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Top carving with your old friend Scott French

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Scott French, Jun 10, 2005.


  1. Scott French

    Scott French Dude Supporting Member

    May 12, 2004
    Grass Valley, CA
    I haven't posted much here in a while and happened to be working on a bass for my friend lately. I figured I'd take advantage of the fact I'm actually working on a bass and put together a step by step thing on how I carve a top. For the record there are easier ways to do it, this is just how I like to.

    First thing is get your body put together, shaped and lay out where you want everything to go.

    Next up I route the pickups cavities and in this case recess the bridge.
     

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  2. Scott French

    Scott French Dude Supporting Member

    May 12, 2004
    Grass Valley, CA
    Then I pilot drill all the control holes and route the neck pocket.

    Next up I figure out how thick I want to go and how many steps I can make at 3-4/32" depth. In this case I only wanted to go 12/32" so the very rim gets routed to that depth with 3 steps between the top itself @ 9/32", 6/32" and 3/32". I mark the rim 12/32" in from the side as well because I will be using a 3/8" roundover bit for the top edge radius. I also mark off a "flat area" at the center of the body that I leave unrouted. This area ends up being carved later, but at this point it serves as flat place for the router as well as a reference area for marking your steps. Now I divide the area between the flat spot at the center of the body and the line that is 12/32" in from the rim into 3 equal parts. These pencil marks act as my rough routing guides.
     

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  3. Scott French

    Scott French Dude Supporting Member

    May 12, 2004
    Grass Valley, CA
    Now using a D-handle router and a 1/2" double fluted bit I free route up to the 12/32" line around the rim. I usually do this in a few passes down to my desired depth of 12/32"

    Next I use the 3/8" roundover bit to put a radius on the top so the top of the bit is at my desired depth. We do this now because later we wont have a big enough flat area on the top of the body to use this kind of bit.
     

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  4. Scott French

    Scott French Dude Supporting Member

    May 12, 2004
    Grass Valley, CA
    Then I'll go back to that 1/2" bit and route out my steps, starting at the deepest on the outside @ 9/32" and work my way in. Now you can see why I recessed my bridge, there wouldn't be a flat spot to mount it to later.

    Now comes the fun part! Using a convex palm plane I smooth out all the steps around the entire body. I stopped around the bass horn to show how it looks as you go.
     

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  5. Scott French

    Scott French Dude Supporting Member

    May 12, 2004
    Grass Valley, CA
    As you smooth everything out you want to be very careful around any of the routed areas. With certain woods it's very easy to chip out chunks of wood. It's especially bad with figured woods and the spots around routes. While you're still in the rough stage you can get s feel how the wood cuts and what direction is best to move the plane in. Some really figured woods have no best direction will chip out no matter how sharp your tools are. In that case you just have to be are careful as possible and use a scraper or sandpaper down the line.

    In this case I only lightly scraped then went directly to 100 grit sandpaper on a hard backed orbital sander. That will take out all the palm plane and/or scraper marks really quick. Next I moved onto 220 on a soft pad orbital sander and ended up with this. Even with naptha it doesn't picture so well unless you light it correctly.
     

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  6. ArtisFallen

    ArtisFallen

    Jul 21, 2004
    Thanks for this. i've been looking into carved tops for a while cause they add alot of really cool charachter. i think a viable alternative to a palm planer that wont screw up your wood like that is a belt sander. you've got to be almost more carful though, because they are really really abrasive, and will quickly take off the wood you need them to.
     
  7. Excellent post- thank you. What model sander do you use?
     
  8. ArtisFallen

    ArtisFallen

    Jul 21, 2004
    who me? i dunno, i've seen the whole belt sanderthing done, but i didn't pay any attention to make or model. a belt sander's a belt sander's a belt sander. just get a quality name and something either small or large enough to do your job.
     
  9. Scott French

    Scott French Dude Supporting Member

    May 12, 2004
    Grass Valley, CA
    If you want you can bypass the palm plane step and go straight to the a sander. I use a cheap 5" dewalt random orbit sander. I don't have the number in front of me. I bought almost all my power tools from Grizzly and most are pretty low down the line.
     
  10. Thanks for the pictorial/tutorial! I never thought of doing it with a router and then connecting the steps. Very nice indeed. Maybe we should start a series of pictorial/tutorials on various construction steps and make them sticky? say, making a scarf joint, routing pickup holes, making a tight fitting neck pocket? installing TRs and CF on the neck? carving a neck?
     
  11. budman

    budman Commercial User

    Oct 7, 2004
    Houston, TX
    Formerly the owner/builder of LeCompte Electric Bass
    Great post. Thanks for the lesson, Scott.
     
  12. paintandsk8

    paintandsk8 Pushin' my soul through the wire...

    May 12, 2003
    West Lafayette, IN


    A scarf joint tutorial would be great!
     
  13. Very nice work mr French, thanks for sharing !
     
  14. I can do that one, I have a wenge neck blank that I'll be cutting in the next week, I'll take the pics and post maybe by mid or end of next week. I use all handtools (handsaw, handplane, handscraper), so my method should be doable for anyone
     
  15. Rogier

    Rogier

    Feb 2, 2004
    Great, i've been looking for that kinda info! Big thanks to Scott French btw.
     
  16. Thanks a lot. Good program. I saw a tip once where a fellow used a binding router rig to mark the depth of the carve around the edge. It was simple to set the depth. When doing a dome effect (like a Fender Aerodyne) he followed with a belt sander and got a uniform carve, front and back, in about fifteen minutes!

    I prefer a recurved (PRS or Les Paul guitar) style carve. Could you elaborate a little on the "convex palm plane" technique you use? For me, this looks like the magical part!

    Thanks again!
     
  17. Scott French

    Scott French Dude Supporting Member

    May 12, 2004
    Grass Valley, CA
    tombrien,

    That is sort of the magical part of things. It's a difficult thing to describe until you actually have it in your hand and can feel it out. Like almost everything in guitar building you really need to do it before you can know how to do it. You can read about carving a neck all you want but until you've done it you wont ever really understand.

    I took 5 minutes and made up a little drawing. I numbered the routing steps in order to match what I posted before. Basically when you are done routing you end up with the black area. What you want to do is go from the black steps to your idea carve line with the palm plane, gouges, scrapers, sandpapder or whatever you're most comfortable working with. Of the options I listed the palm plane just happens to be my favorite. I've heard of people using angle grinders too so don't feel limited by the choices I've came up with.

    I hope that helps although I really think the only way to be 100% comforable with the idea is to just give it a try.
     

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  18. Absolutely! Hands on makes everything clearer. And it's fun.

    I have used sanding drums with a flex shaft grinder or even a hand drill. I think I like the noise.
     
  19. joeviau

    joeviau

    Jul 9, 2002
    Rhode Island
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
     
  20. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    Thanks, Scott!