Tale of two rosettes: 7 moons and a city

I don’t think I can be accused of boring rosette designs… The two guitars that I am currently building are going to feature two of my most unique soundhole decorations yet: the phases of the moon (except the new moon – I might inlay that somewhere else on the guitar) and the skyline of Hamilton, Ontario.

Lunar phase rosette

This rosette is for a guitar (number 021) commissioned by a student at the university of Ottawa. This will be a traditional cedar topped rosewood classical guitar with some modern design features. The guitar will have a maple fingerboard (I’m leaning towards birdseye to complement the other birdseye inlays on the guitar). He requested a rosette that featured the phases of the moon, and this is what I came up with!

I started by drafting the design on paper so that I would know the placement of all 7 of the moons that I would be inlaying. Then I got to work on the inlay.

First I inlayed a ring of rosewood with fine white veneer lines on either side. I first made the rosewood ring from a cutoff from the back of the guitar, and then excavated the channel with my circle cutter and a couple of chisels. Someday I will get my dremel or a router set up to do this work.

Here is a closeup of the inlay – one of my cleanest yet!

As you can see, I marked the locations of the moons with pencil line spokes radiating from the centre of the soundhole. These are not spaced evenly as the moons will not all be of the same size.

Next, I started inlaying the moons. The first was the full moon, which is at the bottom of the rosette (towards the bridge). This was cut out of a piece of birdseye maple with a 23mm diamond hole saw and was inlayed into a hole cut out with a forstner bit. (I talked about buying these drill bits in my last post). I used a thin piece of black veneer to edge the moon so that it would have a bit more of a finished look.

Here is the second moon ready for inlay with the eclipsed portion of the moon cut out of ebony and the moon cut again from some birdseye maple.

I used a hole saw bit to cut out the circles and then used a Grobet Jewelers Saw to turn the circles into part moons. I have had the jewelers saw for years and have never found a use for it until this project. It worked really well, so I’ll be using it more for future inlays. To clean up the cuts and make sure that the pieces fitted together perfectly, I used a piece of dowel wrapped in sandpaper.

I clamped each of the moons individually by using a piece of green tape as an initial clamp to keep the pieces in place, and then applying pressure with deep-throated C-clamps and wooden cam-clamps.

After that, I just continued to inlay the remaining moons and then spent a good amount of time cleaning up and levelling the inlays.

I should note that I did not thin the soundboard before inlaying the rosette. I have been doing this on all of my recent builds, and I am probably going to continue to do that for the foreseeable future. Firstly, this allows me a re-do on the rosette if I make a mistake the first time – this happened a few guitars ago. This also allows me to inlay the rosette, clean it up, and then level the good side of the soundboard a second time, as I always end up making a bit of a mess when I am inlaying a rosette. When I am confident that the rosette looks good and the soundboard is flat, I flip the wood over and do the final thicknessing from the “wrong side” of the soundboard. I thinned this soundboard to about 80 thousandths of an inch (2mm).

Here is the finished rosette after all of the clean up, soundboard thinning, and cutting out the soundhole:

Hamilton skyline rosette

This rosette is for guitar number 017 (yes, my numbering system is all messed up because of a few partially complete guitars and my sporadic work schedule), and will be donated to the Hamilton International Guitar Festival as a prize for the winner of the competition this July. This guitar will have an Engelmann spruce soundboard and spalted maple back and sides with rosewood detailing in various places. I think it will be a very pretty guitar if all goes well.

This rosette was done in a similar fashion to the lunar phase design by starting with a simple ring inlay and then inlaying the fancy bits afterwards. I also inlayed this rosette before thinning the soundboard in case something went wrong (happily, it did not!).

The inlayed basic ring on this rosette was much more narrow than on the lunar phase design, so I used two strips of dark brown veneer in a narrow channel rather than attempting to cut out a 1.5mm thick rosewood ring.

I designed the main part of the rosette to be asymmetrical, with most of the rosette being a simple rosewood ring and the skyline sitting on the bass side of the soundhole. I glued two pieces of rosewood together (leftover wood from a back), thinned the piece to just under 2mm thick and then glued my paper design to one face of the rosewood. I cut the circular outer part of the rosewood piece with my circle cutter. I left cutting out the inner circle until the end so that I would have maximum stability while cutting out the intricate skyline.

Here is the inlayed narrow ring with the rosewood blank ready for cutting:

Next, I used my jewelers saw to cut out the skyline while clamping the wood firmly in my vise. After cutting very close to the line with the saw, I just had a bit of tidying up to do with my craft knife and a bit of 320 grit sandpaper. Here is the inlay piece ready to go with the paper partially removed:

And a picture of the tools used to cut out the design:

All that was left was to cut out the inside circle with my circle cutter, leaving me a ring with a skyline growth on one side.

I then had to cut the channel for the inlay, which I did with a combination of my circle cutter (for the circular bits), my craft knife (to trace the skyline onto the soundboard), and various freshly sharpened chisels. When I was happy with the fit of the inlay, I glued it in – it fit fairly tightly, with just a couple of tiny spots to fill later on. Here is the inlay after it was dry and before I did (almost) any clean up:

And here is the final product, all level and mostly tidy. (I added the narrow poles/steeples after the clean up with small pieces of dark brown veneer.)

Finally, for a bit of a reference, I thought I would share a picture of the skyline image that I stole from the internet and traced (with some adjustment for practicality and the curve of the rosette) – I have to say, I am pretty pleased with how close it looks to the original!

Now that the rosettes are complete, I’ll be flipping the soundboards over to brace the guitars before turning my attention to the neck. As I am writing this in advance of posting it to my blog, the progress might seem rather quick between this post and the next building update, where I will show you the progress on both guitars. Hopefully by that point they will actually look like guitars – it is going to be a busy few weeks!

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Inlaying a maze rosette

I have officially started my 20th guitar build! This is a cedar and quilted maple classical guitar to be finished by the end of February this year. The client has asked for a clean, modern, geometric aesthetic, so I will be using black and white lines for the inlays and purfling, and I will be returning to my asymmetrical headstock design.

To start the geometric theme off, I came up with a maze rosette design using just white and black veneer strips. I wanted the maze to be functional as well as “cool looking,” and I think that it has turned out pretty well!

I started off by drawing out the maze to make sure that it would work. (Of course, me being me, I actually ended up inlaying it in mirror image because of a silly mistake when I started the inlay.)

I made sure that the maze would be unobstructed by the fingerboard, and I had the pathway travel from the outside bass edge (or in the finished rosette, the outside treble edge) to the inside treble edge (in the end, the inside bass edge).

I then sliced my white and black veneer sheets into thin strips and began to assemble the rosette. I started by making a rosette mould out of a piece of leftover plywood and a plastic lid that happened to be the same size as the desired inner diameter of the rosette. I screwed the lid to the board and used tape to prevent the rosette from adhering to the plywood.

I then started gluing up strips of veneer and used small finishing nails to hold them in place agains the mould. I glued up 5 rings, each made up of 6 white strips and one black. Although I glued up all of these rings in fairly close succession, I made sure to avoid gluing the rings together. Although the picture below might look like a solid striped rosette, the black veneer lines are actually only glued to the white on one side, so the 5 rings came apart without any trouble after they were dry. They needed to be glued up side by side in order to make sure that they would fit perfectly into the final rosette inlay.

Here you can see the 5 separate rings after a bit of clean up:

After excavating the rosette channel in the soundboard, I started to inlay the rings. I worked closely with my original maze diagram to figure out where I needed to remove black veneer to make a “doorway” in the maze, and where I needed to insert a “wall.”

To create a “wall” I used my Japanese saw and some small pieces of black veneer. The kerf of the Japanese saw blade that I have is about the same thickness as the veneer that I use, so it was the perfect tool to make the incision. For most of the walls, I did not need to cut all the way through the ring. I cut very carefully from the white side of the ring just until I met the black. Then I simply inserted a piece of black veneer and trimmed to fit.

To make the “doorways,” I just used my Japanese saw and chisel to remove a bit of the black veneer line and then cut a piece of white veneer to fit.

Once the ring was prepared, I glued it into the channel.

I completed each of the rings separately, allowing the glue to dry for at least an hour in between rings. I used tape to clamp the pieces down firmly while the glue was drying.

And that’s it! After a bit of clean up, here is the finished rosette:

All that is left is a bit of tidy up and a couple of small fills to do when I finish the guitar. What do you think? I kind of love where this guitar is going.