Milling the Acoustic Guitar Sides – Guitar Making Tips

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Milling the acoustic guitar sides from a larger board is a great way to save money on wood, and expand your wood selection. Acoustic guitar making suppliers will have sides already thinned for you. While this is a great option, if you have a thickness planer you can mill the sides yourself. The wood will cost less, and these few tips will help get you through the process for the first time.

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Guitar Making Tip No. 9 – Milling the Sides Yourself

milling the sidesFirst, find a piece of wood that will be large enough to make the sides. Look at your plans, and pick out a board that is a little longer and a little wider.

This will give you some excess that you can work with in case you have a problem.

3/4″ thick or 4/4 thickness wood is great for this operation. The sides are going to be 1/8″ thick or less, and a 3/4″ board gives you plenty to work with. 

I split my wood on the table saw, which you can do to. Simply set the depth for just past half the width of the pieces, and saw through the middle lengthwise. Then, flip the board over so that the same face is against the fence, and saw again.

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This splits the board into two pieces, and when you fold them open, they will be a mirror match, or a book match. You are now ready to begin thinning them to final dimension.

Thinning the Sides with the Planer

milling the sidesThe next thing you will need is a riser for your thickness planer. I have a full article on how to make a planer riser if you need some help.

What this piece does is raise the floor of your thickness planer so you can mill the wood thinner than the normal 3/16″ minimum.

The important thing to do when you are planing the wood is to take excruciatingly thin passes, especially when you are getting close to final thickness. The thickness planer is a tough machine, and it will eat your precious sides for lunch of you try and take too much off.

See Also: 50 Things I Wish I Knew When I started Making Guitars

Make passes so thin that you barely see anything coming off the wood. It is going to take a while, but you reduce the chances that your sides will be destroyed by the machine.

milling the sidesThe first part of milling the acoustic guitar sides to thickness is to address the book matching faces of the boards. These need to be thinned carefully so you don’t lose the match.

These faces will be the ones that were at the center of the board before you split it open. Pass the pieces through the planer carefully, and even out the surfaces.

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Once the surfaces are flat and even, you need to immediately stop removing material. The more you remove at this stage, the less the faces will match. The goal is to remove the minimum amount of wood that leaves you with a flat surface. Anything more than the minimum amount starts to blur the match.

Material Removal for Final Sizing

milling the sidesAfter you have the matching faces flat, move on to material removal. This part of the process is where you thin the boards down to their final dimension.

All of the thinning happens on the back sides of the boards. Turn them so that the freshly smoothed surfaces are facing down. Now, begin taking passes through the planer.

You will have to work with your planer in the beginning to know how much you can take off as you are getting close to final thickness. When you are near the finish, begin taking extremely thin passes.

I like to take about 12-18 passes for one turn of the knob on my thickness planer. It’s a slow process, but it barely shaves wood on each pass, and is less likely to eat my sides.

Jointing a Straight Edge Before Bending

milling the sidesIf you did not joint your piece before milling the acoustic guitar sides, then you will need to do it after thicknessing.

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I have a board in the shop that I jointed with a flat edge, and I use a router and a flush cut bit to do the trimming.

All you need to do is clamp them with the edges that need to be flattened on one side, and let them hang over the edge of the board just slightly. Then, come along with the router and the flush trimming bit to create the flat edge on them. Go easy with the router, and shave off only what needs to come off to make them flat and straight on the edge.

When you orient your pieces for this operation, hold them so you can see the mirror match on the boards. Then, fold them closed like closing a book. The edges that would be the spine of the book are the two edges that need to be flattened.

I hope you enjoyed these few guitar making tips on Milling the Acoustic Guitar Sides. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them.

Also, please share my work with your friends online. It helps me reach more new woodworkers, and share my love of the craft. Happy building.

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brian forbes westfarthing woodworks llc owner

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