A place for me to display some of the varied projects that come out of my shop, as well as to "talk" about some of my experiences working with wood.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Luthier is Out!

It's been a long while since I have done a project post due to a multitude of factors. I have been travelling extensively with minimal time at home over the past few months. Son#1 bought a house and needed my help on the few days I was home over that period, so the shop stayed more or less idle for a few weeks. The project featured in this post has been finished for a couple of months just waiting for some studio time to get some proper shots done.
My "Fretboard Bench" and Koa 000-14 #5

Instrument building phase complete Dave...

Probably more than 10 years ago, for a number of reasons, I chose to build a guitar. And as so often happens with my interests, it exploded into a full-on instrument building phase of my woodworking journey. When it was all over I had managed to complete 10 acoustic guitars, a Benedetto-style archtop, a couple of mandolins, and a few electric guitars and basses. Once this challenge was met and I felt I had achieved all I could with it, I stored my jigs and tools away to move back to furniture and other assorted undertakings.

The one key take-away I have from my instrument-building journey is that the level of precision and attention to detail necessary to build good instruments was well beyond where my skills were at the time. Today I have a better appreciation for what is necessary to do work at the quality that I can be proud of. I continue to tell my friends, if you want to take your woodworking to the next level, build an acoustic guitar, you will not be disappointed.

At the end of last year, I realized it was time to move out the dormant instrument building tools & jigs to make room in the shop. I got in touch with a young guy nearby who was starting up a luthiery business and we worked out a deal that worked for both of us, and I was officially out of the instrument-building business. I had given a few of the guitars I made to friends and family and kept the rest.

I did however, have one last music-inspired project I had planned to build and this Spring I made the move. I have not done a lot of mixed media projects in the past, but to achieve the effect I was after, I needed to do so. I chose aluminium as the metal of choice as it was easy to work with woodworking tools, it is lightweight and the colour worked for my purpose. The project was a bench which would look like the fretboard of  guitar. I had purchased the curly maple board for this purpose about three years ago and had been stepping over it ever since.

Fretboard Bench

The bench is made from soft curly Maple with aluminum "frets" and legs. Side dots and fret markers are Cocobolo.

The build of this was an interesting exercise as I had a very specific picture in my mind of the final product and needed help to achieve it. My buddy Joey the machinist would make the aluminium base and another friend in the metals business got me the aluminium strips for the "frets". Here's the studio shots of the finished project, followed by a few shop shots chronicling the build.

Working out the layout of the frets and dots. Using the width of the board as the base,
I extrapolated that to a scale length of 250" and chose a start of the 3rd fret so the 12th fret would fall within
the length of bench I wanted. The layout of the is shown as well.

And yes it must have side dots... and be tapered. I used my Festool track saw
and a shim to make two cuts to yield a 1/4" slot for the frets. It was much easier to line these
slots up while the edges were still parallel.

I wanted a simple design for the legs to minimise the distraction from the woodwork.
Here I am testing out the stability on some plywood to work out the leg spread.
These have a wider plate on the top which is screwed into the base.

Since this was to be true to the fretboard design I wanted to radius the top like the real thing.
A bit of a tradeoff between comfort and staying true to scale. I removed 1/2" at each edge to provide
a pleasant curve for the sitter and enough for the viewer to know it was radiused. After the board was tapered along its length
I used the track saw to make cuts of various depths the provide guidance on how much stock to remove using the planer.

I put red lines on the bottom of the long slots to help show up the depth to remove.
My jackplane removed the planer marks and started to establish a flattish surface for the seat.

Once the top was more or less smooth I fitted each of the aluminum strips into their slot and
radiused them on the bandsaw to minimize the material I would need to remove.

The frets were epoxied in and the cocobolo dots inlaid before the sanding phase.

Using a shop-made sanding block I spent several hours removing high spots and getting the smooth top I needed.

Final sanding with the ROS up to 400 grit gave a glass smooth top and textured the
aluminum to a matte finish.

A few coats of my goto finish of Watco Danish Oil natural makes the figure in the maple pop.


  1. The fretboard bench is really nice. It looks in scale to guitar outside the Hard Rock cafe downtown Nashville.

  2. Nice bench. I like the slight bend on the bottom of the aluminum legs.