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 is 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, and they all make lots of airborne dust.
The thing that I like about sanding is that one can remove very small increments of wood in controlled passes that don’t care which way the grain is running. One can flatten, smooth, thickness or carve accurately once you understand how to apply each machine to the various guitar building tasks. With many passes, a lot of wood can be turned into dust which needs to be captured and exhausted before it goes airborne and into the home ventilation system.
OR ... (I will say one last time) all of these tasks can be done by hand with planes, scrapers, and sanding blocks. For ten years in the back of a Fairbanks retail music store, Woody flattened, smoothed, thicknessed and/or carved with of only muscle power and hand tools (no machining). The main requirement was to keep heat in the store, dust out of the store, which meant using muscle power, rather than machine power, to build a guitar.
Sanding machines are not expensive, but they require a good vacuum/exhaust system which means an additional investment in ventilation equipment. 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 vacuum cost me $50 off Craigslist. This shop vac collects dust via a flexible hose that Woody moves from one machine to another as needed.
Another Woody favorite_ clip-on task lights. In my little shop I have six of these. Some are 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, Home Depot, etc.).
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.
The Woody Strings Shop (today)
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. 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 passage. This latter is the arrangement at the wJs shop.
Woody’s 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 fixture).
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. (i.e., you might have to undo and change it back if you 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 it can be very effective. It’s a shop, it needs to be properly lighted for detailed handcraft. It’s not your living room.
Chapter 01 Woody & Luthier's Shop Essentials
FIRST GUITAR: 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 repair, taking instruments apart and putting them back together again…more on that later. That was the beginning of Woody Strings.Type your paragraph here.
Interesting Note (I hope): Woody returned to Fairbanks, AK 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. Actually, it was 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 at the cabin which, in 1975, was not unusual for that time and that place. Alaska had been a state for less than 20 years.
Even without electricity Woody 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.
The lights that gave birth to this dulcimer.
Circled in the photos above are three Versa Vises which I brought with me from the original Woody Strings in Fairbanks. They are still the best you can buy except they don't make them anymore (and vice versa).
A good offshore alternative is the Wood River Universal vise, Shop Fox (pictured below). They each weigh about 18 pounds.
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 shop addition was originally about 320 square feet (16’x20’)_ 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).