New Workshop

So, I was complaining about how I was out of room on my workbench and had no real room to expand. Kathy’s response: why not rearrange this stuff like this, do this, and take over the whole other side of the basement instead? Woo hoo!

limberjack in progressThe last project I did before rearranging was a limberjack, an Appalachian dancing puppet. (You may recognize him from Mister Show if nothing else.)

I’ve been interested in wooden automata for a while, and the book Making Mad Toys & Mechanical Marvels in Wood has some great full-scale plans.

The first project in the book is a limberjack, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It turned out to be an excellent introduction to the whole process, from transferring the pattern, planning the cutting, and assembling.

limberjack complete Using the scroll saw, it took a loooong time to cut the pieces from such thick wood, even though it was just soft basswood. Although he’s a bit rough, I really like how he came out. I was especially proud of the joints. As soon as he was finished, I put on some good bluegrass and let him dance!

After that project, it took several months of weekends to get everything moved around the way I wanted, but it’s finally done. Instead of one workbench jammed in between the beer fridge and the electrical panel, I’ve got 2 workbenches and a sit-down worktable. That gives me enough room to get a couple power tools in and star doing a little more complicated work. Kathy got me a bandsaw for my birthday, and my dad is giving me his old table saw. We also had some additional outlets put in, and some overhead lighting so I can finally see what I’m doing.

It’s really exciting, and hopefully I can do justice to all this new potential. I want to start off with some simple wooden toys, and continue looking into automata. Now that I can use the bandsaw to rough stuff out, I hope to be able to get more done, quicker. I also want to learn more (well, anything) about electronics and do some simple projects, and, and, and…

the new workshop


Another Cigar Box Guitar

Cigar Box Guitar with pickup installedA couple weeks ago I decided to make a second cigar box guitar. This time I followed the plans from It was more complicated than the MAKE magazine version I made previously. The neck runs through the box rather than just being glued to the top. I also decided to use real strings and tuners, and make it electric.

Hooking up the pickup was ridiculously easy. I took a Radio Shack piezo buzzer, hooked it to a 1/4″ input jack, taped it together, and that was it! Before installing it into the guitar I plugged it into my amp to make sure it the connections were good, and everything worked fine the first time.

The biggest problem I hit was that I had shaved down the headstock too much. In trying to make it a little more guitar-looking, I planed down the headstock area. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until the very end (when I was stringing the finished guitar) that I had made the headstock too thin. The tuners stuck out high above the nut, and the action on the guitar would be unplayably high.

After I supressed the urge to smash the whole thing, I re-drilled the holes for the tuners where the nut was, and re-filed the groove for the nut further down the neck. That worked out fine, and the project was saved (whew).

The action is still high but it sounds good and is definitely playable. I’ll have to make a clip of Jack or Joe playing it and post it.

Completed Cigar Box Guitar

What This Country Needs is a Good 5-cent Guitar

Last week Kathy gave me a really great gift: a subscription to MAKE magazine.

MAKE is an amazing magazine that really appeals to the tinkerer in me. It covers making everything under the sun from woodworking to electronics. Every issue is packed with tons of fantastic projects. So, a really awesome feature of the subscription is that you get access to the electronic archives of every issue so far.

I dug in immediately, jumping through a bunch of issues to see what caught my eye. There it was in issue 4: plans for a cigar box guitar. I thought it would be an excellent first MAKE project: simple, cheap, and musical! We went to Home Depot and got everything I would need (except the cigar box which came from a local cigar store). I decided that this guitar would be a practice one, so I skipped both the electronics and the frets.

The assembly was straightforward, and once I had everything laid out and sanded it came together pretty well in just a couple hours. I had a few issues which I want to resolve my next time around:

  • I didn’t read the instructions closely enough and drilled the wrong size holes in the tail, thinking they were the same size as the holes at the other end. Duh. That was the end of that piece of wood. Which brings me to…
  • The second-choice piece of wood I used for the neck was a bit warped from being piled up at Home Depot, resulting in a very high action. So high that I can’t really hit the first half-step on the neck.

It sounds OK, nothing great. I played it through my amp using the SoundChecker I sometimes use with my ukes. I think the sound would be better if I used a bigger cigar box, and ran the neck through it rather than resting on top as the MAKE plans have it.

Next time around I may use the plans at, or, or the Yahoo Cigar Box Guitars Group. Maybe something with real guitar strings and tuning pegs. I’m kind of torn, though. I sort of like the crappy, thrown-together look of the MAKE one.

April 8, 2007 | Posted in: Music, Wood | Comments Closed