Welcome to Part Two of How to Make an Acoustic Guitar – The Mahogany Dreadnought Series. This week, the stacked neck gets some attention, and then we dive right into milling the boards and using the baton press. Enjoy.
How to Make an Acoustic Guitar Series
In case you missed it, in Part One – Wood selection and First Steps, we picking out the best good for your guitar, and then went into milling the braces and making center seam reinforcement strips.
We also covered how to pick out a piece of wood that is the minimum size to make an entire guitar from that one board. This is an interesting concept, and you can create a beautiful guitar with one piece of wood.
Wood selection is important on your guitar, but you can get good pieces from more than tonewood suppliers.
In fact, you can get good pieces of wood nearly anywhere you can buy nicer hardwood.
The internal braces are all milled from billets of Sitka Spruce, which you can get from a supplier. These are easy to cut on the table saw, and just because you don’t hand split your billets with a froe, don’t feel like you are doing it wrong. You’re not.
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Finally, we wrapped with making center seam reinforcements. These little strips keep your major center joints from falling apart on the back plate. You can also use them to make diamond buttons for reinforcing the top plate.
Checking the Neck Glue-Up
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The neck is also a good filler project. You can take some additional steps on the neck while other major glue joints are drying.
This is a better use of down time than just waiting, or stopping the build entirely. As you stop one thing, go back to the neck and take the next step. Before you know it, you will have a finished neck right when you need it.
Things to Check on the Neck Blank:
- After removing the clamps, make sure all the pieces did not shift.
- If any pieces did slide around, can you work around the defect?
- Does the grain alignment look good, and natural?
- Check that the joints are tight, and the glue lines are minimal.
- Make sure the blank did not twist or warp in the process.
- Identify any areas with large glue deposits that need to be removed later.
Once your stacked neck blank checks out, move on to the next steps. However, if you have something to fix, do it now before it becomes a burden later.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Making For Beginners
Doing Important Things Right Away
It’s a good strategy to do things right away in most cases. The neck example from above illustrates this perfectly. Especially as a new builder, you need to remove as many burdens as possible from your process.
When you have a defect that you see in a piece, address it right away. If the defect is easy to remove there is no reason not to. If the defect is something you don’t know how to deal with, then the reason is even bigger that you address it immediately.
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Why do it right now even though you don’t know how to do it?
If you leave it be, and you do nothing, it will come back to haunt you. After working for possibly weeks or more on the rest of the guitar, you will eventually come back to building the neck. That’s when you will remember what you did.
Now, that problem you had a while ago is back, and bigger than ever. Plus, it just stopped all your momentum, and all your progress dead in its tracks. You just hit a wall at a bad time, and all because you took no action when you knew there was a problem.
Instead of leaving things, finish them. If you don’t know the answer, find it. At worst case, even if you made a new stacked neck to try and recover from whatever big mistake you made, you would still be in better position than leaving the problem sit.
Take action on important things that need to be addressed. You will be glad you did, and you won’t destroy your momentum.
Initial Milling of the Plates and Sides
This is easy with a few shop tools, and you can do the entire process in a couple hours.
First, cut the boards into their respective pieces. Cut off a couple 21 inch sections from the end of the board that will make the back and top plates. Each of these boards will give up two thin pieces that will book match to form the bigger plate.
Then, cut out the section for the neck, sides, and head/tail blocks. Put aside the piece for the neck and the tail blocks, and that will leave your side piece.
Now, you need to split each of them down the middle to create two thin boards.
The easiest way to do this is with a re-saw band saw, but in the case that you don’t have one, the table saw will do just as well in a pinch. The only problem, is you will have some wood left over in the middle, but I have an answer for that too.
Cut through the center of both edges of the boards, and make several passes until your saw blade reaches maximum height. Then, flip the board so the same face rides against the fence, and make the same kind of cut.
Now, you have a board that’s almost cut completely through, with the exception of a couple inches in the center where the saw could not reach. Next, grab a hand saw, and saw through the center portion, freeing the boards from each other.
Repeat this process for both pieces and the sides, though the sides should come apart on the table saw or band saw just fine. They are not as tall, so most saws can cut that deeply without needing to saw out the middle.
Thinning the Plates and Sides
Most guitar making books show a person hand planing the plates. This is not how professional guitar makers do it. Some do, but the vast majority of them use power tools to do the job.
The idea behind the direction is that you can gain access to a hand plane faster than a thickness planer, but I think that is wrong. The quality of hand plane (plus all the sharpening accessories) you need to work your plates by hand is not cheap.
Plus, you actually need to learn how to use a hand plane, which is not easy.
In fact, you can save money, time, and heartache by getting a $300 thickness planer new, or buying something even nicer for less used.
Not only that, but the learning curve on a machine planer is almost zero when compared to learning the hand plane.
There are people who dedicate their entire lives to learning the hand plane, and they still struggle at times. Do yourself a favor, just get a power planer. It will make your life easier, and your results will be more uniform.
Tips on Planing Your Plates and Sides:
- DO NOT try and get it all in one pass. The machine will eat your wood, nothing will come out the other side but chunks, and you will feel immediately defeated. (Ask me how I know.)
- Start with the smooth sides of the board face down, and plane in several passes until the other face is completely smooth.
- Work both halves of the same plate at the same time, passing one through and then the other each time before changing the setting on the planer.
- Make annoyingly shallow passes, and you can make your plates really thin, especially when you use my Planer Riser Jig that makes the process a lot easier.
- When those faces are good, flip them face down and remove the rest of the material from the backs of the pieces.
- The place the wood used to touch when it was one piece is the closest to your book match, so once those faces are flat, face them down and take away the waste material from the back side.
- Do this until you are down to final thickness.
- The same process works for both plates, and the sides.
Arranging the Pieces for the Best Match
The pieces will book match really well anyway, just because of the way you milled them. Even so, making it the best match possible is a worthy goal and it only takes minutes.
Before you can align the pieces, joint the centers where the pieces will be glued together so you have a nice, flat union to work with. Do this first, and you can be assured nothing will change later in the process.
Now, line up your plates and look at them. Check the center where they join, and look for areas where the grain lines intersect.
If they do not line up perfectly, slide one board up or down to try and connect them. In most cases, you can connect the majority of the lines using this strategy. You should only have to move the board slightly, no more than 1/4 inch.
When you do this, make a mark on the board for the alignment when you get it perfect, so you can quickly put it back later. This is how you make these two boards look like one board with a mirror image of the grain on the face, and it’s worth the time.
Intro to the Baton Press
All the baton press does is make it easier to clamp together the really thin joint between the two pieces that make the plate.
It’s hard to get a joint that is less than 1/8 inch thick to hold together, especially over 21 inches of length. The baton press helps you by applying pressure from the edges, compressing the joint.
The center is held down by a spreader bar that distributes the pressure and holds down both pieces really well. This gives you a great looking joint, and a strong joint without much effort at all.
Now, all you need to do is make one.
The biggest piece you need is the base, which needs to be a couple inches bigger than your plate on all sides.
If your plate (top or back) is 21 inches by 16 inches, then make your press 25 inches by 20 inches. This is enough room for the wooden blocks as well as the clamps.
These sticks clamp to the edges of the plate, and they set the maximum width of anything that can fit between them.
When you set yours, use the actual plate as a measuring guide to set the blocks. This is the reason why you do’t glue down any of the wooden pieces, you clamp them instead.
You then clamp a board over the center to keep it down, and flatten the pieces. After the glue dries, you will have a great looking joint.
I know it can be tough to imagine on a web page, but if you watch a couple YouTube videos on using a baton press, you will see the exact process. It’s super easy.
See Also: Make A Baton Press for Book Matching
Baton Press Tips:
- Make your press yourself, don’t pay for something this easy.
- Use waxed paper along the glue line so you don’t glue your plates to your jig.
- Use a dowel rod to prop up the center joint of the plates as you place your second wooden stop block. This way, when you press the center down after removing the dowel, you create pressure at the center.
- Clamp the center down with a flat piece of wood to spread out the pressure.
- You need even pressure to force the pieces flat, and to ensure they glue together well without any gaps or being misaligned.
- Allow the piece to dry overnight. This is an important joint, and if you rush it, the joint can weaken from being taken from the press too early.
Pressure at the Center Of the Baton Press
Sometimes, the ends are easy to press down on the center joint, but the middle might still not want to hold down as well as you like.
In that case, just grab another piece of wood and place it perpendicular to the existing bar. Use more clamps to hold it down, and the pressure will concentrate on the middle area, where you need it the most.
This helps you leave the press alone, and it also helps avoid accidentally bumping it or knocking off a clamp.
Find a place that is out of the way, and pick up the entire press. The nice thing is the mobility of the press, and you can place it anywhere you like. Use the comfort of your bench to get everything set up, and then just move it somewhere out of the way.
Repeat this same process for the other plate, and you will have both your top and back plate book matched and ready for the nest steps.
Coming Next Week
In the next installment of How to Make an Acoustic Guitar, I will cover making and leveling a simple rosette. The center of the guitar is a focal point, and you need to make a rosette around the soundhole to show it off.
Now, you don’t have to go nuts at all, but you should at least try and add something that is simple, nice to look at, and easy to make. The three ring rosette is just that, and you can do it with a Dremel tool.
The rosette can be made as fancy or plain as you like, and even the plain rosettes look great when you get them leveled and apply a finish.
Also, you can use the techniques that I will show you in the next post to make any kind of rosette you want. The method for removing the material from the cavity is the same, no matter what you do. This is great, because it gives you a lot of options.
If you want to read more about making guitars right away, my book is called Acoustic Guitar Making: How to Make Tools, Templates, and Jigs. It’s over 500 pages long, and it will help you make better guitars.
This is not an ABC book, but a companion that explains how to a lot of the things that the other books leave out, or don’t explain as well for a beginner. You also get to use common woodworking tools, and make your own tools, which will save you a ton.
If you have any questions on my How to Make an Acoustic Guitar Series Part Two, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Happy building.
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