Memorial Day Guitar Building: Guitar Project Update

Over Memorial Day weekend, I brought half my woodshop on the road to Penn Hills PA and my grandmother’s basement. With my sister working two jobs and my father having work to do around grandma’s house, it was a great chance to utilize my time and I made significant progress.

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The main work bench in the shop was quite cluttered and there was a significant amount of rust, dust, and general mess in the work area. It took me half a day but I think it was totally worth it to clean it all up. In addition to being generally satisfying, it also allowed me to get full use of the space.

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The next order of business was jointing up the edges. Having only a 1-4″ shank trimmer router and a power planer but no jointer, this required clamping a fence and taking multiple passes to join up the 1.85″ thick body balks. I had to also plane down the walnut center board on one body piece because it had cupped and bowed during transport.

Once I got a few extra wide quick clamps, I was able to get good clamp pressure and the wood glue joints dried overnight.

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Day 2 was spent using a surform rasp plane to knock down any high spots on the body. The next step was tracing the templates and rough cutting the timbers. This was grueling work for my dad’s old craftsman jig saw that’s older than me and in the end, a part of the tool holding the metal foot of the jig saw broke and brought things to a grinding halt.

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After the trip to Lowes for a replacement and a nice bench plane to augment the work from the Surform, it was much quicker and easier going. At this step my time was up and it was time to return home and pick this up another weekend.

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It was a somewhat mystical experience to work in my late grandfather’s shop and I felt as though I was getting to know him how guys bond over tools and the way they keep their shop. Despite years of extremely limited use for minor household and yard maintenance tasks, I could see the full potential of this place and try to imagine it as it once was in its prime. It might just have been the first wood working project worked on there in ten years or so since my father made wooden boats on strings with us as young kids. The endless unexplored corners still hold secrets worth exploring and there’s so much there to sort through. I imagine over time I will try to go through more of it for the sake of both cleaning up and making full use of it on visits.

 

This last weekend was busy with other things but I plan to do more work on this project during the week nights, yet I don’t want to rush through it. I have come into possession of a full size plunge router that Nancy gave me from her basement which is exciting because I now can get and use larger stronger bits and take the body to size in a single pass. This will also be a beast for hardwoods and for plunge pocketing. And I will be able to drastically diversify my collection of router bits unhampered by restrictions of shank diameter. Once I can get some extra cash, I may even find a suitable table that fits this router to make the full size router table and open even more possibilities. I could even use this as a poor man’s jointer and a biscuit joiner and even toss sanding drums in the chuck to make a poor man’s spindle sander.

Also I plan to set up the giant architectural plotter that a member brought on loan to the MakerBar and print out more precise templates than I can draw by hand and use the drawings to create cardboard or other types of master templates for shapes. Once I perfect these I can get more permanent master templates laser cut from acrylic or MDF or melamine (or even thin metal). Though they may lack the flair of hand cut templates, they increase the precision and make them also have a virtual master CAD backup even if the physical master gets lost or damaged.

This weekend will also hold more research on components and neck hardware (tuning pegs, bridge hardware, pickups, fret wire, truss rod, nuts, pots, jacks, caps, and wire). It’s something I can’t rush but I need to start so I can get dimensions to include in the templates but also to measure before performing final cuts.

Until next time, don’t touch that dial

-M

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“Tea, Earl Gray, Hot”: Perspectives on 3D Printing

After a long day negotiating some treaty on a distant world or a near brush with death in the form of a Romulan warbird on the neutral zone border, our favorite captain will order up a tea from the nearby replicator and it zips into existence before our eyes without a second to pause for astonishment. Many people will wonder when our 3D printers will be fixing our tea (and don’t forget the cup) and fabricating our cars and flying iron man suits. These are great dreams as “imagineered” by our greatest sci-fi screenwriters and novelists. However, the realities of modern 3D printing are amazing us in many different ways that, while not as dramatic on screen, have incredible merit and exciting socio-economic and scientific potential.

As you have probably heard,
3D printers are here, and they are awesome. But what a lot of people don’t realize is exactly what goes into the whole thing. As many advances and wonderful things you can do with these excellent modern tools, there are still a lot of things they can’t quite do yet.

I don’t want to sound blasphemous to all the Makerbot-ers out there and those who even went so far as to build a rep-rap or a cupcake cnc or any other early FDM clone, or even more advanced powder printers or ceramics printers. But i’m sure any of them who has built a lot of printers will be quick to temper their enthusiasm with the sober reality that we are far from the star trek Replicator style machines who instantly create anything we desire from any innumerable materials.

Concepts on the fringe like the recent articles about “4D printing” with materials that change shape under certain conditions like being soaked in water are pushing the boundaries. Many new materials are emerging in the metal sintering world, and also in the plastics and composites world. There are printers that can make cell structures mixed with scaffolding material. There are even conductive materials that can be printed with insulating materials and there’s printers that can achieve full color prints with various materials–even paper has been used as a 3D printing material.

The technology has been exploding in the past several years as patents long held are expiring and new startup companies find more affordable and innovative ways to make the next big thing in the field of hobby and consumer printing.

Another thing that’s just as important–if not more important– than the printers is the scanning and CAD tools. Scan based CAD design has become a fixture and is the new way engineers are designing and modeling. Instead of a blank screen and a vernier caliper, an engineer can take a scan of an object, model it, change it, and prototype it in mere hours. This potential has great world-changing power. I have found myself with new superpowers of design and the amazing ability to make anything I can conjure up.

Like any means of fabrication, the printers still do have their challenges and drawbacks. Often times the fastest point between idea and prototype still resides within the conventional machine shop. With all the wonderful adjectives associated with 3D printers, lightning fast is not one of them. I should qualify this statement by saying that these methods are faster than tool and die manufacturing but the process as compared to conventional machining and even CNC is still sometimes longer. And it takes just as long to make the second copy and the 10th and the 32nd.

Additionally, the materials can be limiting and very expensive. Although this area is evolving rapidly, the machines that use the most cutting edge in advanced materials still cost an amazing amount and occupy a lot of floor space and cost a good bit to of energy to operate. Some also require special considerations for health and safety as they emit toxic by products (mostly the metal machines). A machine shop, manual or CNC, can use virtually any material, which can even be molded and cast with rubber or fiberglass or even sand molds. These can serve also for prototypes. The cost benefit works best with 3D printing when complexity of the prototype is high and it may be difficult or even impossible to make any other way.

In order to achieve these impossible designs, engineers still have to break decades of habits in terms of how they design things. They need to unhinge from the basics of modeling primitives and traditional cad modeling ideas to more free form or design optimized shapes. Ergonomics, multi physics, and mass customization are concepts that are more center stage than ever before, and these ideas now must be a part of every engineer’s toolbox.

In order that this shift happens, more and more new engineers have to learn how to use CAD in ways we never imagined. Kids in the near future will use mobile devices to scan real objects, modify them, and send them off wirelessly to be made. They won’t have to know as readily the virtues of third angle projection or the art of drafting, although the fundamentals are still important. They will do all of these things strictly in 3D.

There’s a lot of innovation happening and a lot more coming, and the main changes in our world will show new and previously unheard of applications for all of it, but one thing is for certain: it’s going to continue to change our world in real and monumental ways, but not necessarily the ones we think it will today.

 

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The Beginnings of a Dream: Starting the Guitar Build

This begins a long time dream project: To build a guitar from the ground up. I decided that the only way to start it was to start it. I don’t have all the parts yet but I will be researching and acquiring parts and any missing tools along the way. This is going to be an exciting project and my goal is to finish this by the end of the summer and take it to the recording studio!

I have been reading Martin Oakham’s Build Your Own Electric Guitar book for the past several years, eying the pages hungrily. Two weekends ago, I decided it was a nice day to drive to a lumber yard and begin the long awaited project at last.

I selected a nice Ash board for the main body, for it’s lightweight bright tone and to emulate more vintage style fender guitars. I also selected a curly maple board for the striking figure it contains, and the strength I needed in a neck. Unable to find rosewood or ebony at this lumber yard, I picked up a walnut board to use for the fretboard. I may alter this choice before completing the neck, but I wanted to give myself no excuses as to why I couldn’t go forward with the build.

Once I had the lumber, I got to work on my first templates. The book comes with a large foldout blueprint of plans for a tele/strat looking shape, which I unfolded and traced my body shape onto the acrylic. This method works well for centerlines and the general outer shape (also the bridge line). However, I will have to make careful measurements for pickup placements, bridge position, and neck pocket attachment. The next template needs more work for precice measurement. For this build, I am going to stick solely to the design proposed in the pages of the book, but unlike the kit, I am sourcing all the parts individually as I go so that I can make this high quality and custom.

The body was not wide enough with the wood balks, so I decided to add a piece of the walnut down the middle for a striped look between the bookmatched body balks. The walnut skunk stripe will also go down the center of the neck similar to the strat necks. This isn’t final but this is what I am thinking to do. Part of me thinks I could even stain the body of the guitar a dark color and have a curly maple fretboard for a radically different look.

As a note, I have a lot of extra Curly maple. I am probably going to make another body piece out of one of the boards in two or three pieces. This may have a different body shape but I haven’t decided that factor yet.

This is my progress so far. I need to get some use of a jointer or make a better more carefully aligned and clamped setup with a router/router table to join up the body balks for glueing. Once I do this, I will need to get a few more long clamps to glue them all up. Plane them down to final thickness, and jig or band saw the pieces out. Then I will rout along the template to give the final general shape and i shall have to create duplicate templates to avoid accidentally damaging the master template.

I’ve been following the videos from Fletcher Guitars on how he has built his handcrafted stratocaster style guitar. He has a lot of good advice and hours of material and is very thorough. I have gained a lot of practical insight to supplement the book from his videos and I wanted to give a shout out: right on, mate, you’ve got great videos.  I’ve embedded the playlist here but the channel is certainly worth watching, even if you don’t plan on building a guitar but are just curious about how it’s done.

I imagine this guitar build will take me all summer to finish but I am taking my time and not going to rush this. This will also help spread out the cost and help me afford to invest in the best hardware for the goals I have performance-wise for the guitar.

That’s all for now, but I am thrilled to be started on this long term project which I have been yearning to do for way too many years. I appreciate any advice, encouragement, comments, and general chatter about this project.

Until next time,

//

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Wood Burning Class at Hoboken MakerBar Turned up the Heat

Today Matt and I hosted our Introduction to Wood Burning and Image Transfer class at Hoboken MakerBar. We had four students show up and everyone created something worth being proud of.

(Meetup: http://www.meetup.com/MakerBar/events/158182262/?a=ra1_vl&_af_eid=158182262&_af=event)

Here are some pictures from the class:

Image transfer methods were discussed, including ironing on of laserjet printed line or color art. Those who were more creatively inclined drew freehand on their boards with pencil to create their art, and it was humbling how great the results came out. I remember my first wood burning with an old soldering iron with a destroyed tip.

It was fascinating to host such an art-focused class at a typically tech-central place, and see nerds and artists alike hang out and make stuff. I also got some good ideas for new classes. There is an interest for a cutting board class, a re-boot of the framing class, and a stained glass making class, which Matt and I will look into. Also there was interest expressed in an embedding/casting class.

My hope is that more classes like this can build a wood working and art special interest crowd. I also want the tech-savvy folks to come out to the artistic classes and the artistic folks to come out to the techie classes. We can get a lot out of using the other sides of our brains where we exercise the other side which we consider to be the lesser developed set of our skills, and often can approach things in a totally unique way.

At the end of the day, it was a lot of fun, and I am glad that I can expose people to something that has become a fun hobby of mine, and to see them embrace it and make such great things!

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Project Summary: Steak Knife Block

This project started when my girlfriend’s dad was searching the internet, unsuccessfully, for a block that would fit his brand new set of extra large steak knives.

I took this as an opportunity to try my hand at making a custom one.

Custom Knife Block: Finished Result

Custom Knife Block: Finished Result

Reclaimed wood stock from old ceiling joists

Reclaimed wood stock from old ceiling joists

The story starts much earlier, however. This entire project was created from reclaimed wood taken from some massive old ceiling joists I salvaged from an old art studio in Jersey City that was moving out.  The wood seemed to be a softwood like Pine but It’s still unknown what specific wood type it was.

The joists were sectioned off into planks on my Radial Arm Saw (this was before I had my Planer, which I will explain the difficulty that caused later). It generated a huge amount of sawdust, which is an ingredient that can be used to make excellent fire starters for camping and the like. (When i find the picture of the original board, I will post it also)

Each of these balks were made about 3″ x 1.5″ and ranged from 24″ – ~28″ when they finished up. Some of them had knots and nails, though the carbide 80 T blade barely slowed down going through the nails. (Just a spark and a momentary jolt).

NOTE: I don’t recommend going at nails with a wood sawblade unless it is a fairly new carbide blade and it’s completely by accident. Always go over the workpiece with a strong magnet first to identify any metal foreign objects (Nails, Staples, bolts, etc). The nails I encountered were buried too far in the surface to be detected easily. Always wear safety gear, especially when using a radial saw, including goggles, N95 rated dust mask, long sleeves, and heavy work gloves.

The blocks mitered and shown for size

The blocks mitered and shown for size

The pictures here show the initial bulk shape. Since i wanted a setting for eight to be possible for one of these blocks, I decided that four boards would need to be arranged in rows of two, and there needed to be some angle on the block for ease of pulling knives in and out. These knives were also 5 – 7/8″ long and over 1″ thick at the widest, so they were fairly large.

The initial angle on the bottom was created with a mitre saw at about 30 degrees. This later turned out to be a poor choice and I had to modify the block so the heavy knives would not topple it over. Also, a steeper angle takes up less counter or table space.

Concept of the Slots and bracing for the knives

Concept of the Slots and bracing for the knives

 

The plan I had was to cut a slot wide enough for the blade down the center ish of each board and add a few thin strips of wood across the openings of the slots to keep the knives in there. I eventually opted for two braces instead of the one shown to the right.

When it worked with one blade, I moved on to make this work for the rest of the blocks. I set up a work stop to get the center of each block. In the end, this wasn’t the greatest solution because some of the thicknesses of these boards varied slightly and since I didn’t have a dado blade and I just flipped the board a few times to widen the slot because the 1/8″ slot didn’t give enough clearance to freely insert and remove these massive blades.

Test Fit of the parts

Test Fit of the parts

The depth of the slots had to be down about 2″ or so to accommodate these wide blades plus the 1/2″ little stopper, which I had to do a lot of passes with a 1/8″ saw blade to achieve. I did all the blocks on each side at once to make them exactly the same size and in the same position. 

Test fitting the pieces together is a critical stage. This helps to plan the glue-up, which I did in two stages, clamping each tier of slots together. Then separately in a subsequent stage, I added the small cross-braces.

The multi-stage glue-up also allowed me the ability to sand in between stages and clamp everything fully without clamps interfering with other clamps.

After Sanding from 60 grit to 80 grit to 100 grit to 120 grit to 150 grit to 220 grit...whew!

After Sanding from 60 grit to 80 grit to 100 grit to 120 grit to 150 grit to 220 grit…whew!

After the glue-up comes all the sanding. Sanding is a step that’s dreaded by all and yet it’s what makes something professional quality and adds that feel required for good finishes. It’s my opinion finishes on projects separates the good from the great, and the great from the best. I’ve paid attention to try to make good looking finishes an important part of any piece I make, because the only real enemy here is impatience. These things are simple, and they are time consuming, and they are tedious. But the results are usually worth all of that extra concerted effort.

I will one day post some notes on wood finishing as a separate post. in this project, I used tung oil because of the color and to use a natural oil. It’s also one finish that can be used on things that may come in contact with food (because it will be holding knives).

Custom Knife Block: Finished Result

Custom Knife Block: Finished Result

I ultimately had to add little wedges beneath the block to change the angle to make it more upright because of the heavy handles and blades of all eight knives caused the block to tip over. This delayed the project as I went through a couple of variations on how to fix the thing. The final result as pictured here shows the feet. These were scraps cut off the bottoms of the original mitered pieces, and they were screwed and wood glued into place. The knives you may notice have changed too. Because it took me until after Christmas to negotiate all of these changes and fit it into my cutting board workflow, the client had already gotten a better solution (he got a new innovative magnetic block for Christmas). However, this proved to be a nice way to display an old dining room set for parties.

In summary, one can build anything from wood, and wood literally grows on (or in?) trees. It can be found anywhere, and most often some good used or junked pieces of wood may still have life in them, for those willing to put in the time and work to salvage them. Usually old furniture is a treasure chest (or table or chair) of solid hardwood that will be cheap or free and have a good story. I hope to make a few more projects from reclaimed wood, but after the saw dust settles, I think my next knife block will use virgin lumber.

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Christmas Cutting Boards

This post really goes out to all my prospective students for the Wood Burning and Image Transfer class, recently re-scheduled for February 1st at 1:00pm at Hoboken MakerBar.

This year, I decided to make handmade cutting boards and personalize them as christmas gifts for a list of people on my nice list. Part of the intent of the project was born from a desire to use my latest addition to the shop; my new planer power planer. Also, i wanted to give meaningful christmas gifts which would last and be useful and also have a personal thoughtful touch, and yet not put me in the poor house.

Any cutting board's dream: to have the finest parmesan and mustard

The cutting board and the holiday cheese

The process is a fairly simple one which only gets slightly more complex when you try to make ten at a time. As I learned, it’s always best to have a process worked out. Each of these boards was made from about 8′ or 9′ of hard maple to make a 12″ x 15″ board (or a 9″ x 15″ board in some cases), costing only about $1 / ft from Home Depot. Each of these boards cost about $8 or $9 in materials, therefore. Comparable cutting boards can sell for $15 or $20 in a store. The size of the board I took particular care to decide for many reasons. One reason was simply the amount of wood i would require to make ten copies, and the workspace limitation in my shop and the 12″ max width of the planer. Another reason, however, was to make the board small enough to easily wash in a normal sink and dish drying rack, and to fit on a table for a cheese/bread board without crowding out the plates too much.

I even fiound some birds eye maple and some other variations on the grain figure. you just have to go to the hardwood isle and take a look.

Maple Wood from Home Depot

Using the chop saw to cut the strips to length, I then clamped up my pieces with a pair of bar clamps and let the glue dry overnight. Subsequently, planed down the boards and trimmed the edges flush with my radial arm saw.

The next steps involved routing the edges with a roundover bit, cutting out a handle with some forstner drill bits, routing the inside pocket of the handle, and sanding all the way from 60 to 220 grit.

I had wanted to get better at the art so I decided to do all these boards freehand. I created a unique logo for each board in the top right corner by the handle whereas the rest of the corners all had similar holly leaves (though they are all a little varied). I tried to keep the art to the corners of the board away from the working areas where the knives could ruin the artwork.

In conclusion, like all projects, I wish I had started a week or two earlier. But it was a rewarding experience and those who got the boards seemed to like them a lot, and I felt my objective was achieved. The best part of the whole project was seeing the board be put to use for dinner during the holidays and knowing it will last for many holidays to come.

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Intro to Wood Burning

A chicken I made for my grandmother

A chicken I made for my grandmother

I am pleased to announce i will be co-teaching an introductory class on the art of wood burning with a friend and fellow MakerBar member. We are excited to get this class into the lineup before the holidays so you can think about making holiday gifts for your loved ones and the burning iron is included in the cost of course materials.

We will be hosting this class at MakerBar on Saturday, December 14th at 1:00 pm and I will be preparing a few wood working examples with more step by step visual guides to show.

The link to sign up on Meetup is http://www.meetup.com/MakerBar/events/151492362/

I hope to see you there, and I will use this blog to post up some relevant articles and notes to pre-read before the class, specifically on types of images that can be ideal for burning, as well as how to edit others to create line art and other more burn-able grayscale images.

Happy Monday,

-M-

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