Nipping at your heels, part 2

IMG_0501It seems like a long time since I started carving the heel for the parlour guitar (last August in fact!). In many ways carving the heel is a great demonstration of the benefits of dividing a task into coarse, medium, and fine stages, as taking a three stage approach promotes a very efficient way of working. Although many woodworkers naturally gravitate towards fine work (with those lovely wafer thin plane shavings) there is a real place for coarse work where quick removal of stock is desirable, before becoming progressively finer as less material is removed.

In my first post I wrote about the process for roughing out the heel shape, using a coping saw and chisels to hog out much of the waste. Now, with the rough shape established, I started to fair the curves and remove corners left by the chisels using a series of rasps. At this point in the process I was still using a relatively coarse rasp (9 grain 10″ cabinet maker’s rasp by Auriou) to remove the majority of the chisel marks. One of the key challenges when carving the heel is to avoid touching the centre line once the sweep of the heel is established, as this will encourage the centre line to wander and re-establishing it accurately will be the devil’s own job. Treating the centre line as sacrosanct and avoiding hitting it with any tools makes for a much less frustrating experience.

DSC_0085At this stage, maintaining the symmetry of the heel is critical, and there are a number of techniques to make this easier. Using raking light across the workpiece will throw the profile of the heel into sharp relief, and highlight any areas where more work needs to be done to keep things symmetrical. I keep a bright IKEA gooseneck lamp near my bench for this task, as it is easier to move the lamp then to unclamp and re-orientate the neck as I work different areas. Secondly, a piece of the backing off some double-sided sticky tape, held against the neck will highlight if the curves transition at different rates on each side of the centre line. Finally, much of the work on the heel is done looking down on it from behind the heel block (as with the photo at the top of this post), and it pays to occasionally stand at the headstock and sight down the neck towards the heel.

DSC_0659With the shape coming close to the final design, I switched to a 7″ 13 grain modeller’s rasp to remove the marks of the larger 9 grain rasp, as well as a 6″ 13 grain rat tail rasp to make very fine, localised, adjustments. The heel shape is now finalised, and as the 13 grain rasps leave a very fine surface all that will be required is some gentle finish sanding prior to spraying the lacquer.

DSC_0662Once the heel was carved I relieved the interior of the heel block. This was a simple task of marking out the waste area of the block, and making a number of relief cuts into the waste before chiselling it out. The corners were rounded over and softened, again using the 9 grain and 13 grain rasps. In the past I have spent more time carving a gentle curved relief into the heel block, which is more aesthetically pleasing but less practical if you then decide to fit a battery holder to the block for any internal pickup or microphone system. As no one will see the heel block (apart from the readers of this blog, obviously!) I decided to go for a more utilitarian heel block shape and save myself the heartache of trying to attach a battery holder to a curved surface.

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