Friday, January 31, 2014

Guitar: Milling the Lumber

I built a guitar... It is still fun to say! This will be a three part writeup. First the milling, then the assembly and last finishing. Bangladesh was a tough place for me to live. In order to cope I sort of threw myself into work. I needed the creative outlet. The idea to make a guitar started from looking at all the amazing wood available in Dhaka. I also wanted a small guitar that I could travel with and something that the kids could actually get their arms over. A friend of mine had a Baby Taylor which is a 3/4 size guitar. It has amazing sound for its size and I thought it might be pretty easy to copy. So I borrowed it and traced and measure and returned it.

I think it took me three months of weekends and evenings to finish. This was not a kit and because of tool limitations each piece was a challenge. Once I had the basic design secured, next was choosing the wood. The woods available in Bangladesh are some of the standards for tropical hardwood. As far as tone wood goes, I would need to do something different as spruce was not available to me. I had heard of a few guitars that used Mahogany as the face and obviously plenty that used Mahogany for the back and/or sides. I did not want to have an all mahogany guitar though. Other woods available here are teak, iron wood, Korai, and a handful of other exotics. There was a nice piece of teak that really caught my eye so I started researching the feasibility of using teak in a guitar. My thinking was that using different woods would make for a more interesting guitar visually but more importantly different woods would resonate at different frequencies which would give the guitar more diverse character.

I decided to mill up some lumber and see what it sounded like with the tap test. All of the lumber used was milled in Bangladesh and allowed had cured for at least 3 years before I started. The mahogany started out as a 3inch thick slab that I would need to re-saw down to get the thickness needed for the back and sides. Since the pieces were so wide, I could not cut them on the band saw in the shop. I ended up cutting as deep as I could on the table saw from both sides and hand sawing (yes, you heard right!) through the middle section. My arm hurt after that day. Here is a pic after table sawing:

I had to do the same thing with the teak. Yes with a hand saw again and teak is much harder to work with! Next was planing the pieces down to a usable thickness for tone wood. I had a 12 inch DeWalt planer, which is not exactly ideal. The issue is that the finished tone wood needs to be thinner than what is possible on the planer. So I had to run the 1/4inch stock through until I could not get any thinner and then run it through with a piece of thin balsa on the bottom to get even thinner. I blew through a couple of pieces of teak and the mahogany sides. The problem was that as I got to the right thickness the blades of the planer would chip out the entire piece. After sharpening and adjusting the blades, I was able to get some workable blanks. You can see in the picture below the plywood pattern for the front and back, the teak, the mahogany and the sides. Notice the chip out in mahogany pieces.

I glued the front and back pieces together. Next I used the plywood pattern and a router with a pattern bit to cut out the front and back. At this point I still had not decided which was going to be the front and which was going to be the back. I loved the book matched teak and decided to use the white part of the mahogany as a feature strip down the middle. This picture was taken after I hand sanded the pieces down to 3/32 of an inch to get rid of any chip-out from the planer. More arm pain...

At this point I think I went on vacation for a week which allowed the wood to rest/cure/dry. When I returned I could hold the front/back pieced at one point on the edge and strike it with one finger as a way of getting to know its tonal properties. It was amazing how different they were. The mahogany was bright and crisp but the teak was more muted and deep. This was the first time that I actually got excited about the prospect that this guitar might actually sound good! I still could not decide which was the front or back so I decided to cut out the blank for the neck. I went with mahogany and found a piece big enough with the grain in the right direction and cut it out. I should mention that I designed a neck that is not a copy of the Baby Taylor, but more of a copy of Taylor's full size guitars. In front of the neck blank is the fret board which is cut out of Korai local to Bangladesh.

Stay tuned for the assembly!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


It has been a while... over a year! To put it another way, I did not write a single post in 2013. Felt weird, but I was busy and my life was changing again. To bring you up to speed: I built a guitar, moved back to California, started teaching Automotive repair again, got a dog, saw both of my kids age another year, went to France, bought vintage LandCruiser and have been buried with work.

Why write again? Why not just fade away to the cemetery of dead blogs? Not sure. It has been calling me. I guess it is something I need to do. It is a way for me to look back and feel accomplished. On a day to day timetable I am not sure what I am getting done but if I go back and look at a year's work or a year's growth it is easier to see. Watching a tree grow is hard to do but looking at pictures of the tree taken at the same time every year would give you a different perspective. That is what this blog is to me. Over the next couple of days I will spend some time chronicling the past year and try to get up to date. I also make a pledge to myself to keep writing on a more regular basis. Here is to an ever changing life!

Friday, December 7, 2012


I have finished my table finally! Here is a detailed process of the project. It all started with some amazing pieces of wood. Locally the wood is called Korai and it is grown here in Bangladesh. The pieces still retained the natural edge on one side which gave me some inspiration for the table. There were only three pieces that were long enough so I needed some other wood to mix in. I wanted to do a lighter wood to contrast with the Korai. Here is the original layout of the table top. This was before adding the lighter wood but I wanted to show the original condition of the lumber... Rough!

Next step was getting the wood straight, flat and smooth. This was a 5 hour process with the small DeWalt planner in the picture below. It was challenging because so much material had to be remove and the feed roller did not pull the wood through so I had to push everything. Here is the top with the planing done.

Here is a pic with the edges straight and the the ends trimmed. It is hard to see in the pic but the outside boards are trimmed with a slight angl on them; it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Next was joining the top together and gluing it up. I went with a very nice doweling fixture we had in the shop. The dowels are spaced every 12 inches.

Once all the holes were drilled it was time to clamp it up. This was challenging as I was by myself and the irregular sides made the top buckle so I had to clamp it down to the workbench.

Next was figuring out the legs. I wanted something modern and minimal to offset the chunky top. It took a month to find the right design and I modified it a bit to make it mine. Here is a shot of the legs being glued together.

Here is a picture of the leg joint detail. I cut a channel in the face of the joint and glued in a contrasting piece of wood for looks and to strengthen the joint.

The next detail was to keep one of the pieces in the top from cracking. In the Nakashima style I decided to put a bow tie in the crack. Here is a pic... I am not all that proud of this part...


Last was the sanding... hours of sanding and finishing. I had a minor snafu with the finish and it is a good thing I started on the bottom because the finished turned it green. Part of it was the way the wood reacts to water and part of it was a contaminated brush or something. Anyway the rest went without issue and the finished product turned out great. From a technical woodworking standpoint it is not my best work (See the bowtie insert) but the overall impact is what I had hoped. I love the two tone, the legs and the natural edge. The height turned out right on at 29 inches. Our old table was a bit too high at 30 inches. The final test is to get eight people around it and see how it performs!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Feels like I have not blogged in a while... because I have not blogged in a while. We have returned from Cambodia and I need to write about it. We had a week off in October and flew into Siem Reap, which turned out to be the perfect spot for us. We stayed the entire time at a very nice hotel called Karavansara. I will review the hotel in a future blog post.

Siem Reap is a small city with great character. The people are amazing; warm and friendly. There were ample restaurants that served a variety of cultural foods from local fare to Mexican and almost anything in between. For being such a small town it seemed like there was a vibrant nightlife, likely a result of the inexpensive ($0.60 US) draft beers and countless pubs. The markets were a shoppers delight; inexpensive (negotiating required) and full of treasures (provided you skip the stalls with the trinkets). The shopping experience is further enhanced by the fact that you can use US dollars for everything.

There was a lot to look at as things are done differently here. It is relaxed; I do not think I saw anyone drive over 20 mph in the city. Mopeds are used for about 90% of travel. It is not unusual to see 3-4 people piled on one, or someone moving something large with one. Trailers are connected to mopeds and used as taxis.

The town is full of two and three story buildings that have a European feel making the town nice to look at. There are many Buddhist temples scattered through out the city, which are filled with interesting architecture. One of the newer ones is Wat Preah Prom Rath which was very close to the hotel and was the subject of a few of my pictures.


Of course no trip to Siem Reap would be complete without visiting the ruins of Angkor Wat and the dozens of other ruins close by. Angkor Wat is a part of the Angkor World Heritage Site for good reason. These ruins are impressive in their craftsmanship, their scale and their impact. We spent one day and went to three ruins (Angkor Watt, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm). Feast your eyes on some pictures:


Overall, Siem Reap is an amazing vacation destination and has a pull to it that makes me want to move there. It is relaxed and has a deep cultural history and is still modern and fun. I do not feel like 5 days was enough but I feel incredibly lucky that we were able to see this amazing spot in the world.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Book of the Week: My Wilderness - East to Katahdin

My Wilderness - East to Katahdin

by William O. Douglas

I have not even made it 60 pages into this book but I can't hold back with my Book of the Week post. There are a few reasons for this. First, I am currently living in Dhaka which is not an easy place to get outdoors for that wilderness solitude time that I need. So I crave the outdoors even if it is "Just my 'magination". Second, I just finished a teen novel so a book with substance is very refreshing. Douglas is a great writer and he has an amazingly judicious outlook on the world (no wonder he was a supreme court justice). Third, with the upcoming election it is a painful time for me. It is just incredible that there are so many people out there that have such fanatically different points of view that are so far from the truth. So 30 pages into this book I found a great commentary on our government and (shocker) even though it is written in1961 it is still true.

So here are the pages scanned as I was not about to retype it. Start reading after the break:

I love Douglas' take on the fact that two groups can have such dichotomous opinions on the same topic. He seems to distill it down rather eloquently. It is not about a government agency's regulation of the public land, it is not about the right of the public to have a wilderness to enjoy, and it is not about herdsmen claim to public land. It is about a missing ethic in our country and the fact that we have a responsibility to be stewards of our land. If left to their own devices grazers would plunder our wildernesses for all that they have and then they would no longer have that as a resource. When they are regulated (and it can easily be argued that they are not regulated strictly enough) they complain that they have a right to the land. It is true they do have a right, and so do I.

All I can think about is that this is how the political climate is now. We are a divided country. We align ourselves with these two parties that do not match our beliefs because a 3rd party is not an option. We argue and disagree and support outlandish claims and carry a torch we might not even believe in because that is what we are supposed to do. Like Douglas, I believe that there are two (or more) opinions but there is only one RIGHT way to go. If we all look at the issues from an educated and non-emotional perspective it becomes very clear. There are these "issues" that the parties are oposite extremes and if we really look at it there is only one truth.

As an example let us look at abortion. There are two opposing arguments but only one right way to go. Our government should have no voice in the matter. There have been all these appalling statements about rape and totally uneducated statements about the resulting pregnancy. There is no reason that there should be a law about abortions. This is a decision to be made by only one person and that would be the person carrying the fetus. If someone decides that they are not in a place to take care of a child shouldn't we applaud them for making the right choice? The alternative is a child that will not be loved or cared for, do we really need more of those?

I love the question, "How can a woman vote republican after all that has been said?" Indeed it would seem crazy but what the Democrat questioner does not understand is that there are women that will. Why? It is not because of logic! We are all so intrenched in our parties that the reality is it does not matter what their policies are anymore. True, you should vote for the person/party that you think will make intelligent decisions and the "issues" are a way of testing there decision making paradigms. So even if one of your party's stances does not match, you should vote for the person/party that will do a better job. But, there comes a point when a stance on an issue will make you wonder weather that is the person/party that you want making decisions about your land, government spending, policies, etc. I will say this, I dream of a presidential candidate that runs on a platform of truth. Where the government is responsible for decisions of truth and justice. Not a poster boy for outlandish opinions and uninformed educations.

I want a country with small government and not because of some blind party allegiance but because if people did what was right we would not need big government. We would finally be able to get our spending under control and become a giving country. Not for our own self interests but because it is right. Why do we trade parties in the white house and congress and no real progress is made? Our government is broken and based solely on money. Lobbyists have more power than truth, religion has more influence than what is right. So go out and vote and realize that you actually didn't decide a thing. Here is where you can really make a difference: In your figurative and literal back yard.

Shop locally, not because it has anything to do with politics but because you are giving money to a person business that you can hold accountable. You can go see their farm or shop and see how things are done there. Imagine my lunacy if I had this crazy notion that illegal emigrants should not be allowed into the US and then I buy the cheapest produce in the store. Produce that can only be that cheap becasue it was harvested by low wage earners that probably do not have citizenship. That is called hypocrisy. Local businesses also do not give money to lobbyists in Washington so your money is removed from politics and politics starts to become about issues... so weird. This has gotten a bit out of hand so I will keep the rest short and sweet.

Know your neighbors, eat healthy, get outside and see the beauty of the world, give back to your community, stop using your car for short trips, break bread with friends and family regardless of opinions and be able to discuss different views. The word compassion is incredible but my definition is a bit different that Websters. I would say that it is the ability to understand where someone is coming from without having to agree with them. It is non-judgmental and it is not about changing them. When someone says something I just don't understand I think to myself, "How can they feel that way?" It is not because my poop does not stink, it is more that I have finally realized opposing views are not any less legitimate than mine and people believe their own opinions. If you want to change the way people think you have to speak truth.

Friday, September 28, 2012


What a wonderful time of year. I have been watching friends posts on Facebook that are in Germany for the real thing, but the next best thing is coming to Dhaka! The 12th of October marks the 11th annual AISDhaka Oktoberfest. Brewers have been ramping up production, the food wizards are mixing up their best potato salad and other German delights... and some brave souls are practicing a traditional Oktoberfest dance. Last year I was unable to enter but had the privileged of judging the beer competition. This year I will be entering 3 beers and I think my chances are pretty good. Here is a rundown of the three:
  1. Name: Dunkel Wiezenbock - The name translates to a dark, high alcohol, wheat beer. The flavor translates to an alcoholic wheat beer. It weighs in at 8-9% and has a great Belgian Wheat flavor, a little fruit flavor (pineapple) and mellow hops. The alcohol level walks a fine line between overly alcoholic and perfectly balanced. The beer is cloudy when cold as is traditional with wheat beers.
  2. Name: The Greatest Beer In The World (tribute*) - This is a big one. 10% and it is balanced by depth of character and wonderful hop flavors thanks to three different types of hops. A beer that lives up to its name...
  3. Name: Rickshaw Wala Pale Ale - This is the easy drinking crowd pleaser, named after the Bangladeshi word for cycle rickshaw driver (Wala). It is a dry ale with pronounced hops and a decent kick in the pants at 7% ABV. The label reads, "A refreshing beverage for a long day in the saddle.
*note: This is not the greatest beer in the world this is just a tribute, in fact the greatest beer in the world does not actually taste anything like this beer, this is just a tribute.
There is also a commemerative beer mug designing contest which I have submitted a design for (see below). I did the oval one for pint glasses and the square one for the mug.
The brewers also get together to pick a brewers choice, which I think is a great opportunity to talk about beer with their makers. Looking forward to the 12th and seeing how my beers stack up. I will post results... if they are good!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Car of the Week: Alfa Romeo GTV

There are enough Alfas to do an "Alfa of the Week" and this one will probably seem a bit blah or mainstream to some... For some reason I just love the looks of this car. Then again I like the looks of a Volvo 240 so that might explain it. Here is a pic of a nice restoration similar to the look I would go for that I found on Bring A Trailer. Just look at it for a bit and read on.

Alfa Romeo GTV

I love the subtle curve from front to back in two plains. I love the dainty pillars and that the b-pillar almost disappears. I love the double headlights with slightly smaller ones inside. I love the ridges on the front fenders and I love the one piece front end. Flush mount door handles and a cool grill. These happen to be my favorite wheels as well. Orange, maybe not but it does look good in just about any color. They made a deep eggplant purple that was nice.

Here are some facts and figures. The GTV refers to many different redesigns over the years but my interest only lies in what Alfa calls the Series 105. They were made from 1963-77. Engine was Alfa's standard 4 cylinder twin cam motor ranging in displacement from 1290cc to 1962cc. They came with a 5 speed transmission and disc brakes. A friend of mine who has one say that they are not that inspiring to drive which kind of bums me out. He was comparing it to a Datsun Roadster with plentiful modifications but the only Datsun Roadster I ever drove, drove like a truck. I still want one because they look so great and I think I could sort it to be a ton of fun.

They made a GTA which was an aluminum bodied and other lightening efforts throughout the car along with engine and transmission adjustments. There were only 500 made so these are the real collectors items. There were quite a few of the standard GTV's made and prices are not unreachable but they have been slowly increasing over the last decade. $10-20K will get you a clean to completely restored example. Small beautiful car with decent technology for the time that is usable today... Yes, I think I would drive one.