the shape of things to come

Sometimes it becomes clear that there are many ways to solve the same problem. They each have their advantages and challenges and at the end of the day you just have to pick the one you feel most comfortable with, try it and adjust from there.

When I started reading up on how to build an acoustic guitar, I ran into a rats nest of ideas about the best way to construct the body of the guitar, otherwise referred to as the sound box. The Cumpiano and Natelson text I was working from suggested a very systematic approach beginning with the soundboard and constructing the body three dimensionally from there. All of that is done on a board constructed for the purpose.

The final assembly is done by gluing on the backplate and wrapping the body to achieve even pressure on the joint. It’s an ancient, time-honored way to do this work, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew it wasn’t for me.

Instead, I decided to begin by gluing the neck block and tail block to the sides creating the frame of the body. In order to do this I needed a form. I built this mold nearly six months ago based on a design sold by a major luthier supply company. It is purpose built for a 000 sized guitar. If I had seen this first I might have re-thought my choice, but if I ever build another guitar I’ll need another form anyway.

The form I built looks like this:

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It’s three layers of MDF (yes, I know MDF) laminated together and then cut out to make the shape of the body. I actually did all of the cutting before laminating to make it easier, and then when I had one good pattern I used my router to match them all up with a pattern bit.

I needed a way to hold the form solid, but also allow for easy breakdown and so I fitted it with these cams made out of a barrel nut, a length of threaded rod and a knob to tighten it down. The threaded rod swings out when the knob is loosened and the whole form breaks in two.
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Around the edges of the form I drilled a series of holes. These are for the spool clamps that will hold the front and back joints together during glue-up. These spool clamps were the first thing I made when I decided I wanted to build a guitar. They’re pretty simple clamps. I churned out a bunch of wooden spools with a hole saw on the drill press, fitted them with threaded rod secured on one end with a t-nut and gorilla glue. Each of the spools has cork glued to the face. You could just as well use leather, but I found it easiest to glue the cork to the wood before I cut them out with the hole saw.
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This is just to give you an idea, but when they are fitted to the form, they align and hold the top or back joint with adequate and even pressure.
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It has been pretty humid around here lately, and I’ve been waiting for that to settle down before the glue starts flowing, but I hope to begin that process shortly.

It’s funny. I made these clamps and this form before I began abandoning power tools for hand tools. All I can think about now is the breathing masks, the dust and the noise involved in producing these things. My entire shop felt like it was covered in MDF dust for a week. There was little peace in that process. It helps me appreciate where I am now.

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2 thoughts on “the shape of things to come

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