Planes and Scrapers – Guitar Building Essentials

Planes and scrapers are the two most important guitar building tools you can own. If you are to do fine work you need to learn to use and sharpen and use these tools. I have an assortment of both planes and scrapers which I use for a plethora of guitar building tasks. Some of the planes I made using the method demonstrated in the plane making DVD. They are very important tools for me. I could not do good work without them.

Some may consider planes and scrapers to be old school tools that will slow you down. They may prefer to create all kinds of jigs and apparatus  to use with machines and power tools  instead. They think this is always faster. That is simply not true. There are certainly some jobs that do go faster with jigs and machines. But for the final stages of your work such as  sizing, squaring, cleaning up for finishing, planes and scrapers will actually save you time.  And they will do a better job than a machine if you know how to use them properly.

In order to use planes and scrapers well you must know something about how they work and what makes them preform optimally. Planes and scrapers have very different cutting edges. And each is sharpened differently. Neither tool will work well if not razor sharp. Please check out the video sharpening plane blades.

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Hand Planes

If you are using only files, sandpaper or power sanders you are creating tons of dust and noise. Learning to properly use a hand plane will change your entire guitar building experience – I guarantee it. Hand planes not only make your work more enjoyable but if you can use them properly you will work faster. You will sand less – creating less dust, and it will be pleasantly quiet in your shop – just how I like it.

Hand Plane Recommendations

A guideline on planes in general – avoid the big heavy metal planes. You may think they look cool but every time I see someone using them to making guitars I wonder why. They are unnecessarily heavy. If dropped or used improperly they can cause quite a bit of damage to your soft guitar top. They are unnecessarily expensive. It is difficult at best to get them to take a fine shaving. They will wear you out and may cause chronic problems with your fingers, wrists and hands.

Make yourself a bench plane. For guitar building a plane from 10 -12″ long will do just fine. Its light and its capable of taking the finest cut if made right. And the wood on wood action leaves a burnished surface and is very pleasant. I have a DVD on how to make a bench and compass plane in the store.

The bottom line is you don’t need a bunch of planes to make a guitar. Below is a list of hand planes and their uses in guitar building:

  • Low angle block plane – preferably the adjustable throat kind. you can use this plane for just about everything since the wood you are working is small in dimensions.
  • Shoulder plane – the blade on the shoulder plane is the same width as the plane itself and is used when you need to plane a surface right up against another like the nut end of the headpiece veneer stack.
  • Compass plane – this plane is absolutely the best thing to use when making dished work boards. You will have to make one. Watch the preview of my plane making video.
  • Bench plane – this plane is great for thicknessing, flattening, and edge joining.
  • Spoke shave – A spoke shave is  great for rough shaping a neck quickly. The best spoke shaves are old ones you can pick up anywhere they sell  antique tools. The old ones have narrow flat bottoms.

Scrapers are Essential in Guitar Building – Ideal for Difficult Wood

Some types of wood used in guitar building are not easy to plane. These are known as rowed woods. The grain changes direction in adjacent parts of the same surface making tear out one way and not the other You will notice unsightly divots in the wood from your plane.  This is a job for a scraper.

A scraper can be used on these types of wood without making divots. Scrapers are slight curved during use leaving a slightly dished surface. This makes them ideal for removing marks in the wood that are too deep for sandpaper. They take off less wood than a plane, and more material than sandpaper.