Day 11: To BREAK or not to BREAK!

DAY 11 –6/2/2012

I was a little reluctant for the first day back at the workshop for the New Year, as I knew this session would involve remaking the sides of the guitar from scratch after I broke the cutaway on my first attempt at hand bending. My new sassafras pieces had arrived and to my surprise, these pieces of timber were far more beautiful than the first, I could almost say “Lucky I broke the first lot.” 


I followed the same process as my first attempt, all those weeks ago, feeling somewhat more confident and experienced, yet still scared, knowing how devastated I was when I broke the cutaway the first time around. 

Click to enlarge photo

I cut the sides against a template using the bandsaw. 

I sanded the sides on the drum sander to 2mm thick (or a fraction under actually – to make bending easier). 

Machine-bent sides, BEFORE hand-bending the cutaway

I wet the sides and bent them slowly in the heated side-bending machine. This machine bends the bulk of the sides by pulling spring loaded pieces of wood over the acoustic body template and the sides, forcing the sides to take the shape of the template, then screwing the centre piece down to create the waist of the guitar. The radius of these bends are not as sharp as the cutaway, which will need to be done by hand. 

I left the sides to cook in the machine, and hopefully hold their new position. For the next hour I practised hand-bending the cutaway, using my old (broken) sassafras sides, getting a feel for the wood. No dramas. I’ve got a feel for it now.

Hand bending the sides of the guitar....... uh oh!

Breaking the cutaway the first time taught me about patience, persistence, and just letting the wood bend with the weight of your hands and the heat of the hand-bending iron, rather than forcing the bend impatiently. 

When it came to bending my new sides, indeed it was a little nerve racking. I did NOT wanna stuff up the sides AGAIN, and have to wait to order more in, and redo them all over again. I had to be patient, gentle, and relaxed, and had to find the line between cocky and over-anxious…. It’s all about keeping the sides wet and hot while you bend. Listen, watch, feel. 

I did it in two parts. I bent the sharpest bend first, and with quiet excitement I clamped it into the template/frame so it might settle with time and hold its position. The thing is, when you go to bend the next part, you start to undo what you did before as the wood doesn’t hold its newly bent shape permanently. You’ve got to keep heating, wetting, and bending the part you’ve already done, as well as creating the new bend. 

Bent cutaway, clamped into mould to set.

I’m super pleased to report, the cutaway was a success. Dunno what was so hard about it. I did it so much more efficiently this time around. Then again, I can’t count my chickens before they’ve hatched….. We will see how the sides held in their position when I go back in two days. It’s a good sign, there were no tears or fractures in the wood as I bent it. But we’ll see how it holds position, and whether it needs more bending work. But for today, I can breathe easy. SUCCESS!!!!! 

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