Classical Guitar Building Tools - putting together a list

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Forum topic by Ben posted 11-06-2016 05:48 PM 1103 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Ben's profile


387 posts in 3053 days

11-06-2016 05:48 PM

Hey Gang,

I’m in the process of slowly accumulating tools needed to build myself a classical guitar in the coming year.

I have a power tool shop in my garage, large industrial machinery, but I am building a hand tool/bench room in the back of my house and have started getting some basics – mostly hand planes. I also am all set with chisels and sharpening.

Here’s a partial list of things I know I want and need, with some questions:

- Files/rasps – looking at the Shinto stuff (worth the extra money to get the StewMac hand cut rasps?)
- Scraper(s) – stewmac ultimate worth the money? Or is the thinner, more flexible style better for classical builds?
- Saws – I prefer the Japanese style. Have a Ryobi. Any other recommendations?
-Carving tools/gouges? I have nothing currently.

If there any luthiers here, I would greatly appreciate hearing about other must-have tools. I know there is a lot of info out there and I am researching it all but would like to hear from you as well.
I’d like to do as much as possible by hand, including cutting rabbets for bindings, cutting out the sound hole and rosette, etc…

Many thanks!

4 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3844 days

#1 posted 11-06-2016 06:26 PM

You need to consider how you’re going to
thickness the plates (hand planes are fine),
how you’re going to bend the sides (a hot
pipe works on a budget but a side bender
does a real nice job, though it’s a fair amount
of trouble to build one).

From there, I assume you have some sort of
way of getting the binding accurately
dimensioned about you’ll route the rosette
channel out with an electric router. You’ll
need to cut and perhaps refine the binding
ledges and you can use a dremel tool with
a cutter and base suited to the job ($$),
a router jig you build that compensates
for the back curvature (the top curvature
can be ignored when routing the ledge, imo),
and/or use a purfling cutter or “gramil”
to cut and/or refine the ledge.

I cannot recommend Iwasaki files highly
enough. They are not expensive and they
work amazingly well. I shape the neck mostly
with a little drawknife but a spokeshave
will do. Any medium size half-round rasp will
do for drawfiling the neck and follow up
drawfiling with a bastard file, then scrape.

Hand-cut rasps are an extravagance for the
minor amount of rasp work on a guitar neck
but you’ll want some files in different shapes
for shaping the end grain of the crest neatly.

I only use one file to cut nut slots for nylon
strings. They are are so close in size one size
works fine, unlike with a steel string nut where
special ultra-thin files are useful.

Usually you’ll pay a premium for tools through
luthier supply places. Lee Valley has a good
selection of tools that can serve at somewhat
lower prices generally, though I don’t think they
sell a router bit for binding ledges or a purfling

I get by with a standard rabbet bit with a bearing
for 1/8” deep cut. It works with the purfling and
binding I use pretty well. The purfling is about
1mm thick black/white sandwich of veneers
and the binding is ebony about 3/32”, which is
tricky to bend. Bending binding will make you
go insane so be prepared to break some while
learning… if you have a drum sander you can
make your own… you can also buy it pre-bent
for a classical from LMI.

View Ben's profile


387 posts in 3053 days

#2 posted 11-06-2016 06:42 PM

Loren, many thanks for the thoughtful and thorough reply!
Any specific Iwasaki file sizes/shapes you recommend?

I have a standard size router and also a small laminate trimming router, so no problem there. Just saying in my bench room I will aim to do as much by hand as possible to cut down on noise and dust inside my house.

Which file do you use for cutting nuts?

Thanks again!

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3844 days

#3 posted 11-06-2016 08:35 PM

I got my nut files at yard sales. I think the one
I use for classical nuts is a flat pointed file
with toothed edges. I have another one that can
fit in the slots but it has “safe edges” so it
just widens slots, not deepens them. The
E-string slot gets widened just a little. Mostly
I try to keep the slots shallow and really get
the top of the nut close to slot height. Some
builder make fancy nuts with deep slots but I
never wanted to mess with that.

For guitars the bent half-round and standard
half-round Iwasaki files are useful. Woodcraft
sells them for good prices. I just have the small
size, about 5 of them now in flat and curved.

You’re probably at least a year out from cutting
the nut so you’ll have plenty of time to pick through
antique store bins for files and doo-dads. I’m
not assuming you want to save money but costs
add up with the specialized items used in making
guitars so ebay can be a good source. I wish
I’d bought a 2nd used purfling cutter years ago
now because having 2 set up at a time would
be useful.

View UncannyValleyWoods's profile


542 posts in 2060 days

#4 posted 11-06-2016 09:28 PM

I’ll tell you, I’m not a luthier, yet, but I did come across an amazing find one time.

A few years ago, I attended an estate sale for a woodworker that passed. A guy at the local Rockler actually set it all up and hand picked the folks he wanted to attend. Suffice to say, I felt pretty honored to be ‘chosen’..

Anyway, I’m going through this guy’s garage. I accidentally passed up a complete set of German chisels and few other choice things I still kick myself about..but I found something even more precious.

In the very back of this garage, in a hand made spruce trunk, was a complete violin luthier’s set. It had all the clamping forms, positive and negative body molds, several pieces of spruce tone wood, with several partially completed tops, all the patterns for the neck, both wood and aluminum, even a deconstructed violin. It was amazing.

I shut the box and latched it, then turned to the facilitator and said “I’ll give you forty bucks for this truck and its contents.” The guy sorta glanced over and said “Cool.”

I don’t dare do anything with any of it until I’m skill ready, but often, I will open the box and just sort through everything. I find something new every time. It’s absolutely magical.

So, my advice to you, keep your eyes open and hit the estate sales. You never know what you’ll find.

-- “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.” ― Lenny Bruce

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