SHOP MACHINES (not the final word)

     Over the past 40 years Woody has invested only about $10,000 in machines for the shop. Much of that has been through Craigslist. The LMI side bending machine; the Stewart MacDonald buffer; and the Shark HD-4 CNC machine represent about 1/2 of that total.

     This benchtop table sander (below) is one of the most used machines in the shop. Woody uses it almost daily when shaping braces, rough carving heel blocks and necks, truing surfaces …many uses. The sander is set up in front of the exhaust fan and a small window. This set up provides thorough exhaust from the table and the 2-1/2” vacuum port underneath collects dust from inside the machine… dust collection is essential.

Spring Clamps

    The LMI bending machine pictured below has been a very useful addition to Woody’s luthiery equipment. Not only has it improved productivity of the shop, but it has also made the process of side bending more consistently reliable. 

     A thickness sander of some sort is, IMO, an absolutely necessary machine for building guitars. This 16” is a good size for the home-shop builder. There is a 2-1/2” vacuum port out the top.

Exhaust/Ventilation Equipment

​Cam Clamps

 The bottom deck then acts as a fully contoured caul. Clamping pressure is provided by a series of go-bar clamping rods which are placed between the decks to hold down the brace as the glue dries. This system works quite well, but it is difficult to store when not in use without complete disassembly. Woody’s home shop is small, and space comes at a premium.

     Gluing down braces with cam clamps and contoured cauls is certainly acceptable but the clamp must have a deep reach (8”) to apply pressure in the center of the top or back. Cam clamps store handily and have many, many more uses at considerably less cost.  

​​     The pictured bandsaw was given to Woody by a friend who was moving and had no use for a bandsaw.

     This bandsaw has now been my friend for 40 years. I’ve done nothing special to it, except keep it clean and never ask it to do more than it was designed to do. Blades are inexpensive and easy to change so there is no excuse for not keeping a sharp blade on it. When Woody is building guitars, this machine is used every day. (I added the task light.)

     This bandsaw would be the first machine that I would buy if I needed to start another guitar-building shop.





   Needless to say, clamps for glue joints are critical in importance and various in shape, size, and purpose. But first, one has to hold the work still so that it can be shaped.

     Woody bought 3 Versa Vises while in Fairbanks (1975 – 1985). They each weigh ~18 pounds. When he packed up his Toyota pickup truck and moved to Richmond, VA, he brought all three vises with him_ along with his wife and his dog. That should tell you something about the value of this tool.

     The Versa Vise was invented and patented by John R. Long of Springfield, Ohio in 1901. The patent has long since expired.


HAND TOOLS including...

Workboards and Molds

LMI Bending Machine




    Woody has touched on the value of each of the few machines that he has in the shop. The truth is, home-shop luthiery is primarily a hand-tool operation. Hand and eye skills are still the dominant tools in this sport.  Some readers will be disappointed to hear that. Hand tools do not, perhaps, come with the adrenaline rush that heavy machines might bring. If that is your interest, Woody suggests furniture or cabinet making, or some other woodcraft where the primary processes involve some sort of machining. This is not so much the case with home-shop luthiery.

     There are luthiery-process exceptions, however, that are better accomplished with semi-expensive machines like thickness sanding, side bending and compressed air for applying a finish to your guitar.  Machines that assist with these operations might only be used a few times during the course of building a guitar. They can make the entire process of guitar building more controllable and, hopefully more satisfying. Most of these machines can be purchased second-hand off Craigslist… if you know what to look for in the machine description. This Overview will, hopefully, give you some ideas about what to look for, what to buy and approximately what to pay.

     Good advice was given to Woody back in the early days. That advice was, “Don’t buy it until you need it.” 



SPRAY GUN: High-Volume, Low-Pressure gravity gun.      

Good spray and buffing equipment is essential when spraying nitro cellulose lacquer.



C Clamps

     This tool pictured above will clip the tang and leave the crown.  That's the only time you might use this tool in the entire guitar building process. The rest of the time it just hangs on the wall and watches you build a guitar.  If you want bindings on the fretboard, however, this tool will be just what you need. ~$70

     There are several specialty tools needed in the course of building a guitar. They are pointed out in later chapters as that process is discussed. This chapter serves only as an introduction to the cost and variety of tools that the luthier might need. The remaining chapters of this Overview will explain when and how to use these tools, machines, and shop fixtures when the photos do not make that obvious.



     Hand sanders come as oscillating or orbital. There are differences in the shape of the sanding shoe and attachment of the sandpaper. Some have bags for dust collection, some don’t. Each of the sanders pictured was purchased for a different purpose.





Nut, Frets and Fretboard

Air Compressor: 4 hp; 15 amp; 8.8 cfm@ @ 40psi; 12 gal. tank. This compressor is minimum size for spraying lacquer efficiently. More information on use and maintenance is presented in Chapter 14_ Finishing.

Compressor Specs are minmal necessary to spray lacquer efficiently.

     Today, flat top guitars are, in many cases, not flat. Luthiers today like to put a slight radius in the curve of the top. Equipment is the discussion here. Installing braces is discussed further in Chapter_5, Braces and Rosette.
      The Go-Bar System pictured here requires a radius dish as the bottom plate of the go-bar fixture in order for contoured braces to fix the soundboard into a radius.

June 2020

  •      Home-Shop Guitar Building

     A spindle sander is the ideal machine for a certain few guitar-building procedures. The machine helps contour curved lines that are fair and smooth. For inside curves, this machine is hard to beat. An easy-access 2” vacuum port is under the round table.


       Routers for cutting dovetails, binding channels, truss rod slots and general purposes. 



     The bench grinder is a ‘must have’ requirement. This little machine sits in the corner just waiting to help with everything from sharpening tools to grinding down one-of-a-kind fixture parts. It is versatile and not expensive. 

​Bridge Clamps


Specialty Tools

     By far, more hours are spent with hand tools than on machines.  Luthiery is a hand-tool occupation. Ordinary hand tools like chisels, gouges, planes, hand sanders, routers and the like are the meat and potatoes of home-shop woodcraft. Specialty lutherie tools, however, are few but much needed. It's hard to pin down every use of every hand tool.  Suffice it to say that when one needs a specialty hand tool, you will know it.  Let me give you one example.

     When fretting a bound fretboard, one does not want to cut the fret slot through the binding.  You want the crown of the fret to extend over the binding to about 3/4 the binding's thickness.  To do this the fret tang needs to be removed perhaps 2-3mm back from the end of the fret.  Looking something like this.





     Regarding the bracing a hand-made guitar top and back efficiently, Woody will first make sure that the bottom of each brace is true and fair. This is done by hand or machine, whichever works best. Then rough-carve the top of the braces (preferably on a machine) before the braces are glued down. Final carving and tuning of braces should be done by hand after the glued braces are glued in place. 

    The CNC machine pictured below was a Christmas gift to myself a few years ago. From scratch, I have learned a great deal about operating this CNC successfully. It came with very good (V-Carve) software and instructional videos. Woody uses this machine primarily for inlaying Mother of Pearl. 




         There is little that Woody can say about the machines in the wJs shop that he has not already been written in Woody Strings’ monthly Journal, except the price.  These brief comments, however, might help you decide if buying a certain machine will be useful and priced right for your shop.  Again, every luthier is different. Please take Woody's information objectively and filter it through your personal needs and home-shop capabilities.

     The use of hand tools and small-ticket equipment, as well as the various shop machines, will be explained in the later chapters with the explanation of each guitar building process.


     When the prices stated here are in 

     That means that the machine or tool was purchased in a store, or online, at the advertised retail price.

When the price is shown is in

      It means that it was purchased off Craigslist; at yard sale; or from a friend; etc. where the price was negotiated or fixed for quick sale by the owner.

    Woody’s collection of Planes (above).  A favorite is the wooden smoothing plane pictured below. It has a 50o bed angle and lignum vitae shoe.  Before a thickness sander came into the shop, Woody used this plane to thickness and smooth many a guitar top, back and side sets.

         The Wen Benchtop Belt Sander w/ 5-Inch Sanding Disc is another benchtop that is small enough to sit in a convenient place in the main shop. It’s used often to shape small, one-off type wooden parts. Not particularly well built, but it is inexpensive, convenient, and useful. Vacuum port out the back.

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


July 2020  

Chapter 02_ Machines and Tools          


     When only one guitar is being made at a time, there's no need to worry about efficiency. There won't be any. What one is building in that single guitar is unique. It is the product of the builder's art and craft. That fact alone should make up for any worries about efficiency. One must accept that building one guitar at a time is just not efficient, and just maintain quality. Building several guitars at once, however, introduces the challenge of doing things efficiently in order to maintain quality. 

     Long story short: Quality tapers off as fatigue increases. Efficient methods, therefore, go hand in hand with quality control...especially when creating more than one guitar at a time.

    A few years ago, Woody wanted to build 5 guitars in single winter. What was learned is that production efficiency must be coupled with well-thought-out machining practices to maintain quality while being efficient. Jigs, fixtures, and templates must be precisely made and used routinely in the machining of parts. Woody's home shop was not set up for that. Slight miscalculations were repeated 5 times and often not discovered until the guitars were being assembled. Correction of those parts had to be done by hand. So much for efficiency.

     It's great to be efficient when quality is improved along with it. Woody's recommendation to the home-shop guitar builder would be_
     "Enjoy the process. Keep your tools and your wits sharp. The product will take care of itself. “ . 

       Shown above are clamp types_ dozens of these, a few of those, and too many of the others to count.  Woody must have 200 clamps of all types.  Clamps can be expensive. As with all tool investments: Don’t buy them until you need them… or make them… like guitar spool clamps.


Bending Wood



Bar Clamps

​     The luthier will have many uses for a good drill press both planned and spontaneous. It is an extremely versatile machine that is essential when the hole needs to be perfectly square to the surface such as peghead tuners, bridge pins, etc.