Category Archives: Wood Shop

Potatocaster Final

I finished assembling the Potatocaster several weeks ago, but I never got around to posting a photo. Here it go:

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I’m pleased with the way it came out. At least in the sense that it came out looking like I had envisioned it would. The project as a whole was a bit of a goatfuck, though. It ran way over budget in money, time and fingers. I estimated $400 and it ended up costing around $650 counting all of my fuck-ups and re-dos. I spent that money a little at a time over something like 3 years. I couldn’t seem to stay interested in the build. (Of course, I had to take a lengthy break when I stuck my fingers in my router.)

And I still have no idea how this thing plays. I plugged it into an amplifier and made a bunch of racket with it, but the only time I took it somewhere to have someone who actually plays guitar give it a test run, the electrics malfunctioned and the damned thing wouldn’t make a sound. Stage fright, I suppose.

I still haven’t decided whether to build a nice display stand for it so that its dust collection capacity can be fully appreciated, or to learn how to play it and put together a death metal band and play some gigs. I’m leaning toward the latter. We shall be called Electric Blue Jihad

Updates

I’ve been neglecting the old blog again lately, mostly because I’ve been busy doing other things, but I have to admit, part of the reason is I don’t have much to say because I am still doing my level best to ignore the election craziness. We had to stop answering the landline here on the estate over a month ago because of all the robo-calls and automated polling. I just don’t want, or need, to stay engaged with the election process for the better part of a year.

This coming Saturday, April 9th, will be the one-year anniversary of getting my fingers tangled up in my router. To mark the occasion, I thought I would share an update on my franken-fingers. Here is a photo, taken moments ago with my new phone, which has a camera purported to be the greatest thing since sliced pickles.

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Can you see how much clearer and sharper that photo is than the ones I took with my previous phone? Yeah, me neither. As for the fingers, they are never going to be pretty, but they are pretty functional. And they don’t hurt much any more, just feel sort of numb-tingly all the time. Unless I bang them into something or get them cold; they definitely do not like cold weather. All things considered, I feel fortunate that I didn’t have to get all my various types of gloves (work, motorcycling, snow-shoveling) tailored. That would have been inconvenient.

Since I’m already chronicling my wood shop fuck-ups, I might as well tell you about my latest travails with the Potatocaster. It was just a few posts ago that I said I was in the home stretch on this thing, beginning final assembly. Well… not so much. I ran into a problem with the finish on the body. During assembly, I noticed that every time I slightly bumped the body with a tool or anything hard it would chip. (It’s not supposed to do that.)

The cool thing about spraying a lacquer finish is that each coat melts into the previous coats, and you gradually build a nice, thick, durable surface. For some reason — I suspect it was because I used some old lacquer I had on the shelf — the two coats of blue that I sprayed over the first seal coats did not melt in. As a result, those two coats of blue and the subsequent 10 or 12 coats of clear could flake right off. Which they proceeded to do.

I had to scrape the entire body down, sand it back to bare wood, and start the whole finishing process over again with a fresh can of lacquer. (And a bit of a chapped ass.) So I have re-erected my knock-down spray booth. Here is another photo from my snazzy new phone.

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At least this time I knew to take it easy on the blue pigment. It’s much closer to the faded blue jean look I had originally envisioned. The wood grain is much more visible now too. If you look closely you can see some blotchy areas that are a little darker than the rest. I’m still trying to fix that, but I may have to live with it. I am not sanding this thing down again. Anyway, after a dozen or so coats of clear over the next few days, and then a week of curing, I will be ready to buff it out and assemble yet another guitar I can’t play.

Leap Day Ramble

Due to the fraction generated when calculating how many revolutions of the earth occur during one orbit around the sun, it is technically still February today. But it sure feels like Spring here in Misery. The temperatures have been up and down like a yo-yo, everywhere from the 30s to the 70s, playing havoc with my sinuses and fooling the trees into budding early. The birds are getting pretty active around here too, but I can’t help thinking Winter will pull another drive-by on us.

I’m currently giving my hands and shoulders a break from wet sanding the PotatoCaster neck. I should have it ready to buff out by the end of the day. Then I can attach it to the body and begin shaping a nut.

Tomorrow is what is known in the politicking game as “Super Tuesday.” Several states hold their primary elections on the same day, and all indications are that Ghostface Hillah and reality teevee guy will extend their leads. It looks like the Republican establishment has just about reached the final stage of their grief and begun accepting the Donald as their likely nominee. It should be fun, over the next few months, watching the pundits who — rightly — denounced him for the xenophobic, fascist, racist, misogynist, egotistical buffoon he is publicly talk themselves into supporting him.

But what other choice do they have? Ted Cruz is a god-bothering asshole that even his friends don’t like, and Marco Rubio is nothing more than a telegenic parrot. Granted, that is normally considered a good thing in Republican politicians, but anyone with a functioning brain can see, in a debate with Hillary, Marco is going to be exposed as a 2.5-watt appliance bulb in a Xenon world. We’re talking dim, son, dim. (/Foghorn Leghorn)

I don’t believe in karma, but sometimes you really do reap what you sow. The Republican establishment, with the aid of the right-wing noise machine, has spent the last 7 years proclaiming to their rabid base that Michelle’s husband was hell-bent on destroying Amurka, and now they seem genuinely befuddled as to why that base is pissed off at them for not doing anything about it. The right-wing base may be “poorly educated” but they are smart enough to realize the establishment doesn’t really believe the accusations they throw around to get elected. The scary thing is, the right-wing base does believe the bullshit. Every word of it.

So, keeping in mind that my political prediction skills are non-existent somewhat limited, here’s how I see this election going down. Hillz will carry about 45 states in giving reality teevee guy an epic beat-down, and on her coat-tails the Democrats will re-take control of the Senate. Then, upon taking office, she will nominate Michelle’s husband for the empty Supreme Court seat the Republicans refused to fill. All around the country, Republican heads will pop like teenager’s zits. It will be glorious to behold.

Ooooh, Shiny

I spent the last two days wet sanding the PotatoCaster body all the way down to 2000 grit sandpaper. It is every bit as tedious and tiring as it sounds. Then the rewarding part — buffing — only lasts about twenty minutes. It’s just a quick pass under each of my buffing wheels, the first with medium grit buffing compound and then the second with fine. It’s fun to watch the shine appear.

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Tomorrow marks a week of curing time for the lacquer I sprayed on the neck, so unless I can find some excuse to give my neck and shoulders a break, I will have to start wet sanding on that. Barring some disaster, I should be assembling this thing in the next few days, and be shredding within a couple of weeks. If… you know… I knew how to shred.

Can’t Get No Fancy Notes On My Blue Guitar

I finally girded my loins and broke out my spray gun to put a finish on the PotatoCaster. Here are a couple of low-light photos from inside my makeshift spray booth this morning.

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It’s a little darker blue than I originally intended. I was going for a faded denim look, but it came out closer to new jeans than stone washed. See, what happened was, I thought I had a full quart of clear lacquer to work with, but it turned out I only had a little over an inch in the bottom of the can. This is my first time working with lacquer pigments, so I wanted to be very cautious and sneak up on the final color.

Of course I fucked that up.

I squirted maybe a teaspoon of blue pigment into the can and stirred. Wow! Those pigments pack a punch, don’t they? The 4-ounce bottle I bought is probably enough to paint several houses. I knew immediately it was darker than I wanted, but I already had my mask on, spray booth set up, and spray gun at the ready. I couldn’t bring myself to wait a couple of days until I could buy some more clear lacquer to dilute the color a bit. I dumped it in the spray gun and let fly.

I’m reasonably happy with the results. It’s tough to see in these dim photos, but you can still see the wood grain through the color, which is the look I was going for. Once I get 8 or 10 coats of clear on top of the blue, do a little wet sanding and buffing, I think it will be absolutely… okay.

Pronounced Mizurah

I’m still finding ways to avoid working on my PotatoCaster guitar. Something about doing an electric doesn’t hold my attention as well as the acoustic. The wife says I should shelve it, but if I do, I won’t be able to get back to it for quite a while. She’s on me to build a bed with a bench at the foot and matching nightstands, which would take all the shop time through Spring, if not longer.

I procrastinated by working on this piece commissioned by my daughter as a gift for her boyfriend. She texted me a photo of a similar one made of golden oak mounted on weathered gray planks from an old barn or something. Piece of cake, buy a pretty piece of wood and cut it to shape. I used zebra wood and mounted it on a base of dark walnut. It came out good.

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I’ve always been a very utilitarian kind of guy. Looking back over all my wood projects, going back decades, I think this may be the first time I have made something that doesn’t serve a purpose other than to be looked at. I think I’ve turned a corner here. I’m an artist now.

Muggins

Oh look! I have more crappy phone photos to share. I’ve completed my piece for the in-laws white elephant gift exchange.

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You can’t see it, but I have added some brown felt to the bottoms of the storage compartments in the base box I posted a photo of the other day. I’ve also added a couple of magnets to hold in place the lid I fabricated from hard maple left over from making a guitar neck. Here it is fully assembled.

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Just for style, I took a 1/8-inch drill bit and put 397 holes in a serpentine pattern on the lid. It came out pretty good. I like the contrast of the dark walnut and the blonde maple. I guess I have to get back to work on the PotatoCaster now.

Piddling

I’ve been working hard on the Potatocaster body, lots of tedious filing and sanding to make my shoulders and back ache. I am this close to being ready to start spraying finish, but there is a problem. My plan was to stain the body black and then sand the wood back to blonde, leaving only the grain dark. It was a plan born of my experience working with open-grained woods like oak, but hard maple is not open-grained. In fact, my practice efforts on scrap wood revealed the grain in hard maple to be basically impervious to stain/dye. The lighter colored springwood between the grain (summerwood) did somewhat take the stain, but this produced a bizarre — and ugly — negative image of the effect I was going for. In short, my plan was rubbish. I will spare you the photo. You would just be embarrassed for me.

Once I fill that spray gun there is no turning back, so I definitely need to put the guitar aside and cogitate on it for a bit. Maybe seek guidance on the intertoobz, where all things are known. For now, I will work on my contribution to the in-laws white elephant Christmas gift exchange. I had a single, small piece of walnut left over from the office project, and from it I have fashioned this:

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Once again, my lack of photography skills is revealed. It seems to be getting worse. Maybe it is time to wipe the sawdust off the fluorescent bulbs in the shop. Or replace them, even. The spray can said “Satin” on the label, but that looks pretty glossy to me, at least while wet. I may need to get help for this too. Sigh.

No Sweat Fret

On the first two guitars I built, when it came time to install the frets in the slots I had so carefully sawed into the finger board, I did it the old fashioned (and cheap) way. I fabricated some hardwood blocks with one edge slightly curved to match the radius I had sanded onto the finger board, and then, using a dead blow hammer on the blocks, I carefully pounded each fret home. It was tedious and time consuming.

For the PotatoCaster I used my new fret press. I say new, but I have actually had it for a couple of years. It just hasn’t been used until now. (What can I say? My guitar building goes in spurts.) Let me tell you, That thing is a revelation. It turned a frustrating 2-hour job into a 15 or 20 minute piece of cake. Check it out.

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I took 11 photos of this neck and still this is the best I can do. There is something about the way the ebony absorbs the light while at the same time the nickel silver frets and hard maple reflect it that my shitty old phone camera just doesn’t like. I could have broken out the old Sony Cyber-Shot and probably done better, but that would have meant finding the damned thing, and then charging the battery, and I just couldn’t be arsed.

Anyway, as you can see, the shaping on the neck is pretty much complete. I mostly just need to file and burnish the ends of those frets, do a little final sanding, and this baby will be ready for a few coats of clear lacquer. Then it’s on to the part I’ve been dreading, finishing the body. I just know I am going to fuck that up. Maybe I can come up with a small Christmas gift-exchange project to do first, and put it off until after the new year.

Shop Notes

Things have been pretty busy at the salt mine lately, leaving me too tired in the evenings to get much done in the old wood shop. On my days off… well, the weather has been good, and I’m trying to get enough miles on the scoot to get the 12K maintenance done before it gets too cold.

What work I have done in the shop is not production work. An unwritten — but nevertheless binding — rule for anyone that has a workshop of any kind is that shop projects always come first. It was therefore mandatory that I put aside the electric guitar project and upgrade my router table. Check it out.

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I had to save my allowance for a long time to get that cast iron table top. I had to rebuild the base cabinet to fit the new top, so I added a couple of small drawers for router bits. I also added a new fence from Woodpeckers and an Incra crank-up router lift, all of which means I am now broke, but very happy with the new setup. It should be awesome for future projects, and it has the added psychological benefit of not being blood-stained.

So now that things have calmed down a bit at work, I am ready to get back on the PotatoCaster. I finally fumbled my way to a peg head shape I could live with, and I have constructed the hard maple neck and added the ebony finger board. Here it is in rough form.

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Now comes the hard work of shaping it by hand. It’s all files and scrapers and sandpaper from here, many hours of work. My shoulders are already tired (hence the blogging break), and I’ve only just begun. I’m still trying to decide whether to leave the ebony natural, with the brown areas showing, or dye it solid black. I like the streaky look, but maybe not for this black ‘n’ blue-themed project.