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!

Workshop upgrades and new tools

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I am constantly trying to improve my process to build better and better guitars. I am still very much a beginner in many ways, although I am confident in saying that I am not making nearly as many mistakes as I was a year or two ago!

Part of this journey is to gradually acquire or make tools and jigs to increase my efficiency and the quality of the finished product. Today I thought that I would share with you a few of my recent shop upgrades.


Until now, just about every guitar that I have built has had a different shape. I decided recently that this is not a sustainable or efficient method of working. For one, all of my templates and forms have ended up being temporary thrown together things that are of lower than ideal quality, and for two, I have ended up with a lot of excess clutter! I also realized that all of the classical guitar shapes that I have been building are incredibly similar, so why I thought it was important to “re-invent the wheel” every time, I cannot say.

I have decided that from now on, unless there is a specific historical guitar copy to be made, all of my full sized classical guitars will be of the same body shape. This consistency will also allow me to better judge the other changes that I make from one guitar to the next. I plan on making a similar commitment to body shape the next time that I build a steel-string.

I also finally decided to make a proper brace-arch template that is as close as I could make it to a 15′ radius. This is the radius that I will be using on my back braces – when I get to bracing the top of this guitar, I will make a 25′ radius template.

I made both the guitar half-template and the brace-arch template out of a sheet of clear acrylic that I have had hanging around my shop for at least 2 years. These templates should last me a good long time – or at least until I change my mind about the guitar’s shape or arch! The guitar shape that I settled on is somewhere in between my father’s guitar shape and the shape of Segovia’s Hauser guitar with a body length of about 19 1/8 inches.

I have more of this acrylic, so I will likely be making permanent templates for my headpiece and heel shapes when I get to those stages of the building.


Last week, I decided that it was time to invest in a proper guitar building vise. My dad had first sent me the link to this Lee Valley Universal Vise back in February, and I thought, “man, that would be so useful, but can I justify it?” Then, when Ross mentioned buying the vise in the interview that I did with him a few weeks ago, I got to thinking that I should probably just buy it. I have been struggling with the vises that I had for a few years; it was time to get something that would hold all of the odd shapes that guitar building requires.

So far I have used it to hold tiny pieces of wood for the rosette that I am inlaying in my current guitar build (post on that coming soon), and it has been marvellous. The vise rotates 360 degrees and both of the hardwood jaws rotate as well to make clamping angled bits of wood simple. No longer will my guitar necks slip while I’m sanding!

I bought the Lee Valley version, but if you’re not too keen on the green, there is the original (I think) red version from Stewart MacDonald. I have no idea how they compare, but I imagine that the Stew-Mac version is at least as good as what I have bought from Lee Valley.

Miscellaneous drill bits

These tools are very project specific, and I definitely did not purchase the highest quality bits for this project, however, what I did buy seems to be working reasonably well and the price was right. Although they are not of incredible quality, I am including them in this post because they are allowing me to do the job much more cleanly than if I were to try to do this by hand (which was my original terrible plan).

I won’t give too much away on the project, as I will be writing a blog on that soon, but I can say that these were for the rosette of the current guitar build.

I needed a selection of forstner bits and plug cutters, and I was not having much luck in finding bits that were the right size, in stock, and for a reasonable price. Lee Valley has some lovely forstner bits, and I do have one of them for drilling slots in the headpiece, but I could not justify buying all of the sizes that I needed for this project, and more importantly, most of the sizes that I needed were out of stock until June. So I did some searching around online and found this set of 16 bits on Amazon. For the price, they are pretty decent. They are not beautiful, and I cannot speak to their longevity, but they cut a fairly clean hole in softwood, which is what I needed, and there are a good variety of sizes included in the set.

I had a harder time finding bits that would cut out wooden discs. I found various plug cutters and saw-tooth bits, but finding a set that included the mid-sized cutters that I needed was nigh impossible! I ended up ordering this set of Diamond hole saw bits from Amazon, and again, while they are not incredibly well made, they do cut circles out of wood.

Here is some of my test work of plugs and holes (ignore the messy circle at the top right – that is when I was trying to excavate a perfect circle myself… needless to say, it was less than a success. As you can see, the 19mm maple disc was inlayed into the cedar quite neatly.

I’ll leave this post here, although you can be sure that there will be more of this kind coming in the next few months. I have grand plans to renovate my workshop this summer – hopefully I have time to build a new workbench and install some much needed storage space!

A few changes

I decided that it was high time for my semi-annual workshop tidy up this week. Of course, ideally, I would never have to do this. Ideally, I would tidy up after myself and my shop would never get out of hand. This is not really who I am though, so it is hard for me to build that good habit. I really am working on it, despite what my workshop looked like at the beginning of this week…

My excuse is simply that it is hard to keep a small shop tidy with various lute and guitar repair jobs underway alongside 2 or more guitar builds as well as a partly finished dining table. The response to this is, of course, that in a small shop it is very important to keep things tidy when there are so many projects underway. Another goal/resolution that I’m continuously working towards. I’m not proud of it, but this is what I came down to on Tuesday morning:

oof, eek, and grimacing faces.

In the process of tidying up, I also finally got around to a couple of quick projects that I wanted to get done for my shop.

bench-top vise

The first was to attach my grandfather’s old bench vise to my worktop in a way that was easily removable for when I need an uninterrupted bench-top.

I did this by drilling four holes through my bench and then attaching the vise with long carriage bolts and wing nuts. I do need to go out and buy some slightly shorter bolts (these ones are borrowed from my spool clamps and stick out just a bit too far below my bench), but the vise is securely anchored and works quite well!

I also used double sided tape to semi-permanently attach some masonite to the jaws of the vise so that I don’t constantly have to manipulate pads as well as the piece of wood that I need to hold in the vise.

chisel storage

The second mini project was to finally get around to making a holder for my chisels. Chisels are probably my most used tool (especially my 3/4 inch chisel), and tucking them away in a case was just not working for me. Basically this resulted in me just never putting them away, and this is a problem for a few obvious reasons – sharp tools should never be just left lying around. One, I kept losing them under everything else that was on my bench-top; two, sharp tools only stay sharp if you treat them well, and; three… pretty sure it is just not safe. So I needed to come up with something that would allow me to store my chisels in an easy to reach way without leaving them lying around getting damaged or damaging me. I’ve seen this kind of thing done by a lot of people, but here is my take on it:

The chisel storage unit is attached to an organizer that my dad saved from his work. I use it to store sandpaper, small clamps, and random jigs at the moment, but I really need to do some work on it to make it more functional for me. At some point I’ll get around to that and then will show you the end result, but I did not have time for that this week.

To make the chisel holder, I simply took a scrap piece of unidentified wood (I think it might be basswood 2in x 10 in), drilled 5/8th inch holes along the centre line, and then cut notches into the holes from one side. The notches are not as wide as the holes themselves and are just wide enough to allow the smallest part of the chisel’s neck to pass through. This means that they won’t fall out if the bench gets jolted. The holder is screwed to the sandpaper storage unit with a couple of 2 inch wood screws. It looks a bit rough, but it is doing the job it was meant to do fantastically, and (so far), I am putting my tools back where they belong.

I also found homes for a few of my other tools, but mostly that was just a matter of tidying up and putting some new hooks in the wall. Now my shop feels so much less crowded. Hopefully I can keep it this way for at least a few days…

Yes, some of that might still look like a jumbled mess, but really it is just a weird assortment of storage containers. This is not exactly a “pinterest worthy makeover,” but it is, perhaps, much more true to real life.

work-life balance

The other thing that I have been working on (and will probably keep working on for the rest of my career, just like my tidy workshop), is my work-life balance. I think that this might be the hardest thing to sort out as a self employed person, so I am sure that I do not have the answer quite yet. However, I am trying out something new, so I thought I’d share that here along with these other changes.

I have decided to implement an 8 hour work day. I’ll be working 6 days a week, and, for the most part, I’ll be trying to stick to workdays of about 8 hours each. Because of my teaching schedule and everything else that goes on, no two days will look alike, but I will still have that limit set for myself. I also know that some days will require 10 hours or more of work, and some will be limited to 4 hours or less.

Before, my plan was basically “work until you drop,” and I was starting to realize that this is not exactly the healthiest of mindsets. For one, it meant that I was trying to work as much as I could each day, and this set me up for a lot of negative self talk when I didn’t quite make it through my list of tasks or to the 12 hours of work that I expected myself to do. If I didn’t get started early in the day or if I stopped working before bedtime, I would generally feel like I was not working hard enough and that I was wasting time, when in reality, I was just taking time off like a normal person. Because every hour is a potential work hour when one is self employed, it is hard to get out of the mindset that every hour should be a work hour.

I have been taking (most) Friday’s off for the better part of a year now, and it is truly the best thing that I have done since starting this career. This allows me to get errands done, take up hobbies, and do things that I enjoy without feeling guilty about using potential work hours. By setting 8 hour work days, I am relieving more of this pressure, and also (hopefully) making myself more productive. I believe that there have been several studies done on productivity and work-day length, and I think that generally more does not equal better in almost all situations.

Every evening I write out a task list for the next day (the second best thing that I have implemented right after those Fridays off), and then the next morning, I review and add to the list. That’s when I look at my schedule for the day and pick the hours that I will be working and the hours that I will not be. For example, today I am working 8am-9am, 10:30am-12:30pm, 1pm-5:30pm, and 8-8:30pm. Seems a bit crazy, but this is what is going to work for me today. Other days, my day might just be 9am-5:30pm with a half hour lunch.

Several of my friends have complained about the unstructured nature of their days because of university timetables or because self employment. Most of us crave some sort of reliable schedule to organize the chaos, and while a standard 8-4 or 9-5 won’t work for me, this list making, hour sorting method is feeling pretty good when combined with a few other solid routines.

On that note, it is 9am, so it is time for my morning break. I’m thinking breakfast, reading, and a walk. Also I have to hang up the laundry.