Saturday, August 30, 2014

C. F. Martin & Co. Guitars - Fine Wood Craftsmanship in America

I visited the C. F. Martin & Co. guitar manufacturing plant in Nazareth, PA and took the factory tour. I was very impressed and also very surprised.  For some dumb reason I had expected to see a tiny woodshop with talented luthiers using hand tools, producing a few guitars a day.  Martin Guitar certainly has talented luthiers using hand tools, many with over 30 years of experience; but this all takes place within a humongous factory that uses modern production machinery to produce several hundred guitars per day.  Sure, they use laser cutting of the wood and robots for the final sanding and polishing, but the important woodcraft, all fitting and forming, is still done proudly by hand.
I observed one craftsperson fitting the guitar neck into the body. To me, it looked like a nice tight fit, but it was obviously not up to Martin Guitar standards, or her own personal standards as a luthier.  She tapped the neck out and used a very sharp chisel to shave a tiny, paper-thin slice from each side surface. She then gave it another dry fitting before gluing. It was now perfect.  It makes me feel good to see that exacting wood craftsmanship can still exist in such a high production environment.

The guitar tops are almost always made of spruce.  The sides and back of the guitars is where the “wow” factor comes in.   Martin Guitar uses beautifully grained hardwoods like walnut, tiger maple, mahogany, sapale and rosewood.  Just gorgeous.

Many of Martin guitars are custom made and have special mother of pearl inlays.  Laser assisted, but the final inlay and fitting work is all done by hand.

If you are a serious guitar player, the Martin Guitar factory with its spectacular guitar museum is like Mecca to Moslems or Vatican City to Catholics.  I don’t have to tell you about it.  You’ve probably been there already.  If you are a wood crafter or love objects made from wood, I would recommend that you go out of your way to visit this place and take the tour.  It’s very impressive.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bandsaw Box for Storing Flies

I love fly fishing.  I enjoy standing in the stream and feeling nature surround me.  I enjoy the challenge of trying to make a perfect cast where the fly line just rolls out to exactly where you want the fly to land.  I enjoy watching the pattern of the water flowing over the rocks.  Someone once told me that, at times, a trout will actually get snagged on the sharp little hook attached to the fly at the end of your line.  I think he was making it up.  I never catch any fish.  But I do enjoy the experience. 

I got an idea to make a fly storage box using band saw box techniques.  I could use magnets for closure, but what could I use for a hinge?  All of the hand-made wooden fly boxes I found on the internet used brass hinges.  They required extra thickness of the wood and, from my experience, were difficult to set perfectly on small boxes.  I got the idea of using a thin leather strip as the hinge.  It was all trial and error from that point, so I made a prototype out of 2x6 pine.  I know nothing about leather, so I made a trip to my local Tandy Leather store, which proved to be very helpful.  I picked out about $2 worth of leather from the scrap bin, which will probably be enough for my next 20 projects ;-).  The clerk/leather expert also recommended a small bottle of neatsfoot oil, which is used to make leather very soft and flexible.  I was not aware of this magic oil, but apparently any serious baseball player with a mitt is very familiar with it.  I used epoxy to adhere the leather hinge strip to the wood.  After a few adjustments, I got the hinge to work just fine.  Here are some photos showing steps in the process.  If anyone else out there has had any experiences with leather box hinges, I would love to hear about them.

A router was used to cut out the groove for the leather
hinge strip, before the box was sawn into two halves.
The leather was 0.07 " thick.
The leather hinge strips were glued on using a strong epoxy. 
The photo shows the leather strip being clamped during glueing.
A scrap of wood was used to provide even pressure.

A prototype was made out of a common 2x6 to test glueing
method and clearances.  I found that a thin strip of masking
tape down the middle of the hinge kept it free from epoxy
so it remained more flexible..

Neatsfoot oil was liberally placed on the leather hinge strip
using a cotton swab.  This provided even more flexibility.

This photo shows the leather hinge flexing

The finished products.  I made one from walnut
and the other from spalted silver maple.