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There are two ways to create the angle between the headstock and the upper end of the neck of a guitar. One is to saw it out whole from a large piece of wood; the other is to make it out of two pieces using a glued joint – either the V shaped joint invented by the early guitar makers or a scarf joint. Of these options, the most rational is the scarf joint. It’s quicker and easier to execute than a V joint and wastes less wood than sawing out a neck and headstock whole. What’s more, it has a large glued surface so it doesn’t rely on nanometric accuracy for its strength.

Despite the obvious advantages of a scarf joint, the V joint has become something of a fetish among guitar makers. This is easy to defend where historical accuracy is concerned. After all, if you’re attempting a copy of a 19th century guitar, it’s desirable – even obligatory – to imitate the constructional methods of the original maker. But for a modern instrument, why prefer a weaker joint that takes longer to make?

The answer, I guess, is to show that you can. It’s not a million miles away from the Georgian cabinet makers who made the pins of their dovetails so skinny that they almost vanished at the narrow end, as you can see in this photograph of the drawer of the table at which I’m sitting as I write this post.

There’s no practical advantage either in strength or speed of production in cutting dovetails like this. Indeed, the reverse must be true. But they do provide an understated way by which makers can demonstrate that they care about seldom seen details and show off their skill.

I’ve found myself using a V joint for both these reasons. Here’s a copy of a 19th century guitar that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. The V joint in this instrument was present in the original and it seemed right to keep it.

On the other hand, the V joint in the guitar below could perfectly well have been a scarf joint. The guitarist for whom I made the instrument didn’t notice it until I drew it to her attention. Still, I enjoyed making it and, for reasons that I can’t properly explain, felt that it was worth the extra time and trouble.

I’ve just cut a couple more V joints for guitars that I’ve got planned for 2012 and, although instructions for making this joint already exist (see here, for example), I thought it might be useful if I kept a camera handy to document the process. In the next post, I’ll explain how I mark out the joint.

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4 Comments

  1. Beautiful! Could the reason for using a V joint be that it looks pretty?

  2. Couldn’t the Georgian dovetails be triangular, not rectangular? Instead of making parallel cuts and digging out the inside, make angled cuts. The result would look like tiny tails on the outside of the drawer, but the joining surfaces would be larger across the hypotenuse.

    Something similar to the double dovetail. When lap-dovetailing there should be two steps, preliminary roughing out followed by vertical chiselling. See Fig 276: http://www.basiccarpentrytechniques.com/Woodwork%20Joints/Woodwork%20Joints%2010.html

    But what if you skip the vertical chiselling step? It doesn’t add to strength in the direction of the drawer pull, but rather increases friction in the perpendicular. Thus it will reduce the number of cuts, increase the area for gluing, and also the narrow end can literally vanish. https://finelystrung.com/2010/03/02/impossible-objects/

  3. Seems like I was too interested by this subject and did a bit of research. Couldn’t get the British patents to work, but did a bit of sleuthing. The Georgian carpenters wouldn’t have used saws. “Until the 1880s, all furniture dovetails were cut by hand using a chisel and hammer.” http://www.antique-collecting.co.uk/dovetail-joints-in-antique-furniture/ From the photo of the drawer on that page, which is much the same style as the drawer above, we can see the top face of the drawer has a very interesting angle.

    And I finally found somebody who advocates the type of joint that I speculate appears in the Georgian era drawer above. Interestingly it’s in a 2001 patent filing. http://www.google.com/patents/US6357194, which speculates that the taper will make it easier to fit together even when errors arise in making it.

    Then again, perhaps there’s no wedge at all. It’s simply a single dovetail with a number of triangular tenons in the middle. If you ever take the drawer apart, let me know what you find! Perhaps more clues can be found from an interior inspection of the drawer…

  4. Thanks for your comments, but I think you may be trying to solve a mystery that doesn’t exit. I’m quite sure that the dovetails in the Georgian table are standard lap dovetail joints, cut in the usual way first with a saw and then finished with a chisel. In the photograph, it’s just possible to see saw-cuts extending slightly beyond the scribed line on the drawer sides.


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