As noted in Time for a New Guitar Template, there were some concerns with my first attempt at an electric guitar template. It was a good first attempt but time combined with an improved understanding of woodworking (I’m new to this), has given me a more critical eye. I’m glad I made this second attempt. This guitar template is much closer to the original plan, its sanded edges more square and the curves more fair. Unfortunately, the image doesn’t do it justice.
When I undertook this guitar project earlier this year, one of the things I spent a great deal of time on was tracking down how to make a template. It took a combination of searching and asking questions on the Project Guitar forum to get a sense of where to start. Given that, I thought it would be helpful to other newcomers to document a bit of the process. Hopefully, it will prove useful to someone.
The first thing, of course, was obtaining some sort of guitar plan. With some of the more popular guitars (such as the Les Paul and the Stratocaster), plans in AutoCAD format (DWG and DXF files) are commonly available. Guitar plans are sometimes available in other formats as well such as Adobe Acrobat (PDF files). You may even be able to purchase templates from an outfit like GuitarBuildingTemplates.com. Others exist as well.
In cases where none exist, some have taken an image, determined a known distance on the guitar such as a neck width, scale length, or bridge dimension and used that to scale up the image to the appropriate size.
In my case, I was fortunate enough to find that Steve Klein, the designer of the Klein Electric Guitar, had published a plan available from The Guild of American Luthiers so I started there.
A more recent alternative is provided by Eric Olds who drew up Klein based guitar plans and made them publicly available through BTEG. See Eric Olds Klein Electric Guitar Project – Part 1 and Eric Olds Klein Electric Guitar Project – Part 2 for the plans.
The second thing I had to determine was a means of transferring the plan drawing onto the template material. I came across a number of ideas including tracing the image onto the drawing. This particular idea called for scribbling all over the back of the drawing in ink and using that to transfer an impression onto the template material by tracing over the lines of the drawing. That seemed unnecessarily sloppy and introduced the first opportunity to deviate from the actual plan â€“ hand tracing the pattern. Instead, the idea that seemed most straightforward was to simply glue the plan to the template material so that’s what I did. I obtained a container of spray adhesive, sprayed it all over the template material and carefully laid down the plan onto it working slowly from one edge to the other to avoid wrinkles.
Third, I had to determine what sort of template material to use. Templates are made from a variety of materials including plywood, acrylic and MDF. After reading about them, I chose MDF because I felt it was the easiest for the inexperienced. Here are some of its advantages:
MDF is completely uniform with no grain to worry about and no knots in the material to throw you.
MDF cuts easily. A jigsaw run at low speeds makes clean cuts and is easy to control.
MDF files and sands easily resulting in a smooth edge with a relatively small effort.
The next steps involved actually cutting out and shaping the guitar template.
First, I clamped down the template at the edge of a table using Irwin Quick Clamps which I HIGHLY recommend. These are easily removed and put back in a new position in just a few seconds. How you clamp, is also important. Don’t let too much of the template overhang the table otherwise the flexible material will move up and down as you try to work with it. Expose only a portion of the template at a time and rotate it often to give yourself the best angle at working a particular edge.
Second, I used a jigsaw to rough cut the template. Jigsaws have two modes of operation â€“ an orbital action (sort of the â€œdefault”) and a straight up and down action. You WANT the straight up and down action. The orbital motion will cut a wider path, so to speak, and you are trying to do careful work. Turn it off. Next keep in mind that the jigsaw blade is VERY flexible. You want to focus on keeping the jigsaw perpendicular to the surface of the work in hand so that you keep the edge relatively square to the top of the template. When cutting curves, it’s important to take it slowly so that you don’t bend the blade. It’s better to make several shorter cuts than to try to follow a curve from beginning to end. The likelihood is that you will either throw your cut completely off square or you will gouge out a chunk and have to start again. All that said I came to about 1/8″ of the lines on the plan. Those who are better skilled can certainly strive for closer which makes the subsequent filing and sanding easier.
Third, I used a 4-in-1 file to remove material and approach the lines on the drawing. I started with its rougher surfaces to take off more material and switched to its finer surfaces as I got closer to the lines of the drawing. I used relatively short strokes to avoid gouging the MDF and to help me keep the tool parallel to the surface of the template for a square edge.
Fourth, I used 80 grit sandpaper to finish once I had gotten very close to the lines on the plan â€“ say about 1/16″.
All the while, it’s important to never lose sight of the lines on the drawing which means two things. First, you have to keep getting rid of the sanding dust. Second, I used a sanding block with high grit paper to keep the drawing’s edges clean. As I filed and sanded the edges, the paper would become a bit furry which would make it difficult to see the lines. I stopped periodically to clean up the lines with a few light flicks of the sanding block being careful just to clean up the edge and not take off the lines.
One other thing I found useful in determining the fairness of the template’s curves was simply turning it over and inspecting it from the back. This let my eye focus on the fairness of the curves rather than the drawing which I felt might give me a false impression. In my case, it turned out to be useful in cleaning up a surface or two.
In the end, it took me approximately 2.5 hours to complete the second template vs. the 1 hour it took me for the first attempt. I am so much happier with the overall results that I’m glad I spent the time on it.