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The Guitar Building Shop

Your guitar building shop has a huge 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.

Your shop should be set up according to how you work. If you do other woodworking besides guitar building in your shop you may need more room.  Different equipment and a different layout may also be necessary. Large stock you will need more space to work with safely.  Buying guitar wood from a luthier supply company will require less equipment since the wood has already been milled.

Whatever your situation you need to leave enough room in between benches, work stations and equipment so you can move around safely. Safety should be the main priority when laying out your shop to make guitars. Once its safe then you can think about efficiency. When considering efficiency think about your work flow and where you do things. If you take the time to plan carefully you can improve the way you work just by having things in the right places. Shop layout is no small matter. It is fun so enjoy it!

Laying out Your Guitar Building Shop

Gutiar Building Shop - Wall space for storageThere are many considerations when laying out a shop for building guitars. You will need to make a list anything that will take up floor space. The list should include of all your equipment, benches, and cabinets. Also list their sizes. Figure out how much space you need around each of them and start to arrange things so they fit and their positions make sense. This should be done on paper before you begin moving heavy equipment and benches around. Below are some things to consider when arranging you shop.

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:

  • When cutting large stock space in front of, behind, and on either side of your table saw to allow for an unimpeded work flow. 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. \
  • 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

Guitar Building 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 in your guitar building shop. If there are not enough windows, or you prefer to work at night, get 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 which is daylight balanced. Low or high bay lights of this type are available 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. Being high up on the wall will provide wall storage. This will get things off the floor and add some safety. This is necessary in any guitar building shop.
  • Skylights are great. These provide lots of light that is daylight. Having daylight balanced light is important because colors appear most accurately to the eye with this type of light.  If you can swing it these lighrts will make all the difference in the world.

Humidity Control – A Necessity in a Guitar Building Shop

Guitar Building Shop - Humidity GaugeIn  a guitar building shop humidity control is a requirement. Wood 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 for Humidity Control

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.

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