This is How to Make an Acoustic Guitar – Part Twenty Eight – Roughing the Neck. In this part of the project I’ll show you how to rough out the initial shape on the back of the guitar neck, as well as the tips and tricks you need to be successful. Enjoy.
Roughing Out the Acoustic Guitar Neck
Roughing out is the term used for the initial shaping on basically any type of woodworking project. An acoustic guitar is no different, and the initial shaping on your neck is called roughing out the neck.
In this part of the process, you use a very aggressive woodworking tool in order to remove the largest amount of material with the least amount of effort. Depending on how well-equipped your shop is, this can be a power or non-power method.
I’ve never made a neck on a spindle molder, but that’s the fancy version. It’s incredible to see, and it’s like using a gigantic router to shave your neck. However, it has a very high price tag, and not everyone can afford it.
The hand version is actually not that difficult if you have the right tools. Thankfully they’re inexpensive, and they last a long time. They make the process a lot easier than working with files and rasps, it’s definitely worth a few bucks to buy the right tool.
By the end of this post, the back of your neck will have the right shape, and start to look more like an actual acoustic guitar neck. There will still be more work to do to smooth out the surface, but the bulk of the wood will be removed.
If you missed last week, here is How to Make an Acoustic Guitar Part Twenty Seven.
Tools You’ll Need
If you’re going to do this process by hand, the absolute best tool that you can buy for the job is called a Sureform. This is basically a cheese grater for wood, and it just eats the back of your neck alive when you use it.
This is easily the most aggressive method that you can use to remove wood by hand, save for maybe a hand plane set to an unrealistic depth. The tool is awesome, and it’s also really inexpensive, which is not common to see for a good tool.
There are a lot of different versions of this tool that you can buy, but the one that works the best for making acoustic guitar necks is the one you see pictured above. This version of the Sureform is longer, has a handle, and a rest for your other hand.
Making a neck by hand and roughing it out can be reduced to minutes instead of hours by using this tool. Again, it’s definitely worth the investment, and it’s how I’ll explain the process for roughing out this guitar neck going forward in the post.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Making For Beginners
Cutting Out the Profile
Before you can rough out your guitar neck, it’s important to remove the bulk of the waste material on the bandsaw first. So, following your plans, mark out the profile of the neck on the side of the blank if you’re not done so already.
After that, cut away the excess material using the bandsaw. Make sure not to go over the lines, and when in doubt stay a little on top of them to be safe. Cut as smoothly as you can, and be careful turning the corner around the heel area.
It’s helpful in the heel section to make some relief cuts. These are tangential cuts that allow little pieces of wood to fall off and provide clearance for the bandsaw blade. Before you get all the way down to the heel and get stuck, make a few of these cuts first.
Clamping the Neck for Roughing
Once you have your blank ready to go, you need to clamp it to the bench so that way you can do your carving with both hands. This is best done half-and-half, with an imaginary line down the center of the neck.
Don’t do half-and-half, top and bottom of the neck. This is a recipe for having an uneven carve, and will actually take longer to remove the material. With half-and-half through the center of the neck, you can use longer strokes and remove more wood.
Since the fretboard is already in place, can use a piece of carpet or another soft material on top of your bench, and then clamp the neck hanging over the edge very slightly. The soft material will protect the fretboard, but still let you clamp aggressively.
You are going to be putting a lot of pressure on the guitar neck, so you definitely want to clamp it down like it’s about to get hit by a hurricane. Use clamps on the center, and the heel area for now.
Getting Started Carving
The easiest way to get started is to give yourself a couple of reference points that can visually dictate what the middle of the neck needs to look like. The best way to create those reference points is right near the base of the headstock, and the base of the heel.
These are created most easily with a large round file, and they replicate the profile of the guitar neck at the nut area and the heel area. Take a look at your plans and you’ll notice something similar most likely, or look at the pictures in this post.
The reason I had you clamp at the middle is because you need those areas open in order to create this initial profile. Once you create it on both sides under the headstock and near the heel, re-position the neck to carve the entire middle.
Roughing the Bulk
When you re-position the next, use your clamps at the base of the headstock and at the top of the heel. You may only be able to get two clamps in place, but clamp them tightly, and they will hold really well while you’re carving.
To begin carving, hold the Sureform with both hands, and a little off 90 degrees to the length of the neck. Touch it to the corner of the wood, and as you draw the tool towards you, also drive it down words to make a cut.
It’s almost like using a draw knife, but you have to use some up-and-down motion in order for the Sureform to carve. You’ll see right away what I mean when you start using it. Push it down, and drive it across the neck, and you can remove material from the entire length of the neck.
See Also: Why I Wear Safety Glasses
Check Your Progress Often
Work one side of the neck at a time, and check your progress often. It’s important that you look back at those reference points that you created earlier in the post. Those weren’t just for fun, they’re important road markers.
You should start to notice that the middle of your neck is beginning to look like it has a similar profile to those first carvings you made earlier. As you get 1/2 of the neck roughed out, and you’re getting really close, flip the neck around and do the other side.
Keep on working this way, and keep checking your progress. You don’t want to go too deeply on accident, because it’s really hard to put the wood back after you remove it. However, even with how aggressive the Sureform is, if you’re checking, it’s hard to go over.
See Also: Headstock Relief Angle?
Switch to Finer Files and Papers
Once the initial roughing is done with the Sureform, it’s worthwhile to go back with a medium cut wood file and start to clean up some of the marks left behind. Again, it’s an aggressive tool so it leaves a lot of bite marks.
This is not a completely necessary step because you can always do it later in the process. However, if you can get yourself a little closer at this point, it’s definitely worth it. After the file, you can even go down to 100 grit sandpaper and stop there.
Check the neck from several angles, and make sure that there aren’t any humps or bumps, or valleys that need to be attended to. If there are, go back and make your neck as even as possible. It’s definitely worth the time.
See Also: 17 Important Tips on How to Sand Wood
Coming Up Next Week
Next week on the how to make an acoustic guitar series post, I’ll show you how to add a heel cap to the neck. This is a small decorative piece of wood that dresses up the end of the heel and the neck of the guitar.
You can do this right after your initial roughing, because the heel area will be worked down to close to final size. At that point, adding some wood makes the most sense because you’re not just going to carve it all off later anyway.
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