Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Questions about tools and jigs you want to buy/build/modify.
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Matthew Lau
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Joined: Sat Feb 18, 2012 2:03 am

Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Matthew Lau »

Hey MIMF,

A while back, I created a stir in the DelCamp forum when I'd mentioned that I was thinking of building guitars inside my bedroom.
What I didn't make too clear, was that I was going to buy the wood prethicknessed, do rough cutting/dimensioning/jig making at a dedicated workshop in another location.

Would you guys mind giving me your input?

Without a dedicated workshop, what can you do to build guitars?
I was chatting with Clay about this, and he'd mentioned good times building on a WorkMate outdoors.
Meantime, I had a fun time jointing tops in front of my office on a piece of baltic birch ply as an impromptu workboard.

Additionally, I came across luthier Robert Garcia, who mentioned that he sometimes does assembly and fine tuning of his guitars inside his bedroom. I'm assuming gluing top to rims, bracing, finessing bindings for french polish....but I'll hear back from him sometime.

What do you guys do without a dedicated workshop? Do you build outside? Inside? What can you do safely without killing yourself?


I want to finally get back to building guitars instead of slowly going insane obsessing over teeth.

Craig Bumgarner
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Location: Drayden, Maryland

Re: Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Craig Bumgarner »

If you just want to build one guitar, you can do it most anywhere. 45 years ago, I built my first guitar on a screen porch without electricity. My only power tool was an electric drill which I took inside to use. When I started building in earnest ten years ago, my initial set up for the first 30 guitars was a bench in a space about 8' x 13'. It had no stationary power tools. I did have access to stationary tools nearby, but had to walk down the street. I could and often did without. As you say, getting wood that is dimensioned sufficiently that you do not need stationary power tools is a big help. Bandsaws and thickness sanders are production tools, hand saws and planes will get the job done if you don't have room for them.

My current guitar shop is 10' x 16' and has a lot of bench space and only three stationary power tools. A small bandsaw, a spindle sander and a 12" Jet disc sander. I now have my own machinery shop next door with a table saw, 14" bandsaw, thickness sander, drill press, jointer and air compressor. This building is 12' x 20', heated with a wood stove, no insulation. My point is that starting small and adding on is a very viable approach.

Matthew Lau
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Joined: Sat Feb 18, 2012 2:03 am

Re: Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Matthew Lau »

I have a rather unique situation.

On one hand, I have a power tool workshop in a 1.5 car garage.
It's got routers, drill press, bandsaw, tablesaw, planer, and random orbital sander.
However, it takes 30 min-60 min to get there, and I get maybe 1-2 hours a month to spend there due to all the stresses at work (I own my own dental office, and am very picky about QC).

On the other hand, I have a compressor room behind my dental office, festool vac, and some really nice Japanese hand tools.
I've also got a great Bosch jigsaw.

In the future, I'll have my own bedroom again...:P


I'm thinking of maybe building a few guitars a year...but in the future, plan to move back to the place with the workshop...hopefully with a family.
btw, what tools do you find most useful (that I don't have)?

I'm considering getting a spindle sander or a jointer.
I definitely am thinking of building a small thickness sander....sheesh! My wobbly drill press table isn't the best for precision work with the Wagner.

Randy Roberts
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Location: Omaha, NE (a suburb of Iowa)

Re: Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Randy Roberts »

Mathew,

You can build anywhere... I've bent purfling and bindings on the gas grill while cooking supper.

I recommend you just start building. You've been around here long enough that you know you can figure out solutions to any problems if and when the problems arise.
Figuring out all the solutions first will only end up with you wasting your time when you could have been building. Meanwhile, all of a sudden you've got 6 kids to put through college, and the next thing you know the kids are putting you in the rest home that doesn't have a shop attached.
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Why, back in my day we had to build out back in the snowdrifts...
Why, back in my day we had to build out back in the snowdrifts...

Arnt Rian
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Location: Trondheim, Norway
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Re: Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Arnt Rian »

My biggest concern would be humidity control. You can do most wood processing, shaping of parts etc in a non-controlled environment, but unless you can control the RH where you assemble the instrument, it may distort, develop stability issues, cracks etc later. If you decide to use your bedroom for these operations, make sure you get a good hygrometer, and if necessary use humidifier / dehumidifier to adjust the RH.

We have a summer house where enjoy working outside on my makeshift "workshop" when the weather is nice during summer. I use mostly hand tools, and I make mostly various pieces of furniture and stuff we need for the house, but no instruments. The view is much nicer than at my regular shop!
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Matthew Lau
Posts: 488
Joined: Sat Feb 18, 2012 2:03 am

Re: Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Matthew Lau »

Arnt Rian wrote:My biggest concern would be humidity control. You can do most wood processing, shaping of parts etc in a non-controlled environment, but unless you can control the RH where you assemble the instrument, it may distort, develop stability issues, cracks etc later. If you decide to use your bedroom for these operations, make sure you get a good hygrometer, and if necessary use humidifier / dehumidifier to adjust the RH.

We have a summer house where enjoy working outside on my makeshift "workshop" when the weather is nice during summer. I use mostly hand tools, and I make mostly various pieces of furniture and stuff we need for the house, but no instruments. The view is much nicer than at my regular shop!
20170714_212144.jpg

Hey Arnt,

Well said! And I've admired your craftsmanship for a long time.
If you can build your beautiful instruments in the harsh Nordic winter, I salute you.

6 kids!?! Wow!
On my end, I just want to make sure my patients are well taken care of...which can be tough sometimes when freak accidents happen, like a leaking pipe inside my office (happened last night).

Relative Humidity is probably the biggest advantage I have. I live on an island with RH at the same all year round...pretty much right in the middle.
My challenge will be shipping instruments to really dry places (like New Jersey in winter).

Brian Evans
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Re: Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Brian Evans »

My favorite bench for building is actually a workmate by Black and Decker. It's about as old as I am... which is OLD. My issue with work space is heat, humidity and dust. If you can control those adequately, then you can build in a pretty small space.

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Randolph Rhett
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Re: Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Randolph Rhett »

Ok, I'll bite. What island do you live on with 45% humidity year round?

Matthew Lau
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Re: Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Matthew Lau »

I live on the island of Alameda, about 20 miles from San Francisco.
It's usually about 10 degrees within 70 F most times of the year.
Currently, it's unseasonably cold at 50 F.

We're protected from the Pacific with the south bay/peninsula area.

There's a pretty large amount of luthiers here for some weird reason...about 54 in a 40 mile radius.
Strangely, it doesn't really ever get too humid, or too dry.

I guess that I'm blessed with one of the nicer microclimates?
Just need to watch out for crazy politics, gentrification, riots, taxes, and ... the occasional earthquake.

Matthew Lau
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Re: Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Matthew Lau »

Just an update,

About 2 weeks ago, I was going insane with stress. On top of a full workload, taxes, staff calling in sick last minute, our neighbors caused a pipe to burst, and we had to quarantine the area. The flooring had to be stripped, and I had to stay on site to make sure things ran smooth. I hadn't had a real day off for a long time.

As the guy was doing his thing, I tested out my "mobile luthier command center."
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Matthew Lau
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Joined: Sat Feb 18, 2012 2:03 am

Re: Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Matthew Lau »

It worked surprisingly well.

FWIW, the water repair guy called out his daughter to see what I was doing.
He thought it was pretty cool that a dentist was building a guitar while overseeing the disinfection of the operatories.

Bob Francis
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Re: Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Bob Francis »

:D
Matthew Lau wrote:It worked surprisingly well.

FWIW, the water repair guy called out his daughter to see what I was doing.
He thought it was pretty cool that a dentist was building a guitar while overseeing the disinfection of the operatories.

Matthew Lau
Posts: 488
Joined: Sat Feb 18, 2012 2:03 am

Re: Building guitars without a dedicated workshop? Outside? Inside?

Post by Matthew Lau »

Bob Francis wrote::D
Matthew Lau wrote:It worked surprisingly well.

FWIW, the water repair guy called out his daughter to see what I was doing.
He thought it was pretty cool that a dentist was building a guitar while overseeing the disinfection of the operatories.
It was pretty funny.
I was using a jigsaw to work the form, and I hear "Loretta, you'll never believe this! Come quick. Some doc is building a guitar."
Then a lady that looks just like her dad pokes her head out and does a double take.

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