Finding wood for the Neckblock

A couple of weeks ago I went to a lumberyard nearby my house here in Virginia. I had never been to a lumber yard before, so I was very curious to see what I would have found there.

As a wannabe luthier, I was mostly interested in finding some nice quarter-sawn wood, but I must say that they had basically nothing quarter-sawn, and they had a lot of very long boards that would have never fitted in my car. 😅

I found, though, a piece of Liriodendron Tulipifera, also called “poplar” in the USA, which was in the list of woods suggested by David Van Edwards to make the neckblock. It is not quarter-sawn, though, so I am not entirely sure I can use it. Van Edwards only states that the wood for the neckblock should have the “grain running along the longest side” and the would should be “reasonably easy to carve, reasonably light, and reasonably resonant”.

The dimensions are perfect, I will research more and see if this piece of wood is suitable to become the neck block of my lute!

My tonewood is cracking!

A couple of weeks ago I bought some really nice tonewood from Aron Hix on eBay. This wood will be the soul of my first guitar build!

I got a nice Adirondack Spruce top, very nicely quartered, and a Pau Ferro back and side set.

I left the wood flat on a surface and kind of forgot about it for two weeks. Yesterday I went to check it and, to my horror and dismay, I saw that the Pau Ferro back has developed a crack!

Pau Ferro Guitar Back
Pau Ferro back and sides set

It is hard to see from the pictures above, but the crack starts from the top edge and goes down for about 5 cm.

Detail of crack on the right board – Front view
Detail of crack on the right board – Top view
Detail of crack on the right board – Back view

The two matched boards were completely flat when the wood arrived, but now I can see a slight warp upward for the right board.

The left board had nothing yesterday, but today while I was shooting the photos I noticed that a crack seems to be developing on this as well, and it seems to be exactly in the same spot as the other board!

Probable crack developing on the left board

It seems also that one of the matched guitar sides is starting to develop cracks.

Pau Ferro – Guitar side with crack

The spruce soundboard does not seem to have any crack so far, but as you can see from the picture this has also slightly warped up on the right board!

Now I have to understand how to stop these crack from propagating before it is too late. 🙁

I guess that all these rookie mistakes are all part of the learning process, but now I hope that I do not have to throw away an expensive back and sides set because of this!

My first woodworking tools

I have been spending some time researching and buying some of the tools I need.

Here is what I got so far:

  • Japanese King water stone for sharpening (+ a Nagura stone to create the slur);
  • Veritas green honing compound to be used with a leather strop (which I am going to build soon);
  • Japanese Plywood saw from Lee Valley. I do not know if this was a smart buy, I bought this because I thought I would be cutting a lot of MDF/plywood for the mould, but now I am kinda regretting it since I am not using it a lot. Anyway, it is an excellent saw, it has specially hardened teeth to deal with plywood/MDF’s glue inclusions. It is twice as thick as dozuki and the kerf is 0.040″ (about 1mm) wide. I feel I could have bought a normal dozuki, the risk of damaging the teeth with the 5 or 6 MDF cuts that I have made so far would have probably been minimal;
  • 9″ Shinto Saw Rasp – I will be using it to shape the neck, people say amazing things about it;
  • Veritas Low-angle block plane with a PM-V11 steel blade. I still used it only on MDF, I cannot wait to have the pleasure to use it on real wood;
  • C-clamps of various size;
  • An eclipse-style honing guide. I still have to use this, so far I have sharpened freehand but I am curious to see if my tools come out sharper with this;
  • 24″ PEC Flex Rule (32nd/64ths & .5MM/MM);
  • PEC 6″ Double Square (4R) 8ths,16ths, 32nds, 64ths;
  • PEC 12″ 2 pc Combination Square (16R);
  • German-made copying saw from Lee Valley;
  • Pégas Coping Saw Blades (15 and 18 tpi);
  • Narex Classic Bevel-Edge Chisels from Lee Valley. I bought a set of 4 (1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4″, 1″), but I do not know how much I will be using all the sizes. They are made to Lee valley’s specs and people swear that they are better than the Narex chisels that you find elsewhere.

I still need a bunch of other essential tools, but for now these will at least allow me to make the mould for my lute!

Buying the (right) tools

Buying tools (the right ones!) is probably one of the most difficult things that a lutherie novice has to deal with in the beginning, or at least it is for me!

Let’s be honest: there are so many tools available, at so many different price levels, that it is very easy to start buying everything that you think will be useful, but you will quickly discover that:

  • you do not need most of the tools you bought
  • you are almost bankrupt 😱

I find that one of the best advice that I have been given is: buy a tool that you need when you need it.

That is what I have been trying to do so far. Now, that sounds easy, and probably for a normal person that likes something and just buys it without thinking too much about it is easy. But, unfortunately, I am not like that. 🙄

When I have to buy something I take literally a life to make a decision. I first have to understand how the tool works, what characteristic the tool needs to have, what makes a tool good for my scope. Then I start comparing tools of different quality (and price levels), and I have to weigh down if I am really saving money by buying a cheaper tool with respect to one that is more expensive. Usually, though, I end up buying something that on the high end of the quality (and price) scale. 😅

I believe that, with woodworking tools, the “buy cheap, buy twice” philosophy is more than ever valid.

Notebook and some tools

I started buying some of the tools needed for the construction during the fall time, after reading most of David Van Edward’s instructions. It was not an easy task – being a complete noob in woodworking I had to learn at the same time the function of each specific tool, what would be best to buy for my scope, and how to use it. I am still learning and discovering how to use them, and I am still perfecting sharpening by hand (luckily now I am getting sharper edges on my plane and chisels with respect to the first times I tried to sharpen them)!

I also bought a notebook and, initially, I was taking notes on the steps to be done, but after a while I realized it was really time-consuming to write down every step! Now I am using the notebook just to take notes about very important things that I have to remember, ideas, or what went wrong after I performed one of the tasks.

My First Lute

Here we are with the fist instrument that I will (try) to build! 🙂

As I mentioned in the previous post, I will follow the “Build your own Renaissance Lute” course by the famous British luthier David Van Edwards. David really made a fantastic job in guiding the student with step-by-step procedures, explaining in a clear way the techniques he uses to build the lute!

These are the characteristics of the lute that I will build:

  • Seven Course Renaissance lute based on the ivory lute by George Gerle, Vienna, ~1150
  • String spacing taken from Hieber lute, Brussels
  • Decorative layout taken from seven-course lute by Vvendelio Venere, Bologna
  • Rose size: TBD (I will decide later!)
  • Peg design: TBD (I will decide later!)

I have absolutely no idea how much time it will take to build it, also because I have to learn from scratch everything about woodworking, buying tools, learn how to use them, etc. I hope to have a finished lute in a year or so! 🙂


Although I am not new to classical guitar (been playing it since I was a kid for about 28 years now!) I am very new to lutherie! I have been thinking about building instruments for the past 15 years, I have read tons of guitar making books and, finally, I can start for real!

I have always been fascinated by lutes and early music in general, therefore I decided to start with a lute! I bought two excellent courses by Mr David Van Edwards, and I started building my first ever instrument, a 7 course Renaissance lute!

I thought that it would be nice to share my wannabe-luthier progress here with you all, with the aim to inspire other people to start getting their hands dirty with the noble art of lutherie!

I am very excited to start this new adventure, and I hope that a lot of people here will enjoy the journey with me!