Don’t fret, just keep slotting – the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw on test

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The new Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw

I find it hard to believe that I first floated the idea of a dedicated luthier’s saw to Mark Harrell three years ago, in many ways it feels like the conversation started much more recently than that. Slotting fret boards for guitars (and other fretted instruments) is one of the most critical stages of a build, determining whether the instrument will intonate properly. For all of the jigs on the market to help locate the cut at the correct point of the fret board, I’ve never understood why, or been satisfied with, the proliferation of cheap saws to make these most critical of cuts. And so I decided to reach out to the best saw maker I know and see if he was interested in giving luthiers a high quality saw which could handle fret slotting duties as well as other fine cross-cut work.

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That conversation ended up lasting two years as specifications were circulated, adjusted, and ideas tested. We welcomed good friend and fellow luthier Susan Chillcott to the conversation, and continued to work through exactly what the specification for a fret slotting saw would look like. A protoype arrived on my workbench in March 2016, followed by the first production model in August 2016. And testing continued.

This is a test (this is very testing)

The best way to really get to grips with a tool is to live with it and test it on real life projects and in as many different applications or circumstances as possible. And here is what I found interesting – although the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw was intended for fret slotting and other fine lutherie work, I’ve found myself reaching for it repeatedly for furniture work too. The depth stop was a real boon when cutting out the stopped dados in my School Box, and again came in handy when defining the tenon shoulders for the legs of my staked saw benches. So although this is marketed as a “luthier’s saw”, it is far more versatile than that, and is perfect for anywhere that a very fine furniture grade cross cut is desirable.

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The Primary Mission

And yes, it slots fret boards too. Far better than any of the cheap (read: disposable) fret slotting saws I’ve used in the past. Mark’s skill in sharpening saws is no secret, and the luthier’s saw has been sharpened to perfection. The saw has that familiar Bad Axe balance of aggression and precision, requiring only a couple of strokes to cut to the appropriate depth for fret wire, and despite the aggression it still leave behind a complete absence of blowout on the exit side of the kerf. In fact, this saw leaves the cleanest kerf I’ve seen on a fret slotting saw, by some measure. And that hammer-set kerf has been dialled in to deliver a 0.022″ kerf for most modern fretwire tangs. On a precision tool like this, getting the fine details right is the difference between a saw that works, and something that looks pretty but will stay on the shelf. Bad Axe have got all of the details right, and this saw is a workhorse which will stay in my tool chest until I’m ready to hang up my apron for the final time.

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Slotting a maple fret board

The open tote feels identical to my Bad Axe dovetail saw, and fits the hand perfectly with no hard transitions, flats or corners to cause fatigue, leaving you free to concentrate on the cut and not on the saw. Mark also did a great job on improving the plastic depth stop used by other fret slotting saws. The Bad Axe depth stop is substantially thicker than the plastic alternative used by other manufacturers, which gives a greater surface area to register on the workpiece, and instead of standard acrylic commonly seen, uses a Polyethylene polymer with a high lubricity. The difference is instantly noticeable – when you bottom out of the cut the depth stop glides across the work piece without catching or scuffing, preventing the saw from sinking deeper and leaving no mark on the work. The brass thumbscrews cinch down authorititvely and in many months of testing I never felt the deth stop slip in use.

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There are many ways to slot a fretboard, and many jigs which claim to make life easier. I recently took the plunge and ordered a fret slotting jig from Tony Wright, an engineer and luthier of 28 years, and the brains behind Necx Products and Lakestone Guitars. This is the same jig as we used in Totnes, and is the perfect pairing for the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw. Most jigs rely on a guide board and locating pin arrangement to deliver the saw at the right location for each fret slot. This ties the user to just the scale lengths the jig manufacturer supports, and also requires additional cost (not to mention storing additional guide boards) if you want to build to a different scale length. In contrast, Tony’s fret slotting jig uses a vernier scale and a free moving carriage to move the saw along the fretboard, so any scale length can be cut without the need for additional accessories.

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The vernier scale enables the user to precisely locate the saw for each cut

As a combination, this really cannot be beaten. The fine gearing of the carriage assembly on the jig means that the Bad Axe saw can be positioned by increments of 0.1mm before making the cut. When you have an incredibly precise saw, you only get the benefit of that precision when you can be targeted about where it is deployed. Having moved the carriage to the right location the carriage locks down tight with a large brass knob, and the cut can be made. All in all, a fret board can be cut with absolute precision in little more than 30 minutes.

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The carriage locks down to prevent the cut from wandering

European Woodwork Show

I will have the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw and the fret slotting jig with me at the European Woodwork Show next month, as well as a supply of fret boards. If you would like to have a go at slotting a fretboard do stop by and say hello.

The Luthier’s Saw is now on the Bad Axe website and is available for order.

Disclaimer: although I assisted Bad Axe in the design and development of the Luthier’s Saw, I receive no payment for that work or for writing about the saw. All content on Over the Wireless about the Luthier’s Saw is my own unbiased opinion.

On Why the Only Way really will be Essex this September

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Look out for the new OtW banner

The European Woodwork Show is now only two months away, so I thought it was time to order an Over the Wireless banner so that my stand is easily spotted (and it brightens up the ‘shop for the rest of the year).

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The Bad Axe luthier’s saw is the first high-quality saw designed specifically for fret slotting. Come and see it in action, and discuss the design process with myself and Mark Harrell

I’ve been giving some thought as to how to make the show memorable, so here is the plan. Over the course of the weekend I will be giving practical demonstrations of the new Bad Axe luthier’s saw in action, slotting some nice maple fretboards. This is the first public showing of the luthier’s saw in the U.K, and so I am very pleased to annouce that Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works will be making a special guest appearance during the weekend and we will be talking about the design process of the luthier’s saw. I’ll announce the times when Mark will be joining me in September. So, if you want to see one of only two examples of this saw currently in the U.K, and talk about how we designed the saw, then stop by my stand. I’ll also be talking about The Life & Work of John Brown, Welsh Stick Chairs, lutherie, furniture making, and anything else that you good people want to chat about.

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I will have OtW decals and tees on sale

Following Handworks it feels like no show is complete without stickers, so I will have OtW decals available, as well as some t-shirts (if you would like to order a tee for collection at EWS, or can’t come to the show and want one posted out to you, drop me a line in the comments).

Finally, to round out the experience I’ll have a guitar with me, my Anarchist’s Tool Chest, and the Apprentice.

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European Woodwork Show 2017

Spring is finally here, which means that the woodwork show season is now kicking into gear. As well as attending Handworks next month, I am pleased to announce that I will also be exhibiting at the European Woodwork Show in September. EWS 2015 was a wonderful event with lots of really interesting demonstrations and stands, as well as a fantastic community spirit. What made the last event so memorable for me personally was the number of readers, both on the blog and F&C, as well as members of the Instagram woodwork community, who stopped by to say hello and to have a chat about woodwork.

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EWS 2017 promises to be even better, with a bumper crop of stands including Chris, Megan (for the first time!), Vic, Bill Carter, Skelton Saws, Deneb from Lie-Nielsen, and many more. I will also have the Apprentice with me, and will be working on my current guitar build throughout the weekend. Do stop by my stand and say hello!

EWS 2017 Advert A4

Moving forwards in reverse: 2016 in review

Somehow it is January yet again. I’m not sure where 2016 went – the past 12 months have disappeared in a blur, and it seems like only yesterday that I was writing my 2015 round up. Every year goes by quicker than the last, and fatherhood has only accelerated that feeling. I’m a lot less sleep deprived than I was 12 months ago (the Apprentice has now been sleeping through the night since August) which definitely makes reflecting on the past year a whole lot easier.

First off, let’s get the important stuff out of the way. No year is complete without a mix cd of the best new songs, and a list of top 5 albums, so here are my top picks (in order):

  1. Real – Lydia Loveless
  2. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson
  3. Case/Lang/Viers – Neko Case, KD Lang, Laura Viers
  4. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
  5. Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave & The Badseeds

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The finished pair of saw benches

A year at the workbench

Although I didn’t set out last January to have any kind of theme to my woodworking, looking back it feels very much like 2016 was a year of doubling down on fundamental techniques, and embedding a solid handcraft practice to my work. So I built two Packing Boxes and a School Box from The Joiner & Cabinet Maker (only the chest of drawers to go now!) and a pair of staked saw benches from The Anarchist’s Design Book, as well as  Moxon vise. Little did I know how important staked chairmaking was going to become when I settled on that particular saw bench design.

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There wasn’t much in the way of lutherie last year – the parlour guitar was put to one side so that I could start the Mysterycaster commission, and also so that I could work on the furniture projects.I will return to the parlour guitar, and the Mystercaster is a priority for 2017. But lack of lutherie aside, I’m really pleased with the selection of projects I worked on over the past 12 months – I am definitely feeling the benefit of spending much of the past year focusing on those all important fundamental skills (although there is always more to learn, and more practice to have). An epic build like an acoustic guitar can be very rewarding, but there is something very satisfying about working through projects that take a shorter period of time. Maintaining a balance of short projects and longer-term builds is something I’m going to try and do going forwards.

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I didn’t manage to get to any classes in 2016, but I did take a trip to Forge de Saint Juery, which was a wonderful experience and one that I highly recommend. After nearly two years of discussion and design between myself, Mark Harrell, and Susan Chilcott, the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw was finally unveiled, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed testing one of the first production models at my workbench.

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The Bad Axe luthier’s saw – being involved in the design process for this has been a wonderful experience

In terms of writing, Over the Wireless more than doubled readership from 2015, and I was grateful to feature interviews on the blog with some really important members of the woodwork community, including Joshua Klein, James McConnell, Brian Clites, and Kerryn Carter. I was also honoured to write the inaugural post for the “Perfect in 1000 words” for the Daily Skep (thanks Jim!). Furniture & Cabinet Making published nine of my articles last year, including the Dancing About Architecture series, which are two of my favourite pieces of writing to date. The June edition of Popular Woodworking  also carried my feature on Karl Holtey, which was a real thrill. But the big writing development of 2016 still has to be the Life and Work of John Brown. This is a hugely important project and one that I am entirely humbled to be part of.

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So 2016 was quite eventful, although I’m quite sure that by many people’s standards that would rather quiet (and in no way do I want this round-up to appear self congratulatory).

…and the next 12 months

And now for 2017 (which  to be perfectly honest still sounds like the future to me). What does the next 12 months have in store? Well the main focus of my attention for much of the next two years will be on the Life and Work of John Brown – there is a great deal of research to do, many interviews to be undertaken, not to mention chairs to be built. But it is going to be great fun, and I’ll be posting as much as I can on Over the Wireless throughout the process. I’ve also got a number of articles slated for Furniture & Cabinet Making, and which I’ll be announcing in due course.

But what about the next 12 months at the workbench? Well, I’m going to be brave and nail my colours to the mast right now. The projects which I’ve got lined up for 2017 are as follows:

  1. The Police Man’s Boot Bench – a furniture commission I actually started today (new year, new build. It seemed appropriate);
  2. Staked Work Table from the Anarchist’s Design Book; and
  3. The Mysterycaster.

So now, if I don’t manage to complete those builds this year, you dear reader, have a full licence to tell me to get my act together.

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Finally, after a year of no courses or shows, I’m looking forward to travelling a little more and connecting with the wider woodwork community. So I’ll be at Handworks in Iowa this May, and then at the European Woodwork Show at Cressing Temple in September. Over the past two years woodwork has been defined for me by the community, and I can’t wait to see many good friends and readers at both events.

So, Happy New Year. And thank you to everyone who has read a blog post or magazine article, or commented on a photo on Instagram. This community is so important to what I do, and the past 12 months would not have been half as rewarding without you good people.

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Hopefully 2017 will involve more father-daughter trips to the timber yard

 

With sound and moving pictures

Thanks to an eagle eyed reader, it has come to my attention that there is video footage of Esmerela on YouTube! Gerardo of My Vintage Victory stopped by my stand at EWS and played Esmerelda for a couple of minutes. What I didn’t know at the time was that he had recorded the whole event. Esmerelda makes her appearance at 4:21 on the below video.

Enjoy!

The End of Year Round-Up: 2015 edition

Is December already drawing to a close? I can scarcely believe that it is now time to start penning the end of year review, list my favourite albums of the past twelve months, and compile the traditional end of year mix cd. 2015 has genuinely disappeared in the blink of an eye. I suppose this is to be expected given all that has happened; the relocation from Bristol to Birmingham, buying and decorating a new house (phase 1 of the decoration saw 5 rooms decorated and completed, and phase 2 will be commencing in January), and becoming a father. I’d like to think that the above constitutes a reasonable level of activity.

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The parlour guitar build has been the main focus of 2015

Amongst all of this, I also found time to set up a new workshop, make some shavings, and keep writing. The new workshop has turned out to be ideal, and having given myself some time to settle into the new space I have made a few changes and additions since my original workshop tour, which I will write about separately. In terms of projects completed, 2015 is a little thin on the ground, although a lot of progress has been made on the parlour guitar, and I should be in a position to assemble this guitar in the next couple of months. I also managed to secure a new paying commission (the Mystery-Caster) and came close to bagging a paying commission from one of my favourite musicians (in the long term I’m hoping this one will still come to fruition).

2015 saw seven of my articles published in Furniture & Cabinetmaking, and the blog has had nearly twice as many views when compared to 2014, as well as introducing the new “Getting to Know…” feature (which I hope to continue into 2016).

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Peter Follansbee contemplates swiping my Hieronymus Bosch print Docs…

I had the pleasure of meeting both Peter Follansbee and Tom Fidgen, as well as taking Roy Underhill’s Woodworking with Thomas Jefferson class. Learning from Roy for a week was an incredible experience, and helped to develop all manner of parallel skills. Peter, Tom and Roy are not only incredibly knowledgeable, but also very generous with their knowledge, and I highly recommend taking a class (or simply just chatting with them) if ever the opportunity presents itself.

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Roy and Esmerelda become acquainted.

The other highlight of the year was of course exhibiting at the European Woodworking Show in Cressing Temple, and it was wonderful to get to meet so many inspiring makers and tool manufacturers, as well as people who read the blog (or my articles), and to spend two days chatting about woodwork face to face. Thank you so much to everyone who came and said hello during the two days.

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The “Community Is…” project in many ways defined 2015 for me. Thanks to all the contributors (including Chris Schwarz – pictured here)

And this very neatly brings me to the real highlight of 2015. Which is not projects built or achievements unlocked, but rather the sense of community in the woodcrafts. Lutherie always used to be a very solitary activity for me, but particularly over the past 12 months the online community through Instagram and the blogosphere, then reinforced through events such as EWS, has meant that I find myself within a wider community of craftspeople. And this has had the effect of enriching my time in the workshop, situating my work within broader practices and traditions, and providing new opportunities to learn and question. The community is made up of so many wonderful craftspeople that mentioning individuals seems like a foolhardy endeavour. However special mention must go to James McConnell whose Daily Skep blog debued this year, and is rapidly becoming one of my favourite woodwork blogs(seriously, I read James’ blog and wonder if there’s any point in me writing anything ever again). Again, EWS provided a wonderful opportunity to put faces to names and to connect with members of the woodworking community in person.

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Finally meeting Vic (Minimalist Woodworker) in person was one of the highlights of EWS

Looking forward to 2016, there will be more articles in Furniture  Cabinetmaking, in addition to which I hope to be able to announce a very special article for another publication in the coming months. In the workshop, my focus will be on finishing the parlour guitar, and also building the Mystery-Caster, both of which will be covered in detail on this blog. A number of teaching opportunities have presented themselves, and consequently there is also the possibility that I will be let loose on unsuspecting woodwork students – more details to follow once I have them. So plenty to keep me occupied, and 2016 is shaping up to be a very exciting year!

And to finish where we started, my top five pick of new releases from 2015 (in case anyone was wondering) in order, are:

  1. Banditos – Banditos
  2. Nashville Obsolete – Dave Rawlings Machine
  3. Edge of the Sun – Calexico
  4. Meta-Modern Sounds in Country Music – Sturgil Simpson
  5. No Cities To Love – Sleater-Kinney

Happy New Year, dear reader, catch you in 2016!

European Woodworking Show 2015

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It’s hard to believe that the European Woodworking Show finished a week ago now, and I am typing this one handed while pinned to the sofa under the apprentice as she gently snores (even more incredible is that she is 5 weeks and 3 days old already). Last weekend was a huge blast, despite the 3am alarm clock on the Saturday morning. Thank you so much to everyone who stopped by my stand to say hello or to talk about lutherie.

The show really was an incredible event. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, as I’ve not demonstrated at a woodwork show before, and unlike most of the demonstrators there, I wasn’t really selling anything (other than myself). As it happened, I didn’t have any opportunity to work on the parlour guitar over the course of the weekend, as I had a constant stream of people wanting to look at Esmerelda and the tool chest, talk about some of my recent articles in Furniture & Cabinetmaking, and generally talk about lutherie and furniture making.

One medium sized SUV can take an Anarchist's Tool Chest, guitar, 4ft bench, overnight bag, and still have plenty of spare room.

One medium sized SUV can take an Anarchist’s Tool Chest, guitar, 4ft bench, overnight bag, and still have plenty of spare room.

One of the highlights of the show for me was getting to catch up with so many good friends, and to meet other makers, including some of the people behind my favourite tools. This networking has inevitably opened up new opportunities, which I hope to be able to write about on the blog in the coming months. But for now, expect a couple of exciting new articles, a forthcoming blog collaboration project with the Minimalist Woodworker, and also the opportunity to come and learn some lutherie techniques from me in the classroom. All of which I am greatly looking forward to.

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Catching up with good buddy Vic Tesolin

The quality of participants at EWS was of an incredibly high standard (where else does Sunday morning start with David Charlesworth trying out one of your guitars?), and I was honoured to be invited to take part in the show.  The following is just a sample of the folk I enjoyed meeting and talking to over the course of the weekend (and apologies to anyone I didn’t get a photo with, I will be sure to make amends at EWS 2017!).

My stand was directly opposite the lovely people from Skelton Saws. Shane makes some incredibly nice saws, and has some exciting new products in the pipeline, do check his work out!

My stand was directly opposite the lovely people from Skelton Saws. Shane makes some incredibly nice saws, and has some exciting new products in the pipeline, do check his work out!

The marking knives, awls and mallets by Bluespruce Tool Works are in constant use in my workshop, so it was lovely to meet the good folk behind these wonderful tools.

The marking knives, awls and mallets by Blue Spruce Toolworks are in constant use in my workshop, so it was lovely to meet the good folk behind these wonderful tools.

David Charlesworth playing Esmerelda. Just something that happens at EWS, apparently. And no, before you ask he didn't use the ruler trick on her.

David Charlesworth playing Esmerelda. Just something that happens at EWS, apparently. And no, before you ask he didn’t use the ruler trick on her.

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Oliver Sparks is undoubtedly one of the most exciting British talents to watch at the moment. You best believe that I’ll be ordering some of his planes pretty soon.

English woodworking royalty stopped by my stand to talk about minimal tool kits, traditional workshops, and guitar building! Having followed the English Woodworker for a long time, it was great to meet Richard and Helen in person.

English woodworking royalty stopped by my stand to talk about minimal tool kits, traditional workshops, and guitar building! Having followed the English Woodworker for a long time, it was great to meet Richard and Helen in person.

Ron Hock - the man who made me really understand sharpening. Truly knowledgeable, and thoroughly lovely chap.

Ron Hock – the man who made me really understand sharpening. Truly knowledgeable, and thoroughly lovely chap.

Great to catch up with Jamie Ward (c) and Steve (r).

Great to catch up with Jamie Ward (c) and Steve (r).

I’m already booked in for EWS 2017, and will have the apprentice with me for that show (child labour laws say it’s fine to have 2 year olds working for you, right?). So look forward to seeing everyone there in two years!