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Benches, Vises and Clamps – Guitar Building Essentials

Benches, vises and clamps are essential for your guitar building shop. For starters you can’t do any work with hand tools without a good woodworking workbench. The size of workbench you need depends on your personal preference. It also depends on the type of woodworking you do besides guitar building. There are some things you need to be aware of when selecting a bench. You can also make your own bench. There are free plans for a space saver workbench available for members. I have a version of the space saver workbench in my shop. I use it to brace tops and backs. You can never have enough bench or table tops in your shop.

Most woodworking benches have a vise or two but for guitar building you will need a few more.Certain vises are better for certain types of work. There are vises available for specific things that will make your life easier. The specialized vises listed below can be very helpful in guitar building.

No matter how many clamps you have there will come a day when you will have to stop working because you have run out. You can simply never have enough clamps. For me they feel like part of the shop. It may seem like I have an inordinate number of clamp. Th reason I have so many is because I do lots of things at once. As you become more proficient and capable you will find yourself doing more things in parallel. When you do, you will need more clamps. Guitar building requires a few different kinds of clamps. Below is a recommended list of clamps for building guitars. Without benches, vises and clamps you don’t have a proper shop.

Cabinet Makers Workbench

Benches, Vises and Clamps for Guitar Building - a cabinet makers workbenchWithout a doubt the best type of workbench to have is a traditional cabinet makers bench. These benches have been around forever which says there must be something to them. They were designed for woodworking with hand tools. Mine is pictured on the left. Its a 72″ model with an end vise and a vise in the front. There are a few configurations of this bench available. There are different length benches and different bench vise combinations. For guitar building a 54″ cabinet makers bench will work just fine. Length is not as important as the vise arrangement.

I prefer the combination of an end vice and front vise. The front vice is the one under the guitar and its about 14 inches across. The end vise is at the other end of the bench and is about 5 inches wide and the jaws move 9″ in the direction of the bench length. This is the vice I use the most by far.

Restoring and Flattening a Cabinet Maker’s Workbench

This type of workbench is ideal for guitar making. What makes it so useful for this purpose is the end vise. This vise can be used to hold stock when planing, gluing or carving. It is very versatile and is indispensable for certain tasks. It is hard to find cabinet making benches today that have this type of vise. These days cabinet maker’s benches have a wide vise in front and on one end. This type of vise arrangement is not ideal. The narrow end vise is a much better solution.

Your best bet in finding one of these benches is to get a used one. They can be found in the back of woodworking magazines and on sites like eBay.

Watch the video demonstration on restoring and flattening a cabinet maker’s bench below.

Space Saver Workbench for Guitar Building

Benches, Vises and Clamps for Guitar Building - a space saver workbenchSome years ago I built a small bench to braces tops and backs on (pictured on right). This bench is about 4 feet long and has a good amount of storage space underneath for wood or tools. The bench has a removable universal vise (more on this in the vise tab) mounted on top which is very versatile. If you are making a guitar from wood that has already been milled this vise will work as your only vise.
Recently the bench was redesigned. I needed the top to be a bit longer and I needed more storage underneath. I was not sure whether or not I wanted drawers so it is designed with an option for drawers. The design will work with or without the drawers.

When drawing the plans I realized that this bench would be perfect for someone with a small space. Its compact, has a good amount of storage. When its full of stuff it can be pretty heavy so this helps to keep it from moving when you are working on it. It can also be screwed to the floor.  Download the plans for this bench on the free downloadable drawings page.

Different Types of Portable Vises for Guitar Building

Holding devices such as vises and clamps are necessary for guitar making. You will need at least a couple of types of vises. Most workbenches come with a couple of vises built in but you will need other vises.

Below are the vises I use in the shop. Each has its own strengths which make it the best choice for certain tasks.

Benches, Vises and Clamps for Guitar Building - a pattern makers visePattern Makers Vise

Specialized vises make certain tasks easier while minimizing damage from clamping pressure. If I could only have one vise it would be the pattern makers vise shown on the right. The jaws swivel making them able to hold odd shaped. It can also be rotated 360 degrees. This is invaluable when carving the heel as you will need to come at the neck from many angles to carve it. This vise is also great for setting up the instrument as demonstrated in the video.

Benches, Vises and Clamps for Guitar Building - a universal vise

Universal Vise

I also have a universal vise in my shop mounted on a stand. That way it can be moved around the shop where ever it is needed. This also allows you to walk completely around whatever you have clamped in it. It is very useful to hold the solera while the guitar is being put together. I also use this vise to make some of the smaller parts for the guitar like the bridge. This vise can also hold the tiny vise for making nuts and saddles. It provides stability, and puts everything at the right height and provides 360 degree access.

Benches, Vises and Clamps for Guitar Building - a drill press vise

Drill Press Vise

When using a drill press a small portable vise like the one pictured here is extremely useful for cutting small diameter round stock such as the brass registration pins. This type of vise is a drill press vise and is available at most industrial supply houses. I use it to drill the string holes in the bridge and to notch the fan braces to fit over the bridge patch. A vacuum clamp although unnecessary is a real luxury. This type of clamp works well to hold the body of the guitar while providing unimpeded access all the way around.

Go-Decks

Go-deck for bracing tops and backs. I used one in the beginning but quickly put it away. They are cumbersome and not an optimal way to glue braces on. I don’t even have a picture of one. The general perception is you can glue braces on faster with a go-deck. This is simply not true if you know what you are doing.

One of the problems with a go-deck is that shaping the braces is done after they are glued on. Braces glued on square and shaped with the top in the way. How crazy is that? Try doing that without scratching the hell out of the inside of your top. It is more difficult to do with the top in the way. And it takes longer. Nor will the result be neat. Strike two!

Another problem I have with using a deck is the bars to clamp the braces often dent the braces. This makes shaping even more difficult, and you nay end up with braces with less height because of it. The height of your braces gives you the biggest bang for your buck stiffness wise. In other words a little bit of height give you a lot of stiffness. Strike three!

If you have watched any of my videos, or read my book you can see how I install braces. They are shaped 95% of the way before gluing them on. Cam clamps are used without damage. The next one is shaped before the timer goes off to clean the glue on the previous one. The braces are the height I intended and there is no damage to the top.

You Simply Cannot Have Enough Clamps

Benches, Vises and Clamps for Guitar Building - lots of bar clampsClamps top the list of guitar building shop essentials. There is no way around it – you are going to need some clamps to build a guitar. The types and amounts of clamps you need depends on your method of building.

Laminating requires more clamps than usual but the additional clamps can be used for other things. And I guarantee they will not go unused.

Bar Clamps

Metal bar clamps get the most use in my shop.   These clamps are perfect for laminating, putting the neck together and gluing on the top and back and so many other things. It is good to have a few different size versions of these clamps around as well. Here’s a list bar clamps that will be enough to get you started:

  • 16 – 8″ bar clamps with a 4″ throat
  • 2 – 18″ bar clamps with a 4″ throat
  • 2 – 30″ bar clamps with a 2-1/2″ throat
  • 4 – small 4″ bar clamps

Get professional grade clamps where possible.  These you will only have to buy once. Anything of a lesser quality, not so much. You will see, you can never have enough clamps.

Cam Clamps

Benches, Vises and Clamps for Guitar Building - cam clamps in useCam clamps have metals bars and wooden jaws. They are tightened by a little wooden cam on top. These clamps do not exert a tremendous amount of force and have cork padding on both jaws making them ideal for gluing soft wood such as braces and patches.

I prefer these to using a go-deck. a go deck is cumbersome and takes up a lot of  space.These clamps can fit on the rack out of the way. Not to mention that the deck can generate too much force possibly denting your braces. It is also difficult to get your braces in exactly the right spot with a deck.

Using cam clamps I can get my braces on just where I want them. This way I can also shape then before I glue them on since the clamps do not generate too much pressure. This makes for a much cleaner job.  Here are the recommended amounts and sizes to get you started:

  • 8 – 8″  cam clamps with an 8″ throat
  • 12 – 8″ cam clamps with a 4″ throat

Spring Clamps

Benches, Vises and Clamps for Guitar Building - spring clampsThese are the little clamps that look like exercise gadgets for your hands. These things are very useful. They require no adjustment so they are quick to use. And sometimes thats just what you need. The jaws swivel a bit so they can grasp odd shaped things to some degree. They can also clamp small things that other clamps can’t and they don’t generate excessive pressure. You can apply theses with one hand which comes in handy.

I use these clamps to put the wheat and herringbone motifs together. Here’s the recommended sizes and amounts to get started:

  • 8 – spring clamps with a 2″ opening and a 2-1/4″ depth
  • 4 – spring clamps with a 3″ opening and a 3″ depth
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