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Category Archives: hardwoods

A few years ago, the gardener at Corpus Christi College, Oxford gave me some laburnum wood from a tree that he had had to take down. I cut it up and air dried it, and use it sometimes in guitar making. By preparing a sector shaped billet and slicing off thin cross sections, it’s possible to fashion a rosette that shows the contrast between the light sapwood and dark heart wood. It’s a more conventional design than Rick Micheletti’s wacky and imaginative rosette that I discussed in my last post, but the effect is quite attractive when inlaid into a top of Alpine spruce. Below are pictures of the rosette and the piece of laburnum from which the individual slices were cut. Obviously, the top has yet to be joined and the rosette inlaid. Those are the next tasks.

And here is guitar that I made last year, which has a rather similar rosette:

After thicknessing and cutting out the back, there was enough wood left to make a bookmatched headstock veneer. It’s quite a nice idea, I think, for the headstock veneer to be the same wood as the back and ribs, although, of course, there are many other attractive possibilities. Here are a couple of photographs taken after the veneer has been glued, the headstock cut out, shaped and drilled, and the tuning machines temporarily put in place to make sure they fit properly.

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The cocobolo guitar back that I showed in an earlier post is now jointed and I spent some time yesterday bringing it down to a thickness of just over 2 mm. The grain of the two halves runs in opposite directions after ‘book-matching’, which makes it difficult to avoid tearout along the centre join. And even without that, cocobolo is hard and difficult to deal with. The tool that solves these problems is my Millers Falls scraper plane.

I bought it several years ago in a second hand tool shop and never found it worked well enough to be useful until I replaced its thin cabinet scraper blade with a thicker one from Ron Hock. This transformed its performance and, although I suppose you could do the job with a cabinet scraper by hand, I now think of it as an indispensable tool.

Since it works with a negative cutting angle, a scraper plane doesn’t remove much material at a time. So, if you’re starting with wood that is way too thick, you need something that’s faster, even if it leaves a rougher finish, to get down to somewhere near the final thickness before switching to the scraper plane. A good tool for that is a smoothing plane fitted with a modified (toothed) blade but I’ll save that discussion for another post. Pictures of the scraper plane below.

One question to be resolved is what wood to use for the bindings of this guitar – the strips around the edges of the soundboard and back that frame the instrument visually and protect the vulnerable corners. As I mentioned when I talked about rosettes a few weeks ago, I prefer bold and straightforward (as opposed to fine and detailed) when it comes to how a guitar looks. For this instrument either the strong black of ebony or the light creamy colour of holly seemed possibilities (see pictures below) .

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I couldn’t make up my mind which would look better and only reached a decision by asking the person whom I was making it for. He had no doubt that he preferred the ebony. Pictures of the guitar with the binding and purfling in place to follow.

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