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14 February 2016

Spool Clamp Inferno!

Last weekend I talked about some investigations I was doing into making spool clamps to aid me in my lutherie. This weekend it was time to put my ideas into practice and start the production line. I learnt a few more things along the way. All is captured below...

Do you remember me frying my drill last weekend? Yep, well I did get it working again and changed the brushes on it. I don't think it has much longer for this world. Here's a picture of my cheapo spare drill and my new drill-press. I've learnt that this new set-up is actually far more accurate than my old 80s set-up. Who'd have thought?

I learnt quite a lot fixing my old drill, but I'm not going to mention any of that right now. Instead I want you to pay attention to that odd jig I've knocked together to get a centre hole in my spools.

Here's the magic bit. I was scratching my head, wondering how to make use of the T-grooves in the base of the drill-press. I've come to learn from my adventures with with my table saw that the T-grooves are used to fix guides, jigs etc. and I was wondering how on earth I would do anything with the base of the drill-press.

I tried fitting bolts in the grooves, but try as I might I couldn't get anything that would hold and more importantly, nothing that I could tighten up from the top.

Eventually I had a moment of clarity... What about a barrel nut? I'd just received a pack in the post for my digital caliper project (coming to a blog near you soon!). Sure enough, the barrel fitted nicely in the groove and as long as I held it in the groove, I could tighten and loosed to my hearts content!

Oh wow! I drilled a hole in this corner of a square of wood and voila!

As you can see, all I had to do to drill centre holes in my spools was to push them into the corner of the and plunge. Easy.

Here's a picture of that jig I created to see if I could round a spool using my table saw.

I got told off by Michael King yesterday for using my table-saw to do this job. He said that a table-saw is a very scary way to make spools, and you know, he's right. I wouldn't have done it this way unless I was absolutely positive that I'd come out the other end with all my fingers. The Adrenalin starts pumping every time I switch on the table-saw. I have a healthy fear of it... where I was simply terrified of my router. No-one was more pleased than me when that bloody thing bit the dust!

So, feeling wide awake and suitably cautious I dug out my jig to to start the main production run. Having finished, I can confirm that I still have all of my fingers. ;-)

Michael King is a far more talented luthier than I will ever be, and being the kind of guy he is, he was constructive in his criticism. See this picture where Michael shows us some clamps he has made using a plastic breadboard of all things. I really like the idea of this, and I might try it further on down the track if I'm ever in the market for more spools.

Michael got the idea from a Mandolin book he was reading. I've been googling and all roads seem to lead to Graham McDonald for this neat idea.

If you'd like to have a go at making plastic spools then check out Michael's instructions on his blog.

Back to my wooden spools...

Here's what I was left with after my first production run. These spools are a hair off 1 inch tall and approx 1 5/16 inches wide. Looking good!

Out came the sledge-hammer and I banged the carriage bolt into each spool.

Carriage bolts (aka coach bolt or round-head square-neck bolt) have a square bit of metal under the end cap to stop them from turning while you tighten the nut. They're meant to be held in place by the wood.

You only need the square hole in one bolt, but I figure that each one should have one so that I can mix them up a bit and not worry about finding the right one to go on the bolt end.

My general idea is that once I've got the spools made, I can use different bolt lengths and maybe even tools like a solera if the need arises.

I'm fitting 20 cm bolts for now (7 7/8 inch) being the widest I could possibly need. These will have a maximum gap of about 5 inches which will fit all full-size acoustic guitars you might ever want to make.

The only lesson here is that I split a spool where the original wood had a screw hole. If I'd been paying better attention I might have avoided this. I'm thinking that you might waste a lot more if you pick too soft a wood for this task.

Next up was to glue the Spools to a tile of cork. The cork tile I'm using here is 4mm thick and I'm using Titebond wood glue. I've read some accounts of wood glue seeping into the cork and ruining the sponginess, but I haven't seen any of this.

Once dry I separated the spools by cutting the cork with chisel, trimmed each with the chisel and then sanded. Finally, I poked the centre hole in and spool done!

This is what they look like, fitted to the bolts and in place on my Washburn guitar. 

I was patting myself on the back here and then I started to get a sinking feeling. I knew I needed to make more bolts, but how many more exactly? I dug out my plan for the archtop I want to build. Bloody hell... it looks like I'll need 30 bolts! That's 60 spools! Oh no. If I thought making 9 spools was boring... how was I going to feel after another 21?

There was only one way to find out, and I can report that I've done all the cutting, but need to glue the cork. Nearly there :-S

And that is it for now. As boring as making spool clamps has been, I've loved being back out in the garage doing things again. If only it was a bit warmer. I'm going to have to make all sorts of jigs and patterns for my archtop build, so maybe this is what I'll concentrate on initially as I dust of the cobwebs. As I worked on these spool clamps I've been wondering if I could make a few specialist blocks to aid with making the neck. I think that the basic spool clamp idea has a lot of potential to make all sorts of things easier. And once I get through this project, I'll be able to use them again. There is so much win here that I think I might just have to go grab a pint in celebration. Ha ha.

Before I go I want to show you this wonderful picture by Brenoch Adams called Wards that Jake Tolbert showed me. I love the apocalyptic feel to it and see the gun in the banjo... that reminds me a lot of Sabata:

Oh wow... I almost forgot to mention that I've only gone and published "Gold Mountain". I should do a post on this, but for now I'll just say that it is working its way to the shelves of all the usual bookshops. The only place you can get it right now is from Lulu. It's free. Go read it and write me a review. You know you want to...


  1. Man, I think you deserve a pint after that production run. Good going as some say. I don't like table saws either but what can a poor boy do? (Except, of bloody course, to sing for a rock'n'roll band.) The only thing I would add to your spool clamps would be two short lengths of plastic tubing (or maybe one in the center works) so the bolts hasn't a chance of marring the wood.

    And if you'd settle for spools closer to half an inch you could slice them all in two and instantly have twice the number of clamps.

    1. Thanks. The tubing is a great idea. I hadn't thought of that. I had thought of cutting the spools in half though. Ha ha. Great minds and all that. I'm almost finished with the run now and not a minute too soon. All I need now is something to clamp!