In a previous life (about a year ago) I made most of the forms and jigs that I’ve been using in this process with power tools but since then I’ve gravitated away from the noise makers and I’ve managed to do all of the actual work on the guitar with hand tools. It has been peaceful, meditative and serene.
If this sounds like I am judging power tool users, I am not. I know that if woodworking was more than a hobby to me – if it was the way I fed my family – I would use power tools. There’s no way to compete on terms of scale and price without the capacity and flexibility to work across the spectrum. But for the moment, I am competing with no one but myself and my family is warm, dry and fed. For the moment I have the luxury of working as I choose, and I choose hand tools most of the time.
This is not one of those times.
I don’t feel bad about that. I may learn to do binding, purfling and trim by hand tool at some point in the future, but even the Cumpiano and Natelson text (which advocates heavily for hand tool usage) advises a router for this work.
If everything is set up properly and works correctly the results are accurate, repeatable and crisp. When I was considering this build, I wanted all three of those things, so with that in mind, the first jig I built was a floating router mount that would move freely in a vertical direction allowing me to manipulate the guitar body rather than the tool.
Here’s the other reason I like that idea: When you’re working with hand tools you can feel the wood through the tool. What I mean by that is that you get plenty of tactile feedback about what the wood is actually doing while you’re working it. In my experience you lose a lot of that with power tools. One way to reclaim that was to have my hands on the wood the whole time and not the tool.
The jig is simple. It’s simply a body that clamps down to my work bench, and attached to that is a platform that moves up and down on two drawer slides. The platform is counter balanced with a spring that allows it to move a little easier and the router is bolted down to the platform. There are lots of ways to build this same setup
The most essential part of the whole apparatus is a little vinyl “donut” that is mounted around the hole where the router bit comes through.
The curved vinyl allows for variation in the height of the work piece to be smoothly translated to the router bit. There is only about 1/8″ that is actually flat on the bottom, so it’s a very flexible system. I made it out of a bit of cutting board that I cut out with a hole saw on the drill press. I put a bolt through the hole and chucked it back up on the drill press and shaped it as you would on a lathe. It’s polished to roughly 1000 grit.
The first test for the jig was flush cutting the overhang from the soundboard and back. I double and triple checked everything here, put on my ear protection (I’ve got built in eye-protection with my glasses) and made a few test cuts. So far so good.
The guitar body itself fits in this cradle that allows me to adjust the body for height and position. It fits anything from a 00 to a dreadnought / jumbo and it was mostly made out of scrap bits from my workshop and a few pieces of hardware from the big box home store. I have nylon casters on the bottom so it moves freely and is responsive to re-positioning.
The only real consideration is to make “climbing cuts” which means start at the widest points of the bout and work around clockwise. After making these four cuts you can go all the way around clockwise and then counterclockwise to clean it up. The soundboard is much more likely to tear-out than the back, so I took care to listen to the wood and everything went fine.
My next step is to fashion an end graft and then come back in and rout again for binding and purfling.
Lucky for everyone, the whole routing session took less than two minutes front to back. Building a jig like this might seem like a lot of work for a process that brief, but it sure made it a lot easier and enjoyable than it could have been.
Plus, turning that screaming demon on every once in a while reminds me why I like hand tools so much.