These little hangers are suspended from a 16 penny nail (sinker) driven through the drywall ceiling and into the ceiling joist above.  First you find the joist and then you drive the straight nail into the joist. When you've sunk the nail 1/2"-3/4" into the joist you take the claw and bend the head of the nail sideways until it's at a 90 degree angle to the rest of the nail. Don't loosen the nail when you do this.

     Next you hit the nail on the edge of the nail head so that it continues to bend almost into a 'U'.  The trick is to hammer the nail into this shape without hitting the drywall ceiling (making a dent).  Finally, you bend a piece of tie wire into a hook on the bottom and a loop around the nail on the top.


     Woody learned the "U" nail trick described above while living in the Old Nenana Road cabin back in the Fairbanks days. We needed something to hang rope loops on for shelves on the cabin walls. These hangers were just the thing and all one needed was a carpenter's hammer and a few 16 p. nails.


Then came_

                   THE GREAT SQUIRREL PARTY

  One day, while Woody was away from the cabin (in which he was living but had not completely finished building) some squirrels tunneled thru the insulation in the soffit and got into the cabin just above one of these rope-hanger shelves (pictured below). 

     On that shelf was stored several rolls of toilet paper. The rope loop holding up one end of the shelf must have had some salt on it from my hands and the squirrels ate through it.  This caused the shelf to drop off the wall.

      Apparently the squirrels liked the soft paper rolls which were now on the cabin floor. They tried to take the TP home with them by pulling the loose end of the roll up the wall to their escape route thru the insulation.  Of course, the roll just remained on the floor and kept un-rolling as the squirrels carried streamer after streamer of white TP up the walls. Those squirrels must have tried a dozen times to pull the toilet paper up by various routes to their soffit insulation escape tunnel. 

    When I got home the squirrels were gone, but it looked like someone had rolled the entire inside of the cabin with TP hanging on every wall from floor to ceiling.  There was toilet paper everywhere!  I was ready for someone to jump out an shout, "Happy New Year".

  

     One final comment on 'space' (for now). The shop needs to be a dedicated  space that has strict limits on visits by very young toddlers and cats. Neither understands that the luthier must be certain that everything will remain just as it was when he (she) left it. It's a matter of safety for those who are important to us and peace of mind for the household generally.

     OK, the shop is built and set up. Next month Woody will discuss guitar wood selection, storage, and the stationary machines in the shop. The Woody Adventures will be back too.

​Lighting


     It is very easy to say build your workbench under the lights in the ceiling. But suppose the only ceiling light is in the middle of the room (which is not unusual).  If you put the workbench directly under it, you might have to walk around the workbench every time you cross the room. So, consider passage through the room before deciding where to put the workbench and the lighting.

     It might be better to put the workbench against a wall and build an ‘L’ off of it.  The ‘L’  can be either on an adjacent wall or extending into the middle of the room as long as it does not block the passage.  This latter is the arrangement at the wJs shop.
    

      The shop was built with two, above-ceiling power drops.  The shop is 20 feet long so one ceiling fixture wasn’t going to work.  The idea was to have a 4x4 fluorescent light fixture mounted above each half of the shop.  You can see these fixtures in the photos (4) 4 ft. tubes in each (about 130 watts total for each).

      If you are re-purposing a room into a shop, that room might already have a center-of-the-ceiling fixture. All is not lost.  It is very easy to extend power from that electrical box, either on the surface of or above the ceiling if there is access.  Then again, there might be reasons why you don’t want to make permanent changes to the existing lighting in the room.  (We will have to undo and change it back if we move.)  There is still a solution.

     Task lighting, hung from the ceiling, is one of Woody’s favorite tricks. Again, it’s not elegant but it is neither permanent nor expensive but very effective. It’s a shop, not your living room. 


The lights that gave birth to this dulcimer.

Woody’s Cabin

    Below is a photo of the cabin Woody started building outside of Fairbanks in his first winter (1975). It took 3 years to build the cabin because Woody the carpenter could only work on it in the summer... after putting in (5 or 6) 10's on a seasonal construction job.  The land of the midnight sun, you know. It doesn’t get dark for 4 months. Work 'til midnight if you want. Just be right back with the crew and ready to go at 7:00 AM.

     The owner of the cabin said that I could live there for free as long as I was still building the cabin.  Winter was the best time to be living there.  It was a six-sided cabin with a five-sided roof.  Go figure.

​Power​


     The shop addition is about 300 square feet_ perfect for a guitar builder. The greenhouse window is something that I won at a Home Show by just dropping my name and phone number into a box. It was convenient to incorporate the greenhouse into the new shop as I was building it.  All of that glass provides great light which is one of the first essentials of a shop where one intends to build guitars. (Cherie likes it too)


​​​     In the photo above is my very most used (and loved) stationary machine... a 9" Delta band saw which I also brought with me from up North. Home-shop luthiery work doesn't require a table saw. For one thing, a table saw requires too much space. The stock woods for home-shop guitar building are, at most, 36" long and 8-9" wide and, at most, an inch thick.  This little band saw can handle all of that and it makes only a small foot print in the shop.

     There will be much more about tools and equipment next month, but while we're on the subject of shop space, you will notice in the most of the photos in Woody's Overview project that the shop walls are covered with wide shelves. This, again,  maximizes the availability of horizontal space. 


​     The 35" surface height of the workbenches is the fortunate result of building the work surface on top of recycled kitchen cabinets which also provide convenient under-bench storage. 

     Home remodeling companies are often contracted to replace old kitchen cabinets with new. It is worthwhile to check with such a company and see if they want to make a deal for some old cabinets. The under-bench cabinets in Woody's shop were free, and the company was glad for me to take them off their hands.  


      All of these shelves add 75-100 square feet of horizontal space to the little luthier shop making it not so little. 


​Play Safe, stay healthy.  Come back next month.


Woody​​


Foreword: Home-Shop Luthiery                       June 2020

   POINT OF VIEW: The name ‘Woody’ used throughout the Overview is not a real person but an alter ego used by the author (me, Joe Lenzi).  If you find this confusing just remember that Woody is me and I am Woody and we is also me (and vice versa).
     Referring to Woody in the third person is to avoid having to continuously write in the first person which sounds like, “I did this…” and…”I do that”... and  "I believe"... It is easier to tell the story of home-shop guitar building as if one is observing another person build a guitar.  No fear, we (Woody and I) see eye-to-eye on pretty much everything.
     

     PURPOSE: This Home-Shop Guitar Overview is written for anyone interested in guitars and how they are built and/or repaired. It will take several monthly postings to cover the basics. Experienced home-shop luthiers may find Woody's techniques and methods to be similar to their own. This would be a good thing. The methods presented here, however, are not necessarily viable for a commercial production shop. Woody has made it a priority to present the processes of guitar building for the home-shop craftsman. 
     The focus will on the techniques and tools of hand work and 'Old Time' methods with a nod to the value of stationary machines in accurately repeating certain processes.  Woody has and uses a CNC machine but this home-shop Overview will be about tools and  practices before Computer Numeric Control (CNC). 

     SCOPE: Simply stated, the scope of the Overview is to explain (through text and photos) the home-shop guitar building process from beginning to end. By 'home-shop' craftsman Woody means that the guitar builder’s shop is on the same heating, cooling, ventilating and electrical system as the rest of the house. If the shop is separate from the house, so much the better. But most of us do not have that convenience…at least at first. Thus, the Home-Shop Guitar builder must be aware that others are smelling the same smells, hearing the same noises, and breathing the same air as the builder. At times that can become annoying, not to mention unsafe. Consequently, the processes and descriptions presented here are written from a ‘home-shop” perspective.

     SHOP: Building a guitar begins by organizing the shop for that purpose. This month (June) we will begin with an Overview of the set up of the shop itself. Woody explains the layout of his own shop which is the result of 45 years of guitar-making evolution.  Of course, everyone will have a different shop space and layout.  Woody's presentation is meant as a guide to practical and efficient use of space.


     TOOLS and SKILLS:      For the most part, only traditional hand tools and wood shop equipment are necessary to build the acoustic guitar featured here. Sources of wood, tools and equipment will be noted throughout the Overview.


     The woodcraft skills necessary to build a steel-string guitar are minimal. The challenge is that luthiery requires many, many diverse shop skills (from bending wood to applying a lacquer finish).  When these skills are combined in the right sequence, and with enough attention to detail, a playable guitar will be the result.


     Woody has attempted to ensure that techniques and sequences are well explained and photographed to assist both the first-time and the experienced builder.  Process pitfalls and alternative methods are noted, and the reasoning for Woody’s choice of methods is detailed.

     GENESIS:
Woody's interest in guitar building was launched by my father who, in 1974, gave me a copy of a Popular Mechanics article on guitar building (this is true). That article made it sound like one could go down to the local hardware store and lumber yard and come home with everything one needs to build a guitar. I took the bait.

     After that, I began to read just about everything published on guitar making at the time, which wasn’t much. (Irving Sloan, Arthur Overholtzer and David Russell Young, etc.)   I still have these books.  

    (6/15/2020) The Journal entry for June, 2020 will mark the beginning of a comprehensive Overview of the different shop requirements and skills involved in home-shop luthiery.  The complete Overview of may take several months.


     Personal stories of Woody's adventures that some find interesting but others find irrelevant are posted in a different font color so that the reader can skip over them or go directly to them if Woody's adventures are the reason they read this journal.  I hope this helps.


    Many of the luthiery skills explained are thought of as common woodworking skills. Luthiery, however, often takes these skills to another level of working with tighter tolerances, repeatedly and consistently.  For that, common skills often need to be modified, particularly in regard to the 'accurately-repeat' part.  Some guitar building skills are unique to luthiery and, perhaps, only a few other types of woodworking. These few skills only make luthiery that much more interesting and challenging.  


     Below is a screen shot from the file explorer on this computer.  It shows Woody's categories of luthiery skills and processes (Woody CATS) as they are being used in the operation of the wJs luthiery shop.    All 5 years of the wJs journal postings on this website are in this collection... and much more. The June journal entry will begin an Overview of SHOP REQUIREMENTS for home-shop guitar building.  A FOREWARD to this Overview is presented below in order to provide the purpose and scope of this undertaking. On a personal note, there are also a few words regarding the origin of Woody Strings. I hope that you find this interesting.


     If you see a category that you would like explored, drop Woody an email.


                       Woody@WoodyStrings.com


     Interesting Note (I hope): I returned to Fairbanks from the Fox School guitar build in November, 1976. At that time I was building and living in a log cabin about 20 miles outside of the city. I call it the Old Nenana Road cabin.  It was actually about a mile off the Old Nenana Road down sled trails and a 40' wide swath made by a gold dredge in the early 1900s during the Ester, AK gold rush days.  There was no running water or electricity  which, in 1975, was not unusual for that time and that place.


     Even without electricity I was able to build three instruments before spring (May, 1977). This is all to say that one does not need a shop full of expensive equipment and tools to build musical instruments. The greatest luthiers down through the ages did not have power or electric light.


   I used to say_Ventilation? It's an Open and Closed case. When I need ventilation I Open the window.  When I don't, I Close it.


     Nowadays, I have solved the problem (almost) by limiting my need for shop ventilation_ beyond ordinary heating and cooling. The shop is still on my home HVAC system but I've stopped doing things in the shop that create massive dust or fumes. I go outside or capture the dust directly off the machine.  There's one exception.


   OK, here's the optional part.  Much of this next paragraph or two only applies if you intended to build many more guitars than one or use stationary wood working machines to thickness and/or sand guitar parts to dimension.  Woody does both.  When I need to make dust, I go to the machine room.


     The machine room is 7'x14'. So, that adds about 100 sf. to the shop. The space also serves as wood storage for about 40 sets of guitar wood (tops, backs, sides, necks, etc.)


     The three machines in this room are not expensive but, again, not necessary to build only one guitar.  Collectively, all 3 machines cost old Woody less than $900.  I don't remember exactly. I bought them all off Craigslist over the course of several years.  What they have in common is that they all use sandpaper either as a belt, a spool or a flat disk. 


      The thing that I like about sanding is that one can remove very small increments of wood or, with many passes, a lot of wood.  One can flatten, smooth, thickness or carve accurately once you understand how to apply each machine to the various guitar building tasks. OR...(I will say one last time) all of these tasks can be done by hand.  And Woody has done them all.


     What these machines require, however, is a good vacuum/ exhaust system. That also takes a small investment. Woody bought the portable ventilation fan for $125 new.  It will turn over all the air in the machine room twice in one minute. The ventilation fan sits in the window, just behind my little 6x48 table sander.


     The Ridgid vac cost me $50 off Craigslist. This shop vac collects dust via a flexible hose that Woody moves from one machine to another as needed.

 

      When Cherie and I and Matza moved from Fairbanks to Richmond I brought the entire Woody Strings shop packed in boxes in a tow-behind trailer. We all needed a new home.

     At the time there were two popular songs which I was playing on my guitar. One was "Good Bye Bottom Dollar" (Jerry Lee Lewis) and the other was "Born... in the USA" (Bruce Springsteen). 

     On the back door of the trailer that we were pulling I had stenciled the words, "Goodbye Bottom Dollar... In the USA" just above the Alaska license plates.  That's kind of the way we felt about our journey with no end.  As we loped along at 55 mph we got more than a few thumbs up from passing vehicles. 


     However, when we took a side trip to Reno, NV to stay with Cherie's parents for a few days, her mother asked me what those words meant.  I told her.  She was NOT amused.​ 


Horizontal Space


     There is almost no way to have too much horizontal space in a small wood working shop. As pictured below, Woody has 2 work benches joined in an 'L' shape. This is extremely handy as a vise is mounted on each leg of the 'L' thus allowing work to proceed on both benches at once.  Often two work spaces are needed for one process.  Fret installation comes to mind. There are many more instances where one will appreciate having a second vise within arm's reach.


     A third workbench (closest to the camera) is positioned parallel to one leg of the 'L'. One can easily work in the 30” passage between the workbenches. Whatever process is underway, one can double the available horizontal work surface merely by turning around.


      I have also used this workbench layout to lead students through a first-time guitar build. Woody demonstrates the process on the 'L' bench, then the student builds his own guitar on the third bench and vise set up. ​​One-on-one instruction. 


    Another Woody favorite_ clip-on task lights. In my little shop I have six of these.  Some are more or less stationary.  Some move around. They are inexpensive and very effective.  The only problem with them is when they burn out (after a year or two).  One does not replace the bulb.  One buys a new fixture ($20 at Lowe's).

June 2020


  •     The Home Shop

  •      Woody Adventures

      THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD:     Woody built his first guitar at the home-shop/school of Charles Fox when he lived in Stafford Vermont. That was in 1976, Woody was 27 years old.


     After the Fox School build Woody went back to his home (Fairbanks, AK) and, the following summer, opened a string-instrument repair shop in the back of a family-owned music store in town. What followed was 10 years of full-time guitar building and repair dba Woody Strings. 


      Being the only string-instrument repair shop in a town in which the average age was 24 and the average winter was seven, very cold and dry months, Woody stayed busy and learned a lot about taking instruments apart and putting them back together again…more on that later. That was the beginning of Woody Strings.

     Today the Woody Strings shop is in an addition built onto our home in Bon Air, VA. The footings for the shop space were dug (by me with a pick and shovel) only a few weeks after we moved into the house (1996). Partly (as I told my wife, Cherie) we needed the shop because the house was a bit of a "fixer upper" and we would need a shop for fix-up projects. 

     The month of June, 2020 marked a change to the format of the Woody Strings website. On the Home page will be posted the most recent addition to the Luthier's Journal, as you see below. The posting for all previous months can be found on the navigation bar under Luthier's Journal.


     Note also that new pages have been added to the Navigation Bar: 


                         Table of Contents

                         Index by Subject  

The Woody Strings Shop (today)

          One thing that we all take for granted is the availability of electric light and power when and where we want it… until you don’t have it.  It is critical to have enough power and light in your shop. In addition, the present distribution of power and light in your home is not arbitrary.  Most likely your home was built to rather specific codes in this regard.  These codes make your home safe. One should abide by them or hire an electrical contractor who does.

      If you are converting a garage or an ‘empty nest’ bedroom into a shop it will pay to think about how the light and power are distributed in that space before you build a workbench or even drag in a table that you brought home from a yard sale.

     First, check the breaker box to see how many circuits will be available to that room. Commonly, a residential bedroom or utility room will have one 20-amp circuit or it might share a circuit with another room. Twenty amps is plenty of power for a small luthiery shop if no heavy motors are invloved. 

     A one-horsepower motor can draw 7 amps by itself. A garage might have two or three 20-amp circuits. Ideally, the lights and the wall outlets are on separate 20-amp circuits.

     That’s enough about power. If you’re convinced that you want to make major changes to the electric power system in your home, hire a certified electrician and tell him your plan.

     For the most part having enough power will not be a problem.  It is the distribution of power that might not fit your plans.  Either build the shop around the availability of power (wall outlets)... or one can use extension cords creatively to bring power to the workbench.


     Extension cords to a power strip mounted on the end of the workbench are not an elegant solution to the power distribution problem but...for a home shop, they work.  Make sure that both the extension cord and the power strip are sized correctly.  A 6-outlet power strip with an integrated circuit breaker is usually rated for 15 amps. A 15-foot, 16/3 extension cord is similarly rated.  That set up can handle several devices running at once unless one of them is a heavy motor. 


    Moveable task lights on bent-nail ceiling hooks

     Circled in the photo are three Versa Vises which I brought with me from the original Woody Strings. They are still the best you can buy except they don't make them anymore (and vice versa). A good off-shore alternative is the Wood River Universal vise, Shop Fox. They each weigh about 18 pounds.