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.).

Horizontal Space

     There is almost no way to have too much horizontal space in a small wood working shop. As pictured below, Woody started out with a 320 square foot shop with 2 work benches built into 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 workspaces 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.

     While we're on the subject of shop space, you will notice in most of the photos of Woody's shop that the walls are covered with wide shelves. This, again, maximizes the availability of horizontal space.  All of these shelves add 75-100 square feet of horizontal space to the little luthier shop making it not so little.

        The third workbench (closest to the camera) was built in the second year of this shop and is positioned parallel to one leg of the 'L'. One can easily work in the 30” passage between the second and third workbenches. Whatever process is underway, one can double the available work surface by merely turning around.

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

     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)

     Most of the luthiery shop requirements have now been outlined. In the next chapters Woody will discuss guitar wood selection, storage, and the machines, tools, and fixtures one will need in the shop in order to build a guitar.


      When Cherie and I and Matza (the dog) 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 and having fun with on my guitar. One was "Goodbye 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 5,000-mile journey back to, and across the lower 48.  As we loped along at 55 mph, we got more than a few thumbs up from passing vehicles.   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, but she was NOT amused.​​

June 2020 


     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. 

​​​Woody’s Cabin

   Above is a photo in year one of the cabin Woody started building outside of Fairbanks in his first winter (1975). Without electricity or a generator, it took 3 years to build the cabin partly because Woody could only work on it in the summer... after putting in (5 or 6) 10's on a seasonal construction job.  Alaska is the land of the midnight sun. In summer, 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.


​​​​​​​​​​     In the photos here 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 footprint in the shop.​

     There will be much more about specific tools and equipment in the next chapter. ​

     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.  They also liked the idea of re-using the cabinets to build guitars. 


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.

   These little hangers are suspended from a 16-penny nail (sinker) driven through the drywall ceiling and into the ceiling joist above.  First, find the joist and drive the straight, 16 p. nail into the joist. Sink the nail 1/2"-3/4" into the joist. With the hammer claw, 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, hit the nail on the edge of the nail head so that it continues to bend almost into a 'U' (see photo above).  The trick is to hammer the nail into this shape without hitting the drywall ceiling (making a dent).  Finally, bend a piece of wire into a hook on one end and loop it around the nail on the other.
     Woody learned the "U" nail trick described above while living in the Old Nenana Road cabin back in the Fairbanks days. He 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".


​​​     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.

   Kerosene lanterns were Woody’s home/shop/cabin lighting during the winters in Fairbanks.

     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.


           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 15 or 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 involved.
     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. 

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


     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).