Mahogany 00 acoustic guitar

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by Freeman Keller, Aug 7, 2019.

  1. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    As I mentioned elsewhere, I've been asked to document the step by step build of an acoustic for a friend who thinks he might want to try it. There is some interest here so I thought this would be a good place to do it. The guitar is built (and my friend has played it) so its not a true work in progress, but I did take enough pictures to document it.

    Some background. I've built a couple dozen guitars to this point, most of them acoustics of some sort. I tend to build something that is missing from my collection - to add a new sound or shape or style of guitar. I happen to really like small bodied vintage guitars - I am a fingerstyle player with roots in the old blues and what John Fahey called "American primative". This will be a guitar that I think fits that genre.

    Almost all of my guitars have a story - this one has several. Over the years I had several opportunities to acquire a vintage small bodied guitar, it just never happened. One day I was visiting my son (who is also a player and builder) and we were just hanging out at music stores in Portland, kicking tires, strumming things hanging on the wall. At one store I kept coming back to a little Santa Cruze mahogany guitar - very simple looking, no bling, but it had that sound that I had not heard in a modern guitar. As we walked out of the store my son said "dad, I thought that little guitar was going to follow us home". "No, I said, but I'm going to go home and build it"

    There were a lot of companies making this style of guitar in the early part of the 20th century - Washburn, Martin, Gibson all had inexpensive small bodied guitars. I tend to think of Martin and their nomenclature - their guitars were numbered with the smaller the number the bigger the body. A size 1 is bigger than a size 5, a size 0 (pronounced "ought") is bigger than a 1, a 00 ("double ought) bigger that and 0, 000 (triple ought) bigger still. By todays standards a 000 is still a fairly small guitar but in 1920 that was a standard size.

    I already have a 000 and a 0, so I decided to build something in between. I took my 000 plans and downloaded several others and started putting together a composite. I'm not going to try to build a replica of any particular model - I just want the general style. I came up with a size I liked and called TKL to make sure that it would fit a standard size case (I learned that lesson long ago). They said it would so I ordered the case. Now I'm committed.

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    I looked thru my wood box and discovered that I had almost everything I need. Honduras mahogany for the back, sides and top, a 1x3 mahogany neck black, some mahogany and rosewood binding, a fretboard, bridge and other odds and ends. I can build a guitar out of this

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    Here is a closer view of the top with a little alcohol to bring out the color. It will do nicely

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    Now I'm really committed.
     
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  2. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Before I go any further, a bit more background.

    First, I am not a luthier. I have too much respect for the people who have earned that title to call my self by it. On the other hand, I'm not a raw beginner - I've built enough guitars to have made many of the mistakes and I'm starting to feel pretty confident that I can built a guitar that will look and sound good when I'm done. That is kind of a unique perspective for this thread - I can related to the beginner struggling with a concept or and operation because I've been there. I can relate to the Master who makes what I'm struggling with look easy.

    Second, I do not have a "shop". I build guitars on an 8 foot work bench in the corner of a three car garage. I have minimum power tools - mostly either yard sale bargins or small table models from the local box hardware store. My "dust collection system" is a shop vac plugged into whatever tool I'm using. I do have some nice (and very sharp) hand tools. I have also purchased some specialized lutherie tools as needed. My point here is simply that you don't need a fancy shop or expensive tools to build an acoustic guitar.

    IMG_4606-1.jpg IMG_4607-1.jpg

    (notice the calendar on the wall - that is an inspiration for the guitar I want to build)

    Third, and this if very important - there are as many ways of doing this as there are people doing it. What I will show is my way (at least at this time). My way is constantly in flux - I keep learning from others or I try something and don't like it so I do it differently next time. I'll talk about this as I think of it. My point here is that this isn't the only way to build an acoustic guitar.

    Fourth, an acoustic guitar is an assembly of at least five subassemblies - top, back, rim, neck and fretboard. These can be built in series or in parallel (concurrently) - I will be building several things simultaneously. If it seems like I'm jumping back and forth its because I probably am - glue might be curing on one part while I'm shaping something else. Doesn't mean it has to be done this way....
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
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  3. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Very first thing that needs to be done is to make a body mold and a mold for bending the sides. Since I will only build one or two of this size guitar in my whole life I'm happy using MDF, if I was in business or making several of these I would make the molds out of plywood. My molds are dead simple - cut out the plans and trace it on four pieces of 3/4 MDF that are bolted together with flat head bolts and cut along the line.

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    You end up with an "innie" and an "outie". A couple more scraps of MDF makes the outie into the body mold.

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    The innie gets glued together with a few scraps of MDF to become the bending mold. Here it is in the bending machine, I'll talk more about it in a bit when its time to bend sides

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    The last par of the preparation is to sand the mahogany down to working thickness. Its normally resawn to 1/8 thickness and slightly rough, each of the plates needs to be a different thinner thickness for whatever I'm going to do with it. I know I want the sides about 0.070 for bending (mahogany is one of the easiest woods to bend) and the back isn't super critical - 0.110 or so will do nicely.

    The top is the big question. I've never built a mahogany top but I know the wood does not have as high a Youngs modulus as spruce (meaning its stiffness to weight ration is lower). Most spruce I would want about 0.095 - 0.100 for starting thickness, I'm going to go with 0.110 for the mahogany.

    I do not have a thickness sander but a buddy who has a very nice cabinet shop does. I take my wood and run up there, bingo, the wood is the thickness I want.

    (there are a couple of other ways you can do this. You can hand plane it to thickness - well, maybe YOU can but I sure can't. Many wood supply business will thickness sand it for you for a small cost. LMII will do this when you buy from them and will actually do it on wood bought elsewhere but they make you sign a release that they aren't responsible. Last but not least, you can buy or build a thickness sander)
     
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  4. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Before we quit for the day I'll glue two pieces of the mahogany together to make a top (or back). First prep'ing the edge, I simply put some double sticky back 120 grit sandpaper on a cheap aluminum carpenters level, clamp it to the work bench and work the center seam of each piece of mahogany until its square and flat. I don't have a picture of this but I think its pretty easy to envision. Next I put a piece of waxed paper on my work bench with a little wood stick (in this case a yard stick) on top and lay the two pieces on top of that. Clamp a couple of straight scraps to the work bench snugly holding the seam together.

    IMG_1085.JPG

    When its all ready I take it apart, put glue on the seam, put it back as shown above, then pull the yardstick out and apply some clamping pressure from the top. That little angle that the yardstick forms is just enough pressure to nicely clamp the two pieces together.

    IMG_1086.JPG

    Waxed paper keeps it from becoming a permanent part of my work bench. I'll do the other pair tomorrow.
     
  5. Recce

    Recce Friend of Leo's

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    I will enjoy reading this but don’t have near the ability to build it.
     
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  6. crazydave911

    crazydave911 Poster Extraordinaire

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    Don't sell yourself short, I did my first on a kitchen table in a two bedroom trailer.Where there's a will there's always a way ;)
     
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  7. Randy Jones

    Randy Jones TDPRI Member

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    Watching with interest! My main acoustic is a Santa Cruz H13. In my opinion their smaller bodied guitars are second to none. No wonder you were inspired! I’m also “in progress” on an acoustic tenor guitar (it’s been sitting for 3-4 years) in a corner of the garage. Built a drum sander from the Hawley plans... definitely cool machines and essential for the plane challenged. Hopefully watching you kickstarts the project and provides some ideas.
     
  8. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Today we'll bend the sides. There are basically three ways to do this - first, you can buy them pre bent in a kit or from as supplier like LMII. I did that on my first two guitars - just told them the shape guitar I wanted to build and bingo, bent sides appeared on my door step. Worth considering if you only want to build one.

    Second method is the time honored "hot pipe" - basically some sort of metal pipe with a heater inside. Put a wet cloth over the pipe, work the wood back and forth on it and at some point the wood will start to be plastic and yield to a little pressure. Work it into or onto some kind of mold and clamp it until it cools - it will take the shape of the mold. Some people can do it free hand. I struggled with a hot pipe for a couple of my early guitars - they came out OK but not perfect. Here are a couple of examples of hot pipes - one has an electric charcoal lighter for the heat source, the other a propane torch.

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    I still use my hot pipes from time to time, particularly for bending binding. For sides I've moved on to a Fox style machine heated with a silicon electric blanket. I first saw a demonstration by the inventor, Charles Fox, at a GAL conference - I decided right then that I needed one of these machines.

    IMG_1559.JPG

    Before bending I had to cut the basic shape of the side. An acoustic guitar is basically the same depth up to the waist, then it tapers to the neck. I didn't have to get it perfect but I wanted to band saw away as much excess wood as possible.

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    The wood gets spritzed with water and then sandwiched between two pieces of spring steel with a damp piece of kraft paper in between the wood and steel. A silicon heating blanked goes on top. Looks something like this
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    The whole sandwich gets put in the machine, which looks kind of like an old cider press.

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    The blanket is turned on and allowed to get hot (I bend between 350 and 400 degrees F), as the water starts to sizzle the waist clamp is brought down and then the little wooden pieces are pulled around the bouts. It takes about 15 minutes to do the entire bending - after which the power is turned off and the side is allowed to cool.

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    By using different sized molds in the middle almost any size guitar can be bent on that machine. To do a cutaway either a second screw fixture is added (it shows in the picture of Fox) or the cut can be done separately on a hot pipe. I frankly don't have a need for a cutaway on any of my acoustics.

    I also bent some binding material at this time - just taped four pieces together and bent them as tho they were as side. When everything was done this is what I've got - the binding are the pieces at the bottom.

    IMG_0972.JPG
     
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  9. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Trimmed the excess off the ends of the sides and put them in the mold. Glued the end and neck block on. You can see how the back slopes towards the neck from about the waist

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    Put it away and work on something else
     
  10. bsman

    bsman Tele-Afflicted

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    ...and I feel a major sense of accomplishment swapping out pickups!
     
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  11. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    I should have added that while I was learning this whole procedure I made some pieces of scrap fir and bent the heck out of them. Broke a few. I'll also add that during the Fox demonstration he broke a side that he was trying to bend into a cutaway - the Master looked at the audience, shrugged his shoulders and said "stuff happens".
     
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  12. BB

    BB Poster Extraordinaire

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    Very cool Freeman. Thank you for doing this..
     
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  13. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    You can argue that a rosette helps strengthen the area around the sound hole and you can argue that it weakens it. In my opinion the rosette is decoration - it is a chance for the builder to make an expression, your eye is drawn to it and it is a chance to show off. The guitars that this one is based on would have had very simple rosettes - probably a few BWB lines around the soundhole, I want to keep with that theme. I thought it would be cool (and appropriate) to use some rope style binding for the rosette - I've got some left over from another project.

    Making binding and purfling is a time honored part of lutherie and I think its a pain in the butt. To make this stuff you glue a lot of little piece of wood together and saw strips out of it at an angle. Thats the traditional way to make herringbone and as far as I'm concerned, if you want to spend all day gluing little bits of wood, have at it. For five bucks I can buy some pretty nice binding/purfling material and that what I did.

    Only problem is that the binding is straight and I need it in a roughly 3-1/2 inch circle. I tried bending some on the hot pipe - it softened the glue and it came apart. Then I got the idea of routing a 3 inch circle in some scrap and slowly working the binding into the groove softening it with a little heat and steam. This isn't a great picture 'cause my hands were pretty full but my little espresso maker that I use for removing necks is behind and I'm clamping some blocks of wood to hold in in the groove

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    Here is is after cooling down

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  14. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    I'm happy with the rosette so its time to install it. There are many parts of building a guitar where sequence is important - this is one of them. Obviously you need to install the rosette after the plates are joined and more or less thicknessed, but before the sound hole is cut or any braces are installed. This is the time.

    Like many other aspects of building a guitar, there are several ways to do this. My first acoustic was a kit and the top came thicknessed with the rosette installed (cheating!). My second guitar was a kit, the rosette channel had been routed but the rosette was not installed. For my third and fourth guitar I make a little gizmo out of a popsicle stick, a box cutter blade and a small nail - it did a fairly good job of making the channel. After that I bought a plunge router base for my dremel, modified it to make the size circles I need and thats what you see here.

    Lay out the rosette and sound hole. For you CADD guys, that thing on the guitar is an ancient version of your Circle(center,radius) command.

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    The plunge dremel is a little bit wobbly but I got a decent channel. Put the circular binding piece in the channel and flood it with superglue, scrape it flush when the glue cures

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    Route two more small channels, one inside and one outside the rosette and install some BWB purfling lines


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    Scrape them back and then use the dremel to cut the sound hole.

    IMG_0990.JPG
     
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  15. fenderchamp

    fenderchamp Tele-Afflicted

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    did you just cut that mold out with that little craftsman bandsaw you have? That's nice clean job!
     
  16. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    While that is going on we can also start the neck (I told you there would be a lot of parallel processing). There are several ways of making a neck (is there an echo in here?) - you can simply buy one from StewMac or LMII or someone else who has a cnc router or a duplicating carver. My first neck came off the Martin production line, my second was an LMII precarved classical neck. This is OK, but pretty much limits you to certain sizes and shapes, and in my opinion, takes away half the fun of making a guitar.

    I made a couple of necks the way Martin does, band sawed the whole thing out of one big block of mahogany and when I looked at the scrap I realized how wasteful that was. It also makes a fairly weak neck since the grain is running across the angle of the head - that is where you frequently see them break. For the last dozen or so guitar I have been making multi piece necks which scarf joined heads and stacked heels - I think that is the most economical of wood and the strongest design. Some people object to seeing glue lines but I think it shows a certain amount of skill and craftsmanship to make that joint look clean.

    Anyway, we'll do a multi piece scarf joined neck. We will also make it a slotted headstock. I love slot heads, I think that design looks "correct" for vintage instruments and I particularly like it on 12 fret guitars. We are also going to do a bolted neck joint - I'll try to remember to discuss that more when we get close to making it. If I was being vintage correct it would be a dovetail, but I don't feel any need to be correct.

    The neck can be made out of one piece of mahogany 3 inches wide and 7/8 to 1 inch thick. Square one side and saw the head piece of at the correct angle (in this case 16 degrees)

    IMG_4878.JPG

    You can either put the head on the end of the neck shaft or the bottom - both have advantages. I chose to put it on the end since it will make the slot head part easier. I cut the shaft slightly longer than I need to make the heel tenon, cut a couple of small blocks off to make the heel itself and lay everything out on the plans to show how it all fits together

    IMG_0942.JPG

    The little block of wood under the head joint will become the volute, that little "dart" that you see on so many old Martins. The volute is kind of an interesting bit of history - it was originally part of a very elegant wood working joint that Martin used called a "birds beak joint" The neck shaft had the end cut so it looked like two parts of a birds open beak, the head slid in between and, much like the dovetail, string tension pulled the joint tighter together. When Martin started making their one piece necks they kept the dart on some models, I think just for the look.

    The volute does add a tiny bit of strength to the back of the neck in that otherwise weak spot, but I'm pretty confident in the strength of the scarf joint so I must put it there as a bit of coolness.

    While the head is off the neck it is very easy to lay out and make the slots. Two ways to do them - either with slightly squared ends or with rounded ones - these are rounded and just simply drilled out on the drill press (think about trying to do this with a neck all put together)

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    I have also thinned the head to its final thickness (taking into account that it will have a veneer headplate) - again, much easier when it is off the neck.

    Gluing the head to the neck shaft is always tricky and I spend a lot of time getting clamps and blocks of wood ready before I put the glue on. The angled part of the head is a wonderful high school physics demonstration of a ramp, Titebond is a very good lubricant. The pieces just want to skate all over the place. (I'll add here that a forumite has shown me a really slick trick of using a couple of toothpicks to align and hold the pieces - I use that method now. When this guitar was built is was still doing my physics demonstrations)

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    I'll come back to this tomorrow
     
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  17. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Yes, its a cheap piece of junk band saw, I think 1973 but it has been perfectly satisfactory for all the lutherie work I want to do. I can't resaw with it but I can cut up to 3 inch thick (solid bodies, necks on their sides, four pieces of MDF). I've taken the time to carefully set it up and I change blades fairly frequently. Not bad for a 50 dollar yard sale special.

    I'll add, technically its too clean of a cut - I should have about 70 thousands of saw kerf between the innies and outies to account for the thickness of the sides. Mostly I just sanded them smooth and used them as you see in the picture.
     
  18. Wally

    Wally Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I have a Santa Cruz H....flamed Koa all around. It is great little guitar. I don’t know if it can match my much-played 1935
    L-00 Gibson, though. I was amazed when I finally got the L-00 string up.....it is an earful.
    A2C29774-41B3-4E50-8D93-4A655FB52EF3.jpeg
     
  19. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Wally, I have plans for a L-00 and one of these days I'll build one. They are incredible little guitars. This one is based more on a Martin 00-17 but with a healthy touch of FK in it.

    Lets move on. the glue is dried on the head so I cleaned up the squeeze out and sanded the top flat. Just put a piece of 120 on my workbench and rubbed it back and forth - good enough for right now. While I have nice straight flat sides I routed the truss rod channel - I can justify my little router table just for this operation alone.

    IMG_0948.JPG

    Cut the general curve of the heel.

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    Made a whole lot of pencil lines on the neck - nut location and width (on the flat), 12th fret location (which conveniently is the body joint on this guitar. The size and shape of the tenon, a bunch of other things

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    I'm going to use a simple bolted M&T joint. I know it should be a dovetail, but the bolted one is just so much easier and in my opinion makes no difference as far as performance of the guitar. I can rough cut the tenon on the band saw now while the sides are straight and square. A neck block is next to it - the bolts will go thru two of the holes, the upper one is for the truss rod adjuster

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    I've cut away a bit of the inside of the cheeks - remember that the sides will go in the space between the neck and block. I also have not yet set the rough angle of the neck - that happens later when the body is done.

    The last thing before actually starting to carve is to cut the width of the neck from nut to heel. I try to leave it a hair oversize - its much easier to bring it down to the fretboard once that has been glued on.

    IMG_0952.JPG
     
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  20. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Well, I said we would be doing several things in parallel. When we last visited the sides I just just glued the end blocks in place, now its time to add the kerfing

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    And like the top, the back pieces got shot and joined. Next up is adding the center reinforcement

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    I suppose I should introduce you all to the go-bar deck. This is a traditional and very effective method of clamping all kinds of odd ball shapes and sizes of things - particularly useful with large pieces of stuff that would require big long expensive clamps. It is simply a couple of sheets of plywood with supports as the corners - mine are electrical conduit with ready rod inside. The "go-bars" them selves are littld fiberglass wands, they fit between the top of the deck and whatever you want to clamp. I want a go bar to be maybe 1/2 longer than the distance from the workpiece to the top - you give it a little flex, put it in place and bingo! lots of clamping force. Since I only have about 20 go-bars and they are different length I will add little blocks of wood to get the right spacing - the blocks also distribute the pressure. You'll see the go-bar deck a lot during this build.

    The other significant thing about that picture is that the back is resting in a 15 foot radius dish. More about that in a bit.
     
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