Monday, December 29, 2014

A Case For Sharp Tools

If there's one single thing that can make or break your quest to better your work, it is, without a doubt, sharpness.

Several years ago I moved from making furniture to musical instruments and it completely changed the way I work wood. If you're stuck in a rut and making typical Shaker or Craftsman-style pieces (and I make both, and like both) I suggest you step back, buy a guitar kit and prepare yourself to become a Jedi-master of woodworking.

Here's one thing luthiery did for me. It taught me why tack sharp is the deciding factor in doing exacting work in all woods, and how less than tack sharp doesn't just mean tearout, but likely complete destruction of your work. A rough spot on a table top is child's play compared to tearout in a piece that's only 1/32" thick to begin with. You don't scrape that out. You scrap it out.

But this isn't about sharpening. It's more about the workmanship of risk. Do you build things for completely practical purposes? Or do you build for that intangible sense of creative satisfaction? If more the latter than the former, you should try upping the ante in your work. I don't build like this all the time. It's too much for me. But every now and then I return to this type of work to fertilize the rest of my woodworking. Taking on an intense project has lots of carryover. It will feed simpler work, sometimes for years. It simultaneously drives me mad while depositing loads into the satisfaction bank.

Now, as long as the bank doesn't burn down before I can make my withdrawal.


  1. Hi Jameel,
    I like what you have to say here not only about sharpness but stepping back and trying something else. Something out of your comfort zone as you say, I think it makes a whole lot of sense to try new things. A guitar always seemed way out of all of my zones! So it'll be the perfect project for me to try.
    I'm guessing the link to LMI,I is the place to go. Thanks for this Jameel. BTW, are there any Miter Jack kits still available?

    1. Thank you my friend. My order will be on its way momentarily.


  2. Jumping into stringed instruments with a guitar can be rather daunting. A lap dulcimer makes for a simpler foray and one can be made from scratch and some basic hardware. 4 strings before 6.

  3. I totally agree, stepping out of your comfort zone once is a while is what makes you learn. Then you have more options available to you for your other projects,

  4. Jameel,
    Do I see Macassar and Holly in that cross grain banding? It's beautiful!

  5. Like Jameel, I took a foray into instrument building as a way to branch out on my woodworking. I started with a Mandolin kit from Stewmac and graduated to 6-string acoustics from scratch, to the ultimate luthier challenge - an archtop guitar. While I do not build instruments much anymore, it has taken my attention to detail to another level - one MUST be on the right side of the millimetre when building a guitar.

    I would tell anyone out there, a 6-string from a kit is within your ability and it will most certainly take your woodworking to another level - go for it!


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