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Removing a laminated top.

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by 59jazz, Nov 4, 2018.


  1. 59jazz

    59jazz Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma Supporting Member

    I have a handmade body that has a rather bland .25" thick walnut top with a thin maple strip between the walnut and mahogany core; think WAL. I'm contemplating removing the top and replacing it with a book matched walnut burl top. Yes it's a lot of work but I'm up for it.
    Running it through a planer is out of the question, so I took it to a local cabinet maker who has a large dual belt pneumatic surface sander. He advised that it would not be a good idea as it could tilt between the 2 belt heads. So........Build a rigid router sled? Drum sander? Heat the top laminate up and remove it like a finger board? Don't do this it's a stupid idea? Thoughts? TIA.
     
  2. Scoops

    Scoops Why do we use base 10 when we only have 8 fingers Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc
    I am me
    If you have a round over on the edges on the back side, a drum sander might not work. What I've seen happen is when the drum first hits the leading edge, the whole piece of wood gets pushed down because there is nothing there to support it, the wood then rebounds, and you'll get an uneven surface on the top side.

    I think a router sled is good option.
     
    rojo412, RobertUI and 59jazz like this.
  3. Beej

    Beej

    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    I just did this for a friend a couple of months ago. Router sled is your friend. Plane it right off, glue on the new one, rout out the pockets and roundover, refinish and you're golden... :thumbsup:
     
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  4. 59jazz

    59jazz Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma Supporting Member

    Brent, do you by chance have a picture of your router sled?
     
  5. Beej

    Beej

    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    Here's a great thread that covers a host of things related to fixtures, including sleds: Router Planing Fixtures

    Post up your progress! :D
     
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  6. Gilmourisgod

    Gilmourisgod

    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    Router sled. I have a thickness planer, but I wouldn’t trust it for this job against tearout. Take really light passes with a brand new or very sharp but until you figure out what direction passes leave the smoothest cuts, you want the blades coming into the grain at pass ends, for instance, so you don’t blow grain out. It will work like a treat, and then you’ll have the sled for next time. @brucejohnson makes the best jigs cause he’s a pro, but it can be quick and dirty if it’s a one-off.
     
  7. I did it once with my wide belt drum sander. Didn't have any problems with the body tilting due to the roundovers on the back side. I did flip the body 180 degrees after each pass through to account for any variance in the horizontal belt height across the drum.

    That being said, it was pretty slow going. A router sled would have done the job much quicker, albeit messier due to no dust collection.
     
    59jazz likes this.
  8. herndonbassist

    herndonbassist Low Down Thumper Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Herndon, VA - NoVa
    Beej likes this.
  9. Gilmourisgod

    Gilmourisgod

    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    The safe-t-planers are kind of a last resort if you don't have access to a planer or a router, mixed reviews on TB, they scared me a little the couple times I used one, but its probably inherently safer than a router. I think the consensus was "ok in a pinch".
     
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  10. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    If it were here in my shop, I'd use the router sled. That is, fasten the body down with a pair of parallel rails on each side. Then mount your router in a long "bridge" type base that spans across them. That's going to be the cleanest safest way to remove the top without harming the thin maple layer.

    By the way, if the new top that you are planning to put on there is about the same color as the existing walnut top, don't take off all of the existing walnut. Leave a thin layer of walnut, like 1/16" or so, on top of the thin maple. That's a safety layer. If you try to cut right down exactly to the maple, you risk going through in some spot. And that would ruin the look. If the thin layer of walnut is a little uneven, you won't see it.

    Also, you could remove the walnut by manual methods. Clamp it down and go at it with a nice sharp hand plane. It's not that much wood that you are taking off. Work slowly and carefully, watching the edges and checking for flatness with a straightedge. That's how your grandfather would have done it out in the shed.

    You could even do the job with an angle grinder and 60 grit sanding disk. Messy, but it will take the wood off quickly. Work slowly, checking carefully as you go. Flatten it out with a sanding block.
     
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  11. Use an iron....get it hot enough to soften the glue and you should be able to work it off with a putty knife or scraper. Yes, it will be very hot... The benefit is that once its off you know where you are..at the original glue line. Sanding and milling are just too rude. I've pulled off many headstock overlays, fingerboards and bad veneer jobs this way..hasn't failed me yet!
     
    59jazz likes this.
  12. rojo412

    rojo412 Sit down, Danny... Supporting Member

    Feb 26, 2000
    Cleveland, OH.
    I vote sled. It's fast and easy, compared to the other options.
     
  13. 59jazz

    59jazz Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma Supporting Member

    Thank you for the input gents, router sled it is. Since the new top laminate will be the same color as the existing walnut top, I would prefer not to remove material down to the maple lamination line.
     
  14. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Yes, that's the safest way to go. You really don't know how flat that body is. Has it stayed flat to within the thickness of the maple? Maybe....Work carefully, trimming the old walnut down until you are almost hitting the maple in some spot. Leave the rest on there. Now you have a flat surface to glue the new top down to.
     
    59jazz likes this.

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