Saturday, 29 March 2014

The inner 12 year old - Part III

There were 2 other tough decisions to make - the amount of color to add to the guitars and the topcoat finish. Many of the surviving guitars have faded quite a bit - the red in particular. Which is fine by me - I am not a big fan of ‘red’. Tom assured me that the red will fade very quickly and turn a more mellow brown tone. The other decision was traditional lacquer or part with tradition and use french polish. French polish looks amazing, but will not hold up over time so I opted for the traditional lacquer. 

The most transforming day by far was the day Tom taught me to spray the sunburst pattern on the guitars. I had done some of the finishing prep work ahead of time, a few sealer coats of laquer, pore filler to the mahogany, more sealer coats, but I arrived with a pretty bland looking guitar. I was also curious to see if the much darker sugar maple top would still stand out once the color work was done. I decided to spray the red on both guitars - giving one a heavier coat of red than the other - just to be somewhat different.

Once again, Tom was a fantastic teacher. He gave me a tour of his spray system and used one of my guitars to demonstrate on. He handed me the gun and I did the second one. I have learned enough to know that when someone makes something look easy, it usually isn’t, and spraying was no different. I was slow and awkward - watching Tom was like watching ballet. His movements were totally fluid, no wasted time or movements and took a couple minutes to complete. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to watch him work. By the end of it, I was much more comfortable with it and thankfully, I did not screw anything up.

After spraying the color, it was time to scrape the color off the body and fingerboard bindings. This was a tricky bit to do. I used a razor blade pinched between my fingers and thumb. My finger and thumb acted as a fence following along the edge of the body and then you scrape the paint off. You have to be very careful not to scrape the Mahogany - you risk removing the pore filler and altering the color - it was a pretty tricky process and even my well calloused fingers were sore at the end.

Most people would think that you should just tape off the binding to avoid this step, but if you look at an original late 50’s guitar, you can feel a little step with your fingernail between the binding and the body. I am told this is a telltale sign of authenticity. I didn’t know any differently and figured this is one more of those experiences that was all part of the process.

Here are a couple more shots of one of the guitars with the binding scraped clean.

Once the binding was scraped clean and the finish allowed to cure a bit more, it was time to spray the lacquer. The experience from spraying the color was a huge help, but this was still pretty stressful. Watching Tom was a huge help to get a sense of the motions and positions, but I was still terrified knowing that a sag would mean starting over. So I went slow. Really slow. But nothing went wrong, and in time, I had built up the appropriate amount of finish.

I let the lacquer cure for a week at which point it was hard enough that I was able to start doing the final work to the frets and side binding. This was also the first time I had a chance to see the guitars with all the tape off and the fingerboards and color together.

The soft maple top shown above. 

The sugar maple top shown above. It was amazing to see how the darker sugar maple translated after the color and finish. It is a bit darker, but not nearly as pronounced as before finishing.


One of the last steps is also one of the longest - waiting for the lacquer to cure. My friend Mark tells me that waiting a year to sand and buff the lacquer would be ideal. I was willing to be patient, but I was so close and would not be able to wait that long. But I did wait about 6 weeks on the one, and about 2 months on the other.

As with most sanding jobs - this one was not fun either. It went well, and I was very careful not to sand through any of the finish. Once it was sanded, it was time to buff it to a mirror polish. This was pretty fun, slow, but fun. It was amazing to watch the mirror finish appear. Once the buffing was done, it was time to install hardware. This was another amazing transformation. Installing the tuners, the pick-ups and the strings - it was pretty amazing. The other thing I was really pleased with was the transformation to the lighter fingerboard. Over the last year or so, it seemed to be mellowing out - less vibrant in color and looking a little dull to be honest. I was a little worried I had made a mistake with using it. When the mineral oil hit the wood, all those fears left - it looked fantastic and even though the other board is more traditional, this one is by far my favourite.

Both guitars are completed now except for the truss rod cover and the poker chip that goes under the switch on the one guitar. Once I have those parts, I will takes a bunch of photos and post them.


Blogger Kevin Brehon said...

I love the colours on those guitars. It is great to know that after all this time you can still find new ways to push yourself. Nothing is quite as satisfying as trying something new and succeeding. Will we be seeing lacquer on any planes in the future?

29 March 2014 08:39  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Kevin,

Rest assured, there will not be any lacquer on any planes - at least not out of my shop! It is a pretty cool finish to be honest, I was expecting to hate it, but for this application, it is pretty perfect. Planes - not so much:)


29 March 2014 08:49  
Blogger Chris Bame said...

Nice job on the guitars Konrad. Just curious if you kept track of your time spent on them. I'm with you on the lacquer. It has it's place but it gives me a headache!
How about a one of my bucket list items next… a sailboat : )

31 March 2014 09:27  
Blogger JMAW Works said...

Beautiful work. Seriously, great chairs, guitars (and of course planes) you are going to run out of bucket list projects if you don't start pacing yourself :)

31 March 2014 21:43  
Blogger Lee Laird said...

Way to go Konrad! Two great looking guitars. I'm right there with you, as there was no way I could wait a year (heck, not even 6 months) to rub out the lacquer on my LP. I look forward to seeing the guitars with all the hardware in place, as well as hearing your thoughts on how they play. I expect one will end up as your favorite, once you are plugged in and playing, as is usually the case.

Any chance other family members are south paws, too? Just wondering if there will be any family duets (on these LPs, of course, forthcoming? ;)



1 April 2014 16:31  

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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

First planes of 2014

The end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 have been extremely busy - the guitar project was put on hold until I had a chance to get caught up and get ahead a little bit.

I have had the pleasure of working with more stunning Desert Ironwood as well as a new infill material - one I have been looking forward to for a very long time. More on that a little further down. 

These are in no particular order. The first plane is a Desert Ironwood filled K7. It is fairly dark Ironwood, but there were several flashes of golden grain, and as the plane was coming together and the shape further refined, it kept getting better and better. Here are the final results. 

The next plane is very similar in that it is also infilled with dark Desert Ironwood. This is the last piece of this very dark burl. It was a small piece, but it was a perfect piece of Desert Ironwood and had very little ‘waste’ to it. I was able to get a No.4ss, a SNo.4ss an XSNo.4ss and finally this K4.

( click the image for a larger view)

There was this amazing area of burl clusters along the edge of the roughed out infill set and I had hoped that it would not disappear during the shaping and refining process. Thankfully it didn’t, and the way they follow the curve of the sidewall is marvelous.




This next plane is one that I have been waiting to make for a long time. Nine years ago, I found a small but stunning piece of Ceylon Satinwood - about 2" square and 18" long. It was covered in the most amazing beeswing pattern on both sides and the top had an almost curly figure to it. I had high hopes for the piece and patiently waited for the right plane.

A K4 turned out to be the perfect place to try the satinwood. It is a very small plane - only 4-1/2" long and there is a delicate balance between having enough surface area of the plane to allow the figure to be sufficiently seen and at the same time, not to make something that is so frantic with figure that it defeats the purpose. Like the Desert Ironwood K4 above, this piece of Satinwood had a natural curve to the grain and with some careful orientation and planning, I was able to take advantage of it to follow the flow of the plane.

If anyone is interested, there are 2 more K4’s left in the piece of satinwood.

This next plane is another K7 - infilled with Rosewood. We were in the midst of some serious snowfall and I did not have a chance to get any photos of it on the balcony ledge. This was for a local customer and he picked it up in person which is always a real treat for me. These photos were taken before the french polishing, but the color and grain is so nice, I decided to include the photos anyway.

This was also another new variation for the K7 - steel sides and sole with a bronze lever cap and screw.

This last pair of planes is part of a larger family of planes. They are all infilled with Desert Ironwood from the same piece of wood. One is a Jr. panel plane being 12-1/2" long with a 2" wide blade, and the other is 14-3/4" long with a 2-3/8" wide blade. They have a larger sibling - an 18-1/2" long version.

One of the things I really enjoy with sets of planes is figuring out how to appropriately scale them. It is not simply a matter of adding an extra inch at each end. Well... you could do that, but it would be rather obvious and not nearly as pleasant to look at. Here are several images that I took of the pair of planes followed by a few from the customer who included the 18-1/2" plane. I was really excited to see the 3 of them together to make sure they all scaled well together.

The heel and toe of the planes are a simple but good example of scaling. You can see the 2 different toe treatments above and then the 3 of them together in the images at the end.

Another good example is the tops of the sidewalls where they meet the shoulders of the front bun. On the Jr. panel plane, the shoulder is 1/8" deep. On the 14-3/4" long plane it is 3/16" and on the 18-1/2" plane it is 1/4". It is a little thing, but I really think it helps keep the scale of each plane working better, and also helps them to work well as a family of planes.  

I am hoping to spend a couple days to finish the guitars. They are not yet completed, but are so very close. One of them only needs a bit more buffing and then I can start installing the hardware.  The other needs a full buffing but is ready for that stage right now. I can’t wait to plug them in and blow up an amp:)


Blogger Richard Wile said...

Nice work as always Konrad, a magical supply of Desert Ironwood you have - keep the amp below 11!

18 February 2014 18:45  
Blogger Charlton Wang said...

You're a machine, Konrad!

Nice looking planes!

19 February 2014 02:28  
Blogger Charlton Wang said...

You're a machine, Konrad!

Nice looking planes!

19 February 2014 02:28  
Anonymous Robert said...

The satinwood is remarkable. You are correct, on a small plane the figure pops without being overwhelming.

Is there any chance you would share your method for French polishing? I have read your blog for years and heard you reference French polishing, but the French polish method that I am familiar with - rubbing out the finish multiple times with a pad, pumice, etc - well, I can't see that working very well on small curved surfaces.

Also, any word on a potential book of planes?

19 February 2014 05:55  
Blogger JMAW Works said...

As always incredible work. That satinwood looks unbelievable. Also, I am amazed at how much depth the polish adds, as witnessed by it's omission. I wonder if there is opportunity for design exploration with a matte (sandblasted?) body paired with an unpolished infill.

19 February 2014 08:43  
Blogger Kevin Brehon said...

You have all the best wood! Someday...(heavy sigh)

19 February 2014 23:26  
Blogger Chris Bame said...

Konrad You have been a busy man. Loved the Satinwood on the Steel. And the Trio at the end …perfection !!

21 February 2014 00:37  

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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The inner 12 year old - Part II

Once the fingerboards were done, it was time to switch to the bodies. For some odd reason, I did not take any images up to this stage.  There is a chanel that is routed into the Mahogany to allow for the wiring. This is done before the maple tops are glued on. I have a bit of a confession to make as well - I did not hand carve the tops. They were done using CNC, referencing the contours of a couple of original guitars and then averaged out. When I make another one - I will carve the top myself, just for the experience of doing it. 

The body binding was an interesting adventure. It is a plastic binding and is heated using a heat gun to soften it to conform to the contour of the body. There is a fine line between not enough heat making the binding too stiff, or too hot, turning it into an overcooked spaggetti noodle. The hardest part was around the cutout and Tom’s skill in this area was a huge help.

Once the body binding was on, it was time to scrape it flush with the top, being careful not to scratch the contoured maple top.This was done with a thick card scraper and was easier than I thought it would be. You can see long wood like shavings hanging off the edge.

The neck is mortised into the body of the guitar and there are some tricks to doing this. Tom identified a location on the body where the height of the fretboard needs to be 16.5mm high when extended with a straight edge resting on the tops of the frets. You can see the set-up above and the next 2 images are close-ups of that same set-up.

I made a 16.5mm block to keep things easy to keep track of. It was a delicate balance of adjusting the maple top so the underside of the fingerboard was flush, while keeping the bottom of the neck seated properly in the mortise. Ideally, they should both mate perfectly with those surfaces. There were a few adjustments to the angled shoulder on the neck so it was flush with the end of the body. It was careful work but felt somewhat familiar to plane making - and I was thankful for the extra wiggle room Mahogany offers when compared to 01 tool steel.

The 2 fit necks - these are finally starting to look like guitars!

The next step was to drill the holes for the tuners, the plug, control and switch cavites.  I made a quick jig to hold the guitar body in a parallel position to the back. Pretty simple - walnut blocks with leather to keep things held firmly and somewhat cushioned.

 Drilling the switch cavity.

 Wasting out some bulk of the control cavity on the drillpress.

Wasting out most of the control cavity was worth the effort - plus I don’t really like routers and this greatly reduced the amount of routing time.

Drilling for the plug. I have gotten in the habit of keeping all the offcuts from projects and this is a good example of why. The offcut from the body cutout was the perfect jig for positioning the guitar at the correct angle. You can see the piece of Mahogany at the waist of the body.

Doing the final planing on the Holly headstock veneer.  

Drilling the holes for the tuners. One of the curious aspects of making these guitars was learning some of the processes luthiers use - and not just Tom’s processes. Once the holes are drilled for the tuners, it was time to taper the headstock to the correct thickness. The headstock is 16mm at the neck end and tapers to 14.5mm at the tip. I had asked several luthiers how they do this and most of them answered with some form of fixture and power sanding. This struck me as a little odd so I did it my own way.

 I scribed a line to the correct taper...

... and planed to the line. It was about 4 minutes of work and struck me as a much faster and more accurate way of working not to mention way less messy.

I went to Tom’s place to route the cavities for the pick-ups. I have a set of templates to do this, but he is set-up for it and was generous enough to let me use his tools.

Once the pick-up cavities were done, it was time to finish off the control cavity and switch cavity. 

I used a very small 1/6" bit to drill a pilot and location hole for the controls and switch. I had marked the locations on the top as well and used the pilot hole as a cross-check. The above image shows how close they lined up - everything was working out wonderfully - which is good, because things were about to get really tricky. The holes for the controls need to be angled to match the contour of the top. I used a punch in the holes to check the angles. 

With the angles established, it was time to use another bit to create the angled recess for the bottom of the pots to rest on. These are angled to be as close to parallel to the contoured top as possible. Each recess is slightly different.

 They also needed to be chiseled out to allow for the tabs and wires to not interfere with the fit. The pots need to register solidly on the underside of the control cavity.

The controls and tabs in place. Phew!

As the months wore on, there was one aspect to the guitars that I was avoiding - dreading to be honest. The headstock logo. I did not want to use the Gibson logo. While these are clearly based on a Gibson guitar, they are not made by Gibson. Which left me to come up with something. I know I spent a shocking amount of time thinking about it - over thinking it, stressing about it and general analysis paralysis. In the end, I did not deviate too much from tradition - a stylized signature and a small logo mark. I did however have fun with the fact that these are leftys. Here is where I ended up.

The Adobe Illustrator layout.

The mocked up headstock. This was a big relief to get this resolved and I could finally move to the final sanding stages.

There is rarely a week that goes by where I am not thankful for my Emmert patternmakers vise.

 (this was the first planing job for the K4)

With the bodies and neck sanded, it was time to fit and shape the nut (the piece at the end of the fingerboard that holds the strings to the correct height). Tom showed me a slick way to mark the nut - plane a flat side on a pencil until the tip is at the desired height.

Place the pencil on the frets and mark the height.

Shaping the nut was done in a very small vise mounted to a piece of walnut (an offcut from our dining room table) and mounted in one of my planemaking vises.

Checking the height.

And a few shots of the mostly finished nut. There will be some further fine tuning during set-up.


Time to route the cavity for the headstock inlay. I secured the guitar and used my small router with the same 1/32" bit. It worked really well.

 I placed a drop of CA glue to hold the logo in place and then mixed up some 5 minute epoxy and added a drop of black dye (the same black dye that is used to paint the headstock in the finishing stage).

Once it was dry, I scraped it flush using the same carbide scraper that Riley used for the cuttingboards.

There are usually a few pin holes caused by air bubbles, so a second coat squeegeed on is used to fill those. Once that is dry, re-scrape and do a final sanding.

In hindsight - I should have just used a piece of quarter sawn Ebony for the headstock instead of Holly. Holly was the traditional material for original 59’s, but Ebony would have been way easier. 

With the headstock logo completed as well as all the final sanding - time for finishing!


Blogger BCWOODY said...

Konrad, as usual its excellent work!. The inner kid is at play, pretty much most of the time, I would say.


16 January 2014 11:59  
Blogger David said...

man ho man, you never stop impressing me!! You are so talented, you are my idol… Is there some thing you suck at… lol

Really exceptional work as usual… The planes, the floor, the dining room set, the guitar… What's next?

Keep up the great Work, really inspiring!


16 January 2014 19:33  
Blogger Al DaValle said...

You are inspiring Konrad!!!

21 January 2014 18:23  
Blogger F. said...

You're right about the headstock tapering technique. Guitar makers are all about power tools, jigs and sanding; that's what drove me out of it!

21 January 2014 23:56  
Blogger Unknown said...

hi Konrad, What a timely blog post! My daughter just approached me about helping her make a guitar. Trying to figure this out to see if I can do it. Roughly how much did all the parts cost you? I have to assume this isn't in-expensive. Toby Sauer (One of the other Sauers) ;-)

28 January 2014 18:16  
Blogger Konrad said...

JT - the inner kid is alive and well and plays more often than not. A pretty lucky kid really.


28 January 2014 20:42  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks David. And yes - there are lots of things I suck at - doing paperwork is one - and adapting to change that is not within my control:)

What is next will show up in a few months. Think 600lb piece of wood.


28 January 2014 20:43  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Al - nice to see your name in the comments list. I trust you and your family are all doing well.


28 January 2014 20:44  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Francis,

Nice to hear from you. The world has lost something if you are not making instruments anymore - I hope you are only talking about guitars and not the other instruments you make!


28 January 2014 20:45  
Blogger Konrad said...

Toby Sauer - too cool to have another Sauer in the mix! This particular guitar is not an inexpensive adventure. The wood components are one thing - the electronics are yet another. You could be into $1,000. Pretty fast and it would be easy to cross into $1,500+ range. That being said, you could make a much simpler guitar without the carved top, no sunburst pattern and a bolted on neck. I say go for it - I hope to repeat this process with one of our boys at some point. Riley is looking to make himself a new bed - he is in the one that I spent my childhood years in as did my dad. I guess 3 generations is pretty good.


28 January 2014 20:49  
Blogger Lee Laird said...


Great job. I know I was sweating many of the fine detail areas, during my LP build. It is always great to have someone that's done it before within reach to if nothing else, bat an idea off of. I'm looking forward to the completed guitars. (Dang, I wish I'd made two at the same time. Thinking about making a Bass next.)


Lee Laird

11 February 2014 16:58  
Blogger F. said...

Hello Konrad,
Don't worry, I'm still deeply into viol and violin making, where there's much more room for hand tools!

Will you come to the Lie-Nielsen event in Montreal this year? I'll have a guest room for you if you need.

12 February 2014 00:00  

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