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Found 15 results

  1. Our experiences with the Triton TSPS450 oscillating spindle sander were somewhat mixed. It was our opinion that it represented a great tool for the money in spite of it being a simple badged Far Eastern import with cheesy design and less than durable build quality. For the home gamer it would be a great addition to a workshop, as long as it didn't crap out within a few hours like ours did. Also a badged import product, Triton recently introduced the TSPST450 which has almost the exact same specifications as its sibling. Add onto this the tiltable worktop and belt sanding unit it seems a very attractive alternative for relatively little additional cost. ----==---- Description The Triton TSPST450 is a light duty benchtop machine driven by a 450W fixed-speed motor. The tabletop measures 430mm x 410mm (~17" x 16") and is made from two pieces of cast aluminium. The front half is capable of being angled up to 45° from flat, allowing angled sanding. The body of the machine is simple economical polypropylene, same as the TSPS450. The oscillating 13mm spindle can be fitted with one of five sanding sleeves; a 13mm sleeve fitted directly, or a 19mm, 26mm, 38mm or 51mm on rubber drums. The belt sanding unit provides a flat sanding face by simply dropping the unit into place and securing with a plastic thumbwheel. Power is managed by a single magnetic safety switch which prevents the units re-engaging should mains power be lost and re-established without manually disengaging the unit. Dust collection is provided through a single 38mm side-mounted port. All accessories and parts can be stowed around the body of the sanding unit for easy access. Straight of the box - what you get ----==---- In Use In its spindle sander configuration, the unit performs similarly to the TSPS450 and sounds just as loud! Without taking a peek under the hood, it is expected that the motor configuration is more or less the same, ie. a dual belt drive running the spindle and oscillation. These belts work by driving a pair of plastic rotary cams; one connected to the main spindle's rotation and the geared at a marginally-different speed to the first to actuate the vertical spindle motion via a cammed profile. Whilst not idea from a design standpoint, it is to be expected at this price range. The belt sanding unit however was a completely different story. This is simply driven by the spindle at one end and left to move freely at the other, retained loosely by a tiny plastic guide. Operating, this produces excessive vibration as the linear up-down motion is not restrained or guided properly. As a belt sander this is completely useless; the vibrations cause the flat sanding face of the belt to rattle back and forth making any delicate operation impossible. Checking the setup confirmed that this is just a product of poor design. A small piece of plastic retaining and guiding the non-driven end of the belt sanding unit is poor; any sort of play here would result in a useless vibrating mess, which is what it ended up being. The body of the unit has four bolt holes, with the intention of it being mounted securely to a benchtop more or less permanently. This isn't convenient for most (myself included) and reveals another problem with the belt sander; presenting a workpiece (such as the back of a neck) with any reasonable surface area to contact the belt causes the unit to climb along! The weight of the unit is simply insufficient to work reasonably as a free-standing machine; whilst the design intent is as a fixed unit, those of us that need to make the most of a limited shop space will find this a frustrating issue. Physics are just not on its side. Hooking the dust collection port to the shop extractor showed a reasonable extraction level, but one that loses a lot of power where it counts; the port pulls air from the entirety of the open recessed area in the top plate, slowing down air velocity and resulting in poor extraction even with the cover plates. Dust in both spindle and belt sanding modes was thrown around the unit with perhaps half being taken away. In comparison to the TSPS450 spindle-only sander, this is a drastic step down in performance. ----==---- Analysis Compared to the TSPS450, this unit is clearly worse on many levels. Whilst its function as an oscillating spindle sander is more or less comparable (extraction excepted) it fails in almost every other aspect. The aluminium top (unlike the TSPS450's cast iron top) makes the unit light and prone to movement (unless bolted down) and several key points call the units long-term longevity into question. The main spindle drives the drums and sanding unit using one small keyed plastic disc. All of the force required to operate the unit is the equivalent of having a plastic clutch plate in your car! If you're the type to look for signs that a product is "engineered to fail", you'd be looking no further for a smoking gun. On the other hand, you could call this "failure to engineer". This interpretation applies equally to the awful method of translating the reciprocating motion of the spindle into linear motion of the sanding unit. Nothing about this speaks of quality, durability or simply being fit for purpose. ----==---- Conclusion Items and tools purchased for review accurately reflect buyer's remorse. That said, if this tool were received for review free we would simply not be publishing a review. More likely, firing an email back asking whether this machine was a private joke and checking whether it was April yet. The TSPST450 is available from a number of different brands other than Triton, same as the TSPS450 is. It is not a Triton design, simply one ordered in Triton's livery and branded along with the rest of their product lineup, so it might be kinder to say that this may not represent the standard to which Triton's own-design products are made. That said, Triton put this out there alongside their own products so it will represent the perceived standard of the Triton brand on the whole regardless. As stated in discussion with PowerBox/Triton's media relations, we are willing to be proven wrong by their other products. Buyer's remorse is a powerful thing however, and I personally won't take another chance on a Triton tool. We received this machine as an "upgrade" (paid) exchange for the TSPS450 that developed an early electrical fault. Given the small timeframe between working with that machine and comparing it to this one, it would be impossible not to make direct comparisons when the are so similar in specification, common parts and their provenance as badged imports. The TSPS450 succeeds purely because it is unbelievably simple, and under the crappy exterior that's what this unit is in principle. It fails by attempting to add complexity whilst simultaneously killing durability, reliability and quality. And increasing the price tag. For your money, the TSPS450 stands head and shoulders above this sorry mess. Whilst the TSPS450 doesn't buy you the oscillating belt-sander capability, neither does this one. Move along or buy the TSPS450, bearing in mind that other brands offer the same unit a little cheaper and likely with a less obstructive warranty than Triton's "3yr but only if you register within 30 days, and even then you'll have to pay for it to be pinged around our very few service centres worldwide". Same same. Only different?
  2. Triton are a distinctly budget-end brand, producing many of the basic power tools and machines a guitar-maker could take advantage of at a very reasonable price point. Their thicknessers, routers, cordless hand tools, etc. all sit within very tempting price ranges that makes one consider whether the saving is worth a potential lack of quality, cheesy looks, performance and end results. Triton is a sub-brand of Powerbox International Ltd. who also control Silverline, GMC and several other brands. The TSPS450 is your typical Far East mass-produced import, not specifically a Triton design; they are simply bought in under the orange livery and branded "Triton". A casual search turns up the same unit branded in several different branded guises.... The list of brands this machine appears under is almost unending. We've got Sheppach, Draper, Performax, Harbor Freight, Grizzly and Shop Fox in there along with Triton and some random in-house or "online only" brands. The only commonality between these brands is their target market; the home gamer. Triton is actively levering itself into the tool-buyer's consciousness as a more mainstream alternative to real name brands than some generic obvious-import fringe company....even to the point of them heavily sponsoring YouTubers, furnishing them with masses of cheap orange and black plastic tools, or putting their tools into the hands of prominent reviewers for free....nothing generates biased positive reviews, glosses over low quality and rounds over the rough edges as much as sponsorship or free stuff, right? At €230 this wasn't the most expensive or cheapest unit out there, but on paper it seems the most likely "go-to" machine. Unlike sponsored reviews, we can honestly tell you if this hurts or not. On some levels it did, however Triton seem to thrive at this price point; there is little else at this one. The alternative of course is paying a lot more or not having a spindle sander at all. What it all comes down to is whether the unit performs as expected, that the underlying design is good and that the value is there. Are you getting a good enough machine for the money? Underneath it all, one has to bear in mind that these are produced in numbers that have flooded the spindle sander market and are primarily built down to a price, not up to a spec. Everything that can be made cheaper generally is, and they are often engineered for disposability on some level that isn't necessarily covered as an issue of failure under warranty, or fail just beyond your warranty period. Welcome to the 21st century. ----==---- What is an oscillating spindle sander? Oscillating spindle sanders are a simple machine from the cheapest to the most expensive. A spindle centred in a flat work bed rotates at a few thousand RPM (in this case, 2000RPM) whilst simultaneously oscillating vertically. A sanding sleeve fits over a (usually rubber) drum which is in turn fitted to the spindle. Unlike a simple single-action spindle, the oscillating motion hugely reduces scoring lines from waste buildup on the drum, recycles a larger area of the abrasive media and produces a cleaner, more uniform result. More advanced units have tilting tables, several sizes of spindle, flush-fit inserts, more powerful motors and highly durable drive mechanisms with precise concentric action. For guitar-makers, a spindle sander is an ideal tool for any number of operations. Most apparent is their ability to shape and refine the edges of a workpiece such as inside the cutaways of a body or headstock profile. Equally, they are adept at shaping your routing templates, dialling in contours around the back of the neck, sanding in tummy cuts or working within any other sort of light profile. ----==---- Description The Triton TSPS450 is a light-duty benchtop spindle sander. It features a 450w fixed-speed brushed motor driving a single spindle and its oscillation motion through a dual belt drive. Five drum sizes are included; 19mm, 26mm, 38mm, 51mm and 76mm. Six corresponding sizes of sanding sleeve are supplied, including a small 13mm sleeve designed to run directly on the spindle without a drum. Each of the six sizes have a matching plastic table insert allowing for fine work up to the drum itself. An extraction port at the rear allows the unit to be hooked up to a shop vac or central extraction system. Controls comprise a single covered magnetic safety power switch at the front. The working area is a 370mm x 295mm cast iron bed, whilst the body of the unit is a large moulded plastic shell. Drums, inserts and tools can be stored around the unit for easy access. Setup of the unit is very straightforward. Fit a sanding sleeve over the correct drum, drop it onto the spindle, add the top washer and crank down the nut until the rubber compresses slightly, gripping the sleeve. Drop on the appropriate table insert for the drum size, and you're away. Internally, the unit is simple. The mains lead hooks up directly to the front power switch. The power supply circuitry appears to be a simple full-wave "AC to almost DC" rectifier with basic noise suppression to prevent it pushing dirt back into your local supply. Nothing amazing by any means. ----==---- Breakdown 450w is powerful enough for most needs, however it easily labours with the larger drums when defining deep contours and sanding larger surface contact areas. Its stock removal capability is adequate, but it must be borne in mind that 450w is still on the low side for this kind of work and sanders are not really stock removal tools. This is definitely a machine more suited to refining and light shaping. Taking a neck blank from square and dialling in a contour around the back soon pushes the motor to its limit. Within those limits however, the machine operates admirably. The spindle is concentric enough that it doesn't vibrate or chatter against the workpiece and doesn't easily deflect if you get heavy-handed with pressure. The magnetic on/off power switch is a nice simple safety feature that I appreciate fully. Should the unit experience a loss of power (breaker going, power cut, etc) the switch automatically defaults to its off position, ensuring the unit does not restart unexpectedly when power returns. The power cable itself is permanently attached with no provision for it to be stowed in the unit when not in use. The best you can hope for is to weave it around the drums at the back of the unit or over and around the spindle....neither of which is ideal. The unit is recommended as being mounted to a benchtop via the bolt holes in the base, however a detachable/replaceable power cable would be a very welcome feature. Rubber feet under the bolt holes keep the unit in place if not secured and reduce vibrations through to the bench if it is. Extraction is as adequate as it can be; when working on pieces any thicker than a couple of inches, or sanding anywhere above the table dust escapes rather than being drawn down through the perforated inserts. This is common to any machine that offers 360° access around the spindle; only an extraction shroud could guarantee 100% waste removal, but these restrict freedom of work and reduce machine usefulness. The plastic table inserts aren't entirely flush with the table surface, and simply sit in place with no magnetic retention or securing mechanism. For the most part this is of little issue, however working small components using narrower diameter drums can leave you hunting for a good 90° reference; if the workpiece is not firmly seated on the iron work surface, the plastic inserts leave little guarantee that your work will be presented to the drum evenly. In the long term I would opt for making a set of specifically-thicknessed inserts (possibly with epoxied magnets to better secure them in place) that fit flush. Analysis You can't make any bones about this; the unit is LOUD. As to the cause of this excessive noise, I'm unsure. Certainly, having the rotary and oscillation action driven by two toothed belts doesn't help matters, and neither does having an enormous plastic echo chamber. Under no load the machine measured 84dB at 1m. Considering that extraction and sanding add their own noise factors, plus closer proximity than 1m during work....you need to be wearing proper ear protection around this machine. No joke. The internal design demonstrates directly how it's built down to a price and not up to a standard. Important parts such as bearings for the main spindle are housed in plastic; thankfully one that appears to be more appropriate for the task even though any plastic is far from ideal in this context. No markings were visible, however glass fibre reinforcement could be felt when scored with a blade and guessed at by how worn out the moulds look from the finish. Another clue on how cut the corners are is material choice; common reinforced engineering plastics such as glass fibre reinforced polyamides (PA6-GF30 for example) are not expensive of themselves, however they wear moulds out in no time. Replacing those is a very real cost factor and significant manufacturing choices are often made off the back of this. Even when reinforced plastics are used, it is common to see moulds being pushed beyond their best with poor quality moulded parts as a result. The main housing and its bottom plate are manufactured from cheap polypropylene with zero structural reinforcement; roughly half the material cost of stiffer and far more durable reinforced polyamides and cheap to mould. PP has a comparatively-low melting point and below freezing, becomes tough and brittle. It looks and feels cheap, mostly because it is. Only the crucial parts that require a good quality plastic seem to receive it, and even then I presume that conversations were had around the cooler in Mao's Dollar Store as to whether these could be made even cheaper. The real coffin nail is that the review unit developed an electrical fault in use. Lightly edge sanding a small piece of 20mm Birch, a loud arcing was heard along with the ozone smell and an immediate reduction in motor speed. How damaging this was is unknown; it seemed to work after powering down and back up again. No magic smoke seemed to have been let out of the power supply board so it can only be assumed that the fault occurred in the commutator. Damaged insulation on the windings? Needless to say, the unit went straight for return. ----==---- Conclusion An electrical fault wasn't the failure mode I would have expected based on initial examination, and I didn't expect a failure this soon either. Whilst I went into this review with expectations of mediocre performance and long-term durability issues, I was surprised that the opposite was more or less true. In use, the machine performs wonderfully within its range of capability but shit the bed with less than a couple of hours on the clock. Would it suit a weekend or occasional builder? Yes, I think it would if this fault isn't a common one. Beyond that - occasional light use - its reliability from basic build quality really needs to be called into question. Bearings and drive mechanisms that see significant vibration and sideload retained and aligned by plastics is a bad sign, even when engineering plastics such as a PA66-GF30 are used. Occasional use will see it through the three-year warranty, and PowerBox can wash their hands of it. Any reasonably demanding expectations will call the strength of that warranty into question. This machine demonstrably costs a tiny fraction of its retail price to manufacture, and a failure in the field is easy to soak up through a straight replacement over repair. Whether your warranty is honoured without it costing you money for returns is a different matter altogether, especially with online or big box store warranties having obstructive procedures. Often that alone is enough to discourage customers chasing a warranty claim. If you're an occasional hobby builder, it's a good purchase whichever guise you find it in, Triton, Sheppach, or whatever. It is recommended that you establish the conditions of the warranty and returns process prior to purchase wherever you buy it. Fire an email and get it in writing, or buy it from a brick and mortar store who will personally handle a returns procedure if required. Beyond these recommendations, you will more than likely find this machine running through its warranty period with little real issue. Keep your eyes open for vibrations developing in the spindle, that kind of thing. Given the right circumstances this should be a champ, but it might just crap out from being churned out in thousands with no appreciate QA/QC. note: The "Triton Guarantee" of 3yrs is only valid for 30 days from the day of purchase unless the product is registered with Triton directly! This of course does not necessarily affect your statutory consumer rights.... ----==---- edit 1: In preparation for this review, contact was made with Triton/PowerBox International's media relations over the problem experienced with this unit. ProjectGuitar.com's policy is to allow manufacturers to have a voice in the event of us intending to publish negative comments as part of a review. It makes sense to clarify any potential misunderstandings and relate as factual a review to you guys as is possible. Electrical issues however cannot be subject to simple misunderstanding. Even if a machine seems to operate correctly after a fault occurs. Straight out, it needs sorting. Triton/PowerBox have refused to engage meaningfully, so we can only report what is seen in front of us as this is what you would see in front of you. The machine is out for return to the local supplier who have graciously agreed a replacement with no questions asked. Props to our supplier. edit 2: Unpackaging the replacement unit, we found the 1,5" sanding drum to be missing.
  3. The average home gamer often cuts corners that you just wouldn't see in a commercial workshop. I built my first guitars in a converted garage, usually wading out from a sea of sawdust and chips in the evening. For the occasional builder, that's pretty much fine and just part of the whole "beginner-on-a-budget" thing. You clean up later ("maybe later" in my case) and be ready for the next week's chaos/additional sawdust. This loses its charm after a while, what with those peppery Mahogany nose invaders, sneezing, runny eyes, pocket seams permanently contaminated with dust, extended hunts into your sea of waste for chips blown out by a poor routing decision, sick feeling in your stomach/chest, etc. Stepping up your game and managing waste at the source is crucial healthwise; an extractor of some kind should be a mandatory early purchase if you're considering more than a project or two. Usually any sort of basic extractor will chew up a big chunk of space whether it's mobile or static; the CTL SYS is unique in its niche of compact extractors, making it a great consideration if space just isn't available. Obviously with compact comes certain limitations. What does the CTL SYS excel at, and and what point does it simply become a supplementary rather than main extractor? ----==---- First: Shop Vac or Extractor? A fundamental misunderstanding is that shop vacs and dust/chip extractors are the same thing. In some senses they are; they shift waste using air and capture it. The differentiating line between vac and extractor sometimes appearing to be a bit fuzzy doesn't help; some of the most powerful shop vacs are comparable to extractors on paper. In general a vac has a low flow rate, designed for picking up static waste after production with no real urgency. A cleanup machine. Extractors have high flow rates for capturing waste as it is produced "in real time" so it never needs chasing up after the fact. Coarse waste - such as shavings or chips - can be collected when they become a nuisance. They're nowhere near as problematic as fine dust. As a rule, dust should be managed rather than just cleaning it up afterwards. It's hard to chase up; travels longer distances (settling over everything), and is constantly carried and kicked back up by air currents. Dust not only makes your working area oppressive, it is a serious respiratory health hazard. A shop vac in the place of an extractor is better than nothing, however vacs tend to be underpowered for the task and far less efficient. ----==---- Product Overview The Festool CTL SYS is a unique small-format extractor designed around Festool's Systainer storage units. The unit clocks in at a compact 400mm x 300mm (15,6" x 11,7") and either 170mm (6,7") with the top storage handle removed or 270mm (10,6") with it fitted. It sits neatly on a shelf, on/under a bench; or even over your shoulder when fitted with a strap. Festool's product intent for the CTL SYS seems to be a basic auxiliary extractor for mobile site work and as a compact supplementary extractor that can be stacked with tool storage around the shop. A product that can integrate with their Systainer storage solution and provide for the needs of small tool work, rather than relying on a larger wheel-around extractor. For the small workshop where extraction needs are relatively modest and infrequent, it's a compelling idea. Extractor with the storage/carry handle fitted.... ....and without The extractor itself runs a 1000W motor, shifting 3000l/min or 106CFM, which puts it at the lower end of flow rates for most extractors but certainly isn't a slouch. The unit is designed for dry service only, uses a primary bag filter for waste collection and a pleated secondary filter for capturing anything that the bag doesn't. The CTL SYS is rated category L ("low") and filters over 99% of basic waste; pernicious fine materials such as Beech, Oak or MDF dust must be handled by a higher class of filtration such as class M ("medium" or 99,9%of waste) or be accepted as being "less well-handled" and that they'll only kill you a little slower instead. The antistatic hose is a generous 3,0m/9ft and wraps neatly along with the power cord into the accessory Systainer carry handle. The connector on the end fits most tool ports, mostly commonly a Mirka DEROS sanding machine in my case. Adaptors may be required for some tools, however the Festool size is fairly friendly for most. The small Makita palm router requires a simple like-to-like adaptor for compatibility. The power cord for the extractor itself is a standard type, and thankfully not one of Festool's annoying "Plug-it" cords which are unique to Festool tools only! The hose fits....if you pack it neater.... In use the unit produces 67dB of noise which is roughly comparable to a heated drunken conversation in a restaurant at approximately 1m and well below the limit (85dB) where hearing protection becomes advisable. Combined with a tool, the noise level will be higher of course. Waste collection bags are available in two types; the disposable 3,5l (6 pint) "Self Clean" bags provide better filtering and consistent suction up to the point where the bag is at its limit. The second is a high capacity re-usable long life bag better for handling coarse waste, with an apparent lifetime of 500 fills/empties and capacity of 4,5l (9 pints). Self-Clean bags are the preferred choice when any level of dust needs to be managed, at the cost of lower final capacity. Chunks are not the stuff your lungs worry about. Bags are sited straight under the lid of the main unit, clip in/out easily and are removable when full with no difficulties. The main unit also stores a pair of nozzles, ideal for tidying up doubling the extractor as a nimble vac. Unlocking the green handle and lifting the bag/filter assembly affords access to the pleated secondary filter, also easily removed and replaced. The front panel is simple, with the main power socket, master power switch, a manual/automatic selector switch and a current-sensing plug socket. A tool rated up to 1200W can be plugged in directly so that the extractor automatically activates when the tool is in use and deactivates a short while after it's turned off. In manual the extractor runs constantly, cutting power to the socket. Automatic mode is ideal in conjunction with high duty cycle tools such as hand-sanding machines, or when set up in permanent service to a machine such as a small bandsaw. ----==---- The Lowdown The first relevant concern is the limited capacity of the CTL SYS. 3,5l/4,5l (just over 6/9 pints) doesn't offer much of anything if your work produces any reasonable volume of chip and dust waste. As the primary extractor for a table router, mitre saw, jointer or thickness planer; the CTL SYS' capacity is just too small and its flow rate too low. Regular emptying might be workable with a bagless extractor, but it's out of the question for a low-capacity unit using expensive (semi) disposable bags. It should be patently obvious that significant waste volume is not what this unit should ever be managing; at most a small bandsaw, sanding machine, hand router or other similar shaping/finishing tool. In this area, the CTL SYS is extremely convenient and unobtrusive providing extraction on the job and easy cleanup for anything that manages to escape. Limited capacity; (overripe) banana for scale. This isn't a high banana capacity machine. Conclusions Straight out of the gate, the Festool CTL SYS hits a hole a little shy of €300/$400 in your wallet; a sensitive price point where most comparables step up in power, capacity and filtration efficiency. Matched up against these, it's difficult to justify the CTL SYS directly on specifications. A little more investment and immediately a range of 20 litre plus mobile extractors are an option. If price was a direct function of capacity, this machine should cost little more than a third of its actual price. This is not a cheap machine and hence needs some special justification to make it the right option for you. The compact stashable Systainer format is its most obvious selling point, being the primary reason it was chosen for the ProjectGuitar.com workshop. We're certainly not Festool fanboys who need walls of co-ordinated Systainers, however its format and convenience were compelling. It's powerful enough to provide dust-free sanding and cleanly-extracted hand routing (edge routing always throw chips regardless of extractor used however!). What it doesn't pick up in use is easily chased up afterwards. Fitted into a fixed location, the CTL SYS' hose provides enough range to serve a variety of machines over a wide area; it sites perfectly underneath a workbench making it a convenient and functional choice. Festool's reputation of being priced as high as the market can support carries over to their consumables. Whilst not astronomically-high, Self-Clean bags cost a few Euros each. If you're hammering the extractor with waste, this can soon stack up if you throw them when full. If a responsible reuser-recycler like myself then you'll do the right thing; safely empty the bag (easier when half-full) and reuse it instead of creating expensive and needless waste. Knock out dust from the secondary filter every time you change the bag. Carefully maintained, a few Self Clean bags should be all that the average weekend warrior needs for the foreseeable future. Just change the bag when it fails to filter well enough, and the secondary filter shows signs of collecting a lot of dust that the bag is missing. A quote I read the other day rings especially true with the Festool CTL SYS; "It works twice as well but costs three times the price. You do the math". Certainly, the overall cost of adding a CTL SYS extractor is high, and it does what it is designed for extremely well. Within the bounds of its restricted capabilities, it was a wise purchase. Hooked up to a Mirka DEROS and using Abranet for heavy sanding produces practically zero dust on flat surfaces. Routing pickup cavities with a palm router extracts virtually every last chip as soon as they're produced; it is even powerful enough to suck the base of the router flat to the workpiece! For those purposes, it is genuine gold. It remains to be seen as to how well it manages larger tools such as a benchtop bandsaw. At this point, the quality of the tool's own waste management design really comes into play rather than the extractor. 106CFM is no slouch, however some tools such as mitre saws rely heavily on the extractors grunt. For most of us, it's great. ----==---- The CTL SYS will not be the solution to most workshop's ongoing requirements. It does however provide excellent "virtually invisible" supplementary extraction for small tools without needing to drag around the big boys. If your space and budget support it, buy something larger. It does however fill its own unique niche very very well and has a positive home here.
  4. Makita RT0700C Compact Router - part 3

    ----==---- Part 1 - Product Rundown Part 2 - Technical Teardown Part 3 - The Router In Use Part 4 - Modifications/Upgrades Part 5 - Review Discussion ----==---- AK: Alright, now that Carl has gone and shown the guts of this little beast, I'll do a little real-world demo. As I said in part one, my main usage of this router is within jigs and templates that I've designed around the use of a guide bushing. For this demonstration, I'll use the wee Makita with a pair of templates: one for a truss rod rout, another for a pair of channels for carbon fiber reinforcements. What better test than real life? CM: Totally. It all looks good on paper and under the hood, but putting the rubber to the road is a world of difference. AK: Before we get going, let's take a look at some of the exterior features. Here, you can see the power switch, variable speed potentiometer, brush replacement port, and height adjustment for the fixed base. AK: On the underside, a removable plastic (Bakelite) plate. The recess that accepts standard Porter-Cable template guides is clearly visible. CM: I'm going to have to get some of those myself....I think they're only available in Imperial sizes though.... AK: The height adjustment mechanism is a nicely made rack-and-pinion setup. It's reasonably precise and very easy to use, but lacks a truly helpful depth marking system. More on that later. CM: I'd go as far as to calling it a useless adjustment system myself. Then again, anything more complex than this would make it heavier and less compact. At least it's simple to adjust like you say. It just takes a bit of patience to dial it in perfectly. AK: With the base removed so we can install a bit, the manual spindle lock is visible. I wouldn't trust it to ensure proper tightness for operation, but I do use it to get the bit initially secured in place before reaching for the wrenches for final tightening. CM: The larger 8mm Metric collet cones don't seem to want to retain the bit at finger tightness off the spindle lock. I also had to grind my 13mm (~1/2") spanner to fit the narrow shaft recess. The spindle lock cannot and should not be relied upon for final tightening. Even with a spanner on the collet nut. Whether that's because of the larger collet cone, I'm not sure. Still, two spanners is the only way to be sure. AK: Now that the short tour is over, let's get to work! For this demo, I'll use the Makita with a 3/8"OD template bit, paired with a 1/4" downspiral and 1/8" straight bit. AK: First, inserting the 1/8" bit. As I mentioned above, the manual lock is used only to get the bit held in place, then I do the real tightening with the wrenches. CM: As a safety note, this method of "squeezing" two spanners for tightening or loosening is the safest method. If Andrew weren't holding the camera for the photo, his other hand would be on the router body itself. Needless to say, ensuring that it isn't plugged in during bit changes is vital. AK: Now that the router is ready to go, it's time to break out the wood and templates. I'm using Yucatan rosewood for this neck. As a true rosewood, it's fairly hard and will be a good representative of the typical woods you'd expect this router to cut through. AK: For the first set of channels, I need to get to a total depth of 0.325". Since I'm using a very small bit, this needs to be done in 4 passes to minimize the chance of bit breakage. At this stage, we come to a significant downside of the Makita: lack of a useful depth indication system. Honestly, they may as well have not even etched any markings for all the good they do. To combat this, I've had to make a simple setup block. I have marked the depths of each pass I need to make and attached an unused template of the same thickness as the one I'm using at this time. Before each pass, I simply set the bit to match the appropriate line on the block. Maybe a bit crude, but it works well in this case. CM: Same problem here too. I have a Trend Depth Gauge to check bit depths on hand and table routers. Totally worth it! AK: And now for the first set of passes. Each channel gets 4 passes, ending up at a depth of 0.325". As you can see, the router has no trouble with this task, leaving clean and accurate channels. AK: Now for the truss rod channel. Templates are swapped and the 1/4" downspiral is fitted. AK: Again, we end up with a clean, accurate channel with no undue strain on the router's part. AK: If I were asked to name any complaints, I only have two. The depth adjustment markings are pretty well useless due to the lack of a definitive reference point. The scale itself is easy to read, but without another line or arrow or something on the base to measure changes with, it's not very useful. Additionally, the tiny footprint of this tool leads to a definite 'tippy' feel. This issue is just the nature of this type of router and is something Carl and I will address later on. CM: It totally is unbalanced on the edges of cuts. For things like this it's perfect though. A really nice workhorse, so the Porter-Cable bushing set is definitely in my near future, Imperial-sized or not. Even though the depth adjustment is useless (to the point of questioning why it was included in the first place), I think that few (if any) compact units have a usable system. The plunge base accessory is a different game though. We'll look at that in Part 4. AK: Overall, the Makita excels at small tasks like this. It cuts well and never feels out of its depth (no pun intended) as long as you understand that it's not meant for heavy material removal. ----==---- Go to Part 4 - Modifications/Upgrades
  5. Makita RT0700C Compact Router - part 2

    ----==---- Part 1 - Product Rundown Part 2 - Technical Teardown Part 3 - The Router In Use Part 4 - Modifications/Upgrades Part 5 - Review Discussion ----==---- CM: Okay, let's do this. A bit of a teardown. Right off the bat you can see on the motor that Makita haven't tried to cut every corner possible, unlike some manufacturers where this is now commonplace. Material codes are visible on a lot of the parts which makes the assessment of suitability easier. The flyout is invaluable reference material.... (click to embiggen) The two halves of the top shell (1, 13) are a reinforced polymer; polyamide/nylon 6 with 30% glass fibre (PA6-GF30); a tough high quality temp resistant composite which takes a beating. This is a good "standard choice". I've seen routers where the plastics gets cheaped out on, which is a big mistake since they house the top spindle bearing. They could have gone one better with PA66 or something really crazy and overspecified, but we just wouldn't see the difference in anything but the ticket price. By the temps that PA6 starts to turn to spaghetti, you've got bigger problems than spindle runout from a wobbly bearing. This all checks out. Inside the casing, there's a setup very typical of simple modern electronically-controlled routers. All of the components are compactly seated in an intricately-designed enclosure where everything has its place. An unexpected observation is that the cable strain relief (5) is also PA6-GF30! The "black box" contains the electronic brain of the router potted into a small plastic box. This manages the soft start, speed control and houses the spindle speed sensor also. The white box is a line noise suppression capacitor to prevent the harshness of a brush commutated motor pushing electromagnetic dirt back up into your local mains supply. Absolutely nothing unexpected here. Everything was assembled well until I ran in, screwdrivers blazing.... The power switch is a little cheesy, however it's not expected to be a heavy duty cycle trigger switch or anything like that. Interestingly, the contact rating is being run pretty much on the mark if the tool amperage rating (3.1A@240VAC) is anything to go by. I don't think this is a specific symptom of cutting any corners, but it seems run pretty close to its rating. Not a concern in real terms, especially since these can be swapped out on the dollar. That and the maximum consumption of a tool this size will only ever be at startup or stall. The electronic management will no doubt prevent the tool from getting too greedy on the amps at any one point. This IS interesting! The end of the router spindle hiding under that blue nub in the centre is probably keyed and fitted with a magnet. As that spins (up to 30,000RPM!) that magnet will induce a current in the small copper coil. These "variable reluctance sensors" aren't a million miles from how a guitar pickup does its thing. The electronics will be monitoring the frequency of this signal in order to know how fast the spindle is moving at any given time. Primarily this will be for the "constant speed electronics"; if the spindle bogs down mid-cut and isn't spinning as fast as the router is set to run, the electronics will push the spindle harder until it reaches the required speed. The electronics can then back off on the juice. Variable reluctance sensors are an interesting alternative to Hall effect sensors, however they do the same thing. Just one for the electronics geeks. Easing up the sleeve from the main housing reveals the rotor. All of the commutator bars and field windings are epoxied up, plus that magnet at the top of the spindle is revealed. The work that goes into the details of a rotor are usually very telling as to how well the machine will last over time. Cheap out here and everything else sucks also. The main bearings top and bottom are NSK rubber-sealed bearings. Very standard components with known performance in applications such as this. The armature is ground both fore and aft, similar to how weights are added to car wheels for balance to eliminate vibration at high speeds. Clean good-looking work. The spindle-mounted fan pulls air through the body of the router. Given the large open porting in the base however, I can see this not preventing debris from entering the motor. Definitely a good reason not to use this router inverted, and let's face it....that would be a bit of a high expectation for a palm router! The bearings are easily replaceable should they get a bit worn and noisy from the constant side-load that routers subject them to. Most Makita spares dealers carry these items, however being standard NSK bearings, any good bearing dealer will have them or direct equivalents such as SKF, etc. If the motor gets a bit noisy, this is good place to look and often the culprit; the nature of ball bearings rather than a product issue. The area were you really need to be seeing quality is in the rotor and its mounts. These seem adequate enough for a router at this price point, and the router runs smoothly in testament. It sounds fantastic....saying that sounds weird, but it does. The aluminium casing is cast from high quality Chinesium which seems to be moulded a sintered powder alloy. The castings are machined nicely at the point where components mate (motor housing to the inside of bases, for example). I wouldn't expect any casting to survive heavy abuse (being thrown onto concrete?) and certainly this seems a better quality of casting than most. The metal parts only seem to have been made down to a price where its appropriate, rather than to make them as cheap as feasible. That's definitely the theme around this router. ----==---- The overall impression one gets from the teardown is that this is not overbuilt, but certainly hasn't had corners cut here and there simply to provide better return for the shareholders. Everything seems to be as good as it needs to be in order to provide reliable performance, but nothing more. This wasn't a throwaway product designed by committee to bang into a product lineup niche. The fit and finish is precise, and is what you would expect from a tool representing the good side of the Makita brand. In good hands with occasional maintenance, this should go a good distance. The only significant negatives I could support are that airflow through the well-packed upper housing into the motor casing may be a little restrictive. Heat may be an issue with constant use, and like most tools heat is the killer. The other being the light-duty power switch and speed control. Time will tell as to whether those crap out or simply do the job as expected. ----==---- Go to Part 3 - The Router In Use
  6. Makita RT0700C Compact Router - part 1

    The Makita RT0700C (recently updated to RT701C) occupies a nice position in the router market alongside its most visible competitors from Bosch and DeWalt. Originally, compact routers such as these were exclusively designed for trimming and shaping the borders of laminates such as kitchen worktops. More recently, the accessories and design of these tools have made them viable alternatives to larger-format hand routers, plus they are a common feature as the spindle in homebrew CNC routers. For guitar work, compact routers are light and nimble enough to work around headstocks and powerful enough to do all but the heaviest shaping around a solidbody. ----==---- Part 1 - Product Rundown Part 2 - Technical Teardown Part 3 - The Router In Use Part 4 - Modifications/Upgrades Part 5 - Review Discussion ----==---- The motor is available in a number of different packages. The smallest comes with the motor, a fixed base, light edge guide and edge trimmer guide. The fuller kit forms consist of a variety of bases, accessories and storage solutions. Many of these have parts that can be interchanged to suit the task at hand resulting in a smart and flexible package. Purchasers can either pick up a very complete kit at a good price, or buy the minimal kit and supplement it only with the parts they need potentially making a small saving. Underneath the hood, the Makita has soft start to reduce torque spin when powering up the router and constant speed electronics to maintain cutter speed even when labouring in heavier cuts. Speed adjustment from 10k-30k allows cutters to be run only as fast as the jobs requires them to. Capacity-wise, the Makita can be supplemented with a range of collets from 1/4" and 3/8" Imperial, or 6mm and 8mm Metric. The motor is rated as 710W giving it a fair amount of go in a very compact unit compared to the Bosch Colt at 600W but falling a little short of the heavier DeWalt at 900W. On paper the Makita hits the target points that some routers miss by a mile. How much rubber does the Makita really put to the road and how far can we take it? Example of a RT070xCX3 kit ----==---- Gear Rundown CM: I opted for a barebones RT0700C motor body which came supplied with a 1/4" collet cone, the fixed base and trimming edge guide. I added the plunge base, dust collection connectors and an 8mm collet cone to suit my personal needs. Short of the guide bushings this seems like the best combination for me. I guess you snagged a full kit, Andrew? AK: Actually, my kit was pretty barebones as well. In my box was the motor with 1/4" collet, fixed base, and a straight edge guide. I wish mine had come with the edge trimming attachment, that looks like a genuinely nice piece to have. For my own usage habits, I haven't felt the need to pick up any additional bases. I will end up buying the dust collection accessories at some point later, likely when I can set up my own dedicated work space with good collection. CM: Oh right....well to be fair a lot of the things are a bit pointless for our needs really so that makes sense. I'd see if you can pick up that edge trimming guide if you can....you'll see why when I reveal the mod I did to it! You've had a lot more hands-on time with this router that I have, whereas I went for it because of the modification potential. I think I spend more time making/modifying tools and jigs than I do making guitars....then again, that's the name of the game.... AK: I agree, this router definitely has great potential for modification and use in various jigs and fixtures. Actually, one of the main reasons I picked this model was the compatibility with standard Porter-Cable style guide bushings. This is a huge boon for me personally, as I like to use guide bushings for a variety of tasks. CM: I decided not to pull the trigger on the standard Makita bushings too. I know a bunch of people like yourself use third-party bushings, so I definitely think a good set of them is in my future. I guess that being Porter-Cable style, then the Whiteside router inlay bushing set would be compatible too....definitely useful for things like flush-fit control plates. Okay, well let's get this on the road....firstly, I'll void my warranty for the greater good! ----==---- Go to Part 2 - Technical Teardown
  7. The first slotting box I bought was the basic StewMac version, well over a decade ago. It consisted of little more than an aluminium box with a template locating pin and a couple of chunks of brass to guide my blade. In spite of its simplicity and clunkiness, it worked pretty well. Since my box disappeared (long story) I slotted my boards manually, and my fretwork sometimes suffered because of it. After all, that's what the mitre box was for in the first place; manually hand-sawing slots is a slow and tiring task, needing lots of eye-squinting and concentration. Over the years, designers have evolved the original mitre slotting box design into something that works far better than my original box ever did. Time to have a serious look at mitre slotting again! ----==---- Rather than replacing my old box with the newest version from StewMac, I looked towards Guitars and Woods, a company based in Portugal. Established in 2011, G&W serve a worldwide customer base with luthiery tools, jigs, templates and supplies which equal those of the most visible US-based counterparts whilst being more affordable. I've purchased from G&W a few times both via their eBay store and directly via the website, and its saved me a fair penny every time. Despite explosive growth over the last few years, G&W are still hands-on with their customers which makes a big difference in my book. Being "this side of the pond" myself, the G&W slotting box costs about half of what buying one from StewMac or Luthier's Mercantile would. Exchange rates, shipping and import costs makes ordering from the US somewhat prohibitive these days so how hard anything hits the back pocket can be a real deal-maker even if it the product isn't the same as more costly counterparts....so let's get this bit out of the way first. This mitre slotting box is just as good as its equivalents and has a couple of neat tricks up its sleeve if you think outside the box. That joke had to be made, believe me. ----==---- The box arrives fully assembled. The only setup work required is to confirm that the box's fences are set perfectly square so that the saw will cut at a perfect 90°. By inserting the fret saw and examining the reflection of a guaranteed-square reference in the box, the side walls are easily aligned. All tools needed for adjustment of the box (two sizes of Allen key) are included. Something that some sellers neglect with their tools. The format of the box is most similar to the StewMac slotting box, which more or less established itself as the standard. A three-sided aluminium wall enclosure with height and width-adjustable bearing guides. A locating pin within the box engages with acrylic or metal fret slotting templates and is compatible with those available from G&W, StewMac, etc. or you can simply make your own. The intended use is to affix your fingerboard to one of these notched templates using double-sided tape, locate the template notches with the pin, saw the slot and move the template along each successive notch. Very simple and effective, and no different to my original box. The simple set-screw retained brass guide blocks have been replaced with thumbwheel height-adjustable blocks fitted with guide bearings for the blade. The saw moves smoothly through the cut with little resistance, allowing your concentration to be on the cut and not the tool. Depth of cut is precisely determined through the four thumbwheels located on each block; as the saw progresses through the cut, the uppermost bearings contact the spine of the saw when the set depth is reached and cutting stops. The box is compatible with any fret saw with a spine parallel to the cutting edge. I prefer the very traditional PAX fret saws made by British company Thomas Flinn & Co. however the common Japanese-style pull saws for fretting work just as well. Establishing the depth of cut is also a simple procedure. The workpiece is placed into the box and the height adjustment blocks are unlocked with the supplied Allen wrench. The fret saw is mounting in place so that the cutting edge rests on the workpiece surface. Lowering all four guide blocks creates a gap between the spine of the saw and the bearing surface. This gap corresponds exactly to the depth of cut that the saw will be allowed to make. The gap is easily measured with a steel ruler or even against a piece of your fretwire. Very straightforward and intuitive. Once the adjustment has been made and all four bearings are level, the blocks are cinched together against the blade to prevent any lateral movement and re-tightened. Done! Drilled and countersunk holes in the box allow it to be mounted onto your bench or onto a larger base. For my own part, I mounted the box onto a wider support board with a flange for retention by my bench's leg vise. A pair of toggle clamps allow the workpiece to be retained without impeding work visibility. Magnets glued into a spare area on the box allows me to keep the supplied Allen keys with the tool itself. A quick tutorial on how I made this base is available HERE The fit and finish of the slotting box is excellent with no rough edges or burrs anywhere. The box is anodised a very impressive-looking black, making it look a lot less utilitarian than brushed aluminium, plus making it resistant to corrosion and dirt over time. Clearly G&W's intention was a tool that they can be proud of and be a "flagship" for the brand. It's definitely a striking bit of equipment, no doubt about that. The only downside to a black finish is that dust shows up very easily....a good excuse to form the habit of cleaning tools after use! A unique aspect of the G&W mitre slotting box is its capacity; in addition to the standard 3"/75mm mitre box base, G&W opted to produce an optional wider version, increasing its capacity to 4"/100mm; far wider than any other box on the market. For those of us producing large bass or extended range instrument boards, this is a welcome and very much unparalleled feature. The only downside of this additional width is that templates are left with a gap of about 1" or 25mm between the edge and the front wall. No big deal if you clamp your work prior to cutting, and a small 25mm shim added beside your template quickly solves this. Whilst not an intended feature of design, the wide 4" capacity base allows fingerboards to be skewed at an angle within the box which enables slotting multiscale boards. This ability will come as a welcome bonus for many given the explosion of popularity in multiscale instrument making. I'll demonstrate how this is done accurately and without using templates in an upcoming tutorial (pending link).... The one negative point I picked up from this slotting box is that it cannot slot a single-piece Fender-style neck, however neither can any other slotting box on the market. This said, it is not difficult to work around and only requires a simple reconfiguration of the slotting box to enable. This is another aspect where the wider base shines, allowing workpieces of headstock width to be secured within the box. Again, I'll detail this in a future tutorial (pending link). ----==---- Having been manually slotting my boards for too many years, I am excited to have brought back in this vital addition to any workshop, especially one that is of great quality and has flexible working options beyond its design remit. For the beginner wanting to step up their game a little, or a small shop needing a reliable slotting station it's an affordable and highly recommended purchase. Buying pre-slotted boards is a costly premium to pay and often still requires a little adjustment of the depth and internal slot radius. Slotting your own boards quickly pays for itself, and you have freedom of choice in material selection, odd scale lengths, etc. Overall, I don't dread the thought of fret slotting any more. My grip strength has become poorer as the years have gone on. Slotting just one board often needs me to take a couple of breaks because of simple fatigue. I should have gotten a mitre slotting box sooner for all of these reasons. Slotting boards should be part of the joy and not a labourious chore....this box certainly brings back that bit of joy. ----==---- Current list price on the Guitars and Woods Miter Fret Slotting box is €129 (just shy of USD$150 at the time of writing) with the wider base being a €10 package upgrade or available as a separate item. Check G&W's site at https://guitarsandwoods.com for more information and current pricing. https://guitarsandwoods.com/index.php?route=product/search&search=miter
  8. LMI Plate Joining Jig

    Jointing plates - whether it is a decorative top for a solidbody or the soundboard/back for an acoustic - are essential jobs in a guitar workshop. Up until now I have tackled these jobs by clamping a beam to my table top, laying the plate halves on the bench, placing a small baton under the joint and clamping a second beam to snug things up, then apply glue, remove the baton and thus creating enough clamping pressure. This is tedious and time consuming. Enter the LMI plate jointing jig! The jig comes unassembled and is made out of sturdy plywood. The parts have a snug fit although there are some parts that don't align 100%, whist the two ”flat beds” aren't completely flat if a straightedge is used to check them. There were also minor issues with the wedges being a bit rough and getting stuck when inserted between the rope and the plate. Nothing that a bit of sanding couldn't fix, but for this price it shouldn't be required. Will this affect the performance of the jig? Let's see later on. It is useful to note that the wedges have an "up" and a "down" side. The edge of the wedge is slightly bevelled to ease the insertion, something I didn't notice at first. Maybe that is mentioned in on the accompanying DVD. I write ”maybe” as the DVD is of the DVD-R type with a printed label; the label is so thick I cannot insert it in the disc slot of my Mac! After that part failing I didn't dare insert it in the home entertainment system's BluRay player, so I actually have no idea what’s on the DVD. On contacting LMI about the DVD issue I received a very nice letter from the Sales Manager stating that I was the first customer complaining about this issue, however they would look into it to see if there is a better solution. That is how a customer feedback should be handled! The DVD issue aside, the jig is pretty self-explanatory. If you have a look at the online videos at www.lmii.com you should be fine if you happen to have issues with the DVD. I also had a problem with one of the screws getting jammed in the nut. After a bit of effort to get it out, I lightly filed the faulty thread away and started over. No biggie, but again something to watch out for. In Use After you have assembled the jig, usage is pretty straightforward. Place the bottom part of the jig on you bench, apply glue on the jointed board's edges and lay them on the jig. Place the top part on the top and make a repeated figure eight around the top/bottom part of the jig's ”legs” and lock them firmly in the quick-lock fixture. Inserting the wedges applies additional pressure to clamp the joint shut, whilst also aligning the plates laterally. If needed, the wedges can be given a light tap with a hammer to adjust pressure on the joint. Note the holes in the wedges were made by myself as I was afraid I needed them to help retract the wedges. Something that I discovered was totally unnecessary when I did my tests. The use of the tool is really a no-brainer. If my explaining it in written form leaves you slightly puzzled, this video at LMI's webpage demonstrates it perfectly so you should be fine: Talking about no-brainer, this is the bevel on the wedges that I didn't notice. Inserting then the right way up makes things a bit smoother! An added benefit with this jig - compared to my old method - is that as soon as the plates are in the jig, the entire jig can be picked up and put aside, thus freeing up room on the bench. The Result The result of the joint is of cause totally dependent on the efforts you put into jointing the plate edges beforehand. No jig can make up for sloppy craftsmanship there! Or can it? I decided to put the jig to some serious testing....I intentionally left a slight gap between the plates in one of my tests. The edges were perfectly squared off, the ends met each other perfectly but at the middle I had something like a ¼ mm gap. This particular plate was a maple top with plenty of extra width that I could be cut up and started over should the experiment not turn out well. I glued up the plate with that gap still there to see if the jig had enough clamping power to close the gap, and it did. I had to tap the wedges somewhat with a hammer to see a nice glue squeezeout in the middle but the gap was indeed closed. The result was confirmed after the glue dried and I had the glue squeeze out scraped away. Really impressive. The lateral alignment of the plates was close too, but not entirely perfect. I'd say it was on par with my old method. So it handles hard wood tops very well. Lets see how it handles soft wood tops like an acoustic soundboard. Or wait! Let's make up a really rough test. In one of my wood shipments the supplier had used a cracked spruce top as packing material. So I had an un-jointed piece of wood (OK, with the original crack on both sides...), missing a few fibres here and there and its all quite soft. Could I use the jig to glue those scrap pieces together without even jointing them? Well, yes and no. The joint is slightly sub standard with tiny gaps were some fibres were missing but that’s not really the point. I could get away with using it for something simple of for someone having his or her first go at an acoustic guitar. But the main point is that was able to force the plates together hard enough to close almost all gaps from the missing fibres, and crush a few still attached but misaligned fibres to conform to the rest of the wood, thereby making it possible to get a half-decent joint strong enough to hold up to generous bending, twisting and pulling from yours truly, today's product tester. One of my main reasons for doing this peculiar test is to see how the ropes pushing the plates together would affect the outside edges of the top when applying high pressure on a sub-standard joint in softwood. There were some marks from the ropes but really not too bad. On the contrary; it was totally acceptable when bearing in mind the rough time I gave the top! Verdict The jig passed both my tests with flying colours. Since then I have used it on a few more tops, among them the birch top in the pictures. In use it is simple and almost foolproof. The result is impressive, especially with the maple top that got clamped together in spite of the slight gap. The delivered item however, leaves a few things to wish for: General fit and finish. For the price of this jig, the cut surfaces of the plywood should really be kissed with a little sandpaper before shipping.The faulty screw that jammed in the nut. Really? It would be more favourable to increase the price of the jig by a dollar or two purely to include consistent hardware.The DVD issue. Simple on-body printing is a relatively accessible option and better than thick/heavy labels.The alignment of the parts could be a tad better, however I'm being a little picky. The jig works exactly as intended despite any of this.So in the end it is a pricey but very well-functioning tool with maybe a few quirks that really shouldn't be there. If LMI had those issued sorted out (and maybe the price reduced to, say 99$) it would get my 100% recommendation. If I had to rate it, I'd say 3.5 out of 5 “stars”. For the price of the jig, it should be perfect out of the box.
  9. Luthiery shares many aspects with fine woodworking, with several of the hackneyed platitudes ("measure twice cut once!") and process methods being shared. Most of my working time is spent transferring lovingly-calculated measurements from (in my instance, CAD) plans to the workpiece itself. This deserves the best concentration you can sum up and clear application to the job at hand. It's impossible to put that wood back once you've whizzed it up into chips and sent it up the extractor tube and then found out your marking out was at fault! Everything you can pour into the reliability of your plan-to-workpiece marking pays off through the finished product. Being distracted by a petulant pencil lead breaking or needing sharpening really doesn't help. I am of the opinion that a mechanical pencil is the most appropriate marking method for guitar work, or indeed any precision woodworking outside of joinery where perhaps a marking knife/gauge might be considered. Standard wooden pencils just don't cut it as the point varies in size through use and the continual time required to maintain a sharp point leaves you more of a pencil maintainer than a guitar builder. A couple of years ago I invested in some of INCRA's precision marking tools which are configured to be used with 0,5mm pencils. This led me into a long adventure of passively trying out a number of affordable mechanical pencils. I whimsically bought a bunch from Cult Pens (www.cultpens.com) including these Pilot Shakers, a couple of Uni Kuru Togas, a Pilot Supergrip, a Faber-Castell (I forget the model) and a few other cheapie pencils. Nothing really over the €10 mark (most were far less than that) since beyond this point you start seeing pencils designed for technical drawing and not marking up wood. These were all meant for use within the workshop, so immediately they'd be in a dusty environment and pocketed with other tools for hours at a time. No special care was taken to "protect" them. I do a lot of furniture work in addition to guitar-building, so by default they were being put into a punishing work environment. I ditched the leads that came with the pencils and loaded them all up with Pentel Ain Stein leads. Wood is rarely as consistent in its surface as paper (even after thickness sanding) and these have proven to be strong and resistant to hanging up and breaking as they pass over the grain and pores. Initially I disliked The Shaker. They're noticeably stouter (okay, "fat") compared to the other pencils, with the Kuru Toga (M5-450T) a close second. Within two months I'd experienced broken mechanisms, bent tips and a cracked body on almost all of the pencils. The Shaker admittedly saw less use than the others at first, but has outlasted them all by a clear margin and is still going strong. No issues in the slightest. The body is dinged, scratched and heavily weathered. The rubber grip is still in place and shows no signs of breaking up or stretching out. Fantastic. So what's different about this pencil? Well, there isn't that much to say about a pencil I guess. Certainly, the face that the tip is retractable is a big bonus. Being both "pocket safe" and resistant to tip damage helps. Compared to the slender pens and pencils that I prefer for writing and paper drawing work, I eventually warmed to the thicker grippier size of The Shaker. It is better in a workshop environment. Tired hands with poor grip strength can still confidently articulate around this pencil better after several hours of hard graft. The weight is welcome and confident. The primary selling point of this pencil is the "The Shaker" mechanism of course. Is it a gimmick or a genuine boon? Well, it has to be both. You don't need the shaker mechanism in the slightest. In fact, the pencil works identically to a "normal" mechanical pencil in spite of it. A heavy press on the rear button retracts or extends the writing tip whilst a light press advances the lead. No surprises there. The mechanism itself is a "double knock" where a quick shake upwards and downwards shifts a sprung internal weight to advance the lead mechanism. It works so nicely you can happily do two-three quick shakes at once to advance a larger amount of lead. Very nice. Where it does come in handy is when your lead breaks mid markup, especially during long lines whilst holding a straightedge or template securely. The simple difference is not needing to alter pencil grip to push the lead advance with your thumb, and instead sharply shaking the pencil once or twice. This allows you to maintain concentration on your work, rather than on maintaining your pencil. I've come to rely on this simple difference so much over the intervening months that I unconsciously shake all pencils and pens when the lead breaks or the ink runs out now.... The original pencil is still working hard in the workshop. I bought another couple a few weeks back, and they feel identical to the one that has seen over a year of hammer. That of itself is impressive. The only real negative I could try and extract is that the shaker mechanism only seems to work on leads that are already engaged in the main mechanism rather than taking new ones up from the barrel. The last half-inch of lead that is normally supported by advancement of the subsequent one "shakes forward" but pushes backwards unless a new lead is manually advanced. A minor annoyance at best, and certainly not one that detracts from the simple usefulness of this pencil. If I was allowed to improve the design, I wouldn't change much if anything. Whilst one might thinks that a metal body would be better, the plastic one seems just as appropriate. The simple rubber grip is simplicity and works perfectly. Everything that I could imagine to be an improvement is more down to vanity cosmetics than a real practical upgrade. All in all, a pencil that performs excellently and seems durable enough to survive life with me. That of itself is not easy, and under ten sheets? This pencil has seen me through a small number of instruments and a lot of household furniture items. It has been lost, dropped, washed, left in piles of dust, thrown at people and shaken but never stirred. Pilot's "The Shaker" mechanism is available in a number of models, however this is the only one with a retractable tip. I recommend off the back of that alone. I wouldn't "upgrade" to the more expensive models since this simple aspect knocks it out of the park. Since I originally bought this pencil, other manufacturers have started to incorporate double-knock shaker mechanisms into their pencils....none of them have yet included the retractable tip! Pilot name this the "neXTage" in the US, so have a hunt around. Definitely worth a few Dollars/Euros/quid/francs/shekels to have for your marking up. The minor differences they add to your workflow and concentration are worth far more than these cost. update: These pencils have become my go-to since writing this article. I keep a few hanging around the toolbox at all times, and have a couple on my desk also. Great bang for the buck!
  10. Shaping wood is a visceral and rewarding process, especially when making items which will be felt, handled and appreciated for their physical form and ergonomics. Controlling the final form of the workpiece is an ability that benefits from a patient and intimate relationship between the material, tool and the craftsman. The end product is often all that is seen upon completion rather than the process itself, however that end product always benefits from the care and attention of the process. Commonly, rasps are mass-manufactured and can easily be bought for a few dollars each at the big box store. One could believe that consistency would be the key to quality in rasps. In reality, this could not be farther from the truth. Machine-made rasps' primary failing is due to their lack of human inconsistency. Sight down the rows of teeth on a machine-made rasp and you will immediately notice linear uniformity. A typical stroke from these rasps produces an initial cut, after which the teeth create and follow linear ruts with little to no more stock removal. To continue cutting, the angle, position of attack or the pressure must be continually altered. The uncut surface and the ruts differ in height greatly, requiring significant sanding work to smooth out. It is immediately clear that here the tool is leading the craftsman and not the other way around! Quality hand cut rasps are work-intensive and expensive. Each tooth must be "stitched" by hand consistently with each tooth positioned accurately. That is to say, as accurately as is required; natural variations of spacing between teeth and their rows creates a cutting surface with no true linearity. The upshot of this is that a hand-made rasp does not leave deep rutting in the workpiece and requires significantly less pressure to cut. Hand-stitched rasps return control to the user. On one hand they can remove material at a prodigious rate, whilst on the other they can be used with a far lighter touch for delicate refining work. Hand-stitched rasps are available from a number of manufacturers. At the lower end of the range are the simple and inexpensive imported Dragon rasps sold by StewMac. Going up in cost and intrinsic quality of workmanship and results, one will encounter names like Gramercy, Auriou and of course Liogier. LMI also offer a choice of hand cut rasps. The choice to review a top-of-the-line rasp was a relatively specific one; cheaper tools are commonly a waste of money or at worst a liability. Risking an expensive workpiece with hours of investment tied into it with cheap tools plainly does not make sense. Demonstrating how far up the line quality can extend, reviewing a "lifetime investment" tool illustrates the greater scope of tool quality and the returns to be expected. The Liogier workshop is situated in the beautiful south-west of France close to Saint-Étienne. The family have been producing world-class handmade rasps for four generations, recently being accredited with the status of 'Ambassador of French Excellence' designated to an elite few who represent the finest of French craftsmen. All processes are controlled to exacting specifications in-house without compromise or working down to a price point. Raw ultra-fine steel alloy is heated to around 1250°C/2300°F and formed by a heavy swaging die to both provide shape and correct the grain orientation. This also removes any physical inconsistencies - such as voids - present in the raw stock to ensure a perfect blank. Subsequent grinding and polishing stages provides a smooth aligned plane so that each tooth's height is consistent with others across the cutting face. Overview of the Liogier work processes: After lengthy discussions with Noel about his experience in the requirements of a guitar and bass luthier (several smaller violin-oriented rasps already exist within their portfolio) we decided that a non-specialist "go-to" rasp, or one that represents the best "first choice" would be the best as the basis for review. The Liogier Cabinet Maker's rasp profile has both a flat and convex face. Length and heft is perfect for efficiently carving body contours or shaping an entire neck, all without being too large to dial in heels or volutes. Available in lengths from 6"-12" with stitching grains from super-fine (#15) to highly coarse (#2) we decided that a 10" rasp stitched to #10 would provide the widest number of uses for the luthier. Finally, the rasp was specified to be stitched for use by a right-handed user. Wow! The cost of this specification of Cabinet Maker's rasp from Liogier at the time of writing is around €75 (USD$94). Without doubt this is a significant cost, however it is worth noting that with basic care and maintenance this is a high-performance tool that should only require replacement after many many projects worth of work. Cheaper rasps have a very limited lifetime with unsatisfactory performance, often leaving them ending up in the bin after comparatively little use. Given that the choice of purchasing a "world's best tool for a lifetime of joyous use" is only a few times the cost of "world's worst tool for a few awkward hellish stressful weeks of doubting your woodworking abilities and questioning your existence" it makes sense to invest in a forward-thinking manner. The Liogier portfolio contains many alternative profiles and rasp shapes. Whilst the Cabinet Maker's rasp represents the tool that would provide the most use across more working processes, your own working style and requirements may better suit an alternatively-proportioned flat/round rasp such as the Half Round (smaller radii to the Cabinet Maker's), Modeller's Rasp (smaller radii, narrower for more detail and access), dual radius Sage Leaf or even curved bodies like the Handle Maker's rasp. The rasp arrived by courier and was a trepidacious moment to unbox given the stellar reputation associated with Liogier. True to expectation, the teeth were razor sharp to the touch and consistently stitched across both sides of the blade, right to the very edges and spaced surprisingly close to each other. What could be seen of the original blank blade surface was polished to a smooth satin. The lacquered French Oak handle was a most welcome addition, conspicuously absent from other rasp manufacturers. Having become accustomed to turning handles for rasps, files and chisels it was pleasant to note that the handle "handled" well in the various grips I use. After three months of living with the rasp, the only thing I would change about it is the finish. I prefer raw or oiled wood handles, however this is simple preference and not a slight on the choice of finish by Liogier. The testing methodology for the rasp was relatively simple and practical. The first tests were to examine performance in shaping a neck profile after producing a heel and volute. How close to the finished sizes can this rasp get? Does it require significant work to remove tooling marks? Is it controllable and precise? Does it cut or does it tear? Does it provide a wide range of uses or is it more specific? After the practical tests a few potentially destructive torture tests! Is this a tool for life? At what point does work become too much for the tool? -------------- I had two necks on the bench at the time of testing plus a variety of scraps common to guitar builders. The first neck was a laminate of Birch and Wengé for a bass. Anybody unfamiliar with Birch should consider it most similar to Maple in terms of workability. The volute transition was a simple flat V with graduations into concave wings either side of the headstock. Shaping to this stage was limited to neck thickness within a few mm and edge profiling. The first step was producing the rough neck profile behind the first fret with straight cuts using the length of the blade, combining both the convex and flat faces. As expected, the rasp cut quickly with added pressure and quick strokes. Extremely quickly. New users to hand-stitched rasps might easily shoot past their mark until they become accustomed to the tool. Easing back on the attack pressure produced a much finer surface with far lighter stock removal. Of itself this is a huge difference between hand-stitched and machine-stitched rasps; the ability to alter your working rate from pure hogging to finessing, all within the same tool and cutting paths. Also of note is the smoother and more consistent work within each stroke. The random tooth pattern cuts throughout the entire stroke rather than teeth running through ruts. You can sit in one position hacking away, watching a steady stream of material being removed rather than being forced to adjust position to find a new direction of cut that won't just run through the last. Easing back on the working pressure lets the weight of the tool and its razor-sharp teeth smooth out the surface to a finer cut. I kid you not - this neck profile and the blending into the headstock was produced from a square profile to this within five minutes! The surface finish is rough but possessed none of the deep gouges that machine-made rasps leave. A quick cleanup starting with 100-120 grit paper removed the fuzzies and showed a clean and consistent surface requiring very little shaping work. The flat face of the rasp proved the profile wonderfully. Moving to the heel produced the same quick and controllable results. Working right up to my cut lines and the fingerboard seam proved to be easy and without issue. None of the random "tooth biting out a chip". Consistent and reliable, plus a joy to use. It is all over too quickly, unfortunately. After finishing up the remainder of the neck with a spokeshave, the flat face of the rasp blended the two areas together seamlessly. It is quite feasible that the rasp could have finished up the entire neck without the involvement of a spokeshave, however I wanted to move on to see how it worked in other materials.... My conclusion from shaping in this bass neck was overwhelmingly positive. The tool did not lead itself out of the cut direction and chip blowout at the end of a cut was virtually zero. I elected to order the tool in a grain size between the two recommended by Noel (slightly coarser #9 and finer #11) however I would expect that both of these would have an equally agreeable rate of cut for pure stock removal and a fine finish ready for fine-tuning with sandpaper grades just above "coarse". The length of the rasp allowed excellent stroke length and for me to rest my left palm on the end of the tool gripped for hogging. The taper is stitched as densely as the rest of the blade as perfectly picked into the concave portions of the headstock transition. The exposed end grain in this area cut excellently without ugly scars or gouges, leaving a surface not dissimilar to that of a coarse grade paper such as #60. The 10" length of the tool is perhaps a little unwieldy for fine work in these areas which immediately made me think of a 5" Sage Leaf rasp or even a 4-5" Rat Tail. Given the one-size-fits-all nature of the tool specified it still produced an excellent result with patience. It is worth noting that the 5-piece set of rasps offered by Liogier consists of a coarse #6 12" Cabinet Maker's rasp, followed by a less-coarse #9 10" and a medium-coarse #11 8". This #10 10" splits the difference quite nicely, however I can see where the benefits of working through multiple grain and tool sizes would lead to a more efficient workflow. Testing the rasp rounding over a few common and problematic materials showed no real dramas except on a piece of Paperstone composite, which chipped itself to death. Khaya and Iroko produced beautiful results with fine furry final surfaces needing only scraping or finish sanding. I imagine Sapele and the genuine Mahoganies would be just as favourable, if not better. The hundreds (maybe thousands?) of sharp teeth and excellent contact area do what they are meant to do, slicing through all manner of obstinate and otherwise difficult wood fibres without issue. The final test was one I saved for last out of good reason. A solid Wengé neck is a test that I expected difficulties with, and I wasn't far off the mark. The same shaping methods used for the Birch/Wengé neck produced the same fast and clean results. Wengé is a spectacularly hard wood and prone to chipping out when you really don't want it to. On that basis I refrained from working too closely to cut lines and unsupported grain. The work was significantly harder than the previous neck and the rasp needed de-clogging more than once. Ultimately, it produced relatively similar results albeit half as quickly. That is still pretty impressive going! Unfortunately while working the Wengé - a timber known for its unforgiving hardness - a small number of teeth were thrown. Harder woods like Sheoak, Katalox or African Blackwood may produce the same issue, however the tendency of Wengé to contain mineral deposits may be the reason this test demonstrated that sometimes the more extreme examples of woods win over metal. Certainly, the rest of the rasp was not blunted or in any observable way affected by the Wengé, and in the intervening months since the tests were carried out the rasp has been involved in many projects larger and more involved than simply shaping a guitar neck or tummy cut. The rasp is working just as well for me as it did on day one despite its encounter with the demon-whose-name-is-Wengé. I would however be very tempted to purchase my next rasp(s) from Liogier with the "Sapphire" coating treatment. In addition to hardening and extending the life of the teeth, coating also reduces the tendency of rasps to clog with waste material. Whilst cleaning a clogging rasp with compressed air or a brass brush is no big hassle, it can become a chore and the aspect of tougher tooth strength is of benefit to anybody who commonly use harder materials in their builds. How do Liogier rasps compare to other similar hand-stitched rasps out there? Definite differences do exist that might not be immediately obvious without deeper inspection. Quality of tooth geometry can make one hand-stitched rasp perform significantly differently to another. The shape, orientation, consistency of height and gullet capacity affect how efficiently a rasp cuts without producing unevenness or premature clogging. Liogier state this quite emphatically, and that learning the hand-stitching process to the standard before rasps can be sold takes two years. This is in addition to the other very specific processes each rasp has to go through from stock to finished tool! Attention to detail in the grinding and polishing of the rasp blank prior to stitching directly affects tooth tip quality and durability; imperfections left in a blank end up at the tips of the teeth. Choice of base material and tempering techniques can produce a rasp that is either overly brittle (potentially cracking when dropped!) or soft and unable to maintain good tooth sharpness. Liogier take great pride in producing rasps with an optimum between these two; a rasp with a hardened exterior and a forgiving core. As investment tools, Liogier rasps are both a sensible decision and an eye-opening experience. The absence of control and lack of satisfactory results from cheap machine-made rasps makes the choice a simple one. The instruments we make are in intimate contact with the player; the same process happens during the shaping of those parts. We need to feel the contours and form develop to produce an instrument that feels like it was built for our hands. How can we do that with an unpredictable unsatisfactory tool that doesn't do what we ask it to do? Working with the world's best hand-made rasps is directly comparable to working with the world's best hand-made instruments. They are incomparable. Liogier rasps are available directly from Liogier in France or alternatively Lee Valley in Canada.
  11. LMI string height gauge

    Today's luthiers have at their disposal a bewildering array of tools and jigs to perform measurements of their instruments whilst under construction and during set-up. One such tool that has been developed in recent years to help simplify the process of setting up a guitar is a Nut Slot Depth Gauge or String Height Gauge. These tools enable a more accurate and direct measurement of the string height over the first fret by providing a real-time readout of the distance. Traditionally the string height is checked by depressing the string at the third fret and checking the distance between the string and the first fret. With a Nut Slotting Gauge the string height over the fretboard at the first fret is first measured. The string is then depressed on both sides of the first fret, and the two measurements are compared. By subtracting the fret height and the string thickness you get the exact height of the string over the first fret. In reality this is often done by zeroing the tool in one of the two positions - string depressed or string released. While constantly checking those measurements during the nut slotting process the user can dial in the string height to an accuracy of one hundredth of an inch. For several years the only commercially-available tool was the Nut Slotting Gauge by Stewart-MacDonald, based on a mechanical readout dial. A fresh newcomer has entered the market in the form of the Digital String Height Gauge by Luthiers Mercantile International Inc. This tool performs the same function as the Stewmac Nut Slotting Gauge, but is based on a digital caliper mechanism adapted for measuring the height of the strings over the first fret. Recently I had the opportunity to try out the LMI Digital Gauge and compare it to the well-established Stewmac unit during some set-up work. First Impressions The LMI unit is made of plastic and is much lighter compared to the Stewmac tool, the latter being of metal construction with a heavy brass base. Don't let the light weight of the LMI gauge fool you though; in use it still gives the Stewmac version a run for its money. I have now used it on quite a few new nuts and setups on older instruments and it works exactly as it should. As the LMI unit lacks the brass base it is sometimes a little hard to balance the tool when measuring the outer E-strings, but with a bit of practice that can easily be overcome. In that area the Stewmac unit performed much better with its wider and heavier base, allowing it to stand freely without toppling over. On the other hand, the lack of a wide base that straddles several strings simultaneously means that the LMI unit is much more flexible in terms of usage with odd string spreads (for example, on bass guitars). One possibly-unforeseen disadvantage to the Stewmac tool's heavier base is that it is far more likely to cause scratches or dents if knocked over or dropped onto the instrument. The LMI tool being purely a manual hand tool will never be left on an instrument unchecked. Zeroing the Stewmac gauge to start performing string height measurements is accomplished by lowering the mechanical plunger until it just contacts the top of the string and then rotating the dial until the pointer indicates "0". The LMI tool zeroing function is much simpler in that the tool is placed on the string and then the "Zero" button is depressed. In practice I found it much simpler, and more exact to reverse the ”measure/reset” routine suggested in the tools' documentation. I lightly depress the plunger so that the string rests on the fret and zero it in that position. By doing so the measurement will be a displayed as a negative number when the string pushes the plunger back up after being released. After the first zeroing I can put the gauge away and work on the nut slot. When I want to measure again, I don't need to reset the gauge. Instead I just place the gauge over the fret, rest the plunger against the string and read the string height instantly on the display. And it is much more accurate to zero the tool against the fret/string rather than on the flexing string suspended in free air. Both tools perform equally well in this regard, with the LMI gauge having the edge over the Stewmac version in terms of ease-of-use. Having a tool like this will make your set-up jobs more accurate and most of all, consistent and more repeatable. If you take notes on your setups you can very easily duplicate the results on several instruments at once. Very useful for technicians working on more than one of a client's instruments. The LMI tool works well on both guitars and basses equally, and with a variety of string spacings or multiple course instruments such as 12-strings. The Stewmac version has a base that spans three strings keeping it more stable, but disqualifying it for use with instruments featuring wide string spacings. Stewmac however do offer a Nut Slotting Gauge with a different base for use with bass guitars at an additional cost. Verdict In my shootout between the Stewmac and the LMI gauges I found the latter to be faster and easier to use overall. The base of the tool is much more flexible when it comes to string spread and gauges. The Stewmac tool wins in terms of being more stable when measuring the outer strings (extra points awarded as it will never run out of battery power). Under heavy use in a workshop I am concerned that the plastic parts of the LMI unit might not survive as well as the Stewmac version, however I have not had the tool long enough to be able to make any definitive conclusions about that quality of its construction. In general a guitar workshop is not a hectic workplace so these types of tools should not be subject to excessive wear and tear. If we look at the monetary side of things the LMI gauge is a sure winner at about 75% the price of the Stewmac version. Additionally you would have to purchase two gauges from Stewmac to work on do both guitars and basses. Both the Stewmac Nut Slotting Gauges and the LMI String Height Gauge perform exactly as advertised; they let you increase the accuracy, repeatability and quality of your setups. My heartfelt recommendation is that get your hands on one of these gauges for this common and crucial task in the guitar workshop. Your setups and customers will see the difference. http://www.lmii.com/products.html?page=shop.browse&category_id=1460 http://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Tools_by_Job/Measuring/Nut_Slotting_Gauge.html
  12. Routing binding channels around a flat surface is a basic operation where a router cutter is guided around the target surface with an offset equal to the depth of the channel required. Either the cutter itself has a specifically-undersized guide bearing or the routing fixture holds the workpiece a set distance from the cutter. This operation can be carried out either using a hand router or a router table. Several common supply outlets sell router cutters along with bearing sets for a number of common offset sizes: StewMac Binding Router Bit Set (US)http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Special_tools_for_Routing/Binding_Router_Bit_Set.htmlLMII Binding Cutter & Bearings (US)http://www.lmii.com/products/tools-services/binding-tools/binding-cutter-bearingsRall Guitars Adjustable Downshear Binding Cutter (Germany)http://shop.rall-online.net/epages/61511639.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/61511639/Products/19110002Binding channels around a surface which is not flat presents a number of difficulties. I have used the router sitting on top of the body. I have used a router table set up with a ”doughnut” riser which rides under the body against the non-flat top with spacers at odd positions and with odd workholding attachments along the perimeter such as this: However, it is not a simple or convenient job to get the spacers to hold a non-flat body very well and generally never been completely satisfied with the results. Since I had three acoustic builds on the to-do list, I decided I really needed to find a better mousetrap so I had a look at two systems: The $252 TrueChannel Binding Router Jig from Stewmac: http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Special_tools_for_Binding/TrueChannel_Binding_Router_Jig.html ...and the $216 Professional Binding Machine from LMI... http://www.lmii.com/products/tools-services/binding-tools/lmi-professional-binding-machine Both systems have two major components. The router is held in a vertical caddy attached to a table. The caddy allows the router to float up and down over the workpiece using a guide bushing/collar situated around the exposed area of the cutter. This collar rides against the top of the workpiece to provide constant height of cut whilst the bearing on the router cutter is set for the required depth. A carrier holds the workpiece over the table top. This orients the body to keep the sides vertical; perpendicular to the cutter. In theory this allows rising/falling binding channels to be cut over forearm contours, into cutaways, around carved tops or any other shape without re-setting up any part of the system. The LMI version is significantly more expensive due to its higher level of flexibility and robust construction. The biggest differences are found in the way each system's workpiece carriers are constructed: The Stewmac system requires a simple plywood body shape (either Stewmac's own or of your own design). Four aluminium and plastic L-brackets with a non-locking height adjuster and semi-permanently fixed to this base. Additional brackets are available if alternatively shaped carrier configurations are required.The LMI version is re-configurable and fully adjustable (at least, to some extent; more later) with longer travel in the adjustment system; in general it is a smarter solution.I decided on the LMI system for its sturdier build quality and its apparent ability to handle different (ie. with/without cutaways) or more radical body shapes and ordered it. (Subsequent to writing, Stewmac have upgraded their router carrier to be more robust) UNPACKING AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS Out of the box, the system needs minor assembly work. The router caddy itself comes fully assembled, leaving the carrier to be screwed together. Assembling the carrier is a pretty quick job, done in a few minutes. During assembly it was noticed that a few things could have been done in a better way. The square-nuts-in-square-holes could be upgraded with threaded bushings to make it a stronger and more foolproof system. When mounting a guitar into the carrier, I accidentally loosened one screw a tad too much and lost one of the nuts. Being an Imperial thread (Metric in Sweden) it was not a simple case of getting a new nut - I spent almost 20 minutes searching for the lost nut on my dusty workshop floor....so you have been warned! (I'm not sure if this is a comment on Metric/Imperial or dusty floors!!) I decided to secure the nuts in placed with a drop of superglue.The Neoprene rubber protective sleeves fitted to the upright posts on the travellers are a bit loose, thus it is possible for them to be misplaced also. These were also secured with a drop of superglue in the upper position. Maybe not the most elegant solution, but it works.I'm perhaps rushing ahead....back to first impressions! The fit of the parts is very tight, almost too tight; you have to push the screws through the holes. In my book that is not a bad thing. It just means that you will have a precision fit for a long time before the plywood wears and loosens. The assembly and user instruction videos on the LMI website are excellent. Only thing of note was neglected to be mentioned; the spring that pushes the thumb lock against the notched rub collar is not permanently attached which could possibly result in the spring getting lost. Other than that my wholehearted recommendation is to have a look at Brendan O'Briens videos explaining both the assembly and the use of the machine. PRODUCT DESCRIPTION My test object is a very small bodied alto-guitar, measuring 14” or 353mm across the lower bout and 18” or 457mm in length. That seems to be more or less the smallest body that can be used in the carrier. My test body worked, however smaller mandolin or ukulele-sized instruments will present a problem due to the minimum workpiece size the carrier can reliably hold. The LMI instructions recommend fitting routers or laminate trimmers with small sub-bases such as the Bosch Colt. My slightly over-sized DeWalt D26200 laminate trimmer had to be taken to the belt sander to remove a small portion of the base, plus new holes needed drilling into the router carrier. No problem and a quick fix: I noted that someone must have had a small (but significant) brain fart when designing/producing the components for the caddy. The base of the caddy has two long keyhole-type attachment slots with recesses for the bolt heads which allows semi-permanent attachment to a bench. The recesses in my caddy were on the wrong side, meaning that I could not screw bolts down into the keyways. If you plan on having the machine as a permanent fixture, it is worthwhile drilling additional mounting holes further back as it makes the most sense from a balance point of view and improves rigidity. Using two clamps to hold it in place had no problems at all.... The binding caddy was clamped to the router table and the carrier assembled. Positioning the body steadily in the carrier, adjusting the router bit with the correct bearing and cutting depth was a very simple and quick job. In use it is probably the fastest binding job I have done so far on a non-flat guitar top; both sides were completed in less than five minutes. Comparing this to the old "doughnut and spacers" I used previously - cutting a small part of the binding channel and then repositioning the spacers several times - this is a breeze to use. Sharp ledges routed, perpendicular to the sides of the body and no mishaps or difficulties whatsoever. The micro-adjustable rotating rub collar is really great to fine-tune the depth of the cut; I cannot stretch that part enough. With a .003” or 0.76mm adjustment for every notch in the rub collar I was given precision control of the cutting depth unlike anything I have used before. The only other system that can achieve this level of adjustability is a precision router lift in a router table; and they can only cut in one dimension! It is definitely a better idea than adjusting the cutting depth relying on the router itself. The carrier glides smoothly over most surfaces. It is worthwhile ensuring that your chosen surface is clean. Whilst I used the surface of my router table, a sheet of laminated plywood or particle board would also provide an excellent working area. The router lift mechanism smoothly moves up and down in the caddy to follow the slightest arch in the workpiece. Most importantly it keeps the cut of the router bit perfectly parallel to the sides. THE RESULTS Clean sharp binding channels: WHAT COULD BE IMPROVED...? What I would like to see is an adjustable counter weight system to really tailor the movement/pressure against the top from the router. With my big DeWalt, the pressure against the top is just about acceptable; any more and I would be concerned about the rub collar might compress the surface fibres and leave a mark in softer woods - such as spruce - when it passes overhead. Two small things were noted in use. The bungee cord used to tighten the carrier assembly feels a little cheap. It works, however a slightly stronger and possibly more durable "long-term usage proof" solution would be excellent. Also - perhaps as optional parts or a kit - a smaller carrier base and/or shorter arms to allow smaller instruments to be processed would be very welcome. All in all - despite the inconsequential tiny quirks - it is in the end a solidly built tool that does exactly what it is supposed to do. It does so quickly and easily and is indeed a real time saver. In a busy shop or one where time is of high importance, that time saved directly translates through to money which more than offsets the initial investment. To the amateur or enthusiast, it transforms an otherwise complicated, slow and unpredictable task into a simple one with professional results - at a cost. THE VERDICT One word: Expensive! However, if you are serious about your building quality and plan to make more than just one or two guitars, it's worth it. Perhaps not targeted at the newbie or the occasional hobbyist. There are much more affordable (primarily DIY) system out there for those who will do this job every second year or so. If you are a regular builder with high standards (or a hobbyist with deep pockets who doesn't settle for second best) then this is the tool for you without a doubt. IN SHORT + Highly accurate precise work + Smooth action + Sturdy and (seemingly) very durable + Does what it is supposed to do simply, quickly and efficiently - Expensive - Would benefit from an adjustable counter weight system to account for different router's weight - Components (square nuts, thumb lock spring, rubber sleeves) can fall off during setups - Base plate/arms cannot accommodate small instruments
  13. Up until 1973 Gibson's bass bridges were fairly primitive and somewhat fault-prone but still relatively advanced in comparison to those in use by Fender. The introduction of their "three-point" bridge eliminated most of the existing problems of older bar or "two-point" bridges but introduced many of its own quirks. Still in use on modern Gibson and Epiphone basses, the three-point bass bridge is a proven design albeit mired in its traditional roots with much room for improvement. Up until the introduction of the SuperTone, upgrades for Gibson basses were near non-existent. The wide mounting point footprint, obligatory Gibson neck angle and modifications required to accept a new unit complicated the issue. More often than not any of these would leave the instrument devalued and impossible to restore to original spec. Hipshot certainly need little introduction to even the least experienced instrument modifier or builder. Their extensive history in producing premium hardware and drop-in retrofit upgrades makes them a regular byword and a go-to company. Hipshot are based in a substantial manufacturing facility located in Interlaken, NY which allows virtually all stages of production from material stock to boxed item to be carried out under one roof. As would be expected of dedicated retrofit items, Hipshot's SuperTone bridges match original mounting patterns for both two-point and three-point instruments. Simply removing the existing parts and dropping in the new unit is as complicated as fitment gets. By using the original mounting point locations and in-situ studs, owners of vintage instruments can confidently maintain 100% of the instrument's value by being able to return to stock invisibly. Common weak points with the original Gibson designs include two-point bridges bending forward under string pressure, saddles/intonation screws falling out three-point bridges, intonation difficulty and primitive adjustability. As is a common theme with Hipshot bridges, the SuperTone provides comprehensive independent adjustability in all dimensions with components sprung or tensioned against the bridge. SuperTone bridges are CNC milled from solid metal stock, in this case high grade Aluminium. This produces a tough, lightweight bridge with high tolerances and fantastic finishing in comparison to the rough variability of cast parts. Edges and corners are milled smooth with no seams, sharp or fragile areas. Saddle keyways share much of their design with the established Hipshot A-style bass bridges. Each keyway consists of a milled slot housing a large independently-adjustable saddle block which is itself milled from solid stock. Adjustment is possible in all three dimensions to dial in specific string geometries. The rear of the bridge is slotted allowing either bridge string capture or through-body stringing if the instrument has that option. Saddles possess grooved barrels instead of sharper notched string witness points virtually eliminating string breakage at this point. With the original bridges the saddles were fixed in height and radius or were compromised of a fixed "bar" witness point. This required that the entire unit be raised or lowered via the bridge posts. Primarily this restriction meant that instrument setups were coarse and a balance of compromises in setup geometry. Less noticeably the arrangement of some bridges - such as the three-point - also produced a weaker bridge-to-body coupling due to reliance on string tension holding the otherwise-loose bridge in place to the posts. The SuperTones lock down tight to the body of the instrument via two finish-matched mounting bolts producing the best coupling possible whilst the independent saddles a capacious level of intonation and geometry adjustment not previously feasible. Access to intonation adjustment screws is via the rear of the bridge. The screws are Phillips type in comparison to the slotted types of the original which prevents the problem of flat-bladed drivers slipping and scratching the instrument. The popular Hipshot saddle design is individually adjustable in height with ~1/3" (~8mm) of range via two hex set screws. The saddle barrels themselves can be unlocked via the third set screw with provision of side-to-side adjustment in a range of ~1/8" (~3mm) depending on string gauge. Whilst not designed for massively altering string spread, it does allow string spacing to be adjusted should the player want to take into account favourable string-to-string/equal centre spacings. As a retrofit item, the SuperTone admirably solves the shortcomings of the original bridges and introduces adjustment capabilities not previously possible. Although visually quite different to the originals, the appearance maintains a blend of both refreshing modernity and classic automotive age looks which are as pleasing on a new Thunderbird as on a 70s EB-0. All adjustment tools (other than a Phillips screwdriver for intonation) are provided along with two sets of mounting bolts to match both the Imperial and Metric threads. Setup is a breeze and free of frustration due to the excellent accessibility of all adjustment components even when strung up. From the standpoint of a custom luthier, the SuperTone bridges present interesting design options for different visual ideas to the norm. The intrinsic "Gibson nature" of the bridge requires a little forethought for correct instrument geometry however. A slight neck angle to maintain low body-to-neck join height or a small recessed footprint may be necessary. The substantial mass of the bridge lends a muscular design point which many bass designs would benefit from. As with most Hipshot's hardware it is difficult to find negative points to say about them. Their customer services guys know the value of listening to customers and apply this directly into the products without the huge inertia found with large corporations. Hipshot's email support before and after purchase is definitely key to their loyal customer base. With Hipshot carrying everything from design, manufacture and sales under one roof they definitely have the capacity to perfect their products as is demonstrated in items like the Supertone. If I were forced to hunt for negative points purely to provide balance for the huge number of positives, I would perhaps suggest adding a pad for the underside of the bridge to cushion the baseplate from pressing into soft or fragile finishes when locked down flat to the body. I can see this more being an issue for owners of vintage instruments. Most of the basses that these bridges are designed for command prices well into four figures therefore protecting the finish of investment quality instruments is important in maintaining the value of a bass that still works for a living. I also found that adding a pair of nylon washers underneath the heads of the mounting bolts was beneficial in helping keep them secure against loosening and preventing overtightening. The final twist of beyond "finger tight" snugs the heads secure. It should perhaps be noted that long-term use in exposure to direct sunlight may leave a light shadow underneath the bridge as the finish fades or reacts to UV. Overall I am surprised that new Gibson basses are not coming with this hardware as standard or at the very least as an option. If I came into possession of a stock Gibson Thunderbird (circa USD$1500?) with the original three-point bridge I wouldn't hesitate to upgrade it with this simple USD$120 bridge. Whilst it may sound and play well straight out of the box, without a doubt the addition of a Supertone puts it into a completely different league of instrument on both counts. In closing, the Supertone is a quality piece of hardware from a respected company that transforms Gibson basses into hugely adjustable, fuller-sounding and most importantly better-playing basses. For the builder these bridges offer a classy option for custom designs. I'm already itching to get one of the two-point Supertones into a future instrument. The three-point model installed here was acid fumed to add forty years of road hell; the modern styling certainly does not look out of place with a little antiqued mojo! SuperTone bridges are readily available direct from Hipshot at www.hipshotproducts.com or from many resellers worldwide. Bridges are available in Chrome or Black finishes with the three-point bridge also available with genuine Gold plating. Want a mix of parts such as a black base with gold saddles? Have a quick chat with the guys - Hipshot are some of the nicest in the business and love custom ideas. Tell 'em ProjectGuitar.com sent you :-)
  14. INCRA 150mm T-Rule

    I bought the INCRA 150mm T-Rule a few weeks back partially in anticipation of a non-guitar jobs and projects I'm working on but more out of curiosity in how much I could improve my marking up beyond "remembering where I might be adding in tolerances and compensating". I've never been happy squinting at the true end of a ruler or trying to lay a mark perfectly in line with graduations on the side of one. Couple this with fighting against unsharp pencil lines that gravitate into the grain and I pretty much shiver about how much tolerance it is possible to add into workpieces! The T-Rules are one of many similar precision products produced by INCRA and are available in a variety of configurations. In their most basic form they made of thin sheet steel perforated by laser to a precision of 0,25mm Metric or 1/64" Imperial. The steel rule is mounted by two knurled thumbwheels to a slotted length of anodised red aluminium extrusion allowing the rule to be offset for better balance when working across entire boards. The perforations are designed to allow a 0,5mm mechanical pencil lead or marking scribe to sit in the appropriate measure. Sliding the aluminium section along a straight edge produces a highly accurate parallel line to the edge which lays dead in the centre of the measurement. The square edge can also double as a great 90°....square edge! My T-Rule was bought from JE-Nettiverstas.fi and turned out to be surprisingly expensive. This wasn't JE-Nettiverstas' pricing policy....it's just that these things are just not cheap! I kind of expected it would be, however it is a comparatively small investment over the long term when you consider the returns the tool offers. (edit: after having used this tool for over three years, I can attest to it having paid itself back over many times already, and is continuing to do so) Initial impressions of the T-Rule were purely on the surprising thinness of the rule (it makes a great sproing noise though) and the obvious overall quality and precision. Without a doubt, rough careless handling will result in a bent or damaged rule so it is not a good choice for a hectic or rough working area. It definitely benefits marking preparation in a calmer, quieter workplace where you can concentrate on producing the high quality results the T-Rule is capable of. Adding the T-Rule into my marking tool collection makes the process more and more like meditation, laying each and every line crisply, evenly and beautifully. The purchase of a good quality technical drawing pencil loaded with slightly harder leads will truly turn you into the Mace Windu of work prep. No really. How does this attention to detail transpire into the end product? Tolerances easily compound into huge errors leaving anything from slightly sloppy joints to disastrous misalignments. This just makes the original marking up a rough guide which at best ends up fixed in the mix. Tightening tolerances to 64ths of an Inch or quarter of a millimetre greatly reduces margin for error. Most importantly - in my opinion - using tools capable of precise results increases your ability to concentrate on the work in hand. Invariably you care and think more about what you are doing - all part of that "measure twice cut once" mentality. Decreasing tolerances and increasing repeatability of accurate markups make for a far more confident and certain process overall whether marking up a row of staggered dovetails, defining the locations of fret slots or simply squaring up shelf support locations. On my wishlist from INCRA are a 300mm straight rule, protractor and centre-finding ruler.... For more information on INCRA tools, visit the following page and be sure to check out their wider range of measuring and marking tools: http://www.incra.com/measuring_marking-trules.html
  15. Have been in the business of making superb instrument hardware for almost thirty years, the Hipshot name is synonymous with refinement, high quality and experience. Most importantly Hipshot maintain friendly two-way customer contact which - being fed back into the products - ultimately makes the products the result of players, luthiers and of course the expertise of guys at Hipshot. Products are manufactured and personally inspected at each and every process rather than dropping off the conveyor into the box. Aside from certain specialised processes such as gold plating, every process from the cutting of bar stock to final shipping is carried out in-house at Interlaken, NY. One of the more recent products in their line-up is this classy bass bridge system which co-mingles comprehensive adjustability, distinctive looks and solidity. The D style bridge is a two-part system consisting of a solid lockable bridge and tailpiece. The system is available with a range of common string spacing options, high quality finishes and in both four-string and five-string versions. Additionally the bridge itself can be bought as a standalone unit sans tailpiece for instruments using only string-through-body or alternative methods of string retention. Packaged, the system comes complete with all adjustment tools, threaded body inserts, mounting posts, through-body stringing ferrules (front and rear), nylon washers and alternative-length saddle intonation screws. All components (other than screws and springs of course) are machined from solid brass resulting in a feeling of substance straight out of the box. The noticeably weighty bridge sits on two height-adjustable posts which in turn are mounted to the body via two threaded inserts pressed into the body. Subsequent to basic height adjustment the body is then locked tight to the mounting posts via two hex nuts. Nylon washers ensure that these nuts remain secure. The tailpiece simply screws tight to the body using the finish-matched screws supplied. The design uses the familiar individual saddles found in other Hipshot bass bridges. Each saddle is adjustable in three dimensions; intonation, height and spacing. Intonation range is more than ample at a hair under 12mm/0.5" and is set from the rear of the bridge using a simple Philips head screwdriver. Unlike many other bridges the intonation screw is offset from the centre of the saddle, resulting in adjustment that doesn't require finagling around obstructions such as the string you are attempting to compensate! Two set screws either side of the string allow the saddles to be adjusted from flat up to a radii tighter than those found on vintage Fenders. Located towards the rear of each saddle is a third set screw for locking/unlocking the string witness point barrel. Unlocking this allows relocation of the barrel by pushing the string from either side giving additional control over string geometry should the player prefer equal string spacing centre-to-centre or string-to-string. It is more than likely that the initial intention for the D style bridge was specifically for custom instruments. It is however not unrealistic to expect it could be retrofitted onto existing instruments with a little modification work requiring nothing more than a ruler, hand drill and screwdriver. Given the comprehensive adjustment and setup range available, the system would happily work as a retrofit part upgrading the hardware on many standard basses. The unique appearance of this bridge sets it apart from the vast majority of bridges available to the custom builder/modder with the closest equivalent being the perhaps less elegant Warwick bridge, which of course screams "Warwick" and requires very specific surgery to install. The instrument onto which this bridge was installed was a long-scale Mahogany and Wenge set-neck 5-string bass with the pickups styled after the classic Music Man Stingray. In use the bridge is physically unobtrusive for what is undeniably a substantial item. I rarely play close to the bridge on my basses for pick or finger styles; I either anchor on a pickup, palm a little further forward than the bridge itself or thump/pluck/strum anchored closer to the neck. Forcing myself to palm ON the bridge whilst picking didn't reveal anything sharp, pointy or catchy. The only discomfort came from the weirdness that playing over the bridge gave me! Played acoustically with relatively old strings (to remove traces of "new string joy") the bass feels alive and open. I felt none of the "disconnect" normally found on instruments loaded with cheap/badly coupled hardware, bad neck joints or other weak links in the chain. On that basis the bridge definitely ticks the box as far as being "a solidly anchored resonant bridge" is concerned. Amplified and run open (pickup temporarily wired straight to a vol pot and parallel/series switch), the bass possesses a great deal of characterful growl when I dig in with fingers Burton style or hammer away a la Larry Graham. Mighty tone for such a basic circuit! The contribution that the bridge adds to this mix is difficult to quantify without a basis for comparison. Unplugged it definitely aligns with how the Aria Pro II SB-1000 feels, itself with its own high mass brass bridge. Notes "fill" the instrument if that makes sense? I am highly tempted to follow suit with the Aria on this bass and fit a brass nut.... Top shelf hardware naturally goes hand-in-hand with higher price tags, hence results always need to justify the expenditure. Bargain basement hardware is always a false economy for anybody wanting to imbue their bass with solid characterful tone. The bridge will more than satisfy the needs of the casual builder, repair/setup guy, pro luthier and player alike. The ease dialling in the perfect setup is akin to shooting a shotgun at a barn door and I managed my own within five minutes including a coffee break! This ease allows simple incorporation into instruments with all kinds of geometry whether one prefers a stepped body, high bridge, a larger neck angle for digging in or the flatter feel close to the body. The Hipshot D bridge system certainly satisfies my personal fondness for resonant brass hardware "in the chain"; this was again borne out after the first test string-up of the bass this bridge was fitted on; live and loud throughout the body (and my own body though my hip!) even before it got anywhere near being plugged in. That to me makes the mark of a mighty bass sound before any electronics even hit the instrument. Overall, the Hipshot D style bass bridge is an excellent option for a bass design with a head-turning unique look and flexibility to match. The units are available from numerous resellers worldwide or direct from Hipshot Products' website.