Day 6 – Bending Cutaways, Gluing Back Bracings

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I had to skip a day at the workshop due to Teneriffe Festival, but Tor is zooming way beyond me. He’s doing something a little bit different though. Hancock Guitars offers two types of courses – making a guitar out of a kit so essentially learning how to put all the parts together and a few techniques or the one that I’m doing which is pretty much from scratch.

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Nonetheless, I had some catching up to do. So as soon as I got in, I started on gluing my spinal back bracing.

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It’s important to clean the glue off as soon as the go go bars are on, otherwise it’ll look really messy and is visible through the soundhole. I guess the lower ones don’t really matter though, I think it’s good to keep a perfectionist mantra about your craftsmanship though.

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While I was waiting for those to dry, Sean taught me how to use the drum sander. We had to smooth out the sides a bit more as the curves were a little bit bent in rather than curving nicely. Also, it was a good opportunity to get a lot of the harsher sanding out of the way to be rid of watermarks, mould and rough grains. I’m not sure if we mentioned but under the heat and moisutre that goes into bending the wood it is surprisingly enough time for mould to grow and stain the grain. Interesting hey!

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We also used the belt sander for the flatter parts of the sides.

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Time for me to be an apprentice!

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After that task was done, the first part of the back bracing was dry enough to start sanding and rounding. We lined up layers of tough masking tape beside the vertical bracing to avoid sanding into the back piece. I found it interesting that it was so easy to sand through the wood but the adhesive was a lot more resistant. Also learned when pulling the adhesive off the wood, it is important to go across the grain to try and avoid pulling up fibres as much as possible – it really is strong tape!

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It was then time to sand, sand, sand. Yes, with woodwork it really is all about the sanding. Better learn to love it pronto!

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All nice and rounded.. again I went through different grits of sandpaper to eventually get the harsher scratches out to come down to a nicely smoothed and rounded back bracing.

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It was then time to bend the cutaway. This is an intricate job so I left it to the expert. Even Dane (Sean’s brother) hadn’t done it in a while so he looked on. It’s important to make sure the bending iron has heated up truly well otherwise it’ll be ineffective in bending the wood.

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The combination of the heat and steam from the wet cloth into the wood is what makes the wood bend. Unlike the moulding jig which took half a day to bend due to slowly changing the shape in a somewhat controlled environment, with the bending iron it is important to do it quickly otherwise the grain gets too wet and gives way and snaps. Instead of half a day with the moulding jig, this was done in a matter of minutes.

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I would never be able to make a guitar at home. The amount of custom jigs they have had to make to create one shape of a guitar is ridiculous. After the cutaway got bent, they clamped it within a jig to let it cool in shape.

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Voila!

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Tor was onto fine sanding his guitar and applied a thin coat of shellac. I was surprised to learn that shellac is actually beetle poo. I didn’t even know beetles pooed in a size that is tangible enough for humans to use. But here it is below, beetle poo in all its shiny glory. Actually it didn’t smell like anything. Apparently this comes from India where they just wait for the beetles to poo in the trees they live in and then they just scrape off the poo from the tree.

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Trimming off the extra length before I glue the end and neck blocks in.

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We were talking varnish and finishes. I’m a simple kind of girl so I’m real keen on keeping things quite natural. Dane also reckons that the natural oil/wax type finish would be best for my guitar. I learned that my Martin most probably has a satin lacquer, something called – nitrocellulose. It’s pretty much on par with the natural finish of oil and wax but a lot easier to work with in the factory settings. Then there’s the middle in sheen between natural and gloss with shellac. You know – that beetle poo I was talking about before? It’s probably better heard as French polish but that’s the application technique name where many thin coats of shellac dissolved in alcohol is applied. Then there’s gloss which is the really shiny lacquer – still made from nitrocellulose as well, for this one you have to apply and then polish and sand back then reapply and repeat until gleaming.

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Glued my end and neck block to one side each! We had to trim the end and neck blocks as they were made for a dreadnought and mine is an OM shape. Additionally, the cutaway had to be considered so the neck block has different lengths on each side to accommodate for the normal side and the cutaway side. Phew! Got a lot done today but I’m glad.

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