Today we’ll get into the build. First, you will need several tools for the job: A decent band saw (a 14″ saw with a 1 hp motor will do). Stay away from the bench top models as they don’t have the necessary grunt to power through 1 3/4″ of hard wood. An oscillating sander also comes in handy for the making of body templates and sanding of the body. A plunge router for cutting the cavities. The more horse power your router has the cleaner and quicker the cut. I use a 3 hp Makita for this. A router can be used if that’s all you have but the plunge feature makes it a lot easier. You will also need at least two pattern makers bits, a 1/2″ and 3/8″. These are bits with a bearing on the shank that is the same diameter as the cutter. If you want to round the edge off you will need the appropriate radius bit. For an arm and belly relief you will need a rasp or a Surform. Finally you will need the appropriate templates for cutting the pickup, neck and control recesses.
Start by tracing the template or plan onto the wood. Using the band saw cut to about 1/32″ to 1/16″ from your line. If you’re new to the band saw keep your fingers away from the blade and go slow. If you do start to wander stop and try to correct. Do not keep going as you will probably cross your line. I usually use a 1/4″ blade for this and make sure it’s SHARP. In fact it’s a good idea to use a new blade as at about $10, it’s much cheaper than buying a new piece of wood at about $80 to $150.
If you’ve made a template you can use a router table and a straight bearing bit to do the final shaping but on a first attempt I would use the oscillating sander to sand to the line. While this is a slower method, I would recommend it for your first time because operating a table mounted router or shaper can be very dangerous without proper training. Also be aware that just because the manufacturer of the template says they’re laser cut from the original holy grail they may have flaws. I’ve seen patterns with edges that weren’t true.
Once it’s sanded you can route the radius on the edges, or if you’re binding cut the binding channels. Now you can route for the neck pocket, pickups and control cavities. Carefully mark their locations on your body using a very sharp pencil (I actually prefer leadholders to pencils because the lead can be sharpened to a very fine point). Templates for just about every pickup can be had from various suppliers, but you can if you’re patient make your own out of 1/4″ Masonite or plexiglass. Use double stick carpet tape to affix the template to the body. This is very aggressive tape and works very well. Use the largest pattern makers bit you can depending on the tightest radius (1/2″ works for most templates and if you need a tighter radius still use the 1/2″ first then switch to the 3/8″. The bearings on a 3/8″ bit are very fragile, due to the fact that the shaft of the bit is only 1/4″ and that leaves the bearing at a mere 1/16″ thick).
Start by adjusting the plunge on your router to the depth you need keeping in mind that it will have to be as deep on your first cut as you need for the bearing to contact the template. Start at the center of your template and initiate the first plunge. If you have a shop vac you may want to keep it near to clean out the cavities. I clean out all around the template without going to the edge so that when I do it has the least resistance and makes a clean edge. This is the process for doing all the cavities and can seem daunting at first but with some practice on scraps you can become proficient in a very little time. Remember, keep the bit sharp and the more horse power the router has the less likely you are to get tear out.
A word of caution with routers… a 3 hp router will not stop because your hand is in the way. Always unplug when changing bits and familiarize yourself with your particular tool before you proceed.
Now is when I drill for bridges and jacks etc. As with most woodworking, always use a brad point bit and measure twice, drill once. One thing I don’t do is drill screw holes for pickguards, mounting rings etc. I find it makes finishing easier when I don’t have to seal them when I’m compounding.
I also use 12″ brad point bits to drill from pickup recess to control cavity etc. Also, don’t forget to drill a hole from the bridge mount to the control for the grounding wire.
Next week: Necks