So you want to be Luthier?

July 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Two Shop-made Tools

Why yes, rhetorical question, that is the reason I started woodworking in the first place. I think I’ve got a mental block with regards to instrument building. I’ve reached the point where I’m ready to overcome it. I just have to get started and I have a plan…. no really I do!

Radius Sanding Block – Band Saw Method

While surfing the InterTube, I came across yet another interesting idea for making one’s own fretboard (radius) sanding block/caul. Lovely examples of these tools can be commercially purchase, for a price. An 18″ aluminum version runs $136, and it comes in 7 radii. Wow almost $1,000 if you wanted one of each. A 5-piece set of 4″ maple blocks is much more affordable at $44 but really if these were to be used for cauls, you’d need several sets to do the job. This is the sort of tool that cries out for a shop-made solution and many have been developed. I wanted to try out one that utilized a bandsaw as published by “Dave Mac’s Window on the World“.


The methodology is actually quite simple although it took a couple of moments to get my head around it. Essentially a 3″ or 4″ board is pinned the correct distance for your radius (in this case 12″) and is rotated through the blade for the cut. But wait, that leaves the end of the board with a convex cut so what gives? Of course we are interested in keeping the off cut with the concave radius. So by dividing the board into equidistant  sections and drilling a pivot hole at each location, you can slice off as many cauls as you need then glue them together into a block.

Simple jig to band saw 12" radius cauls.

Simple jig to band saw 12″ radius cauls.


The holes in the board are equidistant which results in off cuts being the same size. It is the pin hole in the clamped board which is set to the desired distance from the blade. In this case it is 12″.

This was my first attempt at this and my impression was very favorable. I did notice some very minor blade flux when I entered the cut but I kept the work piece flat and used a steady cut rate and the results were very consistent.

Off cuts (cauls) cut to 12" radius.

Off cuts (cauls) cut to 12″ radius. My goal was to cut 24 to make an 18″ sanding beam.

All went very smoothly until it became time for the glue up. The devil is in the details as they say. I decided that it would be hopeful to glue up all 24 (actually I only had enough board for 23 and the first cut is always a different shape because the end is not rounded).  To help get things lined up I glued 2 sets of 11 to make reduce the complexity. After being frustrated using F-clamps on the first attempt, I opted for weights on the second. I think it was easier to get things aligned with the latter method but neither turned up perfect.

Two ways to clamp the stack.

Two ways to clamp the stack. The F-clamps proved tricky without a jig.

Oops, I forgot to glue up one of the pieces. Actually I was using the convex end of that piece to help align the stack but it only proved partially successful.

Out of clamps and a level sanding.

Out of the clamps and to the bench vise for sanding and clean up.

Once the stacks were out of clamps I took them over the bench for some sanding and clean up. Some parts were aligned quite well and other bits were not. I used that caul again with some sand paper to sand everything flush. The jury is out. I feel that these will make very suitable clamping cauls when gluing a fretboard to the neck or when pressing frets but I’m not sure it is precise enough for the initial radiusing of the board. It might be especially if the inner surface is covered in cork first.

To finish off this project, I’ll cut tops flush and then put a nice round over on for better gripping. In theory the cauls should have been of identical size but I was obviously not as careful as I should have been with this. Had I been more consistent, alignment would have been easier I’m sure. And a final observation, Dave from whom I borrowed this technique mentioned he had no trouble with alignment by turning them concave side down on the bench. I too realized that was the only common alignment point but didn’t find the narrow edges perfectly consistent at least not enough to rely on for alignment.

Conclusion, it worked well but I’ll need to rethink my methods for glue up.

Fret Bevel File

So this tool was basically following the DIY Fret Bevel File from Derek at Big D Guitars. Derek has a wonderful YouTube channel which I enjoy immensely, thanks Big D!

Essentially this a piece of wood with a kerf cut down the center wide enough to epoxy a file in to it. One side of the wood is beveled to 35º for filing the fret edges on the edge of the fretboard.

Shop made fret filing bevel tool.

Fret bevel ready to epoxy in the file.

The only thing tricky here was shimming the skinny end of the file to prop it up. Derek recommended exposing about 1/4″ of the file above the block. I decided to mess around with the wood burning iron for a little customization before adding a coat of Tung Oil finish.

Messing with the wood burner freehand.

Messing with the wood burner freehand.

Did you notice the plaid duct tape? I was wondering if this would provide a frictionless surface while using the tool. It also served to keep the oil finish off this area as I might want to try some UHMW frictionless tape on these surfaces. Might be overkill but it would also be no-marring I should think.

Tune in next time for a Turtlecove fail project… at least failed on the first attempt


Categories: Lutherie, Woodworking Tags:

Building Jeff Miller’s – “A Benchtop Bench” – Part 3

July 6, 2015 2 comments

I was able to complete the mini-bench build over the 3-day July 4, weekend. Hurray! So let’s get on with it shall we?

Friday Build

Friday was the July 4 Holiday for us as the actual day fell on Saturday. I was able to get some build time in on the mini-bench. I began by attaching the top to the trestle base as a first step in figuring out the vise assembly. When I began this project I found myself referring to the plans quite often but as the build progressed, I was at the point of needing to figure things out a bit on my own.

My last quick post was that I had decided to downsize the thickness of the vise chucks but it became immediately obvious that the bench-side chuck had to be the thicker (3 layers of 3/4″ vs only 2) version. This because the veneer press nut was to be recessed inside the face and 2 layers just didn’t cut it. So I ended up with 3 layers on the inside and the 2 layer version for the outside. The colors don’t match, oh well…. it’s not fine furniture.

Veneer press nut

Had to go with the larger sized inside chuck in order to hide this large veneer screw nut inside it.

I decided to add a thin sheet of plywood on top of the bench for two reasons; first the plywood would make the top perfectly flat and second I could replace it when it get’s chewed up in the future. I needed to go ahead and mount the ply because this would impact where I needed to mount the vise. So I did this before the next step.

Before I could route for the nut, I first need to mount the inside chuck. To this end I decided how many 3″ screws I wanted to use and laid out their position then using my drill press and a 3/8″ Forstner bit, I counter bored then followed up with a smaller twist bit drill completely through. After clamping the chuck into position (it’s pretty heavy) I used an even smaller bit to pre-drill into the bench side to accept the screws. Not wanted to over-tighten I set the clutch on my drill and drove the screws home.

I could now decide where the two vise screws would be best mounted and I marked these positions before removing the chuck. It was time to make the recess for the vise nuts and it was at this point that things went a bit wonky. I started by routing shallow area,  slightly deeper than the flange. I then needed to figure out how to drill for the nut casing using a limited number of sizes from my drill sets. Here’s what I knew: a 5/8″ hole was not quite wide enough to allow the screw to penetrate. A 5/8″ hole followed up with sand paper and patience could be made to work. A 3/4″ hole allowed the screw to pass freely and I decided this was the way to go. The screw nut was too big for my 1″ bit and the only thing I had even close to size was a hole saw. Let’s just say, I tried it and I wasn’t happy with the result :-(  I finally gave up trying to be close and used my largest Forstner bit 1-38″. The hole was over-sized but the screw was kept in place with two screws through the flange so I called it, “good enough”. If I had been worried I suppose I could have backfilled the area around the outside of the nut but the shallow recess holding the flange, the two screws and the fact that this is inside the chuck screwed to the bench gave me a feel some confidence it will work as is. Should the nut come loose in the future, I can always unscrew the chuck and service it.

So with the flanges mounted, I re-mounted the chuck so that I could mark where I needed to drill into the bench. The vise screws needed a place to go as the vise is closing. The good news, pine is soft. The bad news, these holes needed to be deeper than any bit I had at my disposal. I began the hole with my 3/4″ Forstner bit and when it bottomed out, I switched to a 3/4″ twist bit. When it bottomed out I figured I was done. It was a sloppy job and the holes where not quite deep enough for the chucks to close fully. It wouldn’t be until Sunday that an answer would come to me. But that was it then, the bench was finished (almost).

Bench with vise mounted,

Bench with vise mounted,

Saturday Build

As I had made substantial progress on the bench build on Friday, I decided that I would go to town with my wife and daughter on Saturday. Susan works out everyday and this gave me a window in the morning to drill the dog holes in the chuck and bench top. Once again, I began the drilling with my 3/4″ Forstner bit and then it occurred to me. I have Spade bits, they are long and I can finish drilling through the top with a Spade bit! Why hadn’t I thought of them before while I was anguishing over not having any long auger bits? Because woodworkers don’t use Spade bits, right …. Foolish thinking I say! Of course I did clamp a board onto the underside of the bench to help with blow-out but let’s face it, this is 2×4 pine so there was some splintering even with this precaution.

I used my trim router and a chamfer bit to make a nice chamfer on top. I don’t have a plunge base so with the power off, I carefully line up the bit and keeping one side firmly planted, I rocked up the other side, powered on and gently rocked the bit back over the hole. The technique worked perfectly once I had mastered it but it took a couple of tries to get the hang of it.

Dog holes

Dog holes

Dog holes


Picture me now surfing the net, drinking Starbucks while my wife and daughter shop for dresses at the Mall…..

Saturday Build (conclusion)

By the time we got home, the day was pretty much concluded. I wanted to get a coat of Tung Oil finish on the thing so that I could wrap up the project on Sunday.

Sunday Build

Entering the shop I encountered the lovely smell of oil finish still hanging in the air. My bench was exactly as I had built it the day before only a little darker in complexion.

With a coat of Tung Oil finish.

With a coat of Tung Oil finish.

With a coat of Tung Oil finish.

The last task for this project was to crank out a few shop made bench pups to try out the bench. Using the Lee Valley bench pup as my model, I made 6 pups on my band saw from 3/4″ dowel stock.

Shop made bench pups (dogs).

Shop made bench pups (dogs).

And finally a test to see if they work

Project completed and ready for action.

Project completed and ready for action.


Feels good to finish, thank-you for visiting the Turtlecovebrewer


Benchtop Bench – downsizing the jaws

i decided to start fresh on the oak chucks for the twin screw. This time a single board for the bench side and double for the screws.


Categories: Woodworking

Building Jeff Miller’s – “A Benchtop Bench” – Part 2

June 29, 2015 Leave a comment

I am blessed. Last weekend I was able to squeeze in a few hours in the shop between a class I’m taking on Saturday and celebrating Father’s Day on Sunday. I am blessed. My middle daughter wanted to take me out on Sunday so my preference was to go to the movies. We went to see “Jurassic World” and as I mentioned on Facebook, “Nothing screams family like dinosaurs eating humans!”. I am blessed. My oldest daughter doesn’t really acknowledge holidays but she was around and decided to go with us and treat me to frozen yogurt. Doubly blessed.

This weekend I had the last installment of my class and was asked to spend some quality time with Callie (middle daughter) again on Sunday. She was building a computer from parts and really needed my help. If you knew me, you’d know that I work with computers all week long and have done so for 35 years. As you might imagine, this wasn’t on the top of my “favorite things to do on Sunday” list. I have to admit however, between the two of us we got the thing in service AND I still managed a little shop time as well. And the result was some memorable time together with my daughter. Did I mention that I was blessed?

Art's Work

Last weekend I was able to cut the mortise and tenon joinery for the trestle legs which was no small feat considering how badly I botched the mortises. My thinking was that I would setup my drill press fence and some stop blocks and hog out most of the wood. Unfortunately I didn’t set the fence up carefully enough and all my mortises were not only off center, they were slanted. The result was that I couldn’t really use the table saw or even the bandsaw to help me cut the tenons. I cut the first tenon with my saw and it came out pretty acceptable. I decided that I could speed the process using the band saw and although the tenons looked fine, the fit wasn’t so good because the mortises weren’t symmetrical and the tenons were. So I cut the last tenon by hand again and found it was the best fit of the lot. I don’t think there was any harm in experimenting. I did observe that my Veritas rip backsaw cut through that pine 2×4 material “like butter”. I finished up the weekend by gluing up the trestle legs.

The next step to tackle over this last weekend was to cut the mortise and tenons for the stretchers and install the bolts that would hold them in place. I was a little nervous over both tasks but into the wilderness I went. I began by cutting the quarter inch tenons on the table saw using my cross cut sled. The work progressed easily and the result would have been without incident had I been a bit more careful. In my zeal I nicked up one of the ends. Opps, oh well it is entirely serviceable for a work bench.

To cut the mortises I first agonized over the layout. Clearly I haven’t done this sort of think enough times to have method. I could measure the tenons accurately with my calipers, but how do I center the mortise. I can locate the center of board, but this I have to divide the caliper reading in half and layout each side, resulting in obvious error. It was madness I say. I could eyball it, but then I noticed I could never keep the stretcher perfectly verticle. Finally some sanity prevailed. Ultimately I could lucky. I measured up from the bottom of the trestle on all four riser pieces. This would be the bottom of the mortise. I drew a center line down the center of the board and using my calipers, I measured where the top of the motise would fall and drew a line. Were I got lucky was having a drill bit the exact width of the mortise. All I needed to do was to set my DP fence so that my drill bit tip was dead on the center line and I could hog out the wood. The work went quickly and surprisingly, very accurately. I used a ruler to draw a straight line on both outer edges of the drill holes and cleaned up with chisels. Did I mention I was surprised things went quickly?

So the next step was to lay out the bolt holes that would attach the stretchers to the trestle legs. Placing the bolt on top of the two pieces I made a mark on the wood were the bolt tip ended. This would be the center of the nut access hole. Using my largest Forstner bit 1″ 3/8″, I drilled to within about 1/4″ of the outside face. I was nervous about making a rookie mistake and drilling through so I double checked my DP depth stop several times before starting the task.

Next I dry fit the trestle assembly and hel and drill the bolt holes. I started by drilling a smaller hole from inside the mortise, then flipped the pieces over and used the small hole to locate where to drill with the larger bit (sized for the bolt). The plans called for hex bolts but I had purchased carriage bolts which I felt would be suitable so I decided to go ahead and used them.

Drilling through

Drilling through to the access holes

I was now ready to mock up the assembly and using the trestle holes as a guide, to carefully drill through the end of the stretchers into (hopefully) the center of the nut recesses.

Stretcher Nut Recesses

Stretcher Nut Recesses

The first one was easy, so I got careless and one of the holes was just a bit off center. This made access to feed the nut on the bolt a bit challenging. Well they were all difficult but all very manageable save that one.

Be careful and drill staight!

Be careful and drill straight!

Other than cleaning up my laminated vise jaws, time had run out for the weekend. Next up I’ll attach the bench top to the completed trestle and then begin work to fit the vise. Admiring my vise jaws I now realize that I might have “over achieved” as they are a bit beefy. I may decide to downsize the bench side face and use just one of these big guys.

Attaching the top, then the vise is next.

Attaching the top, then the vise is next.

Perhaps I’ll save one of these for another vise and just use 3/4″ face on the bench side?

Beefy laminated oak chucks.

Beefy laminated oak chucks.

Thanks for stopping by Turtlecove, until next time……




Building Jeff Miller’s – “A Benchtop Bench”

June 16, 2015 Leave a comment

The idea of building a benchtop bench has been on my mind for a while now. I’ve seen a few variations on a bench of this type; Steve Latta published a mini-bench or Fine Woodworking which looked OK. With this design there is a tail vise and the legs are flush with the top for clamping work to it’s sides.

FWW Minibench

Fine Woodworking Mini-workbench – Steve Latta

I really like the side clamping option of this design but I wasn’t excited about purchasing a tail vise when I already have that capability. The Latta bench looked a little easier to build than the design I selected which was published by Jeff Miller also in Fine Woodworking Mar/April 2008. I selected this bench for it’s home made twin screw Moxon style vise using inexpensive veneer press screws.

Jeff Miller - A Benchtop Bench

Fine Woodworking – A Benchtop Bench – Jeff Miller

Either design offers the advantage of raising your pieces for easier detail work such as carving, routing and joinery. I’ve wanted a twin screw style vise like this for marking and practicing dovetails and I had purchased the screws several months ago.

Shop Fox - Veneer Clamps

Shop Fox – Veneer Clamps

The bench will be made from Home Depot 2×4’s. Not very exotic but very economical. They only cost $3 each so I brought home 7 just to be sure I had enough knot-free areas for the build.

Milling the lumber was performed crudely as I still lack a planer and jointer. Table saw, band saw and hand planes had to serve the work. By the end of the day Sunday I had the top glued-up, the stretchers and all the trestle pieces milled and cut to rough length.

Trestle pieces rough cut.

Trestle pieces rough cut.

Top glued up.

Benchtop bench top glued up. (say that three times fast)

With a bit of creativity and elbow grease, I was able to resaw the 2×4’s into trestle components.

Ready for joinery

Checking to make sure I have all the pieces. Next will be the mortise and tenons for the trestle and stretchers.

Making sure I have all the bench pieces

All the basic bench pieces have been milled.

So the next session will for joining the trestles and stretchers. I’m still deciding what wood to use for the jaw chucks. At this point I ‘m considering oak faces laminated over pine.

Once the tenons are cut the height will be reduced by 3″ but I’m still wondering if the bench will be “too” tall for my height. Now is the time (before cutting the tenons) to determine if I should lower it or not. If I go with the plan the overall height will be just over 12″. Really wish I could think of a design that would allow me to easily adjust the height but will likely just mock it up at various heights and make my best guess.

“Thanks for checking in with the Turtlecove Workshop”



Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s Dovetail Sled Jig – Initial Observations After First Use

Susan was working late yesterday so I made use of my time and popped down to the shop and try some test cuts on the new sled. Very briefly, here are my thoughts on the first session. Remember, absolutely no experience with this jig and extremely limited experience laying out dovetails.

  1. I realized that I can barely layout tails first and had no idea how to layout pins first. Sandor’s instructions indicate cutting the pins first. (Note, this would have helped:
  2. I decided to layout and cut tails first because I didn’t have unlimited time to struggle with pins.
  3. Which side of the tail line to cut was fairly intuitive as the angle of the kerf lined up with the angle on the tail.
  4. Setting the blade height was not intuitive. I used trial and error, creeping up a bit at a time. This was time-consuming and part of the problem simply came from first use. However, after properly setting the blade height on one side, I switched sides and started cutting away only to realize the BLADE HEIGHT NEEDED TO BE LOWERED. The ramps are reasonably symmetrical however the miter slots apparently are not. Ruined the first piece but that’s why they call it a test.
  5. After marking both ends of another tail board, I cut both sides and was pleased with the results. I took this board to the band saw to clear waste between the tails. PATIENCE was required but taking time, I was able to clear the bulk of the waste without messing up the tails. Caution is required, it takes time. I don’t have a 1/8″ blade but that is what Sandor suggested in the instructions.

The Good

After a few missteps the tails I cut looked rather nice. I am hopeful this system will work with a bit of practice.

The Bad

I was surprised that blade height needed to be adjusted from left station to right station. I will figure out a way to easily and accurately set the blade height. Cleaning the waste between the tails requires refinement on my part. I was also pretty clueless as to which line to use for cutting pins. Another trial is required.

The Ugly

Peeking over the edge of the jig to watch the cut being made will result is a face full of sawdust. I encountered this at I initially attempted to adjust the blade height. Speaking of blade height, in order to cut 3/4″ stock that blade has to be pretty freaking tall and it is a bit scary doing so much cutting with beast spinning “out of its cage”. It would be more comforting albeit much slower to clamp the piece each cut and keep your fingers away from the front fence.  Whether or not I will actually do that is another question.


Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s Dovetail Sled Jig

“Never let lack of creativity or talent get in the way of accomplishing a task”, I always say. With the tool tote effectively finished I spent time over the weekend building Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s dovetail sled for the table saw. I have dabbled with using the band saw to speed the dovetail process but it too would need a jig (at least a wedge) to make the cuts effectively. When I saw this plan a year or so ago, it was on my list of things to try.

Table saw dovetail sled

I’m pretty sure that I found the plan for free but it’s not my plan so I wouldn’t presume to publish it. Rockler sells it for $8 but you can probably find it other places as I’ve seen it around.

Basically the jig has four stations, and uses both ends of the sled. The end comprising the ramps are for cutting your tails, the other end with the angled fence allows you to cut the slope on your pins. Each side has a left and right cut. I can’t tell you how well it works yet as I just finished up my build late yesterday afternoon.

Last task for the day, gluing up the blade "guard".

Last task for the day, gluing up the blade “guard”.

I always read about how “it should only take a couple of hours to whip up this jig” but this one took me two sessions. During the first session of a couple of hours, I cut out most of the pieces of the project including the making of a really basic tapering jig. The tapering jig I made was nothing more than a piece of MDF notched to form the 8° slope recommended for the ramps.

Most of the pieces were cut and ready for assembly over the weekend. Notice the simple tapering jig (bottom left)

Most of the pieces were cut and ready for assembly over the weekend. Notice the simple tapering jig (bottom left)

For materials I used 1/2″ MDF for the bulk of the parts. I used pine for the tail ramps because I didn’t have any 3/4″ MDF on hand and I had lots of suitable pine scraps. I also used pine for the blade exit guards. The pins fence called for a piece 28″ in length and unfortunately for me, I had cut my MDF piece in such a way that I didn’t have it. What I had on hand  was a 24″ x 24″ plywood panel, so I built the fence in three pieces which I believe will work just fine.

The pins fence was built in three pieces instead of one.

Pins fence built in 3 pieces.

To support the center fence piece, I cut an extra support and slightly modified the placement of the other supports for best fit.

Dovetail Sled guts.

Dovetail Sled guts showing fence supports.

So that’s about all I know about it. I was going to buy a fancy miter bar but I just couldn’t bring myself to place the purchase. There are many fine products but I opted to make mine out of an oak scrap. With some patience and a bit of planing, I came up with a good fit.

Finished dovetail sled for the table saw.

Finished dovetail sled for the table saw.

I might get a chance to try a few cuts today after work. I’m still a bit loose as to which side to cut on but I’m sure after a couple of test cuts I’ll figure it out. Building the jig with the pins and tails angle right is a big deal, they have to be the same or the two will never fit together. I feel cautiously optimistic that I got it right but the proof will be in the cutting.

You’ve been machine-making with the Turtlecovebrewer….



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