Order of operations in woodworking and guitar parts building

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by guitarbuilder, Apr 19, 2019.

  1. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Mar 30, 2003
    Ontario County
    Back when I didn't know anything about woodworking, I was taught through multiple sources that the first step was to square up your lumber. The second step was to lay out your joinery and cut them while the wood was still a rectangle/square with squared edges. After those important tasks were done, you do any cutting of curves. Once there were curves, then it was harder to do the earlier tasks. I always applied and still do apply this technique to my instrument parts.

    If I were making a leg for a Duncan Phyfe chair ( I never have done one) , I would apply the same kind of techniques. The last step would be to cut the curves and shape the legs.

    If I were making a moustache style bridge for an acoustic, I would cut the saddle slot early on and the last steps would be to shape it and sand it.

    So my question is this? Why are people cutting out a neck shape as step number one instead of doing it down the line in the process? The same thing holds true with the fretboard radiusing, slotting, and dot holes.

    I know that there are plenty of ways to do things and the end result is the same, but why make it harder than using your router with an edge guide or a router table?

    This concept has come up a couple times recently and it seems only a handful of people are doing the truss rod slot early on in the order of operations.

    If one were setting up a small factory to produce guitar parts, you would want to do things in the most efficient way, and that means breaking down the part into its individual operations and analyze them before putting them graphically in a flow chart.

    I'm just throwing this out there for discussion, as I'm curious why people do what they do and when.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2019
    tone57 likes this.
  2. Mase

    Mase Tele-Meister

    Apr 20, 2016
    Hi GB

    Lots of people seem to come to guitar building without any training in woodwork. When I say training, I mean trained the way a Cabinet Maker or a Joiner would be.This makes them a lot more susceptible to Youtube/tdpri experts.
    When I say this I mean no disrespect to the many skilled builders on this site, from whom I have learnt a lot,just that a hobby is approached differently from a job.
    Your example of the truss rod is a pertinent one that seems blindingly obvious to a tradesman, but i can well understand how folks would be influenced to do it the hard way.
    Back in the day I spent the first 6 months of my cabinet making apprenticeship not being allowed to make any furniture,all I did was was rip,dock,square,and mould timber.
  3. EsquireOK

    EsquireOK Friend of Leo's

    Aug 30, 2011
    I have never seen such processes, myself. Then again, I don't really follow most people's build threads.

    You're saying that people are carving their neck profiles before they install their rear-mounted truss rods? WTF?
  4. jimgchord

    jimgchord Tele-Holic

    Apr 3, 2018
    I think a lot of folks aren't necessarily from a woodworking background and are figuring it out as they go.
    kafka and John Nicholas like this.
  5. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    May 1, 2003
    Jacksonville, FL
    there ya go... 'bout hit the nail on the head...

    over my 50+ years of "helping".. I've found many have someone they wish to emulate.. someone they know/knew .. someone who's books they've read, some advanced guitarist they have befriended... (note I have also found, being a great guitarist is no guarantee they know squat about the guitar or how to create one)

    But in any case, it's always better to work with what the "student" thinks they know, until it becomes a hinderance... otherwise ya spend too much time trying to un-teach bad habits they may have adopted from whomever they were following.

    We all develop a "work ethic" and an methodology... it's part of what makes luthiery an art...

    I've found the best advice is no advice, until ya see a problem looming in the immediate future... that way they develop their own wood-working identity, and can add their own uniqueness to whatever they are building. Although I would recommending not using a 12d glue coated "sinker" to secure the neck :p

  6. Old Deaf Roadie

    Old Deaf Roadie Tele-Meister

    Oct 11, 2017
    My high school was essentially funded by ALCOA. They paid 100% of the school tax for 2 school districts in eastern Iowa, way back when, so both districts had an exceptional industrial arts program (and new sports gear, and nice band instruments, and new textbooks). That is what enabled me, personally, to enroll in 3 years of exceptional woodworking classes + an independent study program. I am very fortunate that way, as my kids never had a shot at any variety of real-world job training throughout their own education.
    RodeoTex likes this.
  7. Jupiter

    Jupiter Telefied Silver Supporter

    Jun 22, 2010
    Osaka, Japan
    Outlines are more salient and satisfying and people jump to the fun part.

    Took me several builds before the relative ease of doing the T-R first occurred to me...
    John Nicholas and Treadplatedual like this.
  8. Engraver-60

    Engraver-60 Friend of Leo's

    Jan 6, 2008
    Brentwood, TN
    Marty: You, as a Luthier and a former Woodworking Instructor, have the distinct viewpoint and expertise. Myself, in an CAD/CAM Engineering world, with really no formal woodworking training, plod through based upon what the previous builders on this and other forums have posted. Most of the builds I've been using as guidelines have produced excellent results, so with that as a template, I try to drive the same or similar course. My problem has always been "Tangentiality". I start on a task, and somehow get distracted by the shiny object (maybe I am a crow), proceed down that path, and eventually I come back the original task. I have laid out a "TO DO" list for my current project, but as I cross off one item, another 2 are added to the list.

    From the manufacturing side of me, I understand processes, and how best the task can be performed when the objects are in the optimum configuration for the task. I have veered of course due to material specifications (i.e., cutting the inlay pockets on a fretboard after radiusing, because of the thin inlay materials), and obvious lack of expertise. But eventually I will get a finished project.

    You and others have offered many helpful suggestions to help my see light at the end of tunnel. As your Instructor-self, when you see a person heading down that wrong procedural path, throw a flag (soccer referee terminology), and let them know to stop and re-evaluate the situation. We do appreciate the wisdom brought to this forum by persons such as yourself. Some folks can complete a decent project with no outside assistance. But I am not that some people. Thanks, again, and again.
    John Nicholas likes this.
  9. Treadplatedual

    Treadplatedual Tele-Holic

    Oct 17, 2018
    Indianapolis, IN
    I don't know GB, I followed your process for neckbuilding :)
  10. bgmacaw

    bgmacaw Friend of Leo's

    Feb 11, 2006
    Near Athens GA USA
    What I've liked in doing cigar box guitar style builds is that it lets me make learning mistakes cheap. Screwing up a piece of pallet wood I got for free is a lot better than messing up an expensive piece of mahogany or the like.
    Zepfan likes this.
  11. Mat UK

    Mat UK Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

    Feb 17, 2009
    London, UK
    Talking of my experience and possibly others who don’t come from a woodworking background: an absence of tools is the reason.

    I don’t have a table saw/band saw to make straight square cuts, I also don’t have a planer/jointer to create square faces, nor do I have the skills to use a hand plane to achieve the same result - so to make a piece of timber that is square and true to begin with is a challenge in itself!

    So skipping the square edge reference process means it doesn’t really matter when I route for a truss rod, cut fret slots etc as I am not reliant on it... as long as I can create a thicknessed piece of timber (with my router thicnknessing jig), I’m ok.

    But that of course doesn’t mean it’s the best process - it’s just means it’s a process that works based on my skill set ... but that’s your point I guess ...

    Having the right tools is important though, so if you have them you’re fortunate in that you can do things by the book. It’s only once you have access to them that you can learn to use them efficiently...
    RiversQC, John Nicholas and Jupiter like this.
  12. SacDAve

    SacDAve Poster Extraordinaire

    Dec 23, 2009
    Rocklin Ca.
    I don't think I ever built any guitars the same way every build is a better idea, sometimes not. The one thing I always do is mount the neck in body blank that gives me a true center line. I never use the body blanks shape to determine any measurement or straight line. I square off the Center Line, line up all templates off the center line. It’s the same approach of how you would build a moustache bridge the saddle slot is the line you must follow. On necks I’ve always cut the shape of the neck then found the centerline down the neck and lined up my truss rod template and routed the slot. the last 3 necks I’ve made I routed the truss rod slot first on the neck blank. Then the truss rod slot becomes the center line to line up my neck shape template. Both methods work I’m kind of like the truss rod rout first better for me. Order of operation I use the common sense approach If I glue this now will I be able to drill that after. You really have to find what works for you. I built a banjo in 1974 a over the years my approach to building all kinds of stuff not just guitars have changed the guitar I’m building now is a lot of new ideas. One thing for certain nothing like watching one of your body’s or necks roasting in the fireplace.
  13. jvin248

    jvin248 Poster Extraordinaire

    Apr 18, 2014
    Lions & Tigers oh Mi !

    You learn pretty quickly how a straight truss rod slot is difficult to cut when the none of the neck sides are square. Second time you start there.

    Some of the hand building process steps are less useful when using a CNC. Then you have to start thinking how to accurately register the part from doing side A to side B and how to make the fixtures to hold the pieces.

  14. mistermikev

    mistermikev Tele-Holic

    Feb 20, 2018
    I know nothing and fully acknowledge that so keep that in mind as you read my post.

    i've worked as a cabinet maker and I believe that to not follow "that order " would be certain disaster there... but in a guitar... there are a few places where I don't think it actually would make things easier -for me. (This is all given that I'm starting with two planed surfaces)

    the truss rod slot for example. sure... you could make the argument that it's very easy to cut it with a router guide on a squared board... but in my view it really just shifts the difficulty to making sure your neck template is perfectly true to center when you cut it. I don't think either is especially difficult... or easy.

    I have a jig that makes it pretty much foolproof to get the truss slot on center and perfectly straight (at least by woodworking standards) regardless of the taper on the neck. I place my neck into it matching up the centerline, and turn some bolts to secure it in place. I check it and adjust. Then run my router down the middle - the sides are straight and tight to my router. I only have to worry about my stop/start points - so I clamp down a stop on either end.
    for me... this method aslo has the advantage of letting me pick the optimal grain from my stock without having to do work to get an edge that is square to it. is it better - no. is it worse - no idea. it works for me.
    sfcmark and John Nicholas like this.
  15. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

    Aug 22, 2018
    You are preaching to the choir, brother. But its even more than just routing the truss rod slot, in my opinion EVERY operation on the neck should be thought thru with respect to flat surfaces, measureable thicknesses, gluing and clamping, yadda yadda. Fender necks are simple because of the way Leo designed them but there still is an optimal sequence.

    Every neck I build follows these steps - its basically a flow chart with a few branches

    - thickness the blank and true the sides
    - cut the head off (assuming an angled head) and thickness it
    - if its to be a slotted head, cut the slots,
    - glue the head on, if its angled
    - thickness the head if its Fender
    - drill the access hole for the adjuster if its a Fender
    - stack the heel blocks and glue them on
    - route the truss rod channel (the top and sides of the neck are still square)
    - lay out the tenon and angle for the heel
    - make all the heel cuts with a band saw thinking about leaving square sides for the saw fence.
    - plane (or band saw) the back of the neck (thickness)
    - fit the tenon to the body (you need the width at the joint to cut the width of the neck
    - now, and only now, cut the width of the neck
    - add wings to the head if you need them
    - rough cut the shape of the head
    - cut the rough facets of the neck shape
    - shape the neck
    - shape the head
    - shape the heel
    - rough shape the fretboard, bind and inlay
    - I fret the board off the guitar, others do it differently
    - install the truss rod in the slot
    - glue the fretboard on
    - do the final shaping including the sides of the f/b

    the blue tape and mark on the table tell me where the end of the channels should be

    Last edited: Apr 19, 2019
  16. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

    Aug 22, 2018
    The other thing that I am constantly doing while I build a neck is to keep checking it against the body. Even before I've started carving the shape I know the heel fits perfectly and the angle is correct (zero is an angle).

    John Nicholas, kafka and tone57 like this.
  17. Meteorman

    Meteorman Tele-Holic

    Dec 23, 2012
    State College PA
    Well, since you asked....

    I’ve done em both ways, but tapering first remains an option in my runstream. Clamping a tapered neck in my simple straightedged jig isn’t a big deal, low failure rate so far.

    But why do it at all? My math is this: the riskiest step for me, with respect to trashing the whole neck, is template routing around the heel and headstock. I’m pretty consistent at it now, but a couple of those early gouge/kickback events stick in one’s mind. I don’t wanna invest time and effort in the piece until I get past that step. So i do it first if the piece is figured or chippy and has an elevated chance of a router boo-boo on the curves. (I do only sand the headstock nose these days). Anyway, thats why i sometimes edge form first - i hate to get 1,2,3 steps down the road on a piece and then trash it - so I’ll do the higher risk operation first.

    But I’ve also been known to eat soup with a fork, so...
    mistermikev likes this.
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