Guitar mould spreaders

Today I finally got around to making spreaders/stretchers/clamps (whatever you want to call them) to keep the bent sides secure inside the mould. I have been meaning to make these since making my mould last summer, and have had the hardware for them since early this year.

To make these spreaders, I used leftover 3/4inch MDF from making the mould, 3 eye/eye turnbuckles (one for each spreader), and some scrap doweling. Each spreader is custom fit to my guitar shape, so it wouldn’t be much use for me to provide plans, but I’ll describe the steps that I took to make them.

I started by cutting out all of the pieces of MDF. For each spreader, I needed 4 pieces – 2 for each end. All of the pieces were the same width – 6cm, but each spreader required a different length in order to fit the mould. The pieces for the lower bout were about 12.5cm long, the pieces for the waist 6cm, and the pieces for the upper bout 8cm. One end of each piece was curved to match the curve of the sides. I used my guitar half template to mark the appropriate curve on each piece and then cut them all out on the bandsaw.

I then marked and drilled a pilot hole through pairs of MDF blocks to help with the alignment later on. These holes were drilled in the centre 13/16ths away from the straight end of each block.

Next, I excavated a spot in each pair of blocks to allow for a turnbuckle sandwich. To fit the turnbuckles I had purchased, I used a 26mm forstner bit and drilled about an 1/8th of an inch into the inside face of each block using the previously drilled pilot hole as a guide. I then used a chisel to carve out the rest of the material until the turnbuckle sandwich fitted perfectly.

Then I glued the sandwich together before cleaning up the sides with my disc sander. That tool is proving to be really handy!

With all of the faces smooth, I just needed to do two more things. First, I drilled a 3/8 inch hole through where the centre of the turnbuckle’s eye was buried using the previously drilled pilot hole to make sure that I didn’t hit any metal. I then drove a dowel through that hole. This step was probably not necessary, but I think it will make these spreaders last longer as there should be less of a chance of the turnbuckle becoming loose.

Finally, I glued a thin piece of cork to both ends of each spreader to prevent them from marking my sides. In the image below you can see the finished lower bout spreader:

When I am finished this guitar and have the time, I might put a coat of shellac or other finish on the MDF just to seal it and protect it from moisture, but for now they are working just fine! A big improvement on my previous clamping method for sure.

As you can see, the guitar build is going well – I have the soundboard braced with a lattice pattern, the sides are bent and laminated (in the same way I laminated the sides for the last guitar), the back is braced, and the neck is roughed out. If the next few days go as planned, I will have the box closed up by this time next week, so I will write a building update post when that is all glued up.

Other projects…

On a couple of different, unrelated notes, I thought that I would mention a couple of upcoming performance projects. Firstly, I am playing a concert in Selma, Nova Scotia in 10 days at 7:30pm on Friday, June 21st at Gallery 215. If you know anyone in that area or are from Nova Scotia yourself, I hope that I might see you and/or your friends there! I will be playing music from my upcoming CD, Vespers.

Speaking of which, the CD is nearly done!! I will have it by the end of July, so be prepared for many more references to and shameless plugging of this project over the next month. I will reveal the cover, a release date, and a place to purchase the CD in a week or two.

If you are in the Ottawa area, I am also playing a concert here on July 11th at 7pm at the Trinity Anglican Church on Bank Street.

New tools!

Over the past several months I have acquired all sorts of new toys for my workshop, and I have been meaning to make a post about them for a while, so here it is. Some of this follows up from my new years post when I made a list of planned tool purchases/projects and shop upgrades.


I have wanted more Cam Clamps for quite a while, but they are not cheap, so I decided to try making a few myself. I used the two that I had bought from Luthier’s Mercantile as models and came up with 3 more clamps made out of scrap wood that I had lying around. I am planning to make more now that I have ironed out some of the design kinks (see the extra brass pins in the bottom right corner…), so when I do, I will write a post with plans for these.

I also bought another mixed bag of plastic spring clamps from Home Depot that have come in handy for all sorts of little things. I don’t think one can ever have too many clamps!

Small Saws

I replaced the blade to my Japanese dozuki saw about a year ago and have held onto the old blade since then. It wasn’t really of much use – several of the teeth were broken off or worn away – this blade was probably about as old as I am! I have a hard time throwing things away – my dad instilled in me a strong belief that things might come in handy someday, and I finally came up with an idea for this old blade, so I guess he is right! I decided to cut the blade into a smaller saw, using the back part of the blade that was still sharp and securing it between two pieces of scrap maple with brass pins.

This little saw has a blade that is about 4 1/2 inches long and it is really handy to cut small bits and pieces like brace ends. Not long after I had made my little saw, I was in Lee Valley and saw a little razor saw, and decided that I would add that to my collection. As decent as my homemade one is, the kerf of the blade is still as thick as a Japanese dozuki, and sometimes I need something that is a bit more fine, so I thought that this would do the trick.

I didn’t notice until I had brought the little saw home that it is somehow a cancer risk… If anyone can tell me why, I am incredibly curious!

Fret Hammer

One of the other things that I had listed in my new year’s wish list was a new fretting hammer, and I have purchased that. I bought a little 8oz brass hammer from Lee Valley for fretting, and having used it a few times now can attest that it does indeed work and is definitely an improvement over my small claw hammer.

Router Plane

I also purchased a small router plane as I had planned in that aforementioned post and it is fantastic. It is great at cleaning up areas before inlaying – for instance, the tail joint and the rosette.

Bigger Tools

I came into quite a bit of good fortune earlier this year: someone here in Ottawa was looking for a new home for a few tools, and I raised my hand at the right moment, and am now the proud owner of a couple of sanding/sharpening tools, a router (and accompanying table), and a lathe (plus chisels etc)! I have yet to use the lathe – I’ll have to find a good chunk of time to sit down with some proper instructions and perhaps take a lesson or two with an experienced turner, but I have always wanted to turn things, and now I have the tools! I have used the router a couple of times, but still have lots to learn. The sanding/sharpening machines are fantastic – again, lots to learn there!

Metric Ruler

Finally, I bought myself a new ruler! Not a super fancy one, but something half decent, 36″ long, and with metric markings. Up until I bought this, the longest half-decent metric ruler that I had was 15 cm, so this was long overdue. I was converting all of my metric measurements to imperial, and nothing about that is ideal. One of these days I will treat myself to a Starett or something equally luxurious, but I think I might have to wait a year or so on that one!

I think that is all that is new in my shop at the moment. I have a few more things planned for the rest of the year, so I’ll have at least one or two more tool posts over the next several months. The next post will be a building update though – I have to introduce the next guitar build!

New year update


It is still January, so I feel that I am still allowed to say “Happy New Year!” For the past few years, I have written a wrap up post at the end of the year, and/or a beginning of the year update. I missed the December wrap up post, so here is a bit of a newsletter style shop update with plans for the year as it seems to hurtle forward uncontrollably underneath my feet.

Building progress has been rather slow as of late because of all of the teaching I have taken on and the recording of my CD. Fingers are still crossed for a spring CD release – I am aiming for June, so keep an eye out for updates as spring approaches. I have 2.5 more pieces to record, which I will do over the course of the next two months, and then there is editing and all of the details of the booklet and publication. I have seen a few sketches for the cover art from my incredibly talented cousin, and am very excited to see what she comes up with for the finished product. Once the CD is completed, I’ll be organizing at least one “release concert,” and then I hope to do a few more concerts in the fall once the craziness of the summer is over (uOttawa summer guitar academy take 2, Hamilton guitar festival, an exciting new guitar conference in late August here in Ottawa, and getting married).

Despite slow progress, I have been getting down to the shop a couple of times each week, and am really enjoying the new layout, benches, and dust collection. I do still have a few things to work on over the next year – I need to do something about my fluorescent lighting as it hums incessantly every time I turn it on, which does nothing to improve my mood, and I still have a few things to finish as far as door handles and storage. I am also planning to build myself a go-bar deck, probably designed to fit over/on one of my existing benches as I am really tight on space. Other tools and upgrades that I plan to make and/or purchase this year to improve my workshop include:

  • purchase better fretting tools including a new hammer (I am considering this one from Lee Valley) and a triangular file for dressing fret ends more easily
  • purchase a medium/small router plane for inlay work
  • finally set up and learn to use my Dremel properly
  • fine tune the dust collection system – I need a longer hose and some way to connect the collector to my bench for sanding work
  • add bench dogs to my new main work bench
  • purchase/make more deep throated C clamps/bridge clamps/cam clamps – I rely on 4 clamps at the moment and there are so many instances that I really need a few more and have to make do with bar clamps that aren’t really meant for the job.

If you have any thoughts on these upgrades or other tools that I should add to the list, please leave me a comment at the end of this post!

Building wise, I’ve been spending my time mostly on one of the two guitars that I have on the go, and here are a few pictures of the progress. This is a ziricote backed spruce guitar with Bouchet bracing. for the soundboard, I used the last piece of master grade Italian alps spruce that I ordered over a year ago from a supplier in Germany. The rosette is a pre-made one from Luthier’s mercantile, so quite a bit different than the last few guitars, but lovely nonetheless.

Inlayed Russian rosette from LMII

The bracing pattern is asymmetrical, and taken from the Courtnall drawing of a Bouchet guitar. This plan is available from Luthier’s Mercantile here. The tap-tone of the guitar after bracing is very clear, and different than past guitars (in a good way, I think), so I am excited to hear this guitar strung up.

Gluing the asymmetric harmonic bar that runs underneath the saddle

The finished (well, I might still tweak a few things), soundboard bracing:

I have started work on the back bracing as of today, and I should get started on the neck this week, so with any luck, I’ll have a post on putting the box together in a couple of weeks.

Performing-wise, as I mentioned before, the main project is my first CD, which should be finished in June. I have a couple concerts planned around Ottawa this year already, and should be setting up some more as the year progresses. I have recently tentatively started a bit of duo work with a violinist as well, and am hoping to pick things up again with my soprano friend Terri-Lynn at some point this year, and of course Craig and I continue to do a bit of playing when we can.

With all of this on the go, I am setting myself the goal of writing one or two blog posts a month this year, so a bit less than last year, but still plugging away. The next post should be an interview with a builder from Ireland – I haven’t done a shop talk post since last summer, so this is long overdue!

As always, thanks for reading!

Best wishes for 2019,


Workshop renovations part 2

I introduced this project in my last blog, and since that day, my workshop has changed to be almost unrecognizable. It is not quite complete – I have a few more weeks of organizing left, and there are a couple of larger projects left including a ceiling to figure out and a shelf to build.

I didn’t take too many pictures during the process, but here is one from the first day after framing out the first wall to enclose the utilities.

After a few days of work, this is what that corner has turned into:

We hung a door and drywall, and I put one coat of primer-paint  on the walls to brighten up the space. The white on the walls made a huge difference to how light the workspace feels. As you can see above, I put up a few shelves near the entrance of the workshop for wood storage. The shelves are about 9 inches deep and 28 inches long which fit the back, top, and side woods for guitars perfectly. I have a shelf for each of these guitar parts as well as a fourth shelf for necks, fingerboards, and other bits.

We also built a closet around my laundry machines, which gave me a lot more storage out of the way behind a couple of folding doors. This means that the entrance to the shop is a just under 4 foot wide hallway.

With the wood shelves to the left, I didn’t want to take up too much room with more stuff on the right side, so I just made a narrow book ledge and set of hooks for work clothes and other bits. With the narrow hallway, it was a bit tricky to get a photo, but here is an idea of the space:

I made the shelf quickly out of rough wood that I kept from my old bench.

On the other end of the closet near my bench, I started a wall of clamps, attaching a couple of simple wooden frames to hold my bar and C clamps, and hanging my larger clamps from a couple of nails. Most of the wood that I used was from the old bench, so they are a bit rough, but very sturdy and serviceable. I’ve left lots of room to expand my collection, and I do have more room at the bottom of the wall for more storage in case I need it.

I’ve hung my spring clamps above the left side of my bench from some dowels strung between 2×4 cut-offs. If I get too many more clamps, I will probably have to replace the dowels with metal rods to support the weight, but for now, these leftover dowel ends work very well.

While my dad and I worked on the walls, my brother built me a beautiful 6 foot long, 34 inch tall bench where my old bench used to be. Unlike the bench that came with my house, this one is attached securely to the wall and has a smooth top built of 3/4 inch G1S plywood. There is also a plywood shelf underneath (which desperately needs organizing).

Behind the bench, I hung 1/2 inch plywood to organize my most used tools. This was already partly up when I wrote my last blog, but I had a section at the end left to complete, and I decided to create a few narrow shelves for my planes there.

My bother also built me a second, smaller (4 foot long) bench along the new wall. This bench has a frame underneath it to store my off-season tires, and a piece of 1/4 inch pegboard behind to hang a few tools.

Finally, one of the last new additions to my shop is this new-to-me 1hp General dust collector. I haven’t attached the bag yet or put it to use, but I will definitely be using it in the next week as I start into the next guitar builds.

I couldn’t be happier with the direction that my workshop is taking! I am still amazed at how building walls and shrinking floor-space has given me more room. It doesn’t immediately seem logical, but by building walls, I have created more storage space which is clearing the clutter and making sense of the workshop. I have a few more bits and pieces to do over the next while (you probably noticed the chaotic areas in the edges of some of the photos), but the majority is complete, thanks to all of the time, tools, and expertise that my dad and brother so generously donated.

Guitar building mould

Over the past month I have not been doing a lot of guitar building. I have had a couple of holidays, I spent a week teaching at the University of Ottawa Summer Guitar Academy, and I spent some time working on this guitar building tool. Plus, the humidity has been really high, so not exactly great guitar building weather.

Up until this point, I have been building guitars in a way that is really best described as “free-style.” Almost every guitar I have made over the past 5 or more years has been a different shape, and I have come to the realization that this is probably not the most efficient way to work, so I have been looking into other methods that will give me more consistent results. I settled on building a guitar mould in the style of John S. Bogdanovic, as described in his book and on his website. This means that the majority of classical guitars that I build from this point on will have the same body shape. Aside from efficiency, this should also allow me to work towards building better sounding guitars as I will be eliminating one of the variables and allowing myself to focus more on things like wood selection and bracing patterns.

The mould is made up of 3 parts – a work-board and 2 removable sides. The work-board has a patch of softwood glued to the lower bout area that is tapered and carved to match the radius of the soundboard braces so that the soundboard will be well supported during assembly. The detailed instructions on how to make this Solera are available on Bogdanovic’s website here.

The workboard portion is made out of two pieces of 3/4 inch thick MDF glued together to form a thick flat board. The removable sides are made out of 3 pieces of MDF stacked up and glued together. In order to protect the mould, I finished all of the MDF with a couple of coats of leftover water-based polyurethane that was sitting around from another project.

The sides are attached to the work-board with 4 stove bolts threading into Tee-nuts that are secured to the work-board.

I also made a removable 3-part patch for the upper bout that I will use when I am doing raised fretboards:

This patch was cut out of a piece of douglas fir and was shaped to fit around the raised fretboard part of the neck when I am working on guitars with a Spanish heel joint and a raised fretboard (like the guitar that I am currently working on).

With the mould finished, I thought that I would jump right back into the guitar’s construction, so I bent the rosewood sides for the guitar and have them secured inside the mould to dry and get used to their new shape:

It seems to work pretty well although I will have to play around with how I will be holding the sides in place as I am not a big fan of the clamping set up in the picture above.

Details on the guitar’s assembly will be coming next week if all goes to plan!