2016-10-04

Building a Telecaster, Chapter 1 - Got Wood

Wood. So many kinds, so much you can do to it.

Seriously, most wood I've encountered for purposes other than burning has been pine, as that is what the hardware stores here stock for all kinds of construction. Hardwood costs an arm and a leg, except in the form of firewood. I've burned birch by the ton since moving into an old house with a fireplace. It's supposed to yield cheaper kilowatts than straight electric heating, and it burns pretty cleanly, too. The well dried pieces have a nice clanging sound when hit, so I'd imagine it to be pretty usable for building instruments.

When faced with a choice for my first guitar build, I took the "safe" route: Sugar maple for the neck, rosewood fretboard and a red alder body. Using wood from the U.S. west coast feels a bit unnecessary in hindsight, when other species of alder grow almost like weeds around here, but... these are the cards I picked for this round. I do have an itch to try something like the very light Paulownia I stumbled upon in other circumstances. Maybe for the next build... unless this one ends up being a disaster, I'm pretty sure it won't be the last.

Here we go...
Anyway, the wood arrived for the second session of the guitar building course and I soon got around to using scary machines on it. I cut two suitable pieces of 50 mm plank on the circular table saw, ripped away the unsquare edges and started looking at which way to glue the pieces for the most harmonious grain pattern. Not that it'll matter that much in the end, but I didn't know that yet at that point.

A little planing of the edges later the wood was ready for gluing. Surprisingly easy, this woodworking thing. Titebond is the industry standard from what I hear, and it sure seems like a good glue. And pretty damn fast one at that, too. I didn't expect the clamps to come off in just 30 minutes.

Skweeze me, pleeze me
After the glue came the first actually challenging moment. Time to cut the body blank to something closer to the final shape. I had last seen a band saw in 1989, so there was some learning curve to be climbed. At first I just couldn't follow the line close enough, and soon I had the blade jump off its wheel when attempting a too narrow curve. Apparently the blade guide was set too low to allow the blade to turn... oops. And this is a machine that actually requires some skill compared to the "fire and forget" approach you can use with the circular saw, jointer and planer, just pushing the wood through.

Sawing in progress
Luckily, I didn't actually break anything and eventually succeeded in getting the body blank sawn close enough to the lines. After a few passes through the planer to get the thickness right I could start sanding away the final millimeters around the edges. I expect a router to be the right tool at this point, but instead the disc sander and sanding drums on the drill press got to chew up the unwanted wood. Easy enough, and probably harder to screw up than routing, I guess. There'll be plenty of opportunities to screw up that later, I'm sure. Truss rod channel, anyone?

PS. I mentioned earlier that it looks like the wood grain isn't that important after all, and that comes from a change of heart I had. At first I thought this would be a rear-routed wood top guitar, but when thinking about the electronics I'm planning it tilts the scale towards putting a large pickguard on. Better to solder on the rear of a large plate outside the guitar than in a cramped cavity, and there will be a fair bit of that coming up.

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