December – March updates

Nothing fancy. Worked this week on an Aria Precise bass (a P-Bass knockoff). It’s a pretty neat bass, but needed a new volume pot and I felt like the neck was weird – I ended up maxing out the truss rod for acceptable relief.

I also had to replace the pickguard on that bass (owner wanted a different flavor, is all), and that required a lot of filing, scraping, and sanding to get it to fit right by the neck and over the pickups. A razor blade with a burr works really well for scraping here. Files are not great. The best tool for getting the pickup openings right is to take one pickup cover, put sticky sandpaper around it and use it to shape the openings. This maintained the right radii of the corners.

I also set up a friend’s Guild M-120. All Mahogany, made in China, and it sounded and played great. Fretwork was pretty much excellent, and the neck is straight with a very responsive truss rod. For that price, you really can’t go wrong with those guitars.

Also re-wired an EV RE 664 with an XLR connector and at the same time eliminating the Hi-Z output. I’ll make a post about that later.

I also finished (in December) my second rack. It turned out pretty well, about as good as the first one did. I had a few mishaps, the biggest of them was that even though after I dry-practiced for more than 5 times, when I came to glue it together, things weren’t square so I had to take it apart while the glue was starting to set. It was incredibly stressful and I had to clean the glue out of the joints with a lot of water, which warped the the wood a bit, but like I said, it turned out fine. I’ll probably write a whole post about the new rack, but for now here are some pictures:


Also worked on a few other guitars in the last few months, as well as my own Stratocaster. I “inlayed” a piece of mahogany in the neck pocket:

Also leveled its frets. Also it probably needs a new nut.

I’m also building some drawers for my works area, but more on that when they’re done next week hopefully. Maybe I’ll write a whole post about it.

That’s pretty much it other than little jobs.


Making rabbets with a router

I’m making another rack. I promised I’ll write about the finish of the first, tung oil, and shellac, and I will get to it eventually, but I want to write this before I forget.

As I mention in the rack post, all the joints are rabbeted, and with the first rack I did some with a table saw and a dado blade, and then some were impossible to do on the table saw, so I did them with a router. Also, the dado blade was tearing out some wood, so it really makes sense to do it all with a router. Here are my best rabbets:

Some aren’t as pretty and smooth but they’re pretty close, and with the glue and the piece that goes in the joint, it’ll all be invisible. These were done separately, meaning that the long edge was done first, and then the shorter one. I then squared the rounded corner with a chisel. I thought I took a picture, but I guess I didn’t. It came out pretty well I thought.

So here’s my method for making rabbets, but before I get into it. Yes, it’s safe to use a router on Baltic Birch plywood. I do not know if this will work with regular hardware store plywood, and I don’t know if it’ll work on Oak plywood that has a very thin top – I can see that tearing like crazy, but it works very well on the Baltic Birch, as you can see.

Width of the rabbet:

Pretty self explanatory, it is the horizontal distance in the pictures. I hemmed and hawed about how to set that distance in the best way, and here’s what I came up with. I measured the distance from the edge of the router base to the edge of the bit. It measured exactly 2.5″, and I’m sure it’s specific to this router (Porter Cable 690) and bit. So if I set my guide/fence at 2.5″ from the edge of the piece, then the bit will just slide along it. So now I add the thickness of the piece of birch. This birch is pretty close to being 3/4″ thick, but it’s not – it’s about 0.715″. Now I add the two measurements together (2.5″ + 0.715″ = 3.215″) and set my digital caliper to this length. Then I use my caliper to set the depth on my adjustable square. So basically, I use the caliper like I would measure depth (of course the measurement is locked in) and adjust the square so it’s perfect. Then I make two shallow passes with the router and check if the width is right by placing a piece of birch on it. I like it to be dead on (it almost never is) or for the piece to be a little shallower than the edge of the rabbet. So if the piece is really 0.715″ thick, then the width of the rabbet is maybe 0.715″. The excess can then be trimmed away with a flush bit with a ball bearing.

Depth of the rabbet:

First and foremost, do multiple shallow passes. I probably do 5-10 passes to get the depth. Try and remove a 19″ stretch of 3/8″ thick of Baltic Birch in one pass and your blade will dull and your joint will suffer.

I set the depth like I set the width. Measure 3/8″ on the caliper, and copy that to the square. My first rabbet will be exactly that and I’ll measure how far the bit sticks out by placing the square on top of the bit and see how the ruler end touches the base. When I have rabbets that are a corner, I do one edge first (mentioned that earlier), and make it 3/8″. Then for the depth of the other end of the corner, I just keep lowering the bit down, and I see how it sits on top of the rabbet I have already done. Obviously, power is off and the router is unplugged. I keep comparing and I like erring on the side of caution, meaning that it’s ok if the new edge is a little taller.

18U Rack

I think I may have mentioned it before, but I’ve built an 18 space rack. It took a while to complete, and I’ve finished it over a month ago, but since then I’ve been wasting a lot of time finishing (I’ll get to that later).

This video is a good place to get started. Even if you don’t follow their plans (I didn’t), it’ll at least give you an idea as to how it should be done.

Here’s what mine ended up looking like:

I used 3/4″ Baltic Birch plywood, and all the joints are rabbeted as you can see from the pictures. There are three aprons – two on the back (top and bottom) and one on the front. The aprons are allĀ 19.875″ (19-7/8″) long and 3/4″ thick, but their heights are different: The front is 2″, the bottom back is 2-3/4″, and the top back is 2″. I used the birch for everything except for the rails (see below).

Top to bottom the rack is 35″ tall, and the opening on the front is 32.25″ tall. This is slightly larger than 18U. The way to figure out the opening is using Pythagoras Theorem. One side is 3″, another is 33″, and the hypotenuse (the diagonal opening) can be figured out from there. The angle of the slant can also be figured out using inverse sine, cosine, or tangent, but it isn’t necessary to know if you don’t care to know the angle!

As the pictures show, the front of the rack is slanted. I made the top 16″ deep and the bottom 19″ deep. The length of the diagonal can be figured out with Pythagoras Thereom, where one side is 3″, another 33″ The angle can be figured with a trapezoid calculator, but it’s also not really necessary to know. The bottom front apron is straight and not angled.

For the rails I used White Ash. I got a piece that was 7/8″ thick and almost 3.5″ wide. I cut it down the middle to make the two rails. Maple would work also. Anything that really hard and durable would be good. Some people use metal rails. I prefer wood, especially since I don’t want any ground loops.

The distance between the two sides is 19-1/8″. At 19″ some equipment might not fit in. This is very important!

I used pins to reinforce the bottom and top to the sides. Odd number of pins is more appealing than even. The pins are walnut dowels that I think are about 3/4″ long. Don’t use too much glue or the pins won’t go all the way in. I drilled for the pins after everything was glued up and assembled.

For gluing I used Titebond II. I honestly didn’t put a lot of thought into it other than this is the glue that the carpenter who runs the woodshop uses. It has a relatively short open time. Titebond III seems to have a longer open time and is supposed to be stronger. Maybe I’ll use it on my next project. Generally speaking, though, for a project like this, I think it’s better to stay away from a water-based glue.

I have a lot to say about the finishing. Basically right now my rack is wreck cosmetically and I’m very bummed about it. I’ll write a separate post about it later.

Some tips:

The Birch’s sides aren’t the same. What this means is that you want all the outside piece be from the same side of the birch. When I selected the birch I went for the stuff that’s the least warped. Then when I cut the pieces, I chose what would be the outside according to whether or not I liked the grain and if there weren’t any patches. If you’re going to the store to get some birch, pick a sheet that doesn’t have any patches on one side. Also make sure you like all the grain patterns on one side. Why is this important? Because when you finish it, the grain of the different pieces will look different. For instance, the top of main has very tight lines, but the sides don’t have that. It’s a real drag.

Practice clamping. A lot. At first I didn’t think I’ll be able to clamp it all up in under 5 minutes, but after 3-4 practices I was able to get all the clamps on in about four minutes.

Practice clamping the way you will glue it. I practiced with the two back aprons on because it helped with the alignment. However, I didn’t want to glue them in with the big pieces (long story), so then when I had the glue on, I couldn’t align it as easily. It ended up working alright with a diagonal clamp.

Use a router for the rabbets and do multiple passes. This can’t be done with a table saw. Also, you will dull the hell out of the router bit if you try to cut a whole rabbet in one go. My rabbets were 3/8″ deep, so I did 3-4 passes and then squared them with a chisel.

Set the depth of your rabbets before you begin routing. This one is a little tough to explain, but I’ll try. Say you want the rabbets to be 3/8″ deep. So you do one pass that takes about 1/8″ of material, then another, and then another. For the last one you want to measure the depth of the bit, and the best way to do it is with an adjustable square. However, you won’t adjust the square just the right way every time. I think it’s best to set the depth once and keep it this way. So don’t use that square for anything else. Same goes for measuring the distance from the bit to the edge of the router. This is how you figure out where to put the fence for the router. Set it once on a square and put it aside. Some of my rabbets were too deep and some of my aprons didn’t fit right. That’s why you want to do all this. Also:

Maybe it’s better to glue it all up and make the aprons. See above.

Swanson Speed Squares are awesome. Get two!