Monday, September 7, 2009

Neck Heel Shaping

Shaping the neck heel--really, all aspects of shaping the neck--is one of the more satisfying aspects of guitar making. You're working with hand tools, and it's a very tactile experience. On a very basic level it's sculpting, and you do feel a bit like an artist.

The process starts with designing the shape of the heel cap. Since I have to cover part of the mortise plug, this heel cap is going to be a wider than normal, which means that it's also going to be a little taller to maintain proportions.

To ensure symmetry, I draw half of the heel cap off a center line. It's going to be about 1" high, and about 3/4" wide, so the drawing is 3/8" wide off the center line. I connect these two points in a pleasing curve, cut it out with a razor knife, and transfer that to the neck.

I really don't want the entire length of the heel to be 1" thick, so I'm going to give it more of a round sweep like you would commonly find on a classical guitar. I draw this on the side of the heel block and cut it out on the band saw.

Now I use a chisel to begin shaping. Mahogany is hard wood and dull tools are danger, so first I take some time out to sharpen my chisels. Then the neck gets clamped and the wood starts flying.

I stay outside the lines, because I'm just roughing it out now. The final shaping will take place when I shape the rest of the neck, after it's attached to the body and the fretboard is glued on.

After this I drill the holes in the tenon for the brass inserts, and, well, insert the inserts. It takes longer to do than to explain, but it's not worth explaining or showing pictures. Here's the final result:
I wick some thin-viscosity super glue around the inserts to make sure they won't work lose in the end-grain.

I measure and drill holes in the mortise and check it all out. It takes some work with a round file to get the holes to where the bolts can fit into the straight into the inserts, but it gets done.

And here's the guitar with the neck attached for the first time:

I say "with the neck attached for the first time" because it's going to go on and off many times as I get the neck angle right, and that's a trial and error deal. A few hours work, but all of one paragraph when I post about it.

For now, I'm just going to enjoy the fact that it looks more and more like a guitar.

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