Operation Plaid Hammer: Huffing Paint

Right! So when we last left off, we'd basically done all the woodwork that's gonna happen. Neck carve was done, frets were installed, body was sanded - it's time for paint! Well, technically, sealer first. Before we head to the booth, though, the body and neck need to be mounted for easier spraying, and so they can be painted without being touched. Kauer Guitars uses a proprietary system designed by Doug (although similar to designs used by other companies). The brackets bolt to the body or neck, which can then be put on a rotatable rack that can be set to any angle.

The Plaid Hammer neck with a spraybooth bracket...

The Plaid Hammer neck with a spraybooth bracket...

... and the body on the spinning stand.

... and the body on the spinning stand.

In addition, these brackets can be placed on rolling racks, moved under the heat lamps, and in and out of the booth, depending on where they are in the spraying and curing process.

OK! Now it's time to head to the booth for real! First, time to gear up! For safety, gotta put on a face mask. These protect eyes and lungs from wayward spray - but not leg hair, as I discovered later. I put my mask on, and as I was standing there innocently, minding my own business, hurting nobody, something dropped down into my field of vision. Inside my mask.

HUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! *pant* *pant* *pant* HUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!

HUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! *pant* *pant* *pant* HUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!

Despite any reports to the contrary, I did NOT run around screaming like a little girl after flinging my mask halfway across the shop. What makes this better (and I swear to all the gods of tone I'm not making this up), is that Doug, Ben and I had gotten back from lunch ten minutes earlier, during which the conversation had dwelt in some length over how scary spiders are. True story. Not only that, I was the only one who said they weren't particular scary. Right. Congrats, Daddy-Long-Legs-Face-Hugger, you've made your point.

Where were we? Right! The booth!

A place of mystery, intrigue, strange chemicals, strange odors...

A place of mystery, intrigue, strange chemicals, strange odors...

The back wall is essentially one giant fan, pulling out what remains in the air from the spraying process and venting it outside.

Once we're safely in the booth, Doug pours sealer into a plastic liner made specifically for his spray rig.

Doug goes full Walter White with strange goo and scales and measuring devices.

Doug goes full Walter White with strange goo and scales and measuring devices.

The components in the sealer, primer and paint are all measured by weight, hence the scale. For finer measurements, Doug uses baby syringes to add components drop by drop until the right mixture is achieved.

Collecting the final ingredient for an amber clear coat.

Collecting the final ingredient for an amber clear coat.

Ready to spray! Terrifying.

Ready to spray! Terrifying.

I failed to get any pictures of us spraying the sealer, but I promise I made up for it when we get to the color coat. You'll see. For now, though, here's the body with the first coat of sealer.

The upper part of the body is untouched sealer, and the bottom part has been sanded a bit already (hence the milky white look). The green by the switch and on the lower bout is Bondo used to fill some minor surface imperfections.

One of the goals with this round of sanding is to flatten the surface, leveling out any high or low spots. The next picture, taken at an angle, shows the low spots as a bit shiny. All those must be knocked back until the surface is perfectly level.

The neck gets the same treatment. One more round of sealer, followed by a primer coat on the body, and it's ready for the color coat!

I promised the goods for the color coat, and I deliver - full video of the first color coat! And what a color... full '57 Lincoln-y goodness.

Next up, the neck gets the same treatment with a tinted clear.

And that's it! The body will get another color coat and two clear coats, and the neck will get another 1-2 clear coats, and then it's off to cure. Next time? Make 'em smooooooooooth.

First, though, a teaser of the body in full sunlight. See you next time!


Operation Plaid Hammer: Neckin' 3 - the Neckining

Right! As of the last blog post, we had the Plaid Hammer neck all fretted, but still square in the back. Let's add some curves! First stop: the ShopBot.

The dust collector does add a bit of a Frankenstein's lab look to this thing. It only makes monsters of tone, though. SEE WHAT I DID THERE?

The dust collector does add a bit of a Frankenstein's lab look to this thing. It only makes monsters of tone, though. SEE WHAT I DID THERE?

The ShopBot is a much smaller CNC router, with an entirely different control program and setup than the big router. This one is specialized just for neck carving. The three different sleds you see are for 24.75" scale set-neck Kauers (Daylighter, Argonaut, Starliner, Banshee), 26.25" scale Kauers (Acadian/Crusader), and 25.5" bolt-neck Kauers (Arcturus). Each requires a different sled, a different program, and different prep steps.

Much like the earlier sanding process for the body, the back of the Plaid Hammer neck gets a coat of rattle-can paint to gauge progress, and then is locked into place in the sled.

Patient sedated, strapped in, and prepped for surgery.

Patient sedated, strapped in, and prepped for surgery.

The ShopBot makes a series of U-shaped passes over the neck to rough out the radius of the neck. The first pass, however, is more of a sighting lap - the program is run too high, to make sure that alignment is all correct. Because it's run higher than the final carve, the first pass leaves some slight shoulders carved, but leaves a wide path of the rattle-canned flat bit in the middle.

ShopBots, much like larger CNCs, the Sasquatch, and Andrew, are naturally blurry. Not because Dave is a crap photographer.

ShopBots, much like larger CNCs, the Sasquatch, and Andrew, are naturally blurry. Not because Dave is a crap photographer.

Alignment checks out good - let's run it!

The router bit making passes on the right. It's controlled via a computer that lives under the table, and was programmed by Abby someone. Abby... Normal.

The router bit making passes on the right. It's controlled via a computer that lives under the table, and was programmed by Abby someone. Abby... Normal.

One pass later, roughing in is done!

Ribbed for your sanding pleasure! SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE, AT LAST I'VE FOUND YOUUUU

Ribbed for your sanding pleasure! SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE, AT LAST I'VE FOUND YOUUUU

Next, the roughed out neck goes to another Doug-designed jig specifically created for finishing the neck carving process.

They fight back unless they're held down.

They fight back unless they're held down.

There's a fiberboard template sitting under the heel end of the neck to protect it. Notice also that the shoulders between the neck and headstock are still sharp - time to bust out the rasp.

PUTTIN ON DA RIIIIIIIITZ! Oh, I mean... DAVE USES DA RAAAAAAASP!

PUTTIN ON DA RIIIIIIIITZ! Oh, I mean... DAVE USES DA RAAAAAAASP!

After the headstock shoulders are roughed out, time to move on to the circular sander with low grit sandpaper to get out the machine markings and smooth out the headstock transition. Note again the rattlecan paint guide coat on the back of the neck.

It's pronounced Fronk-en-sander.

It's pronounced Fronk-en-sander.

"What roundover curves!" "Vhy, sank you, Doktor!"

"What roundover curves!" "Vhy, sank you, Doktor!"

Many, MANY passes of higher and higher grit sandpaper later (including the front and back of the headstock), and we're smooth as a baby's butt. Time to prep for the paint booth!

With the fretboard taped off (but with the ends not trimmed before the picture, because I'M A GENIUS) it's ready to head off to the booth.

Next post, Doug turns full Walter White, I hairspray my leg hair, and shenanigans ensue.

Operation Plaid Hammer: Neckin' 2 - Laser Boogaloo

So at the end of the last entry, I promised LASERS! and SHARKS! Frickin' sharks with lasers attached to their heads! Thought I was kidding, didja?

Complete with the coolest warning sign in history.

Complete with the coolest warning sign in history.

THAT, my friends, is an Arcturus neck sled mounted up in the Epilog Zing 24 Laser (a computer-driven engraving and cutting tool), which is one of the most all-around useful tools in the Kauer shop. Best way to think of it is kinda like a giant printer that uses LASERS TO BURN THROUGH STUFF instead of toner and paper. SWEET. Doug uses this device to cut the Kauer logo into headstock inlays, to cut inlays, pickguards, and control cavity covers, to engrave serial numbers and model designations into the back of headstocks, to make bottle openers or balsa wood airplane kits with the Kauer logo on them... the list goes on and on. It can also, it turns out, be used to cut fret slots. 

For all other Kauer models, Doug cuts fret slots using the CNC's cutting abilities with a special fret-slotting circular saw blade, and adds binding afterward. For the Arcturus model, Doug wanted to create a neck with pocketed fret slots (i.e. hidden tangs) but no binding. The laser can cut slots to a specific depth, and can start and stop inside the width of the fretboard, unlike a traditional fret saw. 

Note the lack of a sharks-with-frickin'-lasers warning sign.

Note the lack of a sharks-with-frickin'-lasers warning sign.

Keen-eyed readers will notice that neck sled is missing its warning sign at this stage - minor disaster was about to befall us. Unfortunately, a misguided cycloptic colleague attempted to use mutated ill-tempered sea bass instead of the industry standard sharks, and because of the ensuing damage, this neck had to be scrapped. Really.

Ok, not really. What actually happened was this; because the laser table gets used for so many different things, the mirrors (used to transport the beam of the stationary laser) can, over time, get dusty or encrudified (technical term), which slightly reduces the focus and power of the laser. As a result, the laser burned fret slots that were too wide to be usable. We attempted to salvage the neck by filling the channels with super-thin cyanoacrylate glue (CA, also known under trade names like KRAZY or Super glue) and wenge dust, but it was not to be. End result was Doug feeding the neck to a table saw to retrieve the truss rod.

After that, we disassembled the laser table, removed and cleaned the mirrors and the rest of the assembly, and got it up and running again. First test was an etching of the warning sign seen in the first picture above; ONLY USE SHARKS WITH FRICKIN' LASERS ATTACHED TO THEIR HEADS, NO SEA BASS - MUTATED OR OTHERWISE - ALLOWED. And that's the last Austin Powers joke I'll make in this post. Probably.

So now what? Time to make a new neck. What was that like, you ask? Go back and re-read the entire first Necking post and the beginning of this one, up to the point where we put the neck in the laser table. And now...

If you had told 8-year-old me that in 25 years I'd be using a laser to make a guitar, I'd have told you to grow up. Well, kid...

Stage One: Laser Cutting Beginning (ok, that was the last Austin Powers joke)

Stage One: Laser Cutting Beginning (ok, that was the last Austin Powers joke)

This time around? Perfect. The laser leaves charred wood behind, so I used a Japanese fret slot cleaning saw, also from Stewart Macdonald, to clean out the slots.

Charbroiled goodness.

Charbroiled goodness.

Now that the neck is all slotted and cleaned up, it's time for frets!

What's that? Your guitar neck WASN'T slotted by lasers? We won't look down on you. Much.

What's that? Your guitar neck WASN'T slotted by lasers? We won't look down on you. Much.

Kauer uses Jescar FW47095-S fret wire, which is .095″ X .047" stainless steel. Jescar precuts the frets to length for each individual fret slot, and the tang (the bit that comes down and grabs the wood) is inset so the fret slot never reaches the edge of the fretboard, for a cleaner look.

Pre-cut fret wire also removes the necessity for my personal mortal enemy, a horrific profanity-inducer known colloquially in the shop as the Fret-F*cker 4000 (tm). This is much, much easier.

First step in the fretting process is to use another Stewart Macdonald tool, a fret crimper, to add a little extra wiggle to the end of the tang for the best possible bite.

Biting and tangy? Who am I, swearing enthusiast Gordon Ramsay?

Biting and tangy? Who am I, swearing enthusiast Gordon Ramsay?

Next step is to apply a layer of cyanoacrylate (CA) glue into the slot - these frets are not going anywhere.

Stage Two: Warm Liquid Goo Phase (Ok, THAT was the last Austin Powers joke.)

Stage Two: Warm Liquid Goo Phase (Ok, THAT was the last Austin Powers joke.)

Next, the fret is seated by hand into the slot.

Right in the groove. Groovy, baby! (OK, ok, that's the last one. I promise.)

Right in the groove. Groovy, baby! (OK, ok, that's the last one. I promise.)

And finally, the frets are seated with the fret press, which has a channeled brass insert the same radius as the neck.

Smashing, baby! (OK, I give up. Mike Myers, I'm so sorry.)

Smashing, baby! (OK, I give up. Mike Myers, I'm so sorry.)

Lastly, the bits of the fret that hang over the end are cut with fret nippers specifically designed for stainless steel frets by FastCap. Final fret dress will come after the finish.

That's that - all fretted! The neck is still square, though. Next step: neck carve!

Operation Plaid Hammer: Necking in Public

Y'know, I was going to title this blog post "Three Hairy Men Neck on Camera" just to really mess with Doug's website traffic stats, but I'll behave. (#BEARS) Ok, I'm done now.

Where was I? Right! Necking! So as you saw in the last blog post, the body for Operation Plaid Hammer is pretty much wrapped up, which means it's time to get the neck dialed in. As mentioned before, the neck is going to be maple with a wenge fretboard. So how do we kick off? The process begins, (surprise) with one big hunk o' maple. First step - rip* the board to useful length.

*I have been informed that ripping is cutting with grain instead of against. In the interests of maintaining a fart joke at Andrew's expense (see caption below) I have opted to retain the error. HAPPY NOW, ROBERT?

Andrew rips one in public

Andrew rips one in public

This piece of maple is wide enough for two necks (unfortunately, that became important later). First step is to take the blank to the CNC to route the truss rod channel, and drill holes for the fretboard alignment pins.

Chocked, docked, and ready to... what means route and rhymes with rock?

Chocked, docked, and ready to... what means route and rhymes with rock?

The truss rod channel has to be juuuust deep enough for the channel to accept the truss rod with the fretboard on top. Careful measurements are important.

Andrew holds the board while an off-camera Hairy-Armed Northern Sasquatch checks the channel depth

Andrew holds the board while an off-camera Hairy-Armed Northern Sasquatch checks the channel depth

When attaching the fretboard, there are a few things of great importance. First is getting the fretboard lined up exactly on the truss rod. The second is making sure none of the glue used to hold the fretboard seeps into the truss rod channel and binds it up. The alignment issue is handled by drilling matching holes in the bottom of the fretboard and in the neck, and using rounded steel pins for alignment. The glue issue is solved by using a thin strip of packing tape over the entire length of the truss rod channel.

Simple. Elegant. Tape.

Simple. Elegant. Tape.

Artsy pre-glue under-the-hood shot

Artsy pre-glue under-the-hood shot

A tight fit is super important, but instead of clamping with clamps, Kauer Guitars has a home made vacuum table! This thing sucks - but that's a good thing. It provides an even solid pressure over the WHOLE piece, instead of just certain pressure points from clamps.

Not, in fact, an air hockey table

Not, in fact, an air hockey table

The channels in the base are for removing air across the whole table. The vacuum table is used with rubber mats, not to protect the piece being clamped, but to protect the vacuum bag from being damaged by sharp edges.

I swear there's a neck in there.

I swear there's a neck in there.

RIGHT! All glued up? Next step - to the CNC to cut the neck and headstock outline, and to put down the headstock inlays. Want pictures?

... TOO BAD! 'Cause Doug and Andrew did all that over the weekend while I was gone. Thanks, guys. *shameface*

Skipping lightly over the NO PICTURES for that section - time to add inlays!

The tackle box of many inlays and a Kauer logo!

The tackle box of many inlays and a Kauer logo!

The inlays are the small pearloid dots in the bottom right of the tackle box pictured above. They're superglued so they're just at the surface of the fretboard, and then they're leveled and radiused along with the rest of the fretboard for a smooth playing surface. Speaking of leveling and radiusing...

Radius block party

Radius block party

This is the radius block, a chunk of aluminum with a perfect cutout of a 12" radius circle running its whole length. With a piece of sticky-backed sandpaper applied by Andrew and some furious stroking by me (there go Doug's website stats again) the fretboard is radiused and the tool marks from the CNC are removed.

Do NOT grab this stuff instead of TP. Don't ask me how I know this.

Do NOT grab this stuff instead of TP. Don't ask me how I know this.

"Commence to rubbin', you just keep on rubbin' on that same old thing" - John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, "Rub-a-Dub"

"Commence to rubbin', you just keep on rubbin' on that same old thing" - John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, "Rub-a-Dub"

To make sure of the success of the 'leveling' part of leveling and radiusing, Andrew uses a super-accurate straightedge (made by Stewart Macdonald for this specific purpose) to look for high or low spots. 

Andrew does MORE SCIENCE

Andrew does MORE SCIENCE

Last step involves a final rubdown (heh) with a fairly fine piece of sandpaper and a sanding sponge.

SO! Radiused and leveled fretboard, but on a square neck with no frets.. Next step? Fret slots. You'll have to wait for the next installment - it involves SHARKS and LASERS. I'm not even making that up.

Sharks with frickin' lasers beams attached to their heads

Sharks with frickin' lasers beams attached to their heads

Operation Plaid Hammer: Makin' Sawdust

The plan for Operation Plaid hammer is as follows; alder body in Taos Turquoise (a '56 Lincoln color), a maple neck with a wenge fretboard, a Mastery trem, and Lollar Regal humbuckers. The starting point, though, is a block made of two pieces of alder.

I got wood!

I got wood!

An alder blank and an Arcturus template! And indecent enthusiasm! Not the first time. Or the last. I regret nothing. Where was I? Oh yeah! The template is used to visualize where on the blank the body will be cut. In this case, there was a nasty knot to be worked around, so Doug had to measure the edge of the blank for an extra spacer to get the CNC router to cut closer to the edge.

Yes, Dave, it's wood. Settle down.

Yes, Dave, it's wood. Settle down.

The blank in its original condition needs smoothing and thinning. First stop: the wide belt sander.

The blank is run through the sander multiple times on both sides to level the block and get it to the correct thickness. Arcturi with Mastery trems can be run a bit thinner than those with Strat-style trems - that's the case here.

Making use of the Persuasion Stick

Making use of the Persuasion Stick

At this point, Doug left to do many important things, and Andrew took over. Next stop: CNC router.

Dave isn't a crappy photographer, the CNC is blurry in real life.

Dave isn't a crappy photographer, the CNC is blurry in real life.

There are a series of programs that must be run for each body. Each part of the process has separate programs for the controls, control cavity, neck pocket, trem, and so on. Andrew calls up and runs each of those programs, stopping to measure progress after each step, occasionally re-running a program with minor depth adjustments as necessary. 

Andrew does SCIENCE!

Andrew does SCIENCE!

About halfway through the process, the blank looks like this.

Making a guitar is easy - just take a piece of wood and cut off everything that doesn't look like a guitar.

Making a guitar is easy - just take a piece of wood and cut off everything that doesn't look like a guitar.

Next step is a table router with a flush trim router bit to take off the flashing around the body. I completely failed to take pictures of this, but I did take some artsy-fartsy macro shots of the rough arm contour cuts looking all art deco.

Looks like a modern art museum. Made of wood.

Looks like a modern art museum. Made of wood.

Next comes another table router with a roundover bit. I did the routing for the flash removal and nearly all of the roundover, but Andrew stepped in to do the bits closest to the neck pocket.

Andrew "ten-fingers" Rascher demonstrating router safety.

Andrew "ten-fingers" Rascher demonstrating router safety.

And now? TIME TO MAKE SAWDUST! As Doug says, lutherie is 10% inspiration, 9874% SANDING. There are three different air sanders, an dual action orbital sander for the face and back, a square sander for the sides, and a detail sander for the contours. The guitar is carefully sanded with three to four different grades of sandpaper. To make sure the whole guitar has been worked evenly, it's hit with quick-drying spraypaint between each grade.

That does have a certain amount of rat rod charm. Taos Turqouise is gonna be better.

That does have a certain amount of rat rod charm. Taos Turqouise is gonna be better.

Workin' them contours. Ladies.

Workin' them contours. Ladies.

After the rough sanding has been done, it's time to drill for the output jack. For this, a Shopsmith is rigged to be a side drill, and a clamping template holds the guitar in place. Like most Kauers, this guitar will have an Electrosocket output jack. One bit cuts a lip for the socket to recess into, and another bit cuts through to the control cavity.

Drill, baby, drill!

Drill, baby, drill!

After many, MANY hours of snading (it's actually more fun than it looks), what's the result? Grab a handy neck blank, and...

Great Googly Moogly, that thing looks like a guitar!

Great Googly Moogly, that thing looks like a guitar!

Not a bad batch of work for day one - stay tuned for day two: Necking in Public!

Operation Plaid Hammer: Origins

Hiya, Kauer fans! My name is Dave Segal, and I'm here to detail the process of building a Kauer Arcturus from beginning to end, one that I GET TO BUILD! How did I get so lucky, you ask?

Doug Kauer and I go way, way back. We met years ago, well before Kauer Guitars even existed. We mutually geeked out on guitars, blues, bacon, and Top Gear. One day, Doug showed up at one of my gigs with an enormous case that contained the very first Banshee prototype. Somewhere, there's a picture of me playing it that night with an extreme case of BluesFace (tm), and the first words I said to Doug when I got off stage were, "I NEED ONE OF THESE!"

I can't find the original Dave-With-BluesFace(tm) picture, so have a Doug-With-BluesFace(tm) picture instead.

I can't find the original Dave-With-BluesFace(tm) picture, so have a Doug-With-BluesFace(tm) picture instead.

Fast forward nearly a decade. Kauer guitars has become the powerhouse of tone that it is today, I own a Banshee and a Daylighter, and I get married. (That's gonna be relevant in a minute, I promise.) I also get the opportunity to do an externship through the school district where I teach! I teach in an engineering and design academy, which teaches a lot of the same design, CAD, and programming skills used in the Kauer shop. We've taken our students here for field trips on multiple occasions, and Kauer Guitars seemed like the perfect place to go for a district backed externship. On my wedding day (told ya I'd get back to that) Doug sent me a text saying he'd figured out not only what I'd do for my externship, but what my wedding present would be - I'd build my own Arcturus, and document the process for the Kauer Guitars blog!

So that's the plan! Courtesy of the mutual love for plaid, hammers, (bacon, Jeremy Clarkson...) we chose the name Project Plaid Hammer. It's not a hammer, it won't be plaid - but you can follow #plaidhammer on Instagram as well. Dig!

Arcturi!

April 1st, 2014. That was last time we updated our blog and for that, I appologize. Trying to get more proactive here about updating SO here we go. Enjoy some new Arcturi!

NAMM 2014

Well, it's been over a week since we've come home from NAMM 2014... and we're still exhausted. What is there to recap? Amazing friends we've made over the years, artists we've met, dealers we harass and get harassed by (good natured of course!)... sleep deprived delirium, a burger that I literally said "do you think adding bacon is too much on my half ground beef, half ground bacon burger that already has pastrami and a fried egg on top?", old fashioneds, beer and the occasional joke about Dennis Fano being my doppelganger. Amazing time. Enjoy some pictures from this years NAMM!