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The Shop

The Guitar Building Shop

Your work environment has an impact on your guitar making. It all begins with your shop. The guitar building shop has different requirements than a typical woodworking shop.  Most guitar makers work in very tiny shops. Making your work space a more comfortable and safer place to be in will bring an immeasurable benefit to your enjoyment of your craft.  As a guitar maker a good portion of your day is spent in your shop so it is important to feel good while being in there.

A large amount of equipment is not really necessary for guitar building. And the materials used are generally small and hence take up little space. So a small work space will work just fine. A cluttered shop will feel smaller than it is regardless of how big or small  it is. One advantage of a small shop space is it is easier to control the humidity, and this is no small matter.

Considerations for Laying out Your Shop

Wall space in shopThere are many considerations when laying out a shop for building guitars. The entire shop should be laid out on paper before you begin moving heavy equipment and benches around.

Separation of Machines and Bench Area

Not everyone has the room but ideally it is nice to have some separation between your machines and the area where you do hand work. This is how the shop was laid out at school. This makes so much sense. It makes for a nicer work environment by keeping the noise and dust away from your bench.

Wall Space Rules!

Wall space in any shop is premium storage space so avoid cluttering up your wall space with things that don’t belong in the shop. If possible put all windows high up on the wall and make them small in order to maximize wall space.

Layout Guidelines

The layout of your shop should be done in a logical order. You need to figure out what takes up the most room and start from there. Below is an example:

  • If you cut my own sheet stock for jigs, templates and fixtures you will need space in front of, behind, and on either side of your table saw to allow for unimpeded manipulation of the sheet stock. Position the table saw first and arrange the rest of the shop around it. The table saw should also be as close to the entry door as possible so that you can cut up this stock as it comes in to the shop.
  • Benches should be positioned next.  They should be close to where you will be storing  your tools.  You should have access to your bench on at least three sides. There should also be nearby table space or room for saw horses for putting things when you are done working on them.
  • Any equipment should have 3 feet of space around the sides of any standing machines like a band saw or a drill press that you will need access. You don’t want to bump into anything while using one of these.
  • Materials can be the toughest to find space for. Sheet goods should stored standing on edge. Planks can also be stored standing on edge. they will take up less room this way.
  • Milled wood should be stickered and stored either on wall racks or up in the ceiling or loft, not on the floor. There is more information on wood storage here…
  • Veneer and small bits of wood can be laid on top of one another and stored in a drawer if you have one big enough. They need to be in a place where they will not get damaged.

Proper Lighting in Your Shop

Shop lightingThe photo on the right was shot at night with the lights on. As you can see its bright in there.

In guitar making there are lots of small details which can only be seen properly with adequate lighting. Good lighting will also have a huge benefit on the quality of your finishes. I have worked in a space that did not have adequate lighting. After moving into another space with much better lighting my finishes improved dramatically.

The moral of the story is not to skimp on lighting. If there are not enough windows, or you prefer to work at night, use the best lighting you can afford in your work area. It will be money well spent.

Types of Lighting

  • Florescent lighting is available in a range of temperatures. The temperature of light is measured  in Kelvins. Lights from 4100 -5000 Kelvins will improve color distortions.
  • Metal Halide lights are expensive but provide incredible light. They are typically 5000 Kelvins. They are available as low or high bay lights for low and high ceilings.
  • Windows provide lots of light but take up valuable wall space. If possible they should be small and high up on the wall.
  • Skylights are great. These provide lots of light that is daylight balanced of course. If you can swing these they will make all the difference in the world.

Humidity Control in the Shop

humidity gaugeWood changes dimension with respect to relative humidity. In order to build guitars that will survive a range of humidity the humidity in your shop must be controlled and maintained.  The ideal range of relative humidity in a guitar building shop is between 40-50%.

Controlling the humidity will be easier and cheaper if the work space is small.  A larger shop will cost more to control the humidity because you will need a larger humidifier/dehumidifier and it will be running more often.

Things to Improve Humidity Control

In every shop I have built guitars in I have had to make some changes in order to better control the humidity. Here are some things you can do that will improve humidity control and lower your electric bill.

  • Insulation will reduce the running time for both heating and air conditioning. And both have a great effect on humidity. It will also save you some money.
  • Vapor barrier between the wall and the insulation will greatly reduce the amount of humidity exchange with the outside. 6 mil vapor barrier works well and should also be under your flooring.
  • Reduce the amount of openings such windows and entry ways. This is where you loose and gain heat. These thing are leaky by nature.
  • Fill in any spaces or holes to the outside with insulation and sealant compound. All these things add up.

Determine What you Need

In order to fix the problem you first need to determine what the humidity levels are. First measure the humidity with a reliable humidity gauge. This should be done over a period of time to observe trends and extremes.

Humidity levels typically change from season to season. It is strongly influenced by heat and air conditioning. If summers are be humid the air will need to be dried out a bit with a dehumidifier. Unless your work space is air conditioned. Air conditioning tends to dry out the air. So you will need to humidify.

If your winters are cold and you have forced air heat, the humidity level will be too low and moisture will have to be added to the air. In many cases you may need a humidifier/dehumidifier to control your environment.