A week in the shop

It’s been a busy week, with lots of building progress, so a fun set of things to write about. But first, let’s do the health and safety bit:


Working in a workshop is safe if you’re careful, but I had one of those lapses whilst rushing due to being tired and paid the price. It was near the end of the day, and I was meant to be meeting friends for dinner, so trying to get things done, and I couldn’t find the right tool for tool for the job (some sharp side cutters) and so used my chisel instead to cut the side dot inlays on the cigar box guitar neck. Not an unreasonable tool, but I wasn’t set up for this: I hadn’t clamped the neck, so I was steadying it with my left hand, and chiseling with my right, and the material gave way quicker than I was expecting, and ouch. The plaster above looks innocent enough, but I managed quite a deep cut there, enough to give me a bit of a scare.

Chisels are quite sharp if well maintained (as mine are), so at least it was a nice clean cut, and luckily not too deep. But ultimately the fault was mine: when using a chisel you want one hand on the handle and the other hand behind the blade guiding it, and you secure your workpiece in a vice or with a clamp. You definitely shouldn’t have your hand in front of the blade. It’s easy to forget these things when flustered or in a rush, but that’s when accidents like this happen.

I still earn most of my money from typing (as a software contractor) so this incident unnerved me quite a bit. So please do be careful out there when building your own things. A nice sharp chisel is a wonderful tool, but needs to be treated with respect (as do most things in the workshop). I’m generally quite good about workshop safety, using PPE, etc., but it just takes one small lapse and you have an injury.

My penance has been I’ve not played guitar all week, and had to spend my daily practice slot reading up on music theory and doing audio interval training.

The cigar box has come along leaps and bounds. At the end of last week I’d laser etched the fret-slot guides into the fretboard and clamped it for gluing, so at the start of the week I came in and unclamped it and started to trim the fretboard flush with the rest of the neck. The majority of the overhang I removed using the bandsaw, which left me with just a couple of millimetres of fretboard wood to get rid of, along with the glue that had seeped out when I clamped things down.


Normally I’d use a hand router with a follow bit to get the fretboard flush, but this neck doesn’t have a flat underside preventing me from that route (ho-ho), so I instead went unpowered and broke out the No 4 hand plane and my chisels. Now that Makespace has a set of well maintained tools, doing it this way was much simpler and satisfying, and not much slower, so a technique I’ll perhaps return to in the future for this job.


It also reminded me of how good wood glue is: I’m always amazed that it’ll hold on shavings like this:


Because of the shape of the headstock protrudes beyond the sides of the neck I couldn’t plane all the way to the end of the fretboard, so the last little bit I got down with my chisels. For this you want a sharp broad chisel, taking little shavings off repeated rather than doing big chunks, but it’s still fairly fast work.

I could have glued the wings on the headstock after I’d added the fretboard and just used the plane for everything at this stage, but then I’d not have been able to plane the headstock face flat as I did last week (as the fretboard lip would be in the way); sometimes there just isn’t a perfect ordering, and you have to pick the approach with the least compromises.

With the fretboard now nice and flush, I next set about cutting the slots to roughly the correct depth. I say roughly, as I did this before radiusing the fretboard (which would remove the laser etched guides I made), so I have to do another pass later on to get the final depth post radius.


Before radiusing I also added the inlays to both the side of the fretboard and the face. Normally I’d insert the side dots along the glue line between the fretboard and the neck, which is very unforgiving in terms of accuracy: it’s really obvious if you’re out of alignment even slightly. Given that on this build I had gone with a deeper fretboard than usual, for a change I did the inlays purely in the fretboard side for a change. I’m not sure it’s actually any less forgiving than doing them along the seam given how close you are to it, but it’s interesting in that it’s potentially also something one could do before gluing the fretboard on, giving you more flexibility in your assembly order.

Inlays done, I then used my new long radius sanding block to put the 9.5” radius on the fretboard. On a cigar box guitar you technically don’t need to radius the fretboard, as the fretboard is very narrow and the strings are set to have a high action to allow for slide playing, but I had an ulterior motive here as you’ll see shortly. The longer sanding block was a step up from the 6” one I normally use, as it was much easier to keep it aligned with the neck rather than skewing to one side as you push along the neck.


With the fretboard radiused and the fret slots recut to ensure the edges were deep enough, it was time to put in the frets. Normally I hammer home the frets into the slots, but I wanted to see if an alternative approach might be easier. To this end I got to use the fret press I made myself a while back for the first time. The press consists of a 9.5” radius bit, which is why I had to radius the fretboard even though it wasn’t technically necessary for this guitar, which is then connected to an arbor press via a 3D printed jig I made.


The other trick I used this time that I’d not done before  was to use a small V shaped file to widen the top of the slot to make it easier to get the frets home, which I can definitely recommend. I try to avoid using glue with my frets, so as to make it easier to replace the frets down the line should the wear out, and to do this I cut a very tight slot, which makes the frets hard to get started in the slot. This slight widening makes getting them to start easier, and doesn’t come close to where the fret tangs start to grip.

The press worked, and was less stress and hassle than just hammering the frets home, but wasn’t stress free itself. If you don’t get the frets suitably started before pressing them then they will just fall over as you push down, or worse they’ll go in at an angle which you really don’t want. I was also hoping the resultant frets would be closer to level than when I hammer them home, but you still do need to level them (or you would on a real guitar, for a cigar box guitar with very high action this was good enough). But as I say, it as less hassle overall, and you get a much more consistent fit this way off the bat, so I’ll definitely use this method again in future.

The other tip I’d give you here is not to cut the fretwork too short when cutting it off the reel. There’s a real temptation to be as efficient as possible to get as many frets out of a reel of wire as possible, but when you cut the wire you will inevitably distort the shape as your cutters compress into the material, and this makes it harder to get the frets in. I forgot to bring in my second reel on this particular day, so was trying to eek out as many frets as possible from this short strip I had, and in the end made life harder for myself as a result.

Whilst I’d made the bridge for the strings a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t yet figured out how I’d attach the strings to the heel of the neck. I considered running the strings through the heel end of the neck, using ferrules to secure them on the back and guide them on the front, but that seemed a little professional for a cigar box, particularly given I’d made the bridge out of a bolt I found in the workshop; I wanted to continue that rough and ready feel. In the end I searched for some nicely styled hinges on eBay, and found some ornate ones meant for a dolls house that seemed to fit the bill stylistically, and almost exactly were the right size. With a couple of extra holes drilled in on one side to hold the strings, it seems perfect.


I’m quite pleased that it adds to the hand made look of the instrument. This means the only bits I did build myself on this guitar are the tuning pegs.

With the front of the neck completed, I could now start to shape the rest of it, both carving the back of the neck and shaping the headstock. To shape the neck I carved it as I normally would using a mixture of rasps, but I was a little more conservative on how much material to leave: this neck doesn’t have a truss rod, so I wanted to leave as much wood on as I comfortably could to ensure it has enough strength to withstand the string pull.


The headstock design I did freehand, which was a fun experience. I sat down with the tuners and a pencil and ruler and just started to rough out where I wanted things.


I then used a combination of bandsaw and spindle sander to get the shape, and the pillar drill to make the holes for the tuners, and suddenly it’s starting to look close to finished…


I did in fact manage to get it strung up and tuned, though in my excitement forgot to take any pictures! Still, it’s got a little bit to go yet: I still need to do the electronics, and the wood needs a proper sanding down and finishing oil applied, and the fret ends need dressing as they’re still rough from trimming. That said, I was impressed with how good it sounds acoustically, given this particular cigar box has a cardboard lid, which I didn’t expect to be so resonant. 

My main goal here was to have something that was roughly done in time next weekend’s Liverpool Makefest, so mission accomplished!

Despite having a lot of fun learning new techniques and going freehand with the cigar box guitar, I did return to the corvette guitar I started last month, and now that we have a thicknesser to let me trim wood down to size, I set about making the neck using a laser cut template.


First step was to screw the template to the neck (masking tape really isn’t enough to withstand a hand router ;), and once secured I then used the bandsaw to get rid of most of the material, leaving just a few millimetres material to remove with the hand router. I then carefully followed the template around using the hand router to get the neck profile cut.


Whilst I’ve cut many profiles using templates and a hand router before, a new stage here for me was also cutting the truss rod slot using the hand router (normally I’ve made my necks using the CNC Router). Thanks to a recommendation from Matt at Fidelity Guitars I’d acquired a 1/4” follow router bit that is just the right width for the slot. I was a little tricky to get everything to the right depth, but in the end I managed to get a spot on fit. I did a long time ago make a very complicated jig for doing the truss rod slots with a hand router, but this smaller follow bit turns out to be quite workable.


The next step for this neck is to make a jig to hold the neck straight along its length when I use tools like the bandsaw and the spindle sander to get the headstock to the right thickness and add the transition curve. I also need to drill the tuner holes.

And that’s it, other than to remind you all yet again that I’ll be at Liverpool Central Library this coming Saturday (29th June) taking part in Liverpool Makefest again, showing how guitars are made and trying to inspire people to try making things themselves. if you’re in the area, please do stop by and say hello!

A few days in the shop

This week was a short one workshop-wise due to having to travel to attend the funeral of my Grandad. He was a big part of my childhood, and the funeral impacted me more than I expected, and I had to take some time to come to terms with it. I wrote some thoughts up about it here, but it’s another reminder that our span of existence is finite, so you should try get on with things where you can.

I moved along the cigar box guitar a little this week. Having roughed out the neck on the bandsaw at the end of last week I started trying to get it fleshed out properly. First up was an easy job: I used the spindle sander to round out the neck to body transition, which needed a tighter radius than I could get on the bandsaw:


The next task was adding wings to the headstock. I’ve always wanted to make a guitar with an angled headstock (like you’d find on a Gibson or PRS guitar, as opposed to the flat headstocks I normally make), and the cigar box guitar seemed like a good opportunity to give that a try. The wood I had to make the neck was large enough I could make an angled headstock without having to resort to scarf joints, I could just cut it all out with the angle included. To get the full-on traditional angled headstock I wanted to make it broader than the neck is, which is typically done by glueing on wings. So I took some of the excess material from cutting the neck and with the bandsaw quickly made some wings, and giving both head side of the headstock and wings a run over with a small hand plane to let me get a nice jointing surface.


I cut the wings slightly deeper than the headstock to make it easier to align them when gluing, but that then meant I had to find a way to trim them down afterwards.

On the top side I just used a small No 4 hand plane (after first removing most of the excess glue with a chisel). This worked quite well, leaving me with a nice flat surface and very little indicator of the seam other than the grain pattern (this is why you should always hand plane surfaces you’re going to join!). Originally I had planned to put a veneer on the headstock to hide the joints, but it’s come out sufficiently well I don’t think I’ll do that now.


Planing the top side flat also means it’s already got a nice smooth finish without the need for lots of sanding, which is always a win.

The rear side was much more challenging due the the fact you can’t get a hand plane in there due to the neck to headstock transition. On the rear. In the end I used a combination of a chisel, a scraper, and a spoke shave to get this smoothed out. It still needs work but the wings are at least now level with the rest of the headstock. But given the relationship here between the neck and the headstock will change as I carve the neck I decided to finish this off once I’ve done that. 


Before I carve the neck I wanted to glue the fretboard on to give the whole thing more rigidity. First step here was to laser etch the fretboard using a design made with my online fretboard design generator. Whilst the aim is to do as much of the cigar box by hand as possible, getting the fret spacing right is important, and I wrote the code to generate the fretboard design by hand… ;) Also, the laser etching doesn’t cut the slots properly, it is just giving me a slight guide to where I’ll need to saw the slots.


Here I did make a slight mistake of assuming that the lattice frame that makes the bed in the laser cutter was perfectly aligned such that I could use it as a guide, but alas it is not. So when I etched the fret slots using the bed as a reference I ended up cutting them at a slight angle off true! I’ve attempted to compensate for this when I glued the fretboard on, and I’ll get to find out tomorrow if I was successful, but it’s just Yet Another Example of that mantra Measure, Measure, Cut! My mistake was in assuming the bed was aligned and not measuring it myself - still at least I learned it on a fun project rather than something where I was more invested (normally I use paper on the bed to give me an outline as the fretboard is tapered by this point).


The wood for the fretboard is a new one to me, Ovangkol, which I got at random when buying some other wood in my effort to find a non-rosewood fretboard material that is just as easy to work with and has some nice figuring to it. This visually fits the bill, and I test cut some frets on an off-cut with my japanese pull saw and it has a nice even texture. You can see if I’m still happy after cutting 18 fret slots next week.

I also put the jack socket for the electronics into the cigar box body, which made it clear to me that the body will need some reinforcement, as the cigar box walls are quire thin and with the material removed to let the neck run through it’s quite flexible now, and probably won’t take the weight of a guitar cable on it. Once the neck is in place I’ll have to make sure to attach the walls to the neck to give them rigidity.

As mentioned last week I ordered a new demo amp. Whilst I love the amp I made, which is still my daily player, it’s got one particular sound it does well, and that’s it. For a demo amp I wanted something as versatile as possible:

  • Great sound dynamics to show off the guitars (i.e. high end solid state or valve)

  • Loud, so those who gig can get a proper sense of the guitar at volume

  • Quiet, so I can demo the guitar in Makespace or at shows without being thrown out

  • Headphones, for events where no loud noise is acceptable

  • Variety of tones, so you can dial in Fender-like and Marshall-like and everything in between

I looked at many options, but in the end found a good deal on a Blackstar HT-20R, which seems to tick all the boxes. It is a 20 Watt valve amp with a 2 Watt option and headphones out. It even has USB audio put too, which makes recording quick demos easy without having to mic up. It also has a good number of voices, with a clean and overdrive channel, and then two “voices” in each of those (AFAICT, it just pushes the pre-amp harder when you switch to the second voice). Those channels and voices are switchable with an included foot-switch, so it’s quite easy to set up and then play with a variety of sounds without much hassle.

To test it out I booked a session at Rhinocorn Studios in Cambridge. Whilst I can play the 2 Watt mode at home, the 20 Watt mode definitely is too loud for home :)


It sounds really good, and I think will make an excellent demo amp. The Fender-y and Marshall-y tones that are available via the ISF control on the amp are not *very* Fender-y or Marshall-y, but it’s enough to give you the jist. It’s quite a neutral sounding amp, so not something I’d probably go to for my daily amp (I liked something with more of a distinct character), but that’s perfect for what I want it for in a demo amp that should let lots of people with different tastes find a sound they like in it.

If you’re in the Cambridge area and fancy trying one of my guitars, it’s suddenly got much easier to do so!

I’m still getting the new thicknesser Makespace has purchased set up. I wrote up a first pass of the risk assessment Makespace requires for any heavy kit like this. I’d never written a risk assessment before, so I just based it on a combination of existing Makespace risk assessment documents and other such documents for thicknessers I found on the Internet. Hopefully it’ll at least be a good start to making the directors happy.

Next up Jonathan (who helps run Makespace day-to-day) and I tested out the extraction coupling on the thicknesser. We didn’t have enough 100mm diameter hose to hook it up properly, but we were able to confirm that if you have the extaction hooked up the to thicknesser then it makes hardly any waste.


Jonathan had plenty of ”test” wood to double check this with - I thought I’d make Makespace buy this for me, but I think Jonathan is even more excited about it than I am :) I was also able to help out another member who was trying to make a trophy plaque get his wood nice and even - he let me run his material through the thicknesser rather than have him hand plane it, saving him a lot of time: it’s nice that this tool is already helping Makespace members with their projects even before being available to the wider community.

I did some other jobs around Makespace - CNC Router training and maintenance took up a large chunk of Saturday and some of Sunday, and I 3D printed a missing part for the scroll saw (I already had the design as I 3D printed one the last time it went missing!).


It’s always a fine line between working on your own projects and investing time into the workshop to help the broader community. Both need doing, but you need to find a balance that lets you move your projects forward whilst creating the right environment in which to work.

A week in the shop

Not a hugely productive week, as I was blocked waiting for some new kit to arrive (see below), so I paused guitar building for the most part and focussed on other things. However, I did get some bits done, so let’s take a look.

I took another crack at the setup for the Recovery Offset guitar, which is now playing pretty good.


I tweaked the nut a bit and got the intonation just right by tweaking the bridge setup. I’ve had a couple of people stop by to see it and the general reception has been good, from people who I trust to tell me if it was rubbish. This is good, as I tend to be always focussed on how I could have done something better, so it’s nice to get external feedback on both the good and the bad points.

All that really remains for this guitar is for me to take some pics and do a quick demo video and then get it up on reverb for sale! If you’d like to see it then just drop me a line.

I had a friend from a previous part of my career stop by this week to see where I built the guitars and to try some out: I suspect like a lot of people he was bemused that this computer geek had suddenly started making things in the real world :)

It was lovely to catch up with Nick, and it was interesting to see what bits of the guitars I had to hand at the time he liked and didn’t like. For example, Nick’s mostly played Fender Strats, and so whilst he liked the Recovery Offset shown above, the moment I gave him a t-style to play (which has the same 25.5” scale length as a strat, as opposed to the shorter 24” scale length of the offset) he clearly was more at home. This was despite that older t-style being in to have it’s neck replaced as I’m not happy with the build quality compared to what I can do today.

The one thing Nick’s visit did make me aware of is that I need a better amp stashed at Makespace for demos when people visit. An electric guitar is useless unless it can be heard, and whilst I have my little Blackstar Fly as a workbench amp to let me test, it doesn’t let you hear a guitar properly sing. Also, I’m getting to the stage where I have several guitars built that I can demo, so I might try making an appearance at guitar shows in the near future, and I’ll need an amp to use at those.

Picking an amp for this set of use cases is a little tricky, as it’s not like buying an amp for me, where I have a sound I like and that’s all it needs to do. Indeed, this is why the amp I made for myself isn’t a good demo amp, as it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Instead I need an amp that can do a wide range of voices to cater to the many tastes of players who might try my guitars. Obviously lots of cheaper solid state amps will do modelling, however I want a amp that will be of a quality/fidelity that a gigging musician might be familiar with so they can hear the instrument at its best; the amp has to show off the guitars as it is effectively part of my sales process. Finally it has to cope with the fact that different venues where I’ll demo (guitar shows where you’re up against other stalls, Makespace where it’s less noisy and I have less room to make noise, and there’s some shows where it’s headphones only but you still need something to drive the headphones.

I spent a day doing a bunch of research into amps that might fit all those spots, and before I could kick the tyres any more I spotted a bargain on one of the options I was looking at, the Blackstar HT-20R, and decided that given how hectic my time is right now and it was a bargain from a reputable store, I just pulled the trigger and hope it’ll do all that I need. On paper it seems good, but obviously only the ears will tell!

As mentioned last week, we ordered a Metabo DH330 planer thicknesser for Makespace, and that arrived this week. As I’ve said before, I think in any workshop where you get in raw timber and are not just cutting wood from panels of ply or MDF then a thicknesser is an essential bit of kit. I had worried that this was just my opinion, but feedback has been very positive in Makespace at the news of the thicknesser’s arrival. It’s good to know a lot of people will get to use this addition to Makespace beyond myself!


We spend some time setting up the Metabo, in particular tweaking the shelves that support the wood as it enters and exits the machine to try reduce the snipe (overcut) you get as the wood enters and exits the cutting area. We managed to get it pretty low, but not totally eliminated. The general opinion on the Internet is that with fettling it is possible so we’ll take another pass at it soon, but as it is right now it’s pretty usable. 

My next steps for this are to do the risk assessment for Makespace and then come up with a training plan so we can get other members certified to use it.

With the thicknesser installed at the end of the week I didn’t get much chance to use it, but it did let me get a few bits of wood processed, and I ended the week by getting the cigar box guitar properly started. The aim of this project is to build something by hand, rather than using either the CNC Router or templates using the hand router. I’m trying to break away from my fear of doing things slightly more freehand, which is an essential skill in woodworking, as the wood will often throw you a curve ball than you need to deal with, no matter how well planed your initial steps.

To this end, having thicknessed a bit of wood for the neck, I then sketched out the profile of the cigar box on the wood, and took it to the bandsaw for rough shaping. If you look closely you can see the pencil marks on the wood I drew by hand as to where I needed to cut.


As I noted a couple of weeks ago, in the past I tended to view the bandsaw as a crude instrument, but when it has a nice sharp blade on it it’s actually a fairly precise instrument, so I was able to get quite close to all the lines I needed. After about ten minutes and a lot of dust later, I had the neck roughed out. Due to the small thought on the current Makespace bandsaw I couldn’t make all the cuts I wanted, but I got close enough and then used a chisel to get the last bits done.


Neck roughed out, I then needed to cut slots into the cigar box to let me mount the neck. For this I broke out my Japanese pull saw that I normally use for cutting fret slots. The sides of the cigar box are not that thick and are not made from the most rigid of woods, so I wanted a nice sharp blade for this that I knew wouldn’t pull unnecessarily on the box.


The other bit I did was take some offcuts from the neck and shape those to glue on to the headstock as wings to give me more room for the tuners to fit. Unfortunately someone else had got started on gluing their furniture job before I reached this stage, so all the G-clamps of the right size were in use, so that was it for this week. However, a good start. Next up will be making the fretboard.

The one other thing I did this week was be part of the Makespace team attending an event at the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge University. The IfM are one of the key sponsors of Makespace, which is why we had a stand there, and we had a good range of things built at Makespace on display. I took along one of the guitars and the amp I made, and in general it was both amusing and satisfying to see the looks of amazement that products so well finished can be achieved in a community workshop.


And that’s not just me - on display was a clock that Graeme built and the laser etched maps that Jonathan is making on oak now, the output of Makespace is at an all time high, and it’s nice to be part of that wave where we all inspire each other to do better things.

A week in the shop

Having completed the initial stringing up of the Recovery Offset last week, and leaving it under tension for the better part of a week (in part due to my repeatedly forgetting to bring my clip-on tuner to the workshop several days running; I really need two of these so I can leave on in the workshop all the time), I set about seeing how the guitar has settled in. I was worried that the neck pocket might need lowering a little, but after doing further setup on the guitar (finishing the nut filing, setting up the bridge properly to get the intonation right) then it all seemed okay. 


Once I was happy with the setup (at least without playing it more), I turned my attention to the electronics. As with the last offset I made that had traditional mustang style single coils (the Bronco pickups from the ever excellent House of Tone pickups) I’ve gone for a 4 position rotary pickup selector, which gives the player the ability to chose between the bridge and neck pickups individually, and then both in series or in parallel. The pickups are wound in opposite directions, so you get hum-cancelling properties when both pickups are in play.

Given I’d used this wiring configuration before I thought I’d just go back to my notes and find the wiring diagram I used last time. Alas, it turned out my “notes” were a photo of a picture I’d draw by hand at some point, which is usable but not ideal.


I need to do better at this! I’d like to publish then on this website, at least for anything where I’m not using a traditional layout that can be found on the hugely useful Seymour Duncan wiring guides page. But for this week the photo of my notes had to do. So, out I was with the soldering iron, and a little while later everything was good.


This was probably the first guitar I’ve soldered up where everything both worked first time and fit in nice and neatly. I guess that’s a little bit of experience starting to set in (about time :). All that remains now is to get the strap buttons on then I can give it a proper test session. I’m glad this guitar has come together in time for Liverpool Makefest at the end of the month, where it’ll be my demo guitar this year. 

I was hoping to get started on the cigar box guitar this week, but the bit of wood I shaped up last week ended up getting a knock on it, right where I wanted the fretboard to join. Annoying, as this means I need to plane off the top layer of the wood again. This caused me to finally decide that enough was enough, and that a planer thicknesser isn’t a luxury in a wood workshop, but an essential if you’re doing anything beyond making panels from ply or MDF. 

For those less familiar with this item, a planer thicknesser is a machine into which you can feed in planks of wood and it’ll shave off the top layer, letting you take then down to the right thickness. When making anything out of timer a thicknesser is the right way to get wood to the correct thickness. Until now in Makespace I’d had to either hand thickness things use a hand plane (a lot slower and less accurate) or the CNC Router (a lot slower and I don’t trust our CNC Router that much). Alternatively I’ve used a friend’s thicknesser in return for beer or such, but that’s also slow in a different way, as I need to wait until they’re available.

But right now I want to be making progress, and I see this as pretty much an essential tool to guitar building, so it’s time I got myself sorted with one.

I had a chat with one of the directors at Makespace, the community workshop I use, and asked whether if I bought a thicknesser I could use it in the workshop there, but as the discussion progressed, and it was clear this tool has uses beyond just my own, then we shifted to the idea of Makespace having a thicknesser and I would be the owner - doing the risk assessment, making sure it kept in good order and training people who would like to use it.

This is a good outcome for me, and I think for Makespace. Thanks to the effort several of us have been making to get the woodworking part of the Makespace workshop into a better shape we now have quite a few people building furniture, so it’s not just me that will benefit, there’ll be a bunch of people who can immediately take advantage of this.

So, we ordered a Metabo DH330, and hopefully it’ll turn up in the next couple of days and I can get cutting some wood down to size!

As part of trying to get more skilled, I also took a step over to the metalwork side of the workshop, and got trained on the metal mill that Makespace has (as pictured here with Jim being shown the ropes of this particular machine):


Although it looks quite technical, it’s actually quite a basic machine that lets you move the metal around in three axis by hand, though quite precisely thanks to a digital positing readout. But it doesn’t have any automatic feed, so you can’t do any particularly complicated shapes: you’re limited to making straight edge cuts or drilling out material. As an example of these, I made a mild steel die:


I’ll have to do more research to see if I’m wrong about not being able to produce curves this way, but as it stands given it’s limitations, I suspect it’s going to be less useful to me than what I’d hoped. I thought I might be making my own pickup surrounds or bridges or such, but those require that I can precisely machine curves, and given the stated limitations I don’t think I’d be able to make anything that was up to the standard that I’d want to match what I can do in wood.

Still, learning is always a good thing, and I’m sure it’ll come in unexpectedly useful at some point.

A week in the shop

I’ll start by getting one of the more exciting and unusual things out of the way from this last week: I was on a podcast! I was honoured to have been interviewed for the Liverpool Makefest Meet The Maker podcast by veteran podcaster Dan Lynch, where we talked about how I got into guitars, what it’s like working out of a maker space, and the community aspects of both those things. You can hear the podcast here.

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It seems to have worked out okay, despite my habit of injecting “erm” to every other phrase :) 

In the previous week I got myself refreshed on how to use the Roland Model Mill at Makespace, with the idea that I might use that to cut the pick guard for the Recovery Offset given how flakey the CNC Router has been, and I’m fed up of it eating all my nice material. I started out this week by making my own sacrificial bed for the Roland using the CNC Router, which is an odd way to start not using the CNC Router by immediately using it.


The people looking after the Roland mill at Makespace have decreed that the regular “sacrificial” bed on the model mill isn’t to be marked or damaged (which is fair enough, given it’s mostly used by the Makespace populous for shaping foam as far as I can tell), so if you want to make anything where you might cut through your material all the way you need to make your own sacrificial bed and swap that in place of the Makespace one. Being me I did a quick model of the bed in Fusion and then set about CNC routing some MDF into shape. If anyone else needs to make a bed for a Roland MX-40A then you can find the design I made in Fusion 360 here (it’s not a complex model, but might save you five minutes).

New bed made, I then set about levelling it. Material you buy (such as this MDF) isn’t perfectly flat, so once attached to the machine I used a 1” wide bit to repeatedly cut a tiny slice off the top until I’d got the entire surface even (i.e., it was now perfectly level relative to the cutting head). This is where I got my first experience of how different the power is between the CNC Router and the Roland mill. Taking anything more than a few tenths of a millimetre would cause the spindle to jam and the cutting head to stall.

Bed levelled, I then moved onto cutting some scrap acrylic to test how the mill performed with that, and whilst I made some progress, even using the recommended settings the Roland seemed to be struggling. In the end I found even taking 0.1mm with a 6mm cutter would cause things to jam on occasion, and I also (in part I imagine due to the lack of extraction on our mill) managed to get a bit encased in melted acrylic which then hardened solid by the time I removed it, rendering the bit useless.


All in all, it was a sad performance. To be fair, this mill is quite old now and I imagine has had quite a bit of use, so perhaps a well serviced Roland mill might cope. It could also be I’m too used to the CNC Router and I’m approaching it wrong. But whatever the cause, it was clear that I wouldn’t be using the mill to make my pick guards right now.

Despite a setback on the Roland mill, I was determined to make progress on this guitar, so I decided to risk using the CNC Router to cut the pick guard. I’ve been very reluctant to do this as I have a very nice bit of material I want to use for this task with no easy route to a replacement; this is in part why I’ve procrastinated so long on this. However, with no other obvious option I sat down again the CNC Router and did some testing on acrylic scraps until I was happy with the finish I was getting with different feeds, speeds, and cut depths.


On major thing I noticed was that with acrylic, although I can cut small holes using a drill bit, I really needed to mill them using a tiny end mill. The reason for this is that a 2mm drill bit has quite a bit of flex in it due to its length, and as the bit touches the very smooth to surface of the acrylic it’ll slide about as it first touches the top surface as the bit flexes until the tip properly bites. This means the hole will not be perfectly aligned. If instead I bore the same 2 mm hole using a 1.5 mm end mill bit, which has a much shorter length and thus less flex in it, I get a much more precise placement of the final hole. On wood I suspect the drill bit would dig in better on contact rather than slide, but it’s something to note if you’re doing any CNC drilling that you might be better milling, even if you just mill a pilot hole before using a longer drill bit to get a deeper hole.

Experiments done, I then finally got to cutting the wonderful reflective/smoked pick guard material I had:


It was a bit nerve-wracking, but  after an hour or so I finally had what I wanted:


It looks amazing. Note the tiny margin I had when I screwed down the pickup hole inners to stop them moving when being cut out: that’s the joy of precision machining :)

With the pick guard put in place, the recovery offset is now looking stunning:


Pickguard sorted, I then set about cutting the nut to shape, and getting it strung up:


Disappointingly, with the strings on the action was a little low at the high frets, so I suspect I’ll need to lower the neck pocket a touch. Before I do that I put the guitar to one side to let the neck adjust to being under tension, and I’ll see this week what I need to do to it to get the action to feel right.

Obviously it’d have been good to find this out sooner, but as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, my earlier methodology (as it was when I started this guitar a long time ago) wasn’t suited to in progress testing, meaning I only find these things out at the end. It’s something I’m changing with the new builds I’ve started, as I hate getting to this point and having to tweak.

As mentioned last week, I plan on making a cigar box guitar as a bit of fun. I now have a lovely cigar box, kindly donated by Amir, which is very pretty and will make for a beautiful final instrument I think.


This week the neck wood, along with the other neck blanks for regular guitars I ordered, arrived. The neck for a cigar box guitar is essentially the main structural part of guitar itself: there is a single bit of wood that runs from the headstock, along the neck, through the body, and down to the tail of the box where the strings join. The cigar box itself is attached to this central piece to add resonance if you’re making an acoustic cigar box guitar, or for an electrical just to give it a better shape to play and somewhere to mount the electronics.

Because you need a longer bit of wood that will go for the entire length of the instrument for the neck I can’t use a regular guitar neck blank for a cigar box guitar, I needed something longer. A regular neck blank is of the order of 700mm, whereas for this I need something closer to 900mm. I managed to find a 3.5”x3.5”x36” bit of limba wood, which in theory is enough to make the necks for 4 cigar box guitars, but I’ll be happy if I get two out of it given my lack of practice in making these instruments. 

To cut it down to two bits of the right width I tackled it with the workshop bandsaw. Normally I tend to view a bandsaw as a crude instrument, but this week (thanks to the help of Graeme) I’ve realised that if you have a fresh blade on the bandsaw and it’s tensioned correctly you can get quite fine cuts out of it. In this instance I was able to get quite a straight line out of it along the length of my limba, turning it into the desired thickness for two necks:


The bits are quite deep, so I think I’ll take advantage of that and go for an angled headstock on the first one rather than a flat headstock as I’d originally planned. I spent a little bit of time revising my design for this, and I think I can see how it’ll come together now.

I ordered in some of the hardware bits for the cigar box guitar too this week. Whilst it was briefly tempting to wind my own pickups for this one, I have too many projects on the go as it is, so I opted to buy one from Coney Custom that would suit a four string build and has a nice wood housing. I also found some cheap open back tuners on eBay that I thought looked the part.


Whilst browsing around for parts I spotted a bridge I liked, but given it was out of stock, I decided to try make my own in the same style. To make it more fun (it was a Friday afternoon after all) I decided to do so by hand using whatever I found in the workshop there and then. Thus I went into the workshop and found a bolt to use as the string guide and half a pen blank in the wood turning supplies to use as the base for the bridge. Then I used the combination of the hand router to cut the two grooves for the bolt to sit in, and then bandsaw, spindle sander and belt sander to get the final shape down, I ended up with this:


I’m quite pleased with the results, and it was nice to make something essentially on a whim without resorting to CAD or such as I’m usually given to. Again, I was particularly impressed with the cuts I got off the freshly setup bandsaw. It was able to take off wafer thin slices to let me tweak the height of the bridge:


Next week I’ll hopefully get started on shaping the neck.

A week in the shop

Last week I wrote about how I’d been making progress hand thicknessing a neck blank, but alas that all went a bit Pete Tong this week.


I was struggling with this particular bit of maple due to the multi-directional grain making it prone to tearing, and in the end just as I was getting it down to the right thickness it tore some more, and now it’s unlikely I can make a neck from this bit of wood. Still, a useful lesson on how to work with tough bits of wood, and I need some neck sized jigs to let me line up necks when shaping them on the band saw and spindle sander, so it’s not a total loss as I can use this for one of those.

One of the problems was despite the nice new blade for my plane, the sharpening stones at Makespace were worn almost smooth, so I was struggling on my new tougher steel blade re-honed. Graeme stepped in and ordered Makespace both some new blades for the No 4 and No 5 planes we refurbished the other week, and got us a new diamond 600 grit sharpening stone, so we should be better equipped next time.

I’ve ordered some replacement bits of neck maple from the usual place, so hopefully they’ll turn up shortly and I can try again.

I did take another crack at making the neck template again for the new neck I want to make for The Blues Deluxe t-style, a guitar I made a while back. Last week the laser cutter hadn’t been playing ball power wise as I tried to cut 5mm clear acrylic, but this week it was in a better mood and I managed to get a couple of iterations in as I tried to adjust the template to make the neck fit snug with the pocket in this body (which I didn’t do the design for, so I can’t just make it magically fit).


The main thing you need to be careful with when laser cutting templates is the kerf: that is the material that is vaporised by the laser, making the thing you’re left with a couple of tenths of a millimetre smaller than you expected. It’s not just the size of the kerf that you have to worry about though, it’s also the angle: there is more material vaporised at the top of the cut than at the bottom, so you  have a sloped edge. If you then take a router bit with a bearing on it to follow this template, the amount you cut away will depend where that bearing rests upon the slope. 

Still, I’ve got something that fits well, and indeed fits better than the current neck on that guitar, so once the new maple turns up I can try moving that forward again.

I still need to make a pick guard for the Recovery Offset i’ve been building. If truth be told, I’ve been putting this off, as I’ve had so many things go wrong on the CNC Router in the last few months, I think I have a bit of a mental block on using it now - I just expect it to do me wrong and ruin the nice acrylic I have. But I really want to get this guitar finished before Liverpool Makefest, and all that’s really blocking it is this pick guard.

So, to try and find a way forward, I got myself trained on the smaller Roland Desktop Mill we have at Makespace:


Although clearly no good for making guitar bodies or neck, the bed is big enough for me to make a pick guard. My tasks this week include doing some test cuts on acrylic to check how well it works, and see how I can work around the fact you can’t drill with this, so you need to bore with smaller bits. 

At the start of the week Laura and I went to see Samantha Fish, who was playing in Cambridge. It definitely gave me a new guitar hero: she can really play, and got some amazing sounds out of her rig, which included a Gibson SG in standard tuning, a PRS in open tuning for slide, and a cigar box guitar that she made sound just as good as the two “proper” guitars she was playing. You can see an example of her playing the cigar box here.

Given my string of setbacks in guitar building of late, I feel the need for some cheap wins to try and get a sense of having finished something, so I took this gig as inspiration to knock up a cigar box guitar for fun. My friend Amir has donated one of his prized collection of cigar boxes (one he actually got in Havana!) to the project, and given I was ordering some new neck blanks I’ve ordered some wood to make the neck for this (a nice bit of black limba).


This box has a wooden base but cardboard sides, so wouldn’t be ideal if I was intending to make an acoustic cigar box guitar, but I plan to electrify it, so all should be good. Being the engineer I am, I worked out the rough design in Fusion 360, even though I plan to make this entirely by hand, something that my friend Jim has teased me about, given the spirit of a cigar box guitar is just to make it rough and ready out of what is to hand. But I’m a nerd at the end of the day, and this is how I think even if I’m just roughing out ideas :)

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Having got a rough idea of how it’s going to sit together I just need the wood to turn up!

Speaking of Jim, he’s started making progress on the new workbench for the Makespace workshop, something we desperately need. As we’ve improved the state of the workshop over the last half year, we’re seeing a corresponding increase in usage, which is good, but we keep running out of bench space. So it’s great to see the new bench start to move forward, which’ll almost double the available space.

Jim wanted to have a nice pattern of bench dog holes in one half of the workbench, so I helped out by knocking up a quick design in Fusion 360, and then using the CNC Router to make all the holes.


It was fun cutting something that was the size of the CNC Router bed - perhaps Adrian is right and we do need a bigger CNC Router! The depth of the bench top was just at the limit of what I could cut the with bits I had to hand, down to the last millimetre, but we managed it, and it’s all good to go.

One thing we spotted when making the bench dog holes was that the coolant to the spindle wasn’t flowing properly, with the flow occasionally coming to a standstill. We managed to get it going a bit by running the pump backwards briefly which dislodged some build up in the pipes somewhere, but the flow still wasn’t great. Thus Adrian and I got medieval on it at the weekend.


We took some compressed air to each section and gave it a good clear out, and now it’s running better. However, we still don’t quite know why it blocked up, as the water system has pool cleaner in it, and the motor shouldn’t get hot enough to cause limescale to form. It’s always a bit unsatisfying when you fix something but you don’t know why you had to fix it.

A week in the shop

No big achievements again his week, just a bunch of small things moved forward, and fewer of those due to it being a bank holiday in the UK, and my other half and I went to see the sea. Still, I made one complete thing this week, and moved some other things forward. Oh, and I also got my accounts for last year prepared for my accountant, which isn’t exciting, but is part of trying to run a business.

On to more interesting things: I started the week by having a go at manually thicknessing one of the neck blanks down to size. This particular bit of maple has some weird multi-directional grain going on, so no matter which way you attack it there’s risk of the surface tearing. I’d left it a good few millimetres short of my target thickness (19mm) when running it through the thicknesses as a result, and now that I have the new blade for my No 7 took about trying to get it down to size and clearing up the tearing already imparted by the thicknesser.


The new blade I ordered from Ray Iles really did make a difference, holding it’s edge much better than the one that came with this more affordable plane. I was getting nice long shavings in no time after giving the new blade a quick honing.


It took me a good few hours, but I got there in the end. I often make a bad joke about how Makespace is like a gym membership for the mind (with all the good and bad connotations that carries), but this day it felt just like a regular gym membership after all the manual labour for several hours. It really was an awkward bit of wood to work with due to the odd grain direction causing me to tear it again if not careful, but I got there in the end.

Next up for this bit of wood is to laser cut the template to let me turn this into a neck for a 25.5” scale length. 

One of the reasons I wasn’t using the CNC Router for thicknessing was that the spindle was sufficiently out of alignment it was causing issues when used with the 2” facing off bit. At the end of the week Adrian and I had a look at fixing that.


In the end the root cause was that over time some of the bolts holding the spindle in place had worked ever so slightly loose. Not enough to be obvious, but enough that if you gave the spindle a whack it’d move around. So we broke out the DTI (Dial Test Indicator) gauges and got it straightened back up and tightened properly, after which I was able to also re-level the bed which was well overdue.

If you’ve never seen a DTI gauge before (I hadn’t until I started being a carer for the CNC Router), it’s a very sensitive distance measuring gauge where a full 360˚ on the gauge is 1mm in travel, so you can use it to test for very small movements. Here we’d place it on the CNC Router spindle and move the spindle up and down to check for any horizontal movement between the top and the bottom.

I also spent a day taking the Masso CNC Router controller we ordered back at xmas and started getting that set up on the test rig we have (sorry, I forgot to take pictures of this one, perhaps next week). We ordered the Masso unit at the same time as the DM500 pendant controller we ended up running with, but since then the DM500 has shown itself to not be ideal for several reasons, so we’re back to looking for another replacement.

Initially I’d been put off the Masso as, whilst it doesn’t lack in features, at Makespace we are more concerned about simplicity and robustness in the face of confused users. However, having briefly played with the Masso now, it does look like it manages to pull off both of these. The main plus is that it also has an officially supported post-processor for Fusion 360, where as the DM500 has show itself to be unsafe when used with Fusion 360 generated tool paths using the basic GRBL post-processor.

This week the time I had was mostly spent just getting the Masso into our CNC Router test rig - checking the power requirements, levels for the switchers, etc. The test rig is just a series of motor controllers, motors, and physical switches that let us test a CNC Router controller without having to take apart and fit a unit to the actual CNC Router, which is a time expensive operation, particularly when you then have to put it back as you found it if said unit doesn’t pan out. I hope to have more to report on this next week.

I wrote a good while ago about how someone wanted me to make them a baritone, and they came back to me again keen to make it happen, so I had a call with them to get the full details of what they want, after which I made up a bill of materials and a rough CAD model so they can see what it would look like.

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The design is based on the simplified version of my ambitious plans for 2018 that fell through, but I’m still very happy with the result. This let me make an estimate for them, and it would seem that they’re happy. Hopefully this will get properly commissioned in the next month or two.

Making the model required that I learn a new trick in Fusion 360. In Fusion there’s the fillet tool that lets you round over an edge. However, if your design consists of multiple bodies, the fillet tool won’t work if you want a nice even radius: it’ll only fillet a single body, so if you want to radius more than the depth of the top body it makes the fillet uneven. In the above guitar design the body cap (the red bit of wood on the top) is not as deep as the fillet I put on the edges typically (4mm vs 6mm), so I need to model that fillet going onto both the cap and the body underneath. 

Here’s an example of what you get if you use the fillet tool to try do this sort of thing:

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You can see that what should have been a nice even curve has been shortened to fit with the constraints of the cap, rather than crossing over to the second body. The trick it turns out is to make a sketch of the curve you want, and then use the sweep tool to use that sketch to create a cutting body along the path of the top surface:

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Once you apply this you get the effect you want:

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It’s not an ideal way of doing things, as selecting the path on a complex surface like a guitar top is fiddly to say the least, and I had to use several applications of this approach to get it right, but at least it is possible.

I’ve got a little preliminary feedback from the pedals I sent out last week to people. Seems that the old classic fuzz circuits are very sensitive to noise from the power supply.

I’d not spotted this in my testing as I have an isolated PSU on my pedalboard, and on the bench I have a wall wart of a reasonable quality. But both the people in the test cohort that are what I’d consider enthusiasts rather than professionals ran into this problem immediately unfortunately (which at least one solved by just going out and getting a better PSU, but it wasn’t my intention to cause my testers to have to go buy things!).

Most pedals I imagine these days do have a bit on the power input to protect the circuit and clean things up, but the older circuit I used does not, so any variance in the PSU will be passed on to your audio signal. This also covers if you have multiple pedals on one PSU and the other pedal is emitting noise over the ground or such. Something to remember for v2.

To wrap the week up, I made a quick thing for the workshop: a way to hold the scroll saw blades so that it’s both obvious where they are, and we can see when we’re running low on any particular blade type:


I think it was Toby who originally suggested we wanted something made with clear tubing and some caps, but that sounded like a lot of work when you can get ready made clear tubes of almost exactly the right size: chemistry lab test tubes! I bought some cheap plastic test tubes from eBay, some terry clips to hold them, and used a bit of wood from the scrap pile, and a little work later, voila!

A week in the shop

This last week was one where I didn’t feel like I achieved anything, but writing up these week notes I realise I had a lot going on. This is a useful feature of keeping a diary or doing a weekly review (even if you don’t share it): weeks like this where you do lots of little bits on many things don’t feel productive, but so long as you’re moving things forward then you’re in a good place: the trouble is when you have nothing to write…

Last week I wrote about making the body for the Corvette guitar build, and now I need to make a start on the neck. Given the CNC Router is unwell yet again (my usual goto for thicknessing wood in Makespace, which doesn’t have a proper thicknesses), I called upon my friend Matt who has one, and in return for the promise of future beers he let me fill his workshop with dust.


I thicknessed enough wood to make two necks: one for the Corvette, and a potential replacement for the neck on The Blues Deluxe, as I’ve never really been that happy with the neck on that guitar for various reasons.

The fretboards are almost at the right thickness, with just the last bit that’ll be removed during the radius sanding left, but both the maple blanks I left a little bit more meat on to remove by hand back in the workshop. One of the maple blanks has a light birds-eye to it, and a planer thicknesser will tear at those features, so you need to finish that by hand. The other neck had multi direction grain in one area that was tearing, so I stopped short again on this one for effectively the same reason, letting me finish it by hand. This one also is slightly bent in plant form, and whilst the thicknesser got rid of most of that, I want to get it dead straight using my giant No 7 plane.

Given my new found confidence in using the hand plane to get things into shape I then got ready to finish these, but I discovered my plane wasn’t cutting that well despite my having re-honed the blade. A closer examination showed that the edge on the blade just isn’t staying sharp with such tough wood: the downside of buying a cheaper plane. I’ve now ordered a new blade of a higher quality, at which point I can then resume getting these blanks down to the final thickness.

On the topic of hand planes, the Makespace workshop team (Graeme, Jim, and myself) spent and afternoon turning two vintage Stanley hand planes from being rusted relics into working quality bits of kit.


Between the three of us we re-ground the base and sides using some tough 80 & 120 grit sandpaper mounted to a surface plate (a known true flat surface), we reground the blades to give them a new working edge, and we stripped and re-oiled the wooden handles. It was a lot of effort, but in effect we took two cast offs that cost next-to-nothing and for a small investment in time (having three people definitely helped) we turned them into working units that are better than most of the cheaper hand planes you can buy.


The problem (I’ve come to discover having done this myself) is that cheaper hand planes just aren’t built to a good quality: the bottoms aren’t perfectly flat, the blades are of a cheaper material and quite thin, etc. And whilst it may not seem like it, a hand plane is a precision instrument: once set up just right and kept there it’ll make your life a lot easier, but otherwise you end up just fighting it a lot.

It’s hard to justify spending several hundred pounds on a hand plane when you’re starting out and unsure if you’ll be using it lots or it’ll just end up at the back of the cupboard, but getting an old one that looks beat up can, as we demonstrated, be put back into action with a little effort. And it saves on resources for the environment, so it’s a win-win.

I tried to laser cut another neck template, this time for the second neck which has a longer scale-length (25.5” for The Blues Deluxe compared to 24” on the Corvette), but this failed to cut properly, due to the power on the Makespace laser cutters being at a low ebb. An unfortunate waste of material, but is a lesson to me to do more than just one test cut to check the power.

The power levels of a laser cutter will vary over time as it is used: despite extraction, dust and vapourised particulates will build up on the lens, the alignment might shift slightly, etc. I suspect the Makespace laser cutters are having a bit of a success failure: at times they’re almost in constant use, so the mean time between maintenance needs adjusting to compensate, but there’s not enough volunteers right now to make that happen I suspect. I’d volunteer, but I already have my hands full with looking after the woodwork shop and CNC Router at Makespace.

On the topic of looking after the woodwork shop at Makespace, I realised I was struggling to keep on top of the workshop todo list: some people will talk to you in person about things that need fixing, some will email, some will use the mailing list. Then there’s multiple people looking after the workshop, so you have no idea who, if anyone, has responded. This was driving me slightly batty, so I decided to try following the example set at DoES Liverpool and create a GitHub issue tracker for the woodwork shop.

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There was quite an interesting discussion behind the scenes about this. No one disagreed that we needed to do better, but there were some justifiable concerns about how to ensure that things are picked up are actually responded to and that it doesn’t fill with moribund issues. To that end I’ve said for now I’ll ensure a weekly triage happens, and I’m quite happy to close things as “won’t fix” if they’re nice to haves but have no real hope of happening in the near term. The death of systems like this is that they’re not properly weeded, and so the price for me of getting this going is some effort in maintaining it.

Fretwork is hard; I think I’ve said that here before. It doesn’t help that one of the steps in the process I use is that I hammer the frets in, which makes it more effort to level them later, as you’ve effectively created an individual un-even top surface on each fret. The alternative that people use is to have a fret press, where you use an inverse radiused bit that fits into a drill press or an arbor press, or even you can buy a full press setup from places like Stew-Mac.

We have an arbor press at Makespace, and I bought a press bit for it, so I decided to have a go at making my own adapter for it (spurred on by Jim, who has a good habit of challenging me to remove blockers like this :). As a first pass I made a mock up of the press and bit in Fusion 360, and then modelled a block that would take the bit and align up with the mount holes on the press. The idea is that the block will pivot, to allow for any slight misalignment with centring the fretboard under the press.

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One day later, I had a 3D printed part, which almost fits, but not quite:


Whilst I measured everything, I had two things working against me I think: the 3D print expanded slightly from my design, and also after years of abuse the bottom of the central block of the arbor press has flared out slightly. I’ll need to do a re-design of this, and then do some test pressing to see how it holds up strength wise.

We had another successful Fusion 360 Show & Tell night at Makespace. This is an event I run every other month to try get all the Fusion 360 users at Makespace to share how they made things, so everyone else can learn new ways to make things. 


This week we had Greame talk about how to get the best out of using Fusion 360’s rendering facilities for making pretty previews of your design. I’ve used this feature when communicating guitar designs to clients, but I’ve never felt I got anything to look amazing with it. The main learning from Graeme’s talk I took away was to pay attention to the defaults in the rendering options: they probably all need a little tweak. For example, a little bit more exposure than Fusion 360 has by default, making things a little bit more bright, had quite a big impact.

I also did a talk this time, covering how to use the sheet metal features of Fusion 360. In particularly I was keen to get across that it’s not just to make things with metal (as I did with my pedalboard), but also in wood (as I did with my fuzz pedal), acrylic, and leather (thanks to a design shared by Jason). I can see why they named it what they did, but it’s actually a way more applicable tool than the name suggests.

Speaking of the fuzz pedals, I finally closed the chapter on those. The four additional prototypes I made recently have been sent out for prolonged field testing.


I’ve learned a lot making this small batch of pedals, from soldering the boards up, to making this unusual wood/plastic fusion case, to the problems created by making something that is put together this way (top tip: if you’re making something with multiple connectors, don’t have them on both halves of your case, put them all on one part, otherwise it’s a pain to assemble).

when just making one of something you’re so focussed on “can I do this”, and you miss a lot of things about “can I do this at scale”. Whilst 5 isn’t exactly a large scale, it quickly brings out a bunch of issues not apparent in the first one. I’ll try and summarise it all as an individual post at some point.

For now, just like research satellites that pass out of the solar system having examined the inner planets, they are on one final longer term experiment: I sent four pedals out to different (types of) guitarist I know to see how they survive long term. The wood and plastic case is nice visually, and it is very nice that it can be entirely fabricated in Makespace using the 3D printers and laser cutters, but how will it actually last as people use them over a longer period? Will it stand up to repeatedly being stood on? Will the plastic and wood age badly? I don’t know the answer to those, but I want to know, so getting these pedals out is another of those win-wins: four people get a nice sounding fuzz pedal to play with, and I’ll get feedback as to how well they last.

Finally, a reminder that I’ll be appearing at a couple of events over the summer, both of which were announced officially this week: I’m going to e exhibiting how to build guitars from bits of wood at Liverpool Makefest on June 29th, and I’ll be speaking about some interaction of guitar building and community workshop involvement at Wuthering Bytes Festival Day up in Hebdon Bridge on August 30th. Both events are awesome (despite me ;) so you should put them in your calendar.

A week in the shop

This week I made a start on the body for the first of my Corvette model guitars. The corvette is loosely inspired by the Fender Mustang design, but made more modern/angular, keeps my ergonomic preferences around comfortable shaping, and has a design that reflects some changes I want to make to make building guitars easier: namely making it easier to do test setups as the build progresses without marking the wood, and reducing reliance on tools that I either don’t have at Makespace (e.g., a table router) or are sufficiently troublesome that I want to stop using them (e.g., the CNC Router). 

The finished guitar will hopefully look a little like this:

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Overall this move away from such tools will mean more hand building, which will be a good step for me I think. Although this makes the guitars more expensive to build, I’m not yet at the point where scaling them in time is a major issue, I’m more blocked on my own ability to operate without the support of the CNC machinery I’ve been using. I’m trying to break a major hangup I have about woodworking coming from the digital realm as I do where everything is perfectly quantified; something the CNC Router in particular has solidified in my technique, and why I’ve been so slow at guitar building because the one I have access to has been unreliable.

On an electric guitar there’s actually very few measurements that need to be near perfect: the position of the nut, the frets, and the bridge are the only things that matter to any high degree of accuracy, everything else is fungible. But because I’ve come from a digital background, and I design all my guitars in CAD first, I have this mindset of wanting every measurement to be near perfect when that’s not actually the case, and I get overly hung up on any slight deviation when building.

I do have one major part where that’s not true: I hand carve the necks, a fact of which I’m quite proud. This was forced on me as I didn’t have the CAD skills to model the neck properly, and as such I accepted that this was a more analogue process, and found that it worked. I just need to do that more, and hopefully this guitar will teach me some of that.

So, having done all the planning, I started making wood dust on this guitar this week. The body blank was roughly the right thickness, but needed taking down a little more. Makespace doesn’t have a planar thicknesser machine, so normally I’d use the CNC Router as a slow alternative, but that’s also playing up again, so I went old school and broke out the hand planes!


The large No 7 is ideal for making large straight edges, and I had the shorter No 4 there just to get things into rough shape where needed as it’s an easier tool to handle. Now that I’m better educated on setting up a hand plane and keeping the blade in good shape, this went quickly, though does require a reasonable bit of muscle compared to my usual alternatives - free exercise!

Once the body blank was down to the final thickness, I stuck on the template I laser cut previously, and set about removing the bulk of the material using the bandsaw. Although the template is there to let me use a hand router to copy the profile from the template into the wood, the hand router is more a finishing tool rather than a bulk removal tool, so you don’t want to use that from the start, you want to get things close to the template using another method. A well set up bandsaw will cut through the 42mm of swamp ash I have here nicely, and actually did a good job of following the curves of the template better than I expected.


One thing I failed to anticipate: now much dust is made by the bandsaw. Whilst I was wearing my safety glasses and ear defenders, I didn’t protect myself against the dust. The dust extraction system was temporarily out of action in the workshop, and I didn’t consider how much dust a bandsaw makes, and regretted not wearing my face mask for this. Don’t make my mistake: if you’re doing a lot of bandsawing like this, make sure you have good dust extraction and/or wear a face mask.

Once the rough shape was cut, then I took the hand router and made a lot more dust, this time properly protected (ears, eyes, and mouth/nose all covered). 


I have a reasonably deep follow bit (with a 1” cutting blade) for the hand router, so this was just a two pass process: once with the template on, and then a second pass with the template removed and using the first pass as the guide for the bit to cut the lower half. The finish this way is pretty good, but there was a slight seam between the two passes, so I broke out the spindle sander to get the outside nice and smooth.


Now that the rough outline was done, the next stage was to make the neck pocket. For this I had a second template, which was designed to use the mount holes from the first template to give me close to perfect alignment (this is part of making sure the neck is straight to the body, so again one of the few bits that does need to be reasonably accurate).


I then marked out on the side edge with a pencil the correct pocket depth (using the join seam between the two halves of the body as my reference line), after which I drilled out a bunch of material before taking the hand router to cut the pocket (remember what I said above: the router is a finishing tool in general, so drilling is a nice way to get rid of some of the bulk).


Very pleased with how it turned out (the dots you can see are from the drilling, but these will be covered by the neck, so no one will ever know but us).

Speed wise this entire process probably took a couple of hours, so I think this means I’m just about as fast as the CNC Router Makespace has.

The next stage will be to make the neck so I can get a reference from that for the bridge, after which I can cut the remaining cavities in the body for the pickups and controls. To make the neck I first need to get the maple plank I have down to the right depth, and for that I need access to a thicknesser, so I’ve made an appointment next week to go visit my friend who was one.

I continue to use the fuzz pedal I made as a platform for understanding shipping products. This week, packaging - how would I ship the pedal to people if I made them in small numbers?

I had a bunch of nice wooden boxes from House of Tone, who make the pickups I use, ship their pickups in. They’re very nice boxes, so I’ve kept them to try and find a use for them, and it turns out they’re almost a perfect match size size to hold the fuzz pedal I made (with some bubble wrap). The boxes come branded (as in, branded with an iron), so I took one and sanded it down to remove the logo, which then meant I needed to sand off the rest of the finish to make the box look uniform (HoT relic the boxes nicely, so the sanded top looked very odd on its own). I then laser cut my own logo into the sanded box.


This looks quite nice, and matches the aesthetic of the pedal somewhat. Unfortunately, it didn’t scale as a process: the two other boxes I had didn’t come out so well, either the ply wearing unevenly, or the stress of sanding causing the boxes to come apart (they are, after all, just lightweight packaging, so not the most robust of things). Still, as a quick experiment, I was pleased with the result: at some point I need to ask Matthew whether they make the boxes in house, or if he has a supplier he can recommend. I could make my own obviously, but I already have too many projects on the go, and so that doesn’t scale.

On Friday I also did a bunch of workshop maintenance: replacing the belt and disk on the sander, and sharpening my set of chisels and the Makespace No 4 plane again.


There’s now a set of people who are supposed to help look after the workshop, myself included, and I’ve been trying to find a way to make sure things don’t fall between the cracks as different people respond to different requests that come in via different methods. I think I’d like to follow the example set at DoES Liverpool (as explained by Adrian at last year’s Festival of Maintenance) and get at least the workshop part of Makespace using a software projects style issue tracker to make something that everyone can access that shows what needs to be done, what is being done, and who’s doing it. I just need to see if I can convince the others that this is a good way forward, or find a better way, as the mix of email and one-on-one conversations we have right now doesn’t work well (at least for me).

A week in the shop

At the end of last week I had cut out the body template for the Corvette guitar, but I was still concerned about laser cut templates for routing due to the kerf you have from that process. The kerf is the material that is vaporised by the laser, which can be tenths of a milimeter, and so if you make a neck pocket template where you’ve lost some material and a neck template where you’ve also lost some material that will double up the error, and you may end up with a neck that is loose in the pocket. There was really only one way to find out, which was to make the rest of the templates for the Corvette design and see how good a fit I got.


Having cut the templates I then got some scrap wood and cut out the heel of the neck:


And then the neck pocket:


Having made both bits, I was delighted to discover that they had a nice friction fit:


So in this instance the kerf wasn’t enough to cause any trouble, phew! But it’s definite an experiment worth doing if you’re going to be making things this way. I also tested out cutting the truss rod slot using my new 1/4” follow bit for the router.


I was a bit nervous using a bit in a slot like this, and with such a small bearing (having had small bearing like this from cheaper bits fail), but it all worked well.

I realised that I had one other design issue unresolved with the neck for the Corvette design. One of the things I try and drill into people when I teach CAD is that just because you can design it doesn’t mean you can build it, and the software doesn’t know what you can and can’t do, so you have to make sure to review your designs to ensure you can execute them. This is an example of that, which I almost missed.

The idea on this guitar is to avoid CNC Routing where possible, so I’ll be doing the neck to headstock transition using the spindle sander and a jig to ensure the neck is perpendicular to the spindle. I did this for guitars #3 and #4, so this is nothing new, however with the Mustang style guitars I switched to a headstock with the truss rod adjustment end exposed, as I don’t believe in hiding the functional parts of the instrument.  However, if we take a side profile of the headstock, the problem becomes evident: I can’t spindle sander the headstock down with the truss rod in place, as I’ll end up hitting the truss rod.

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The truss rod is the little grey bit that sticks up on the curved section, which would prevent me betting the spindle sander to actually cut that curve.

I had a play with moving the truss rod such that the adjustment end was more recessed, either by using a shorter truss rod and/or moving the transition further, and nothing made me happy design wise. So I think I’m going to try sand in the transition on the main part of the neck before I glue on the fretboard, and then use a chisel/sanding to get the transition on the fretboard side lined up.

I did some practice with chisels, thanks again to Graeme who brought in some nicely shaprpened chisels.


This game me confidence that I could use a chisel to help shape the fretboard. Thankfully I have a reasonable set of chisels myself, they just need sharpening on the tormec.

Whilst the Corvette guitar will be mostly CNC Router free, I still have to finish off the Recovery Offset guitar which relies on that (I could avoid it if I have access to a table router, but I don’t). The CNC Router is still playing up, and I can’t use Fusion 360 to generate tool paths for this current controller, so I sat down with Vectric’s vCarve software to try out making a pick guard this way.


This mostly worked, but the acrylic I was using turned out to be quite uneven, so I couldn’t test adding the chamfer. Still, it validated using vCarve Pro. The workflow then was to use Fusion 360 for the design, saving a DXF file from the sketch in Fusion 360 for the pick guard and then importing that to vCarve Pro. Whilst I think vCarve Pro is a terrible tool for design entry, I have to say that for tool path generation it did everything I needed (though I’d still rather have used Fusion 360 if I could, as it just makes it a little easier to tweak things.

I currently have a backlog of half done projects, so I decided to burn a day of the easter break just ignoring the guitars and getting on with some soldering. 


A while, to help me get soldering practice, I made a batch of fuzz face boards, and I finished making those playable. What I look forward to now is trying to see how different they are. There’s lots of mystique about vintage pedals etc. or how specific components have that magic tone, but given the tolerances on a lot of electrical components it’s quite frankly amazing if any two pedals sound the same at all. For example, most pots you buy are rated to within 20%, which is quite a wide margin. I also bought a batch of transistors and measured the gain value for them.


The gain varied from 284 to 341, which is again getting up towards 20%. So at some point I’ll get this collection of fuzz boards and see how they compare when put at the same settings. A lot of companies will buy components in bulk and filter them to ensure that the components are more tightly controller in how close to ideal they are, which is in part what you pay for when you get a more expensive pedal. But the idea that two pedals are totally identical, particularly for more budget brands, is quite clearly nonsense (though that doesn’t mean any are bad :).