In the "About Us" section of this site, I mention that I am a bit of a tool nut. Fact is, if I were to win the lottery, I probably would spend most of it on tools (and wood). In addition to buying tools, I have a fascination with building jigs and tools. Most guitar makers share this love -- much of what we do cannot be done with off the shelf tools, and so we make them. The fun thing about it is that there are as many ways to build a tool for a given job as there are toolmakers, and most of them will work. What I hope to do here is share some of the tools I love -- both the ones I bought and the ones I built. To get another view of this, I highly recommend Frank Ford's site. He too is obviously a tool nut, and has a huge site with dozens and dozens of cool ideas. I should also mention Jim Olson --Jim and I have shared ideas for tools for many years. He is without a doubt the most creative and compulsive tool maker I have ever known, and I have stolen 5 ideas from him for every idea he got from me. For some photos of his shop and tooling, go HERE.
This buffer pretty much saved my life -- at least my life as a guitar maker. Before I got it, I polished with a hand held auto polisher and (a lot) by hand. After a good many years of this my right shoulder gave out -- causing me excruciating pain. I had cortisone shots, which helped, but only for a while. So, I bought a Baldor buffing machine. Baldor is one of the premium industrial grade tool companies, and this has worked absolutely perfectly for at least 15 years. I use it with bar type polishing compounds (which I buy from Stewart MacDonald), and I can completely polish a guitar in 30 minutes or less, with virtually no physical effort. The tool does all the work, and does it perfectly. If that isn't the definition of a good tool, I don't know what is.
I recently remounted my buffer. this gives me more room to maneuver the instrument while I am buffing it. It is important to recall that all buffing is done on the front lower quadrant of the wheel. If you work above the centerline of the wheel it is very likely to grab the guitar and throw it across the room - not good.
For anyone building more than one or two guitars, or running a sizable repair shop, a spray booth is an absolute necessity. We have a 5 hp air compressor in the basement with air lines running to the spray booth. (We also have a air outlet, and an air gun at each work bench -- they are very helpful for cleaning). I have two standard Binks spray guns (One for lacquer and one for sealer), a DeVilbiss touch-up gun and an air brush. I have recently added a HVLP air gun and a better air brush. The fan behind the filters is an all-aluminum spray booth fan with the motor out of the air stream, which makes it absolutely explosion proof. (While this booth is "homemade", it has passed inspection by the fire inspectors, which surprised me a lot). This fan has worked well for probably 22 years -- the only maintenance is replacing the capacitor on the motor about every 5 years.
another photo of the equipment in the spray booth. The blue gun is an HVLP (high volume, low pressure) gun. They use about 40% less lacquer and this both saves money and is good for the environment. I find that the traditional guns give a better surface so I use them for the last coat of lacquer. The set up includes an air hose for a blow gun as well as one for the spray guns. The canister is a filter for the air. Off to the right of the photo you see a pad of newsprint attached to the wall. We use this to test the guns for spray pattern, color and the like. After a sheet is covered we can tear it off and have a clean one.
Just a reminder -- an absolute necessity for spraying lacquers or any other finish which has volatile compounds (shellac, varnish, lacquer, etc) is a proper mask rated for organic vapors. These are kept by the door to the spray booth. The photo of Bill Monroe has graced the door to the spray booth for probably 20 years.
.This is the main power tool center for our day to day work. Nothing very unusual -- A Delta bandsaw (with riser block), two drill presses (a Delta radial drill press and a more standard 16" drill press), a small buffer for polishing metal and bone, a standard 6" grinder and a Tormek wet stone tool sharpening grinder. This grouping of tools is located in the center of our main work room so as to be easily accessible to all. Not shown is the dust-collector which is located in the basement and the dust collector hanging from the ceiling right above all of these tools.
The belt - disc sander is easily the most used tool in the shop. We shape nuts and saddles, flatten bridges, and shape all sorts of wood parts. I even use this tool to do a large amount of the shaping of the necks on my guitars. I can shape the complex curves of the heel and the Peghead volute rapidly and to a fair degree of accuracy -- needing a minimal amount of file work to refine the shape. The spindle sander in the background is relatively new but has quickly become indispensible - I do not know how we got along without it.
This is one of my spindle shapers. ( I recently got a second one, with a larger capacity, and I love it - photos soon). It is quite a small unit from Delta, but has sufficed for 25 years. Most of the work is done with this cutter--which is simply a straight cutter with a ball bearing follower (rub collar) of exactly the same diameter. I can then make jigs to create parts for the guitar which can be easily duplicated. The jig on the table is for my bridge shape. You will note that it only has one side. This means I have to flip the wood and make two cuts to cut the profile, but it absolutely ensures that the bridge will be symmetrical. I also shape the curvature for back braces, cut the wedge I use in the butt end of my guitars, truss rod covers, some rough shaping of top braces and shaping the heel of my necks. I will talk about some of these ideas later on the tools I made page. With different cutters, I cut the truss rod slot in the neck and do some rough shaping of the neck.
I just recently (June, 1999) bought this tool. It is an air powered detail sander made by Fein. I love it. (Of course I love all tools -- but this one more than most). I use it to shape braces after they have been carved, finish sand the inside of the top and back to remove any traces of glue squeeze-out, and a bunch of other stuff. It really works well.
This is the bending jig I use. It is an old (perhaps 25 years) bending mold manufactured by A. E. Overholzer. Art wrote a very interesting (and somewhat controversial) book on classical guitar construction, and sold some very interesting tools as well (I recall that he had been a machinist in his early years). It is made of cast aluminum and has a heating element built in. All I do is plug it in and let it heat for about 10-15 minutes, then clamp the wood to the mold (photos to follow). I then turn it off and allow the wood to cool naturally to room temperature. The wood comes off fully bent and with little or no springback. I also have one of these in a classic shape which I use for my concert shape guitar.
This is a tool which illustrates the fact that the simplest ideas are often the best (credit Jim Olson for this idea.) One of the essential tasks in finishing a guitar is filling the small voids and depressions that are inevitable in making a guitar. Sometimes this is just wood grain that was not fully filled, or a small void between the top (back) and the binding, or as here, in the soundhole rosette (lacquer will find the most infinitesimal cracks and will not bridge them). these must be completely filled with lacquer before the final coats are applied. For years I did this "drop filling" with a brush and a jar of lacquer which I had allowed to get a little bit thick. This little bottle, which has a very fine metal needle tip, is sold by many woodworking catalogs and shops for glue application. However, it is very good at this "drop filling" task. The amount of lacquer is very easily controlled, both in volume and placement. It is a substantial improvement in a job which is "minor" but which has a great impact on the final appearance of the instrument.
Measuring tools by the dozen!! I like to have lots of 6" rulers around since I am using them constantly and frequently mislay them. There is also a very nice simple metal calipers (Made by General) which measures to 1/32 and I use a lot. We also have several dial calipers and a digital caliper (I don't like the dial or digital calipers made of plastic - even if it is high grade plastic. I feel they are simply not accurate.) In the background of the photo is part of a Starrett 24" Rule which I love and use a lot.
My fret slotting saw. The table slides under the saw blade and the fingerboard is held on a fixture that slides along the table and is indexed at the appropriate spots. Each scale length I use has its own fixture.
I recently got an oscillating spindle sander - the spindle goes up and down as well as around. It is a wonderful tool - makes many sanding jobs much easier. It came with 9 spindles of different sizes and they are easy to change.
Michele recently glued the back onto an old Dyer Brothers Harp Guitar (with a little help from me) and it took 32 clamps. Proof of the old adage - you can never be too rich, too thin or have too many clamps.
A year or so ago I bought this General double Drum Sander. I must say that it is a wonderful tool (not perfect but very good) and that I am continuously thinking of new things to use it for. Not cheap, but worth it. Of course I still wish I could afford a wide belt sander, but that's pretty much la la land. The Powermatic double Drum Sander is a bit bigger and if I were doing it all over I might have bought that one. But it was also about $1000 more money.
The cash register I have had since we opened in 1971 - and I imagine that it is at least 100 years old. Perhaps not a tool, but it is cool. We use it as a cash drawer, and the computer next to it is our real accounting system. That is a tool we use constantly - but not as cool as the cash register.
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2219 East Franklin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN. 55404