in 1890...

...or this one in 1905, again, near Lyonsville, California.

Why do I bring up these big trees?

There aren't many left.

This tree was "discovered" near Hayfork, California in 2008, it is 240 feet tall with a diameter of 8 feet! Click here to read the article about how this tree was found.

The world's tallest ponderosa pine, not the tree on the right of the photo, but the one to the left that the rope is attached to, at 268 feet tall, was located in 2011. Click here to read that article.

Thank goodness there are national and state parks that have preserved other large conifers!

I did some more research online and found several on-going studies that identify and age old trees.

It makes me think more about this thing called sustainability.

I wonder how many other woodworkers are concerned about having great lumber to work with in the future.

I know I will be looking for wood from sustainable sources to build my guitars, I need to practice what I preach.

What about you?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

When the Wood Tells You What to Make

I always think of wood as being alive.

James Krenov, A Cabinetmaker's Notebook, 1976

I ordered one piece of West African Ebony from Luthiers Mercantile International to cover the headstock on a Spanish cedar guitar neck, it was going to be a great contrast for the bubinga back and sides.

The headstock veneer fell to the floor and cracked, not a large crack and I was able to glue and clamp it together. When I was getting ready to dry fit the piece onto the headstock the ebony split full length when I was drilling a hole for one of the registering pins.

I guess this piece of ebony didn't want to cover the entire headstock.

I took one step back from the bench and recalled some advice that my father said to me when I young...

Sometimes the wood tells you what you should do.

The back of this guitar is going to have a tapered fillet of ebony down the middle, it seemed best to me to match that with a mirror image in the headstock veneer. This photo shows a piece of West African ebony between two jointed pieces of bubinga. Notice that I use a cabinet maker's triangle on the pieces.

I really enjoy using this old technique of string and wedges to glue wood together!

All parts lined up with no gaps.

The headstock after I drilled holes for the tuning machines and cut the slots for the tuning machine rollers.

I have yet to decide on what crest design I should use, this photo shows one design I like which is a blending of designs used by Domingo Esteso and Santos Hernandez.

I'm not sure the double ogee is the best way to show off the end of the ebony strip.

Here are some sketches that I made yesterday, the one with the asterisk by it is the crest design that my wife liked the best and I have to agree with her.

Now to practice making this new crest a couple of times on some pieces of pine to make sure I get it right before I work on the real thing.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Classical Guitar Necks: Black Cherry and Spanish Cedar

I believe in tradition as long as it doesn't interfere with some of my ideas. First, I differ in the kind of wood that I use to make my guitar necks.

Arthur E. Overholtzer, Classic Guitar Making, 1974

I was busy last week.

First, I joined a western red cedar top, inlayed the rosette and then thinned the top down to about 2mm thick.

I want to experiment with the so-called fan/lattice bracing that is very popular right now amongst classic guitar makers.

The idea is to have a very, very thin top that is reinforced with an ultra strong, ultra light style of bracing, the concept is similar how the drum head on a banjo works.

These days young classical guitarists who compete in guitar competitions are playing the loudest guitars they can get their hands on. Some folks call these guitars "uber guitars", others call them "Australian guitars". These guitars are very loud and some don't sound like a guitar at all, they are very controversial right now in the classical guitar world.

Click here to how one luthier makes this style of guitar.

More on my cedar lattice braced guitar in upcoming posts.

Left, cherry neck. Right, Spanish cedar neck

Second, I started making two necks: one is of Spanish cedar which is for the lattice braced guitar; the other is of cherry, which is for a Conservatory model guitar that will be made of North American woods.

The cherry neck was a little too narrow, to make sure I have enough wood to make the head stock I added an "ear" to each side. Most of the excess wood will be cut off when I make the head stock and won't be noticeable when completed.

The heel block has been slotted to receive the guitar sides which will be held in place by wooden wedges, take a look at the photo on the top of this post to see the angles that I used.

I use a traditional "Spanish heel" on my guitars.

The saw in this photo is a Disston, it started out as a crosscut saw and now it is a rip saw!

An Atkins panel crosscut saw is just the thing to start the cut for the heel profile...

...which is completed with a shop made bow saw.

The necks awaiting the head stock veneers. The cedar neck will receive a Macassar ebony headplate and the cherry neck gets a walnut headplate made from cutoffs of the walnut back that goes with this neck.

Oh, so much work to do this week!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A New Tool Rack

A tool rack gives every tool a place to call home without enclosing it inside a box.

Sandor Nagyszalanczy, Setting Up Shop, 2000

A couple of years ago I needed a tool rack in my shop, it was hard to make the time to build what I really wanted, so I cast around on the internet and found this design (click here) which I adapted. It went together quickly and I used it for several years even though I didn't like the design, the tools kept tipping over in the open rails.

You can see the aforementioned tool rack just above the right hand side of the work bench. As I said, it worked.

On a recent Saturday I made the time to disassemble the old rack and built what I really wanted from the remains!

I laid out all the tools I use on a daily basis onto the old rail board, figured two inch spacing between each tool and then went at the board with a brace and bit.

Every tool has it place and I don't have to worry about one falling through an open rail.

It's nice to have a little bit of order in my new studio, the floor is strewn with tools waiting for a cabinet with drawers.

One of these days I will build such a creature.