Absolutely Necessary Tools

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Bassmanbob, Aug 29, 2003.

  1. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    I have stated in another thread that I started that I am considering my first bass construction. I have half of a two car garage in which to build my instruments.

    What power and hand tools do you guys feel are really necessary to do a good job, and facilitate the process. Please include as many specifics as you can, ie: type of tool, brand name, size, table type or hand type, etc...

    I know that budget is a factor, and I'm not sure what mine is yet. Just keep in mind the tools that you wouldn't want to be without.


  2. NJL


    Apr 12, 2002
    San Antonio
    a router for the power tools

    calipers, rulers, pencils and paper for your plans
  3. mslatter


    Apr 8, 2003
    Hold on to your checkbooks, this got long on me...

    There're degrees of "necessary," really. You could build a bass with sharp rocks if you really wanted to. I've seen some that look like people might actually be doing that. ;) I'm probably going to repeat what's already available on the net or in books, but, what the hell, teaching is learning.
    There are several tasks you need to accomplish, and a host of options for each task.

    Straight cuts - This would include sizing of blanks, neck tapers, fingerboard sizing, etc.

    The table saw is the preferred tool for straight cuts. Options range from $100 benchtop models (do NOT even think of getting one... You'll fight it more than use it) to thousands of dollars in commerical level saws. Good options are the DeWalt and Jet contractors saws with the motor on the inside. They're still in the $900 range. Ryobi makes a decent contractor's saw, too. If you want to get serious about other woodworking, too, consider the table saw your most important purchase and don't skimp. Somewhere out there, there's a Powermatic with my name on it... sigh.

    But if you're only going to do luthiery, you don't really require one. You can do straight cuts on a bandsaw with a fence, or with handsaws. There's more cleanup involved, but you can do it.

    Curved cuts - shaping the body and headstock.

    The bandsaw is great for this. A 14" will give you enough power and clearance to handle this task, and allow you to experiment with resawing tops and things later on.

    Without a band saw, you can use a handheld jigsaw. Note you'll be cutting thick, hard, well grained wood in a lot of cases, so you'll want some power. You'll also need a way to clean up the cuts, since jigsaws tend to leave a lot of saw marks. Cut outside the line and plane, shave or route to the line. You can use a variety of tensioned handsaws for this as well. Expect to sweat.

    Shaping - shaving the neck, belly cuts, carving.

    Hand tools excel here. The spokeshave is a good place to start for neck shaping. It removes wood quickly, but is controllable. Surforms work well, too. Then rasps, files, and chisels come in. You could get a surform, a combination rasp and a 4-chisel set for perhaps $30. Don't forget to calculate the cost of sharpening stones, etc. These tools MUST be sharp at all times.

    Cavity creation - neck pocket, control cavity, pickup cavities.

    The router and a set of decent bits is the tool here. A 1 1/2 HP plunge router is the minimum, and you can find good price bits at www.mlcswoodworking.com

    By hand, you could rough these out with an auger and clean up with chisels. The router is sooo much nicer, though.

    Hole making - tuning machines, controls, ruining expensive hardwood with mismeasuring.

    You can get by with a handheld electric drill, but for the really solid fit-n-finish you expect to see on a musical instrument, the drill press is unsurpassed. Plus you can use a drill press for drum sanding, which brings up the next task...

    Smoothing - surfacing, sanding, leveling.

    If you're doing a multi-piece neck (counting the fingerboard) you're going to need to create perfectly flat surfaces on wood. That's called surfacing. The electric jointer is the preferred tool there, but it can be done with appropriate hand planes and practice. I wouldn't recommend an electric hand planer.

    For sanding, you'll need a full complement of sandpaper, and some sanding blocks or scrap wood.

    Levelling is the act of making two surfaces the same height. You do it for inlays, bindings, anytime you have an imperfect glue-up. You can do it with planes or chisels, but I really like cabinet scrapers. They're cheap, easy to maintain, and easy to use.

    Gluing - making things stick together.

    You'll need glues and clamps. Lots of clamps. People will start giving you clamps for Christmas. And you'll thank them and mean it.

    Finishing - protecting the wood.

    Spray finishes require some method to atomize liquid. HVLP sprayers are great, but expensive. I'd start with pre-canned lacquer or use the Preval system of charged canisters. Reranch is a good source for preloaded cans. Home Depot sells Preval. I use a 15 gallon air compressor and a hobby airbrush. Slow, but functional.

    Wipe on finishes don't require much in the way of tools and are relatively easy to apply.

    Specialty tasks - fretting, nut filing, fretboard radiusing, etc., etc.

    www.stewmac.com has a range of tools for this and can point you in the direction of what you need. Minimally, you'll want some specialty files for fret and nut work, and sanding blocks for the fretboard radius. It's easy to go overboard on the specialty tools. The good thing about every category except this one is that the tools you'll buy are usable in all types of woodcrafting.

    Information - learning the process and techniques

    You'll minimally want to get a book on making an electric guitar. Melvyn Hiscock's "Make Your Own Electric Guitar" is a good one to start with. There are several good ones, and even some videos. Plus, there's the internet.

    Miscellaneous - everything else.

    Screwdrivers, razor knives, nippers, pliers, feeler gauges, squares, cloths, rulers, pencils, band-aids.

    That'll do it. So, consider several hundred in handtools to a couple thousand in power tools to be your range. Good luck!!
  4. mslatter


    Apr 8, 2003
    Hard to believe, but I forgot one!

    Thicknessing - making a piece of wood a certain thickness, with both faces perfectly parallel.

    Electric surface planers are excellent for this. Many good models in the $300-500 range. Another electric option would be a thickness sander, which is a horizontally mounted sanding drum.

    Without either, you're left with hand planes. Definitely takes some experience to get a wide surface perfectly flat and parallel. The better option would be to order your wood milled to the desired thickness. Most wood vendors will do this for free or a nominal charge.
  5. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    Wow mslatter! That's a great post. Since this would be my first instrument, I was thinking of getting the thickness of the body wood precut. I would like to cut the neck myself though.

    I was thinking of a bandsaw or a powerful jigsaw and a good router on a routing table. My father (who is 78 years old) has a professional table drill press. I'd love to take off his hands, but I haven't made love to it yet. The rest, I was thinking of doing by hand.

    I'm still learning the basics and haven't even gotten my books yet. But this has motivated me to clean the garage, including my workbench, that hasn't been done in over five years. Now that's motivation!

    What I don't want to do is buy all these expensive tools, use them once and then not use them again. Not to mention the feedback from my wife if I do something like that. Thanks again and if anyone has anything else to post major or minor, please do.
  6. mikgag

    mikgag Guest

    Mar 25, 2002
    Important tools:

    an good pink eraser
    a radio
    5.6 hp shop-vac
    good ventalation
  7. Bassmanbob, I agree that a powerful jig saw can be a adequate subsitute of a big (and usually expensive) bandsaw, as I've done that too for my first bass building experiment. You also want to get one with a built-in blower so that you can see the line clearly without the saw dust piling up. The only problem with jig saw is that it is very difficult to make the side completely vertical. So my advice is that while cutting, stay outside of the line, and constantly try to keep the blade either as vertical as you can, or lean it a bit outward of your shape. That way you can at least be sure that the side won't end up tilting inward into your shape. Also, make some relief cut in advance before attacking the small curves, it is very easy for the blade to get stuck in those situations and sometime you may ened up cutting slight too deep and leave saw mark that can't be sand off unless the final shape is compromised.
  8. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    You could do the whole thing with hand tools but each power tool you buy will make it more enjoyable and less frustrating. In order of how hard they would be to pry from me:

    1) router
    2) bandsaw (even the $150 benchtop is better than a jigsaw)
    3) jointer
    4) drill press
    5) random orbital sander
    6) thickness sander
    7) angle grinder
    8) planer
    9) oscillating spindle sander
    10) table saw

    Think about what the alternatives to each tool are. Sometimes, you can pay a millwork joint to do it; like planing and joining. Sometimes it means painstaking handwork, like the random orbital. Sometimes it means loss of precision, like the drill press. And sometimes, it is just a timesaver, like the spindle sander and the angle grinder.
  9. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    OK. I think you've convinced me that a bandsaw is better than a jigsaw. In order to save space and some money, how bad and how limiting are the table top bandsaws compared to the "floor models"? Are high quality table top bandsaws made, or are they all $150 quality? Do they allow for enough room between the blade and the back arm to fit your wood? Does the blade fit at 90 degrees to the back arm so you can cut a long piece of wood like the neck cuts, or will the arm get in the way? And, How thick of a peice of wood can you get in there to cut?

    Also: A lot of talk has been made about the power tools. What hand tools do you guys like to use? MSLatter mentioned a number of hand tools, but what do the rest of you use or like?

    I can't believe that I'm GASing for tools instead of another bass itself. I guess that the tools will allow for more basses if I do a nice job.

    Thanks again guys!
  10. NJL


    Apr 12, 2002
    San Antonio
    here's a little bump
  11. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    I built about a dozen or more basses with a benchtop Ryobi. It was not ideal, but it blew away the jigsaw I had. I could do 4 and 5 string basses. It had about 3.25" of cut depth. All of the cutting - neck profile, body shape. Only thing I could not do was resaw parts for the body. You get about 9" between the blade and the arm. Plan your cuts and you can do almost every cut with this saw.

    Keeping the blade fresh is important since this saw is underpowered. If you find you like building basses, you'll want a bigger saw eventually since all the benchtops I've seen are underpowered and have a shallow depth of cut. But the benchtop saw will give you a chance to decide how much you like it without going crazy trying to cut a neck profile with a jigsaw.

    I use chisels, sometimes a block plane. Rasps and files. I used to use a spoke shave.
  12. mslatter


    Apr 8, 2003
    Can ya believe, I remembered another essential tool - a soldering iron. That's probably the only powered tool you can't do without. And the good thing is they're cheap!

    Lastly, just a thought: build your tool collection slowly. A lot of woodworkers get their tools from guys that spent thousands outfitting their shops, only to quit the hobby. The other benefit to slow acquisition is that you have to learn a lot of skills to make up for the lack of tools. You'll learn a lot about wood, and that'll help make your tool selection easier down the road, and allow you to really appreciate them. Tools can last years, sometimes decades, and it's important to pick the right ones from the start.
  13. NJL


    Apr 12, 2002
    San Antonio
    is a 6 string neck too thick?

    just curious
  14. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    6 string necks are generally too wide to fit under the blade guides. It is wise to give yourself some leeway and even a narrow 16mm spacing will require a full 3-3.125" finished width @ the 24th fret.

    I like to make my neck blanks at least 4" wide for 6 string basses.
  15. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    I have a soldering iron. Good.

    That makes good scence. I've been known to start a hobby hot and heavy, then give it up. Music is the only hobby I've stuck with for the most part.

    The one thing that makes me think I would stick with this is that I really like to work with my hands. I've always wanted to build something too. I love wood and the smell of sawdust, and I love the bass guitar. It seems the perfect match for me. Only time will tell.
  16. NJL


    Apr 12, 2002
    San Antonio
    thanks for your response!

  17. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    i would like to add one thing. if it was mentioned i missed it.

    in my very limited experience building basses i have found a good straight edge to be most important.

    I learned this when I first got some lumber for a neck and it was rought cut on 4 sides.

    SOoo...i ran the wood thru the table saw to clean up the waney edge but didn't have a straight edge to begin with so i had to start over.

    patience is also a good tool.
  18. How about a respirator and earplugs........

    Cheers Rody
  19. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    IANAL (I Am Not A Luthier ;) ) but I'm not sure that beer is a good mix with woodworking tools, especially powered ones. Mistakes made under the influence of alcohol are going to be bloody awkward (pun intended), so go easy on the happy juice...

  20. chucko58


    Jan 17, 2002
    Silicon Valley, CA, USA
    I paid for all my gear myself. Well, me and MasterCard.
    I am sure that beer - or any other alcoholic beverage - is not a good mix with power tools! YMMV.