Les Paul Special – Guitar Build from Parts

No doubt you’ve heard of a “Parts-caster” meaning a Stratocaster style guitar pieced together from individually purchased parts. Well I’m attempting a Les Paul Special Doublecut style build that I’m calling a “Les Parts Special”. I’ve been accumulating luthier tools and parts for a couple of years now but for some reason (fear, paralysis, etc.) haven’t really done much. Last weekend I began work on a parts electric guitar of intermediate difficulty. Basically I purchased a factory second body and neck which weren’t designed to work together along with other parts I ordered from Guitar Fetish and Stewart-MacDonald.

Build Challenges

There are quite of few details to attend to with the build but the main challenge was and remains fitting the neck. The body was purchased as part of a factory closure and was routed for a bolt-on neck and what appears to be at least one routing mistake. Lots of modifications to the body were going to be necessary to fit all the components which I had purchased for the project. Fortunately much of this work was somewhat straightforward. Fitting the neck to the body was not as you can see by these pictures.


I got started by plugging a hole drilled in the body through the neck pocket. Not sure if this was part of the original design (perhaps for adjusting the neck?) or simply a mistake. I didn’t happen to have a nice piece of mahogany lying around and even it I did I wasn’t sure my plug cutter would be the right size. I opted for a low tech fix which was to temporarily plug the hole with a piece of dowel, then use a larger Forstner bit to make a new clean hole which matched the diameter of another dowel I had on hand. Not exactly elegant but functional non-the-less.

Hole in neck pocket plugged with a dowel

Hole in neck pocket plugged with a dowel

The dog ear style P-90 pickup I purchased was just a bit too big to fit in the factory routed pickup cavity and rather than routing the body, I decided it would be easier (and safer) to round the corners of the pickup mount with my bench grinder. This was surprisingly easy requiring removal of a minuscule amount of metal on all four corners.

Had to round the metal pickup mount corners just a tad to get this pickup to fit in the factory routed pocket.

Had to round the metal pickup mount corners just a tad to get this pickup to fit in the factory routed pocket.

Before I jumped off the cliff with the neck issues, I tried fitting my groovy Stew-Mac LP Jr. premium wiring kit pots into the control cavity. To no surprise the high quality CTS brand potentiometers would not fit through the pre-drilled holes in the body. Rather than hunt and hope I had a drill bit of the diameter I needed, I pulled out my tapered reamer and finessed the opening so the pot threads would just push through leaving it snug.

Other modifications. Fitting the pots.

Other modifications. Fitting the pots.

I then noticed that when I attempted to test mount the pots the cavity was too small for the tone pot (volume was OK). I pulled out my trim router and my brand new 1/4″ Whiteside upcut spiral bit and freehand finessed the cavity walls until the tone pot had room.

Gibson-esque moustach headstock.

Gibson-esque mustache headstock.

Another rather straight-forward (and non-critical) activity was to add a little Gibson-esque mustache to top of the headstock. I wasn’t particularly worried about this detail but I happened to look in my tool cabinet and there was  a Les Paul Jr. neck template that I had made years before. I looked upon this as a sign. After tracing the design on to my work piece, I rough cut it on the band-saw and cleaned it up with rasps and the oscillating spindle sander. The small nick in the middle was problematic and I used a variety of files (both size and shape) until it looked OK. Of course a real LPJR neck would be mahogany but this one is made from hard maple so files aren’t super efficient however the rasps worked well.

I also spent some time cleaning up the rosewood fretboard. I can’t put my finger on it but there was definitely a very thick clear topcoat sprayed on the edges of the fingerboard. This might have been OK if the enter board was sprayed but I didn’t like it and spent a good amount of time scraping it off and exposing the rosewood. It was tedious but I thick it’s going to look great once I get it oiled up. I used a razor blade with scotch tape covering all but a small portion of the cutting edge as demonstrated by Dan Earlewine.

Pain in the Neck

So here is where things went South. The factory neck pocket was designed for a bolt-on neck and I wanted to convert it to a set neck. Unfortunately as previously mention, the neck tenon of the neck I purchased (on the cheap) was not designed with my guitar in mind. I suppose the proper way to do this work would be to first make a router template. There problem here (besides the fact that this is my first build) is that I have to modify both the tenon and the neck pocket to make a workable solution. I decided to start with the pocket and then fit the tenon to the pocket. The plan was to leave the pocket shape intact and at this point just deepen the pocket to within 1/4″ of the back. I was going to freehand route again but this time I needed to support the router so I made an offset base from 1/4″ Lexan before starting.

In order to deepen the neck pocket I first made an offset router base for my trim router.

In order to deepen the neck pocket I first made an offset router base for my trim router.

Rather than nick the edges of the pocket I stayed well clear of the walls and cleaned the edges up with chisels.

The neck tenon was quite long and much taller than my body blank would accept. The pocket corners were round, the tenon was square so I chose to square off the neck mortise with chisels. So far, so good.

It's mahogany but will require some work to make a guitar with it.

Three-piece body but at least its solid mahogany at a good price.

But wait, there’s more! The neck heal was still way too tall so I had to remove about 3/8″ from the bottom to level the fingerboard to the body. Now it should be noted that I had previously painstakingly reduced the width of the neck using rasps until I had an absolutely perfect fit. Now, I had to chop and angle the bottom of the heal. DISASTER!

So what I did was fit the neck, and measured how much material would need to be removed and rough cut it on the band-saw. It was messy but I left enough material to clean it up on the oscillating belt sander. It also occurred to me, and I worry that I need a 3 deg neck angle as well as getting everything to fit. The bottom line is that I have attempted a neck angle but the tenon is now very loose in the neck pocket. I’m pretty much flying blind at this point. I know that I’m going to shore up neck and glue that mother but I’m not sure how yet.

To be continued….

I’ve definitely got some work ahead of me but it sure is fun diving in and getting my feet wet. Getting the neck fit with a workable neck angle is going to be “fun”. Then locating the one piece bridge is also going to be interesting. I’m going to need to set up a temporary tailpiece or at least that is what I imagine should be done. I also have to shape and fit a nut but before I can do that I have to somehow scrape off all the black paint they put in the nut slot at the factory. WTF?!? Tuners are the least of my problem but the bushings I have for them are loose in the factory drilled tuner peg holes. Sigh…… as I said, this is the least of my challenges.

Having fun making stuff with the Turtlecovebrewer…..

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Arts and Crafts Hanging Bookcase – Completed

April 12, 2016 2 comments

Over the last couple of weeks I muscled my way through, finishing up the build on my hanging bookcase. There have been distractions but I didn’t have far to go, thus I was able to finally put the finish on this project.

Corbels and Arches

Rehearsing the installation of the corbels and upper and lower arches, I envisioned attaching them with dowels and glue. I was even going to make a doweling jig to perfectly align the holes for the corbels. When it finally came down to it I rationalized that glue would be plenty strong enough to hold these non-structural items to the carcass. I had wisely preserved the off cuts from making the corbels which I used as clamping cauls. The only downsized to this approach was that I didn’t have enough F-clamps to do all the corbels simultaneously so I ended up doing the front section then after the glue setup move on to the back set.

bookcase corbels

After the corbels came the upper and lower decorative arches which were also simply glued and clamped.

bookcase arches


Being careful, the black metal pulls I purchased at Lowes installed without incident. The modesty panel (behind the drawers) is held in place by 1″ brads which I pre-drilled. So many times I’ve had nails come out the side wall but this time there was room and I was careful. That has to be a first.

Hanging Bookcase

Finish and Installation

Woodworkers Source has a nice article on finishes for sapele in which they present three viable options for making the figure pop. The first is a clear sealer with lacquer topcoat which leaves the wood about as light as sapele gets. The second was to bring out the ribbons by adding an amber dye before sealing. Option three appealed to me and this is the method that I used, well sort of. Method three brings out the ribbon figure by using Danish Oil before sealing and a lacquer top coat. In my case I used what I had on hand which is a Teak Oil finish. I rubbed it on and let it dry overnight before spraying 4 to 5 coats of General Finishes High Performance water based top coat. I used a sponge sanding block to knock off the nibs between coats but I never really attempted a pore filling. I didn’t feel like I needed a glass smooth surface so I was OK my decision to leave it as is and skip buffing it out.

I had already figured out how I was going to mount the case to the wall but working without plans, I had neglected to make and install the pieces before spraying the finish. After re-watching the  video on Making a French Cleat with Paul Sellers I muddled my way though making my own which I mounted under the top. This cleat would hold the weight of the case but I didn’t want the bottom to be able to pull away from the wall so I also added two tabs behind the bottom arch that would use for  screws. These pieces were glued and screwed and I used a razor blade to scrape away finish before attaching them. I did an incredible hack job making the split cleat but it was my first and in spite of being ugly, the darn thing worked. Overall I was pleased with the project and I’m enjoying its use now.

Hanging Bookcase Installed

Inspiration for this project design came from pieces sold by Matthew Standrin. I encourage you to visit his Etsy store, WoodDeluxe and consider purchasing one or more of his very affordable and wonderful pieces of artisan furniture.



Arts and Crafts Hanging Bookcase – Drawers

March 14, 2016 Leave a comment

Back in the shop this weekend I was able to complete a few shop chores before continuing work on the hanging bookcase. The last couple of weekends have primarily been about making and fitting the three drawers. Although I have previously cut a few through dovetails, on this project I cut them all by hand. Some were horrible, but as work continued, I improved. Speaking of “firsts”, I have never attempted half-blind dovetails before this project and I wanted to challenge myself. After chiseling out the sockets on the first three, it occurred to me that I could (and should) try hogging out waste with a forstner bit. It worked beautifully and saved me all kinds of time on the last three joints.

Drawers, Wedges and Glue-up

This weekend I also learned how to begin cuts with the rip back-saw. As trivial as that sounds it was a big deal to me. When I made the shaker style step stools I was frustrated to no end while attempting my rip cuts. I have since heeded the advice of the Shannon Rogers (The Renaissance Woodworker) about lifting the weight of the saw and violà. Of the twenty cuts I made (for tenon wedges)  I only had the saw slip twice and my confidence grew with each new kerf. The sting of the two mistakes was more than compensated with the reward of learning something new!

At the end of the day Sunday, I had sanded all the surfaces, relieved all the hard edges and prepared wedges for the glue-up. After the glue had skimmed over, I removed squeeze out and sawed the wedges. Moistening the ends of the tenons (end grain) softened the fibers and the glue making it easier to flush up the surfaces with a chisel.

Hanging Bookcase Lower Drawers

Home Stretch

Perhaps not yet the home stretch but at least rounding the bend. Next session I’ll glue on the corbels and upper and lower arches. I’ll also need to fabricate the hanging cleat and then I’ll be ready for finish.

“Everything takes more time than you think it will” – The Turtlecovebrewer


Door Stop – Giving back….

March 8, 2016 Leave a comment

Last week I helped out a co-worker by repairing a couple of his daily use tools, a door stop. Steve is one of those regular guys that loves his job. I don’t believe I’ve seen anyone happier than the day that he went from temporary to permanent status working on our floor in the Health Science Center. Steve made such an impact on us that one of our staff members wanted to nominate him for the annual Superior Accomplishment Awards not realizing that neither had he worked a full year, nor was he even permanently assigned to our area. Steve is always willing to help others whether it is pushing a cart, sharing a load or opening a door. Steve knows that I butcher wood and when he came to me with his worn out and broken door stop asking for help, I was thrilled to be able to pay back some of what he has given to so many of us.

Door Stop

A simple gesture I know but it gave me great pleasure to pause my hanging bookcase work to help out my friend and co-worker Steve.

The Turtlecovebrewer now sees the merit in”simple random acts of kindness”. Thank-you for letting me share this with you.

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Arts and Crafts Hanging Bookcase

February 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Funny how I don’t consider myself a “reader” yet my nightstand is always overflowing with books and magazines. Piled high I have to watch for avalanches lest I or my adult beverage be crushed and scattered. I’m about tired of it and seeking a solution, I decided to make myself a wall mounted bookshelf for said current reading materials. I began by seeking inspiration from the Internet. Having found a piece that interested me, I fired up SketchUp and went to work drawing up plans.

Arts and Crafts Style Hanging Bookcase

Size-wise the top is about 28″ wide and about 23″ wide at the carcass. Originally I thought it would have two shelves but as I began the build I could see that I’d have made two too-short shelves and opted for one shelf which could accommodate 13″ books. This left 6″ for the bottom area which I now concluded needed some small yet decorative drawers. Two arches (upper and lower) and 4 corbels supporting the top would complete the concept. Because I had no intention of using white oak (I’m using sapele left over from my Christmas project) and fuming with ammonia this might better be called an arts and crafts “inspired” design. The plan is to hang the unit via French cleat underneath the top. In the unlikely event the unit could be bumped off the cleat I plan to secure the bottom to the wall with couple of screws.

The Carcass

About a month ago I began laying out the case pieces and it was only then I knew that I didn’t want two shelves. While I was at it, I shaped the corbels and laid out a couple of arches. The corbels are ready to use but the arches will need some work before they are show ready.

Humm, This Going to Work? Corbells

I would design the drawers later but I could soldier on by cutting the through mortises and tenons and beginning the case joinery.

Hand-chopped Mortise

Same wood (sapele) and same technique I used building the Shaker inspired step-stools. Hey I’m learning methods of work and attempting to apply them, right?

Test Fitting Through Tenons

Just like the stools, I’ll glue and wedge these joints when they are ready to be assembled. Twelve mortises later the case can be dry fit.

Case Joinery Cut

Following a month-long delay, I was ready to get back to the project. Last weekend I measured and cut a rabbit for a plywood back for the drawer area. Two of the rabbits were through cuts but two required a more judicious stopped cut be made. I did these cuts on the router table and squared up the ends with a chisel.  I then moved on to the three 1/4″ dados I needed to hold the drawer webbing.

Drawer Guts

I didn’t see an easy or safe way that I could make these cuts on the router table so I decided to use my small router plane and router them by hand. It took a while but I was able to successfully route them given time. With the drawer webbing cut and fit, it was time to think about the drawer fronts.

The board I had cut to be the other shelf would be used for the three required drawer fronts. I wanted to be smart about this and cut them such that I had a continuous grain match across all three drawers.

Drawer Fronts Cut

The drawer webbing ends 1/4″ from the front of the case and to conceal the plywood edges which would show between the drawers, I am cutting the fronts with a 1/4″ lip such that the plywood is hidden when the drawers are closed.

Drawer Fronts

So far, so good. I know there will need to be a gap between drawers to keep them functional but for now I’m keeping the gap small. I’ll plan them later after I make the drawers and play with the best fit.

There is a lot left to do yet. Next session, I’ll make all the drawers and I suppose after that I’ll be getting closer to gluing up the assembly. Or perhaps I should commit to the glue-up first so as to make sure the drawers fit properly, we’ll see. The decorative moldings and cleat will follow that.

But first I’ll be finishing the final assembly on Rhyan End Table – Redux as we plan to spend this coming weekend in Turtle Cove (Melrose, FL)

A couple more rehabed hands tools

February 22, 2016 Leave a comment

I am by no means a hand tool restoration expert. Come to think of it, I’m really not an expert at anything but at least I have a reasonably keen mind and like to learn and tinker. Once I finally got around to cleaning up some of these old tools I actually learned a lesson or two. At the most basic level, by taking things apart you can see how they are built. By cleaning them up, tweaking and honing them I actually learned that a tool doesn’t have to cost 10 times as much to function. Sometimes you just have to slow down and quit reading the forums.

Bailey Spokeshave

When I purchased this guy the screw holding the blade was frozen and the shave had a nice black patina. A bit of soaking and scrubbing and tool ended up quite serviceable. I’m not sure how much life is left on the blade but with my limited use I’m sure it will be in the years range.

Bailey Spokeshave 2016-02-09 06.43.23

I can’t quite figure out the exact model of this guy which is not all that surprising considering how many variations of this device have been produced over the ages. The closest I found was a listing on eBay for a shave the seller thought was a Bailey No. 8. which he states would be like the Stanley 58. True enough on the blade and cap but this model has raised handles and from the pictures I saw the Stanley 58 had straight.

Granddaddy’s Chisel

As I mentioned in my last post, Granddad Phillip really used his tools so many showed signs of great wear. This was the only chisel I recovered and it appeared to be in pitiful shape. The handle and blade were covered in blue and white paint. You can’t see it in this picture but the handle is also missing the back half, apparently from being hammered. Once I cleaned it up I found it manufacturer’s mark to read Rockford Greenlee. My first impression was that I was going to have to replace the handle then it occurred to me that I could just sand it down and remove all the rough edges. I put about three coats of boiled linseed oil on it and sharpened it. I now keep it with my Lie-Nielsen chisels set for when I need a 1″ chisel.

Rockford Greenville 1" Bench Chisel

Uncle’s Citrus Knife

I am named after my Great Uncle, Arthur M. Clarke. My father always referred to him simply as “Uncle”. Uncle owned citrus and he agreed to help my Dad attend the University of Florida after the war (WWII) as long as Dad majored in ….. citrus. Ultimately my father became a school teacher and principal retiring after 32 yrs of service but before this he graduated from UF with a degree in horticulture and worked in citrus. It was in the orange groves that I first saw my Dad pull out one of these long bladed pocket knives and expertly remove the peel from an orange in one long sliver. It was typical for these knives to have plastic pearloid scales, sometimes with a logo on the side. The knife I found was made in Germany, rusted with the scales broken and falling off. The plastic material was simply at the end of its life and crumbling. Once again, I have no idea what I’m doing but I did it anyway. My attempt at forming new scales from some scrap sapele.

Citrus Knife with new Scales 2016-02-19 18.48.34

First I removed the old scales then soaked and removed as much rust off the case as possible. I then cut some sapele scrap and discovered that I didn’t really know what I was doing. Short of removing the old rivets, I attempted to make a pattern and drill holes in the wood so the scales could be glued to the case. This worked…. sort of. Well I just winged it, shaping the scales on the belt sander and generally making a mess of things. After this I took some wood filler (Timbermate) and added a drop of red mahogany dye to darken it and used it to fill the pores. Once leveled I put several coats of BLO and I felt that it came out OK. I’ll make no claims to have done a professional job however I had fun with it. If you think about it, I started with something that was useless as it was and made it into something that can be used and enjoyed for years to come. I think it was worth the journey.

Thanks for peeking in on the Turtlecovebrewer’s Workshop…..

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I have no doubt “tools” will be involved….

February 12, 2016 Leave a comment

My wife’s great comeback when joking with me about my woodworking abilities. She was intimating of course that I WAS the tool in question. I love to laugh and it is her great sense of humor that I find is my most favorite thing.

It has been several weeks now since I’ve found the time to work in my shop and I’m starting to go just a little bit crazy. I have managed to read a bit and also to work on cleaning up and servicing the rest of the tools I collected on our Georgia trip a year ago this Christmas.

Hand Saw

I picked up two Disston handsaws, the saw pictured below and another which I haven’t worked on yet. I don’t expect this saw carries with it very much important as a collectible but it is a Disston and it is now mine. As appears to be common, the upper spur was damaged from use and there was a fair amount of paint splatters on the handle. I gently sanded to remove paint and grime and rounded off the broken spur.

Diston Crosscut Saw

I sanded off rust from the blade and soaked the saw bolts in vinegar and salt to remove the dirt, rust and grime. When I polished them up they appeared to be more like copper than brass which I found very attractive. I understand that more bolts in the handle reflects higher quality and for the life of me I can’t find a Disston saw with only 3 bolts attaching the handle. All that I have seen online have 4 or 5 but the medallion clearly reads Disston * Phila so go figure. One posting I saw on eBay indicates this style having been used between 1917 and 1940. This coupled with the fewer bolts says to me this is a later made saw. Wikipedia states that Disston was bought out in 1954 so that would likely be the last year hand saws were produced. If anyone reading this knows more please feel free to comment.

Disston Medallion

Once reassembled I was pleasantly surprised that the saw was relatively sharp.

Grand Daddy’s Tools

My wife’s Grandmother is 95 and still doing well in Winter Haven, Florida. On a visit last year Susan’s uncle took us by her house to see if there was anything we wanted and I was shown the workbench. Granddad Phillip liked to make things and a few (very few) of his tools remained, most of which were considered “junk”. I never-the-less found some old Great Neck wooden handled screwdrivers and scarfed them up. They showed signs of great use, with splatters of paint, split handles and some rusting. Most had been used with a hammer at some point in their lives. These were tools, not heirlooms.

Eventually I took the time to clean them up with a light sanding and applied a coat of shellac to the well-worn handles. The handle on the smallest screwdriver was split down the center so I glued and clamped it together. As you can see I wound up with 3 Phillips and 2 small standard drivers as well as a pretty (fat) punch.

Great Neck Screwdrivers

I have one more to restore which I forgot about because it was hanging on my pegboard. This was a large standard screwdriver that Granddaddy Phillip modified to use as a gasket puller or so I believe.

Vintage (Modified) Screwdriver

I know Phillip did a lot of hammering with his screwdrivers but I’m thinking this one he modified on purpose. My plan is to clean it up and use it in its modified state. It might be possible to straighten the blade but at this point, I have little interest in do so.

Hand Drill

So far this is the only tool that I purchased in Georgia that is missing parts. The drill itself seems fine but the chuck is incomplete. I didn’t know how they worked at first so it took me experimenting with it a couple of times to realize that the chuck was indeed broken. I have the inner 3 jaw pieces but not the platen and spring that make it all work together.

Eggbeater Hand Drill

I oiled the pinion and shellacked the handles but this tool is on hold until a replacement chuck or chuck parts can be scrounged. So I have the outer chuck casing and the 3 jaws but according to this picture I need the springs and the conical (platen) thingy. Perhaps I can find said items on the cheap somewhere.

Chuck Innerds

I’m certainly no hand tool connoisseur but I like the idea of having a hand drill around for those times when you want to put a plastic shield in drywall or other simple tasks. Of course if I get this thing working I might actually use it on projects, why not? No luck so far however and all I’ve managed to do is to get the palm of my hand caught in the gears, ouch😦

I also cleaned up and sharpened a Bailey spoke shave but I’ll have to post the pictures another time.

I hope to get back into the shop soon, if not I think my head will explode!!!

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