Getting bent out of shape

Got two tasks accomplished since the last post; one went swimmingly, the other tried to drown itself. The first task, hammering the frets in the fingerboard, went surprisingly smoothly. Last year, I seemed to have nothing but problems with the frets: lifting, unevenness, going too far in. This year I mad a few changes. First, I decided not to use any glue. Some books recommend adding a bead of pva glue to the fret tangs before hammering them in, some say not to. Last year I did, and it meant more work cleaning up the fretboard afterwards, and didn’t seem to do much. This year I went without: no problems! I wonder if the glue wetted the wood just enough to cause problems with the tang gripping the slot? The fretboards were both types of rosewoods, but this year’s is made from Cocobolo, which I think is much harder than regular Honduran rosewood. On a fingerboard, harder is better; certainly for holding onto the fretwire’s tangs (teeny barbs that keep it in the slots). I also sprung for a brass fret mallet, which seemed to work much better than the Warrington pattern hammer that I used last year. Being softer than the fretwire, I didn’t have to worry about denting as I hammered them in their slots. Lastly, I used a much better quality fretwire, which had a copper alloy with the steel rather then nickel, making it (again) much harder that the regular wire (and gives it a gold color. very flashy!). Of course, the fact that I have done it before, this time, might also have helped matters. Regardless, I got all of the frets hammered and dressed with no problems. I can’t wait to get the strings on!

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The next task, the one that I was most worried about, was bending the sides. Last year, I had a couple of practice sides made up, and bent them first, giving me a little practice. This year, with the curly moabi, I didn’t have any extra available, due to the problems resawing. This was a mistake. Not having worked with the moabi on the bending iron, I didn’t know how it would react. I soon found out. Starting from the thicknessed (to 2mm), flat, side, I filled the bathtub with hot water, and let it soak for 15 minutes or so.


During this time, I turned on the bending iron (homemade), and got the forms and clamps ready. One thing I improved upon, this year, was making an inner form. It makes clamping the bent sides up to dry, much easier, and gives a much more controllable and consistent end result. I started bending at the waist. Now, last year, I bent the walnut sides without a flexible backer plate, and didn’t have any trouble. Ah, moabi. From that first bend, I started getting some cracks on the outside. I immediately shut everything down to consider my next move. So far, the cracks were on what would be the inside of the guitar; and were not structural, purely cosmetic. I decided to make the run to Stew-Mac, in Athens, to get a flexible bending plate. (Hmmm, they have put an article on bending sides on the front page. I wonder if they got the idea when I was talking with them about it, when I picked up the plate?) The next day, I tried again, with the rest of the curves on that first side. The plate helped, but there were still some minor cracks. Now what?! Do I try to fix the cracks, which, again, were not structural, just cosmetic; or do I use the practice walnut sides form last year, which would not match the moabi headstock veneer that I had already inlayed?

I decided to break out the CA glue, and see how the cracks would look after repair. I had to use the bending iron (unplugged, of course) to clamp the crack closed, since everything was a curved surface, now. It looked to be working. It might not be perfect, but with some grain filler, it should feel nice and smooth. And, using that first side as the bottom side, hopefully it won’t be as noticeable. The second side went much better. I was finally figuring out how to work with the moabi. I only got on minor crack to repair. If only I had gotten that third side out of the stock when I was resawing, I could have made all of my mistakes on it. I guess I’ll have to lower my price a bit when I go to sell this one.

Here are the sides clamped up in the forms; note the hi-tech bending iron behind it. You can also see that first crack in the inner wall of the waist. The kerfing will reinforce and hide that.


Holding its own (shape). I think I got more bent out of shape than the sides!


2 Responses to “Getting bent out of shape”

  1. Bending wood has always seemed like such a Herculean task, I imagine it will be some time before I attempt it. And post some pictures of the fret board with the frets in!

    • acornhouseworkshop Says:

      Like any other woodworking, bending is just one more task to be attempted and, hopefully, mastered. Start with an easier wood like walnut or cherry and give it a go. Maybe start with some oval shaker boxes. Check the latest posting for a fret picture.

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