The Rose: Part 2 and Completion

Having finished the first layer of the rose around the end of September, I glued the carved piece to a second thin piece of cherry, marked the design and drilled holes to start carving layer 2. I also thinned the carved layer to about half of its original thickness by sanding.

Then I had a change of mind and decided to redesign the rose. I took out parts of my carefully carved top layer with a chisel. I had decided to move these parts of the design down a level to give the rose a more open appearance.

The second layer was carved in much the same manner as the first layer, with needle files and lots of patience. I also had to clean up the mess that removing parts of the first layer had left, as well as some glue squeeze out from attaching the layers together.



In the image above, you can see where I removed the top layer from the design closest to the edge of the circle.

Before proceeding with the third layer, I cleaned up, as much as was possible, the glue, pencil marks, and stray bits of wood with sandpaper, a small Exacto knife, and needle files. I also thinned the second layer a bit on a sanding board.


The third and final layer of the rose is cut from a piece of ‘coverstock’ weight paper in a cream colour. Perhaps not the most historically accurate, but it is an easily obtainable, inexpensive paper, and the weight and texture is easy to work with for this project. Because the rose is not entirely symmetrical, I traced the actual rose onto the paper, rather than use my original design. I then sketched out my ideas in pencil, and proceeded to cut out the design.



Most of the paper cutting was achieved with a basic Exacto knife with a standard sharp blade. The circles were cut with punches I had made for my previous rose out of metal tubes:



These are quite easy to make: take any sized metal tube (the inside diameter should be the size of hole you require); stick it in a drill press; use a metal file to create the initial taper as the drill press spins the metal tube, and finally; polish and sharpen the taper and edge with fine sandpaper or Japanese water stones. The punches work with a sharp tap from a hammer and leave a rather clean edge.

The design for the rose has no relation to historical roses, and is rather a personal mark on the guitar. I thought the birds an appropriate addition to this rose. Let me know what you think!

The final stage was to carefully glue the paper to the wood layers. For this a very thin and even coat of glue must be applied to the entire back surface of the wood rose. It must be thin, lest unsightly glue squeeze out and ruin forever the hours of careful design and carving work! The paper layer is carefully aligned with the wood layer – and there is only one shot at getting this right, no chance to shift the paper around if it does not land in the right place – and pressed into place.


The rose is complete and ready to glue to the soundboard. Next: bracing!



Carving the Rose: Layer 1

The rose is perhaps my favourite part of the Baroque guitar. While it is time consuming to construct, the intricate and beautiful designs are extremely rewarding.

Take a look at the original rose by Stradivarius. The floral layout served as inspiration for my design.

Here is the rose that I designed and constructed for my first Baroque guitar:


This time around I decided to use a more floral rather than circular design.

First I prepared the pieces of cherry for the first two layers (the third is a heavy paper). The wood was left over from sides of another project. It is beautifully straight grained and unfigured.  I cut two pieces about 10 cm square. At this point they were around 4 mm thick, so I attached them to a sanding jig for thinning:


The jig is just a piece of pine with two handles (on the underside in the picture). The cherry pieces are attached with double sided tape. I just flip the jig over, run it over a sanding board for a while, and voila! the pieces are evenly thinned. I thinned the pieces to about 2 mm, which is thick enough to withstand carving. After the layer is carved, I will thin it further, to just over a millimetre thick.

After sketching my design out on paper, I transferred the first layer design to a piece of cherry:


Then I drilled holes in all of the negative spaces to prepare for carving.


Which resulted in a strange looking pattern of holes:


Using needle files (pictured below) I stretched the circles and removed all the excess wood. I mainly used four files: a small oval file, a one sided flat file, a triangle file, and a larger oval file. A couple of the sharper points needed to be touched up with an sharp knife, but most of the work was accomplished with these four files.


This resulted in the first layer of the rose complete (albeit a little rough and still too thick):


The next stage will be to glue this (with grain perpendicular) to the second piece of cherry, and then to carve the second layer of the rose in a similar fashion to the first.


I finally had the opportunity to spend a bit of time in the workshop again, so I spent an afternoon inlaying a rosette and cutting out the soundhole.

The rosette on a Baroque guitar is rather different than the fancy mosaic or otherwise highly figured rosette of a modern classical. The focus on Baroque guitars is the beautiful and intricate rose, while the rosette is a few simple lines.

(for clarification: the rosette is the decoration around the soundhole; the rose is the fancy bit of carving that fills the soundhole on early guitars and lutes).


For this process I use a circle cutter made by my father:


Logistics: first I drill a 1/8 inch hole at the centre of the soundhole, which fits the pin of the circle cutter. The circle cutter is adjusted to the correct radius. Then the pin of the circle cutter goes through the soundboard and into a workboard designed for the purpose. I work from the widest rosette ring to the soundhole. The blades have an angled cutting surface, so the flat side of the blade goes on the outside of the channel being cut. 

For this guitar, I wanted 2 rings of thin black-white-black inlay, so I cut two 1.5 mm wide channels, one with a radius of about 49.5 mm, the other with a radius about 43 mm, two cuts each. Because these channels are so narrow, cleaning out between the edge cuts made by the circle cutter is a rather delicate operation. I do not have a chisel narrow enough, so I ended up using some small knife blades to do some initial wood removal by hand, and then finishing up with the wrong end of the circle-cutter blades. These blades are actually from a purfling cutter, and happen to be almost exactly the right thickness, so I put the blade in the circle cutter upside down, and ran it around the channel a few times. Not a method which I can easily describe, nor a method that I would ever recommend. However, it worked today.

I had ready-made black-white-black purfling strips, so the actual inlay work was quite simple. Cut the strip to length, apply glue, press into channel. Then clamp. Wait for an hour or so. Use a chisel very carefully to remove the excess purfling (when glued in it was proud of the surface about 1.5 mm). And voila! a beautiful and simple rosette. 

With this done, I made the final circle cut for the soundhole, with a radius of 40 mm, this time actually cutting through the soundboard.



Next is the rose! This was probably the most exciting and enjoyable (and most time consuming) part for me on the last guitar, so I am looking forward to the process. 

constructing the sides

Having left the sides in the form overnight, I spent today making and gluing tail and head blocks; arching and trimming the sides; inserting the end graft, and; carving the dovetail joint where the neck attaches to the body.

Tail and Head Blocks

The tail block is a small (approx 12 mm thick, 82 mm wide, 93 mm tall) block of Spanish cedar that bridges the joint between the sides at the ‘butt’ or ‘tail’ end of the guitar. The head block (20 mm thick, 77 mm wide, 84 mm tall; also Spanish cedar) is the equivalent at the neck end of the body.

Spanish cedar is a stable wood (especially when quarter sawn), and, like other cedars, is extremely strong and light weight. (Cedars are also rot resistant, however, I am hoping I will not need to rely on this quality in guitar making.) Spanish cedar is also a traditional neck wood.

I trimmed the sides to length, then proceeded to slice and dice a leftover piece of Spanish cedar (from my last Baroque guitar) into blanks for the tail and head blocks. I will spare you the boring details; suffice to say that there was a lot of marking, squaring, hand sawing, and sanding early on this morning. With the blanks roughly cut to size, I needed to fit them to the curve of the sides. This involved a lot of sanding and checking for fit against the form. Then glue, clamps, wait for glue to dry…

As always, it is necessary to make even the inside of the guitar as beautiful as possible, so the inside vertical edges are rounded off with chisel and sandpaper. Leaving sharp edges on the inside of a guitar is never a good idea, as it likely will have a detrimental effect on the sound. Also, in 50 years when the guitar needs repairs, I would like the repair shop to admire my work, rather than criticise a messy interior.


Trimming and Arching the Sides

The back of the guitar is arched lengthwise. I used the plans to determine the measurements of the sides at various places (ranging from 82 mm to 94 mm), marking these points in reference to the flat, top edge of the side (which was straightened on the shooting board yesterday. (side note: this will later lose its uniformity before the top is glued to the body). I then used masking tape as a flexible ruler to join the points marked around the sides of the guitar:



Other times I have just drawn on a line using a straight piece of heavy paper, but the tape seemed like a good idea today. I used a coping saw to cut about 2-3 mm away from the tape line all the way around the guitar. This is a bit dangerous because the sides are quite flexible and liable to crack, so I supported the sides with clamps and my free hand, and worked carefully and slowly.

The saw cut needed some significant clean up, so I used a sanding board to level the edges (the back is arched, but the side edges should still be smooth, and level horizontally). This sanding took the sides down to the level of the masking tape. This sanding is always a really noisy job – the sides vibrate with every pass across the sanding board, squeaking and squawking, and basically sounding like they will explode.

But they didn’t, and the sides came away in one piece, ready for the next stage in the process.


The End Graft

This is a decorative stripe used to beautify the seam at the tail of the guitar where the sides join. It can also camouflage any miscalculations in side length, and poorly constructed tail blocks. This is also sometimes a place to display fancy inlay work.

I chose to use a simple stripe design at the tail, more in keeping with the original Stradivarius design, a simple black-maple-black stripe. I simply cut out a small strip from either side of the joint and pressed in my purfling stripe:

end graft
end graft

Carving the Heel-Body Joint

One of the most interesting things about looking at historical guitars is figuring out how the builders thought. Stradivarius was primarily a violin maker, and you can see this in the details of the guitar. For example, the woods – maple back and sides, spruce top, pine tail and head blocks – all traditional violin woods. The purfling detail around the guitar is also reminiscent of a violin. And the neck to body joint is clearly taken from the maker’s work with violins. When I finish this construction in building the neck, this will make more sense, but I will try to describe it here.

The neck attaches to the heel with a scarf joint (45° angle on both pieces, join together to make a sharp perpendicular joint). The heel is set into the guitar with a dovetail joint.

It is this joint that I started today by cutting the female portion into the head block of the guitar. It will make a lot more sense in the photograph:



I have left a bit of room at the sides for adjustment, and I have about 0.5 mm of extra depth which I can play with when fitting the neck.


After a long day, the sides are almost ready to receive the back. Lining (also called kerfing) will be next, and obviously the back needs to be braced before I can proceed.




thinning and bending the sides

The sides started out as two oversized book-matched pieces of birdseye maple. I had the wood cut from a thick slab over a year ago at A&M woods in Cambridge Ontario. This is the same wood I used on the 003 steel string guitar. One of the pieces was over a 1/4 inch thick, the other roughly 3/16ths.

I trued one side (the ‘good’ side) on both pieces, levelling the surfaces by sanding and scraping. (note: be sure to mark the good side clearly: hopefully the ‘rough’ side will look as clean as the ‘good’ side when thinning is finished) Then I proceeded to thin the sides to just under 2 mm thick, around 75 thou.

Although the sides are not glued to each other, one edge does need to be relatively straight, and the best way to do this is to use another shooting board:


Here you can kind of see the shooting board set up, with a base board, a second narrower board (hidden under the sides to raise the wood) and an end-stopper-block. The sides rest on top, pinched together with a couple small spring clamps. My hand holds the long, straight, square sanding block which is used to true the edges.

With the edges straight, the sides were ready to be marked for bending. I always mark the waist with a strong line drawn with a square. I also marked the centres of the lower and upper bouts for reference. All of these marks are on the ‘good side.’ On the rough side, I scribbled an area a few inches to either side of these marks.

These scribble marks were just to mark an approximate area to thin slightly more than the rest of the sides. I scraped probably about an 1/8 to a 1/4 mm of wood from all of these bends. This was just to make bending easier, especially with a finicky wood like birdseye maple.

After all of these preparations, I put the sides in a trough of water to soak prior to bending:


After an hour or so of soaking, they were ready to bend. I use a bending iron (below) made by my father out of a copper pipe and an electric heating element. This is a slightly less dangerous version of the more common pipe and propane torch method.


The trick to smooth bending is to work quickly and calmly, paying close attention to what the wood is ‘telling you.’ Meaning, never force the wood; allow the pipe to heat up the wood and gently coax the wood in the direction you want it to go. The wood should almost be in constant motion, so as to avoid creases and burns, which are particularly dangerous on blond woods like maple. Over-bending (bending the wood further than is ultimately desired) is useful in the sharper bends at the waist, and the centre of the bouts. Wear gloves to prevent burns, and use a straight piece of wood as needed to apply pressure.

When the side was close to the desired shape, I quickly set it in the form and clamped it into place. As the wood settles, cools and dries overnight, the side will take the shape of the form permanently.


Tomorrow I will attach the sides together with tail and head blocks… then it will start to look like a guitar.