You're absolutely right, Greg, working wood is a lifelong
The last few years I have been in hiatus, between projects, to refresh
myself for what is to come...whatever that might be. I only know,
that the best is yet to come. But, for now, no pictures.
I spent time in the shop of a man who is winding up a forty-five year
apprenticeship as a guitar maker. He began the trade working for old
man Gibson, himself; became his protege, often eating Sunday dinner in
the Gibson family home. He has contracted a debilitating disease, and
I stepped in to assist in the completion of some contracts.
I worked on a couple of archtops, a number of acoustics, and a few
solid body twangers. It is an interesting product engineering, and an
even more interesting production engineering situation...still, a box
is just a box, but I learned something new everyday. Also, I met some
Guitar prices ranged from five to fifteen grand, and one-spec built
went to a Minneapolis music store for ten grand...but, it was his
shop, his name, and his product, so no pictures.
Then, last winter, I went in search of the Appalachian craftsman, but
alas, it was just a myth. Funny though, one state has taken
possession of the myth and is trying to capitalize upon it, by
importing artists. It's going to be big business...so they think...if
only they can perpetrate that myth. But, none of the professional
program administrators, I talked with, had any understanding of the
concept of apprenticeship. After millions of dollars, it's a flop.
So, I am working on organizing a few projects on the 'puter, and
dispensing my dangerous and unbelievable advice for the heck of it; or
perhaps, I enjoy having pissants attack, so I can lambaste them with
Anyway, thanks to you, Greg, for your kind recommendations; I no
longer have the pictures, either; and to you Swingman, I enjoyed your
website. You seem to have acheived a high degree of competence in
your 325 sqft shop.
You have hit on most of the relevant factors.
The orgasm factor, or appearance, does not always denote rarity of
materials, although cost of material is, of course, factored in.
There are limited choices of material for certain parts on certain
guitars, and unlimited choices for other parts.
A solid body guitar, on the low end of the price scale, is rather hard
to screw up, because its tonal quality is based upon the applied
electronics, of which, there are a lot of choices. Price variables
are electronics, wood, finish, and the personal or generic complexity
The body design is mostly about comfort. The Les Paul series has
produced a different solid body design every other year, or so, for
the last fifty years. A man working alone can produce a one-off in
about three days; but, a five man crew could easily produce several
hundred a month.
The acoustic designs have been made for several centuries, and
engineering for tonal quality are, for the most part, known factors;
however, if you built five or ten guitars in a production situation,
utilizing the same materials, each would have a distinct tonal
quality. Maybe one in hundreds or even thousands would be considered
to be quite unique.
Even so, each guitar maker will tweak his design in various ways;
choice or thickness of material, structural aspects, depth of
curve...each seeking for that extra-ordinary sweetness in the tonal
quality. The man I know, after forty-five years of apprenticeship,
remembered and could count his special constructions on one
hand...think about that.
The archtop is undoubtedly the most personal of constructions. The
maker minutely scrapes the recurved top plate to develope or find the
instrument's voice. A man, who can do that...well, what can you say?
I may have performed the task, but I did it with his ears. There is a
very competent book on the subject; 'Making the Archtop Guitar' by
Price consideration is the same as with any other product. I suppose,
the important thing to remember, this was a handmaking shop...one of a
kind, one at a time...with a forty-five year history of success and a
Thanks for asking.
That's too bad ... hope you rectify that someday. Just gazing upon photo's
of Tom Plaman and Judson Beaumont's work is inspiring.
Understandable. Luthier's have always fascinated me but, even being a
musician, I've never had an interest in building instruments ... mainly
because I've felt that I couldn't devote sufficient time to the task to do
it justice. I've also recorded many "vintage" acoustic and electric
instruments, from Cremona cellos and violins to to my own 61 Fender Jazz
Bass, including many old Martin and Gibson guitars, and I can imagine the
challenges in "production" shops, particularly those dealing in acoustic
I saw the tip of the iceberg in the apprenticeship system in England where,
for a brief summer around '65, I worked for a family that had been building
furniture and cabinets for close to 300 years. I was below the rank of
"apprentice", worked in the carpenter end that summer, but I garnered an
appreciation for the apprentice system in that short stint.
LOL ... I can appreciate, and mostly sympthasize with, a contrarian'
Thanks for the kind words ... and good luck in your future endeavors.
I don't understand. If you mean the part between the
fence and the fence side of the blade - how? The
front teeth are removing the wood, the offset teeth
on the blade leave a kerf wider than the thickness
of the blade body, the blade body can't grab the wood
unless it's rusty as hell or covered in pitch, and the
piece being ripped hasn't reached the rear teeth yet.
On a 10 inch blade, even at maximum depth of cut,
your length of the exposed blade - at the table - isn't
much over 7 inches before you reach the rear teeth.
On shallower cuts - like 1/2" to 1" thick stock there's
even less exposed blade.
Even if the stock did have internal stresses which are
released when you begin the cut and the stock tried to
"cross its legs" (as opposed to spreading) - BEFORE
it got to the riving knife (or splitter) - if you've got a
hold down (feather board, Draw-Tite, Board Buddies
or whatever their called) to keep the stock down on the
table, and a feather board or the like to keep the stock
against the fence in front of the blade the board ain't
gonna fly. Of course it you're using a 5 tooth blade
with no set then all bets are off.
If on the other hand, the board was cupped and you
had the concave part down on the table, sure, as you
make the cut the part between the blade and the fence
can bind - BUT not at the beginning of the cut.
If the board is twisted, crooked or bowed the same
is likely to happen. BUT you shouldn't be ripping
boards like that on a table saw anyway - at least
not with a special jig.
So if what you're talking about is ripping a board
whose bottom isn't flat and the edge against the
fence isn't straight, prefereably with a square
corner between the bottom and the edge against
the fence, then using a splitter/riving knife or not
isn't what you need to worry about
If you're using feather boards, they discourage the
stock from traveling backwards - by design. If
you're not, pulling the board back from the blade
WHILE KEEPING IT AGAINST THE FENCE - while
the saw's still running - is a high risk proposition.
If you're willing to do that - well good luck.
Leverage implies a fulcrum and rotation of the lever
on that fulcrum. Rotation in your example is the
last thing you want. Rotate the back of the stock
up and it's into the rear teeth - not good. Rotate
the front up with the back of the stock being the
fulcrum and you're pulling the stock up into the
rear teeth - also not good. If the fulcrum is
the back corner against the fence you're going
If the stock has reached the splitter, the splitter
will keep the kerf open and the stock away from
the rear teeth. It's "in the way" for exactly
I totally agree that one should use ALL your senses to
sense when things are as they should be or when things
are starting to go wrong. You can hear when the pitch
of the saw changes, just as you sometimes can feel and
even smell when something's not right, even as a
But it's the precautions you take BEFORE trouble
starts which are available to all, even those of
us who don't have a mile or two of ripping all kinds
of woods under our belts.
Fortunately, we humans have developed the ability
to not only learn from others' experiences, but also
to use reason to avoid many of the "no one's ever
done this before" hazardous situations.
And for that we're all thankful.
Actually, the Robland X31 is pretty primitive, with
rough edges where they don't matter and machined
surfaces where they do. And three of the five
functions - jointer, planer and saw are found in
even a fledgling's shop very early on. The shaper
often comes along as does a mortiser. When you
add up a 3hp table saw - with a sliding table, a
3 hp 12" jointer and planer you're in the $6K
range. So the shaper and mortiser are free.
Setting up this critter takes a lot more care and
time than the equivalent stand alones. Since
it's from Belgium the "manuals" are nearly
useless so I wrote my own and put it on my
site. Laguna Tools, who sells the unit in the
USA, refers customers to my site for set up
instructions and I get questions about the
X31 from many counties. I know my unit
a lot better than my car.
If you want whistles and bells in a combi you
better go with a Felder - digital read out
depth of cut on the planer, tilting shaper
head, linear sliding table and real pretty
paint and lots of shiny stuff. It'll set you
back another $10K but if you've got the money
and it makes you feel good - good for you.
Please note that caution and respect are not fear.
I'm not afraid of the X31 or any other tool in my
shop - I just understand that they can hurt me
and so I study them to find out how and then take
And I always try to stay alert for that little voice in
the back of my head that says "HEY! You're about
to do something stupid and dangerous!" And when
the hair on the back of my neck stands up, or I
sense myself tensing up I stop and figure out why.
Forget that I spent $6K all at once and others may
spread it out over a year or two or three - you're
going to need a jointer and a planer early on. Your's
may all be Craftsman and only got $3000, if it
works for you that's great. It's using them - SAFELY
to make stuff out of wood that's the objective.
The only time my riving knife isn't on the saw is when
I'm doing blind cuts. Then it gets in the way so it comes
off. Like Yogi says about insurance "You only need it
when you need it". Better to have it and not use it than
to need it and not have it.
Now if you want to talk about blade "guards" -well
that's a different issue.
To each his own. But advising someone whose knowledge, skills
abilities and experience you know little or nothing about to do
what you do with all your knowledge, skills and abilities
is what got me to jump into this thread. We are not all
born gifted or lucky. Some of us, myself included, have to
do what we can to improve our odds. For me, a riving knife
is a hedge bet - and a good one IMHO.
That's wonderful. Just be aware that not all of us are
gifted - or lucky ....
Let's agree to disagree on this one.
For the others, they'll make up their own mind.
Well, I guess I've caused quite a stir in this little pot; which is
not what I wanted to do. I cannot demonstrate a physical action and
reaction over a keyboard...it reminds me of one of my wives, who was
always trying to get her brother to fix her car over the phone...and I
am not going to defend myself against the guy who happened to read a
book on the subject.
I am going to try and put it into a context that we can all
understand, and it is really quite simple. It is your responsiblity
as the craftsman to control the machine and not let the machine
control you. It is also your sole responsibility as the craftsman to
have total control over the piece of wood in your hands.
Featherboards and board buddies be damned...they just get in the way
of your controlling the entire situation; they come between you and
your responsibility. You as craftsman are the most significant safety
device you have at your disposal.
About two hundred years ago, a man named Eli Terry began utilizing a
circular blade in the production of clockcases. This was one of the
first production items ever made; and coincided with the advent of
interchangable brass parts for the internal clockworks...before this,
clockworks were individually hand made by the cabinetmaker. A man
named Seth Thomas was an apprentice in Terry's shop. So, men have
been using a tablesaw for some two-hundred years...without all the
Back in the seventies, I was offered a shop in Memphis that had been
in business for over a century. It was fully equipped to make windows
and doors, lineal moldings, cabinets, whatever...there was a molding
machine that could make a six-inch crown, a platen sander that could
finish a 42-inch door, an automated dovetailing machine...all the
equipment was dated 1906.
What I am trying to tell you here is, that every invention we use in
shop today has been around since the industrial revolution...and ever
since then, the yuppies of the day have tried to reinvent the wheel,
just to sell you something; only, a lot of times that wheel is square.
It's a big joke; when you as craftsmen should be concentrating on
technique and skill, derived from manual dexterity and common sense;
the marketing plan of the major industrialists is to sell you their
The first principles of working wood, to cut, to shape, to fasten, are
the same as they have always been...it is a simple process that
requires simplicity in the basic approach...don't overwork it. The
finest detail in wood is still only accomplished with a single edge of
steel and by hand.
Let's move on to another topic...
In 1890 Gottlieb Daimler was tooling around Germany in the first production
car in the world. I guess that that means that we should all be driving
cars identical to his, without all the geegaws like a roof and doors.
In any case, do you have any documentation that demonstrates that
featherboards and other movement-control devices were not used in Terry's
You are correct that ultimate responsibility lies with the craftsman, but
with power tools part of that responsibility lies in "setup", configuring
the tool to perform the particular task at hand, and that includes doing
whatever is necessary to control the movement of the stock so that it goes
where he wants it to go and not somewhere else. And if using "geegaws"
helps him control that movment then he is remiss in _not_ using them.
So what? I fail to see how the existence of machinery at a certain date
bears upon the desirability of using devices such as featherboards to
control the movement of lumber through a saw.
So I guess that we should abandon this newfangled "electricity" crap and go
with good old fashioned water wheels.
You mentioned featherboards above as "geegaws". I use featherboards with
great regularity. I have never bought any and nobody has "sold" them to me
except in the sense that I have accepted a simple, obvious, and very
reasonable idea. Took about fifteen minutes to make them out of a couple
of scraps. The ones that you see in stores are the same basic concept,
molded in plastic or equipped with various kinds of attachment, that may or
may not be more convenient than the simple ones made from a scrap and held
down with a clamp or two, but they are hardly anything conceptually novel.
"Board Buddies" and the like are the same basic idea implemented in a
somewhat different matter.
I find myself wondering how it is that someone who has been in woodworking
at least since the 1970s has never seen a shop-made featherboard in use and
thinks that they are some new idea.
So? Grok the concept--Olympic athlete in peak condition can for a brief
time using his whole body put out maybe 1.5 horsepower. Table saw motor
can put out two or more times that until Hell freezes over (or the bearings
die of old age, whichever come first) and somewhat more than that for a
brief time, and apply it all to the point of a blade tooth. In fight
between saw and operator, saw wins. When saw decides to throw stock at
you, you are _not_ going to be able to control that stock with your own
physical strength and if you haven't experienced a kickback in all the many
years of experience that you claim, then either you have not been working
with a powerful saw with circular blades or you have been a manager of some
sort who let others do the actual work or you are the luckiest SOB that
ever walked the earth. And if that last is the case then when karma
catches up with you you're probably going to need major surgery as a
As for the "finest detail in wood" a carving chisel is not going to pick up
a piece of 16/4 ipe and throw it through the wall of your shop, which a
large saw is quite capable of doing.
No. Your advice, if followed, is eventually going to result in someone
getting hurt who if he had followed the more commonly recommended practice
of using movement-control devices (not necessarily store-bought)
appropriate to the task would not have gotten hurt.
Reply to jclarke at ae tee tee global dot net
For all your unfounded rant, and lack of understanding, it would be a
safe bet that I have cleaned more sawdust out of my belly button than
you've ever made in shop...
If you are experiencing so much human error, that you need to seek
safety from your own machine, then obviously, that machine is not
setup properly. But, there is a limit to how much setup is required
to perform a basic task.
Twenty years ago, I made featherboards and push sticks, too...then, I
found a better way to do it. So, don't think you can one-up me by
twisting my words, and quoting the recommendations of some
self-proclaimed authority. That damned book you read was written by a
professional writer, not a woodworker.
In the woodworking business, you get paid to cut, shape, and fasten
the wood...you don't get paid for setup. Even if you are not a
professional, you should appreciate saving time at the work you do in
shop...yeah, there is the occasional kickback...so, what?
I can tell you, the last time I cut myself on the tablesaw was about
fifteen years ago. I felt that tingle, looked down and saw that if I
pulled my hand out I would loose the piece, it would kick back and be
ruined, or I could take that corner off my thumb and loose a little
skin and blood.
What do you think I did?
I see, rather than counter the argument you launch a personal attack.
Uh huh. So tell us how to set it up properly then. You're big on criticism
but not much on procedure, aren't you?
Yes, there is. However limited setup is not the same as no setup.
And that "better way" is?
"Twisting your words"? You're the one who said that featherboards were a
"geegaw" fostered by "yuppies". If that is not what you meant then you
should not have said it.
Which book was that?
That's funny, I was laboring under the mistaken impression that you got paid
for a finished product. Silly me.
So you've clearly never worked with a saw of any real power. You claim that
one is not paid to do setup. Well one is not paid to sit in the emergency
Probably the last time you used one too. See, anybody can take a cheap
"If you pulled you hand out you would loose the piece, it would kick back
and be ruined?"
Now why, pray tell, would it kick back when you took your hand off of it if
it had not kicked back with your hand on it?
In any case, it is clear that you are unable to defend your statements in
any rational fashion, instead choosing to use the argument "me heap big
woodworker, me know all, anybody who disagree with me heap big idiot".
Reply to jclarke at ae tee tee global dot net
This is fantastically bad advice. If it works for you, great, but don't go
passing it off as good advice for everyone. I'll take my advice from Kelly
Mehler, they guy who literally wrote the book on table saws and is very
concerned with table saw safety, which is to use a riving knife if you can,
or a splitter if you can't.
Despite what I have seen here, I have a Biesmeyer snap in splitter
installed in my JTAS left tilt saw. It tilts along with the blade, is
easy to put in and pop out. It installed relatively easily. Took me
about 30 to 40 mins of twiddling with the bolt/nuts to get it aligned
with the blade (it needs a 1/8" blade - wont work with thin kerf).
This splitter performs well. I have had several instances of wood
reacting after the rip was beyond the blade and without this splitter
it would be just a steady hand and some luck to keep that wood from
No matter what anyone else says about avoiding kickback by pulling back
early or any other means, I for one feel much better knowing that the
wood is not going to bind on that blade. If the wood reacts it may get
tight and hard to push, but at that point I am able to easily reach
down and turn off the saw and then pull it out when it stops. I am not
a pro but I sure feel safer with the splitter in there.
This splitter was about 120 and I think they have one to fit the major
cabinet saws. I dont know about the contractor styles, but its worth
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