#43 Much Ado about Superglue: Part 2

The Glue Looper: A tool I will be reviewing soon.

Glue Delivery Strategies

Being careful and meticulous, almost surgical, with the way you deliver water thin CA to the workpiece is the key to a long and happy relationship with  water thin superglue. If you aren’t careful you will create a mess that is very time consuming to clean up.  First of all, Wax paper, teflon, and paste wax are 3 materials that CA will not adhere to. You can strategically use these materials to either protect certain areas or to funnel, or herd, the glue to where you want it to go. One example of this is placing a strip of teflon in a fret slot to repair chips right on the slot’s edge. Without the teflon dam, the CA glue would run right into the fret slot which would cause all sorts of problems.

The challenge with water thin CA is to deliver a single bead of glue to the appropriate location without dripping it somewhere else, without the glue running, and without accidentally delivering more CA than you intended. This is a lot bigger of a challenge than it may seem, especially if you have never used water thin CA before.

The nozzle on the bottle that the CA comes in is never fine enough. Attaching a wip tip funnels the glue to a very fine point and extends the reach of the nozzle. When I am using a wip tip, I keep a paper towel nearby, and before I deliver a bead of glue to the joint, I first turn the bottle over and let a bead drop onto the paper towel. This tells me that there isn’t any kind of obstruction in the bottle. The glue should flow out to the end of the wip tip like water and then a bead should form at the end. If there is an obstruction, I clear it with a paper clip. Now when I apply glue to the workpiece, I know what to expect from the nozzle. I shouldn’t  have any surprises.

With water thin CA it is never necessary to squeeze the bottle. That is how you make a mess. Be patient and let gravity do the work. Sometimes even when you try your hardest to deliver just the right amount of glue, more comes out than necessary. I keep my paper towel handy to clean up the excess before it runs or cures. I don’t wipe with the paper towel because that would spread the glue out. Rather, I simply touch the excess bead of glue with the edge of the paper towel and the glue wicks right up into the paper towel.

Another delivery strategy is to drop a bead of CA onto a finely tapered razor knife blade, and then place the tip of the razor blade where you want the glue to go. The bead should run out to the point of the razor blade and meet the workpiece at exactly where you wanted it to go. While this is a fine way to deliver CA glue, I recently purchased a new product that I am hoping will make the razor blade trick obsolete. It’s called the glue looper, and the second I saw a picture of it I knew what it was designed to do and I knew that I had to order it and give it a try. It is simply a razor knife blade specifically designed with delivering CA glue in mind. Instead of tapering to a point at the end, there is a metal loop that basically catches the droplet, and water tension won’t let the bead drop from the loop until it makes contact with the glue surface, which breaks the doplets tension. A picture of the product really says it all. As of this writing, I have not actually tried the glue looper yet, but I am excited to give it a try this week and I will review it in a later episode.

Non-structural Repairs

I just wanted to make an important point here that CA glue within the the context of guitarmaking is really only considered for non-structural applications. CA will never replace wood glues like titebond for structural applications. Use CA to glue a bridge down and you will find out real quick just how strong CA glue is, and then you will have to learn how to do a bridge re-glue as well!

So the non-structural repairs I am talking about are things like large gap fills around the binding, the end wedge, the neck joint, the rosette, etc…. but also sometimes a large chunk is taken off of an edge like the hard edge of the peghead. Patching in a similar piece of wood (or sometimes the exact missing piece if you were able to save it, in the case of a chunk taken off of an edge) is usually an easy task. I save some of my scrap from a project until the project is complete. That way I can always find a piece of scrap wood with the right grain and color to seamlessly hide a large gap. In most cases, I can hold my scrap piece in a nut slotting vise and carefully shape it with a needle file until it fits just right. Then I can press the filler piece into the gap and hold it with either a razor knife or a paper clip or some other extended object that allows me to hold pressure on the piece without gluing my fingertip to the guitar in the process.

Dust Fills

Very small gaps can be filled with wood dust and then CA glue can be dropped over the fill to percolate down through the wood dust. Be careful with your judgement of what is considered a small gap and what is considered a large gap. A dust fill on a small gap can become invisible, whereas a dust fill on a large gap can be a real eye sore. The color of wood dust never quite matches the color of the wood that the dust came from, except in the case of ebony. And this becomes even more apparent on a large gap because the dust fill lacks grain lines. In fact, with a dust fill I am rarely trying to conceal a gap amongst the surrounding wood. Rather, I try to blend gaps in with the grain lines if I can. It is much easier, because dark dust fills work so much better than light dust fills. For this reason I almost exclusively use ebony dust to conceal gaps. The ebony dust fill hides itself as just another grain line in the surrounding wood.

It’s important to brush the dust into the gap loosely and to not attempt to pack the dust in with your fingernail. The CA glue percolates throughout the entire fill if the dust is packed loosely.

Nut Slot fills

So you just slotted a nut and the D string is buzzing. Oops! Looks like you cut the D string too low. There’s a quick fix for this that saves you from having to start over with a new nut.

Pack the D string slot with baking soda and apply a drop of CA glue. Before I do this, I place a piece of tape at the leading edge of the slot as a dam to keep the glue and the baking soda from spilling out onto the leading face of the nut. This baking soda/CA glue mixture blends in with the surrounding bone and hardens to a pretty similar hardness. The D string slot can now be recut.

Gluing Frets

I like to glue my frets in for a little added security. Many builders don’t bother with this. I like to use water thin CA to glue the frets in because I can wick the glue in after the frets are installed, by placing a bead on the tang where it exits the slot and letting the glue travel down the tang.. You have to be very careful with this as delivering too much glue to the tang of the fret causes the glue to wick out from under the fret and onto the show face of the fretboard, leaving what looks like a shadow along the edge of every fret. This shadow can be removed later with some carefully applied acetone, 0000 steel wool, and a lot of elbow grease, but it’s better to just avoid it in the first place. If you’re not partial to any specific fretwire size, then using wide fretwire instead of narrow fretwire, can prevent the “shadows” from showing.

Sealing Grain

It should be noted that CA glue seals wood grain. This can be used to our benefit. I like to wick CA glue down into the wood insert holes for the neck bolts on my bolt on necks. The purpose of this is not to hold the wood inserts in place. Remember, CA glue is not structural. The threads of the wood inserts are enough to hold it in place as long as the hole is properly sized. The CA glue is wicked down into the hole simply to seal the exposed endgrain, which otherwise might expand or contract later potentially loosening the threaded inserts.

Cleaning up the Mess

The best way to clean up a nasty CA glue mess is not to create one in the first place! But if you do have to clean up gobs of glue some of these tips can help.

  1. Use a Q-tip dipped in acetone and careful target the glue stains. As mentioned before, acetone softens CA somewhat. It still takes a bit of elbow grease to remove it completely, but the acetone certainly helps. Make sure you keep the acetone away from any plastic parts like the bindings or from areas where you don’t want a glue joint to come undone.
  2.  If a glue gob sits proud of the surrounding surface, make sure you target just the glue and not the surrounding wood. CA is much harder than wood and sanding the glue gob flush with a large flat sanding block may seem like a good idea, however, it tends to sand the surrounding wood more than the glue itself, creating a depression around the glue gob.
  3. A chisel in a careful hand works best for this, but a razor blade sharpened into a miniscraper works well too. Tape off the edges of the chisel or razor blade so that the only exposed part of the blade is the exact size of the gob in question. That way, you can target the glue gob without scraping the surrounding wood as well.
  4. Another way to target just the glue gob is to use a sanding stick held upside down so that the rounded side of the sanding stick is utilized rather than the beveled end.
  5. Once the glue gob or stain is flush or close to flush it is best to switch to sanding or scraping a very broad area around the stain, rather than targeting the stain. OItherwise, you’re digging a depression again.
  6. The best way to clean up “shadows” around the frets is to first carefully drop some acetone on the shadow and then press 0000 steel wool up against the corner where fretboard meets fret with your thumbnail and rub along the length of the fret.

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#42 Much Ado about Superglue: Part 1

Student David Shelley loves his guitar so much that he glued his finger to it with superglue.

Superglue can be a luthier’s best friend or worst enemy. Technically called Cyanoacrylate glue, or CA, in most cases it cures with effectively no wait time. The thinnest viscosities have incredible wicking properties that allow the glue to penetrate a pre-assembled, clamped joint.

However, CA can be a nightmare to work with if you are not ready to deal with the more cantankerous side of CA:

CA is caustic stuff to breathe in. The same properties that allow it to wick into joints also allow it run wild across your workpiece and the quick cure time means that sometimes the mess cures before you can clean it up. CA often cures harder than the surrounding wood which makes removing cured CA glue problematic. CA leaves deep dark stains in spruce that often won’t come out. CA literally makes your eyes burn!!!

In the next 2 episodes, I’m going to answer some common questions about superglue, debunk some myths, and most importantly, discuss some strategies for dealing with the cantankerous side of superglue, so you can benefit from it’s wicking properties and quick cure time without frustration.


CA glue is available in several different viscosities, from waterthin viscosity to a thick gel superglue. I use waterthin CA almost exclusively. The water-thin variety, also called superthin, can be found at hobby stores or from luthier suppliers. Lowes or Home Depot won’t have it. That stuff is too thick. There are cases where medium and thick CA are more suitable, especially any situation where you are worried about runaway glue making a mess. However, I am only talking about water thin CA here because that is what I use 99% of the time. Pretty much any other application that would call for a thicker glue, I don’t use CA for.

Water thin CA spreads by capillary action. This means that the glue literally pulls itself into the tight spaces between joints. As mentioned before, this can be somewhat problematic in certain cases, but you have to give superglue some credit here! No other glue can do what water thin CA glue does! I can dry fit 2 pieces together and then apply the glue while the 2 pieces are held together exactly how I want them. The glue will migrate along the mating surfaces of the 2 pieces (and then possibly continue to migrate further, hence the word “problematic.”). The glue then cures in seconds, or even quicker if accelerator is used.


I always wear a respirator whenever I use CA glue, and I always use in a well ventilated area. If for some reason, I expect to be using a large amount of CA glue, I wear swimming goggles as well. Yes, swimming goggles. Regular shop goggles are useless against CA glue. The irritating fumes easily get through. Swimming goggles are the only thing that works because they seal around the eyes.

CA soaked paper towels and cloth immediately get thrown in the wood stove, in the unlikely event that they spontaneously combust. You should do the the same thing with rags soaked in a variety of finishes and solvents.

Don’t have a woodstove? Use a metal can, or a bowl of water.

To Accelerate or Not to Accelerate

Commercial “accelerators” are available that can be misted onto CA glue joints to instantly cure the glue. I don’t recommend creating your own homemade accelerator concoctions, because I’d imagine that it would be easy to get the proportions wrong and create something that significantly weakens the bond. Commercial accelerator is inexpensive enough and it works great.  Using accelerator can be beneficial in simple tearout repairs, where perhaps you accidentally tore out a chunk of wood. The chunk can be held in place by hand (or with the tip of some object like a paper clip, so you don’t glue your finger to your work) and CA can be wicked down into the joint. In some cases, like on an edge, it can be difficult to hold something in good alignment for a long enough time for the glue to cure on it’s own. In that case, accelerator is a good idea. There are also cases where it makes sense to use accelerator for the sake of your own time and efficiency.

The downside of accelerator is that it weakens the bond a little bit, it can cause “blooming”, and it adds more caustic fumes to the air. So only use accelerator if you have to. Don’t simply accelerate all CA glue joints just because you can. Before you spray, ask yourself if you need the accelerator or if you can afford to wait a minute. “Blooming,” by the way, is the result of spraying too much accelerator too soon. When you do this, the CA bubbles out and turns an offwhite color. This leaves an ugly gob of hard CA to clean up. This can be avoided by waiting about 3 seconds before you spray and spraying above the CA joint, letting the mist fall down onto the CA, rather than spraying it directly.

DIY Dilutions

I recently found out that you can dilute CA with acetone to alter the flow characteristics and essentially create your own viscosity.

I don’t really recommend doing this, because it can be messy, time consuming and it’s not really necessary given the availability of various viscosities from hobby stores. But it is interesting to know that you can. Here is why I did this and how:

This came up during the April class. I ran out of water-thin CA glue during the class and had to experiment a little bit to finish a peghead inlay that the student and I were working on. It was a Sunday and the hobby store was closed, so I could not simply get more water thin CA glue, but I did have a much thicker viscosity superglue handy. This CA, however, was much too thick for the task at hand. The student was leaving for home the next day, and the inlay needed to be finished…

I poured a small amount of the gel CA into one of those travel sized shampoo bottles. The bottle was empty of course without a trace of shampoo or moisture in it. In fact, drying out the bottle with a heat gun after it is cleaned out is critical. Moisture is what cures CA. If there is even a trace of moisture in the bottle, the CA will cure as soon as you pour it in the bottle. Then I added acetone to the bottle until it appeared to flow like water. Important disclaimer: I do not know how much this affects the strength of the bond. I used this trick to finish up some ebony dust fills around an inlay, which is a purely aesthetic use. The rest of the dilution that I made is now reserved for very non-structural fill repairs like this.

With all that said, I don’t really recommend doing this! Just because it is not necessary. It’s a better idea to wait and buy the viscosity that you need. Unless you are building guitars on a strict timeline, like my students and I are during my courses, you shouldn’t need to make your own dilutions ever… but it is interesting to know.

Now some of you may be wondering what I was wondering: How does this work? You may already know that acetone can be also be used to soften cured superglue to aid in it’s removal. It may seem counter-intuitive then that acetone can also be used to dilute CA glue, without making the CA glue incurable. I am not a chemist, but I believe this works because the acetone evaporates off as it’s exposed to air. The way I think of it, the acetone dilutes the CA in the bottle and inhibits the CA from curing in the bottle. This gives the CA the flow characteristics that you want and it doesn’t render the CA inert because as soon the CA wicks down into the joint, it is exposed to air and the acetone evaporates off leaving uninhibited CA glue behind. That’s my guess at why this works, but if anybody has a more science-approved answer, i would love to hear it and share it!

Superglue and Spruce

If you’ve used superglue on guitars long enough, you’ve probably gotten the stuff on unprotected spruce or some other softwood at some point. And you probably have had a glue stain that, no matter how much you sanded and scraped, it just never went away. This is a common problem that can be avoided by either not using superglue on guitar tops, or by applying finish to the area before you use the CA glue. The finish seals the grain so that glue cannot penetrate. Then you simply sand the finish away. This works great for installing rosettes and installing binding and purfling.

In Much Ado about Superglue: part 2 I will cover such as topics as

Glue delivery Strategies

Non-structural Repairs

Dust Fills

Nut Slot Fills

Gluing Frets

Sealing Grain

Cleaning up the mess
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#41 Ken plays the guitar he built from scratch while reflecting on the week

To see more pictures of Ken’s experience, check out the Student Photo Gallery

To learn more about the 8 day Acoustic Guitar Workshop in Bernville, check out the Hands on Guitar Building School
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Want to really learn more!? Take a class with Eric Schaefer and build your own guitar in 8 days!

Or Join The Online Guitar Building School


Posted in All, Guitar Making, Uncategorized

#40 My 15 Best Practices for Productivity as an Independent Craftsman

Minimizing distractions and being productive is something everyone struggles with. Just because I’ve written this article, that doesn’t mean that I’ve mastered productivity. Far from it. It is a daily struggle. Anyone who is honest will likely tell you the same thing. My goal here isn’t to list off generic productivity tips for all entrepreneurs. There is enough of that already. The internet doesn’t need anymore! Seriously.  Rather, I want to share some of the practices that have worked well for me as a luthier and as a solopreneur.

As you read these, you might be thinking, “Wow, this guy really has his s#!% together!” I want to be as straightforward as possible and I want the reader to understand that I do not follow all of these practices all of the time. In fact, I don’t even follow half of these practices half of the time! I wish I did, but I am simply too human. It takes a lot of discipline to establish a new habit and only a little bit of complacency for that habit to slip away. All of these practices taken together will seem extreme, even draconian. The point is to consider each separately and incorporate into your life what makes sense for you. Do not attempt them all at once. You will burn out! It is much more practical to challenge yourself with establishing just 1 or 2 new habits. And of course, not everything that works for me, works for you. We are all different.

Disconnect from the Internet

I’m sure that some of you can relate to this:

You wake up in the morning and the first thing that you do is look at your phone or flip open your laptop. Without thought or intention, like a trained monkey, you are looking for notifications.

“Did that client e-mail me back?,” “I wonder if anybody commented on my facebook post?,” “How many likes did it get?,” “Oh look, Eric Schaefer posted a new video!,” “New superfood discovered in Peruvian rainforest… well I have to read that!” … An hour later, you’ve gotten zero work done and you are angrily posting a Facebook status that you are sure will change the way people think about politics.

In fact, there is a very good chance that some of you will have arrived at this article through a similar chain of events. If that is the case, then stop reading! Bookmark this page for later and get back to work! You are wasting time!

Peeking at your notifications is absolutely the worst thing you can do in the morning, even for those of us who are disciplined enough to avoid time-wasting sites like Facebook.

In fact, I personally, don’t care about what is happening on Facebook. But the morning e-mail trap is just as bad, if not worse. I will habitually check my phone for new e-mails the moment I wake up, if I can. This sets in motion a reactionary cycle where I am not working on the tasks that I consider to be the most urgent or important. Rather, I spend time that I don’t have on other people’s agendas. This is a particularly insidious trap, because it’s easy to justify to yourself that you are being responsible and getting work done, because they are, after all, client emails.

It’s not that these e-mails aren’t important. They are important, but they can certainly wait. The idea is to be intentional about your workflow rather than reactionary. Starting your day with e-mails forces you into a reactionary workflow.

This may seem extreme to some, but every night before I go to bed, I literally disconnect the internet. I pull the plug on the router. I also switch my phone to “Ultra Power Saving Mode.” This is a function on an Android phone that saves power with a simple home screen and access to a limited number of apps: Phone, Text messaging and the clock. That’s it! This is perfect for me because I need to be accessible by phone throughout the day. As many of my students know, that is the best way to reach me.

I do this before I go to bed so I don’t have to rely on my mental fortitude to disconnect when I wake up in the morning, when my willpower is at it’s weakest!

Depending on what I have planned for the day I will either leave it off all day or I will turn it on when I need it. The point, however, is that I atleast start my day on my terms, to work on the projects that are most important to me. I am not at the whim of everybody else’s notifications.

With all that said, I am actually very pro-social media. I manage my own wordpress site with a blog, an online guitar building course and a private forum. I also manage my own youtube channel, Facebook page and instagram. I love what the internet and social media allow us to do. But it can only benefit us if we are intentional with how we use it.

For me, the key to being intentional about how I use the internet is to set up my devices with certain controls or applications that manage distractions. That way, even after I’ve plugged the router in for the day, I am less likely to be pulled off task by something online.

Here are some of those controls:

  • I listen to alot of podcasts while I’m working on guitars. I avoid having to go online to find new episodes by setting up my itunes to automatically download new episodes from podcasts that I am subscribed to. That way, I don’t have to open my browser in the first place.
  • As amateur and even professional luthiers we constantly have “How To” questions that we want answered, and it would be silly to deny ourselves of the virtually boundless resource that we have at our fingertips. However, when you open up a search page on almost any browser you see a list of your most visited sites, which for me are gmail, youtube and facebook. It is very tempting when I am on that page to either check my inbox, or check for youtube or facebook comments. I remove the temptation by using a Chrome extension called “New Tab Redirect.” This removes the most visited sites, so that all you see is a blank search bar.
  • Finally, I use another extension called “StayFocusd.” This extension allows you to set limits to the amount of time that you spend on certain sites. That way, if I need to go on sites like Facebook or Youtube to post a new video or to answer questions, I won’t get pulled down into the social media rabbit hole, or atleast not for long!

Assign all of your marketing/sales/accounting work to one or two days of the week

As craftsmen we tend to loath the idea of marketing our products or services. We’d much rather spend our time in the shop. We are artists firsts and unfortunately artists tend to look down on business as a necessary evil. This is unfortunate because that line of thinking is flawed in so many ways. If you suffer from this belief then, honestly, you should not be in business for yourself, just as a matter of practicality. Get a job and let someone else deal with the “evil” side.

I have a healthy view of marketing and sales but I still don’t particularly enjoy doing it. As solopreneurs we must wear many hats and some of those hats are not very comfortable. Switching from hand carving a neck to working at a cold laptop is a rough transition and I’d personally rather get all my laptop work done on Monday and then be able to devote my full attention to building and repairing instruments for the rest of the week. I call it Marketing Monday!

Establish a price range with clients ASAP

I struggled with this for the longest time. Consider this scenario:

A customer e-mails you with a question about a custom instrument or a repair. Customer asks, “Can you build a blankety blank with blank?”

You respond with a well thought-out explanation of why blankety blanks are incompatible with blank, complete with graphs of the density of blank.

Customer insists that his father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate owns a blankety blank with blank, and that there must be a way to build a blankety blank with blank.

You respond by politely reaffirming that blankety blanks are incompatible with blank in a way that dodges the implication that his father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate’s credibility is in any way suspect.

Customer concedes that maybe some blankety blanks are incompatible with certain varieties of blank.

You respond with more graphs, and links to peer-reviewed scientific journals, and a gentle suggestion that perhaps he would be interested in a blank with a blank instead.

Customer gets excited by the suggestion. “Oh, what about two blanks with a blank!”

You respond with a lengthy explanation of why two blanks is also incompatible with blank.

Customer is somewhat deflated but still determined to invest in blank. Customer asks, “How much do you charge for a blank with a blank?”

You respond, “Work on blanks is in the range of $2000 – $2500.”

Silence. End of conversation.

Now consider the same scenario with a different approach:

A customer e-mails you with a question about a custom instrument or a repair. Customer asks, “Can you build a blankety blank with blank?”

You respond, “A blank with a blank is a better alternative and I can explain why if you want me to. By the way, work on blanks is in the range of $2000 – $2500.

Silence. End of conversation.

Now both scenarios had the same end result: the customer wasn’t interested because of the price point. In the first scenario, you spent hours or maybe even days answering emails and researching the possibilities of the project or repair. In the second scenario, you responded in less than a minute with the price point in the email. Which approach is more productive? The second scenario saved your time and the customer’s time.

In both scenarios I was being a little bit tongue-in-cheek and poking fun at the customer, and you may have gotten the impression that the customer was somehow wrong or at fault, or that the customer was the one who wasted time. And it is easy in the moment to believe that and get frustrated at the customer. Remember this:

If you don’t establish the price range up front, then you are wasting your own time.

The customer does not know the current standard price of a custom instrument any more than you know the current standard price of plastic surgery (unless you’re a surgeon or a supermodel). As the professional, it is your job to establish the price up front.

Avoid academic procrastination

Regular couch-potato procrastination is easy enough to spot. You know when you are lounging about during work time and you feel guilty about it.

However, there are two forms of procrastination that I am going to talk about which are very subversive in the sense that they disguise themselves as productivity when they are in fact procrastination.

The first one I call academic procrastination. This is procrastination by learning. You believe that once you reach some critical threshold of knowledge, productivity and success will simply happen as a byproduct of sheer brilliance. People who suffer from this form of procrastination imagine that people who are productive and successful have reached this critical threshold and know everything. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be competent enough to even start.

I believe that this form of procrastination is not about laziness. It is about fear. The academic world of books and theories insulates you from the real world of failures and deadlines and criticism from peers. Nobody can judge you or claim that your venture was a failure if you never even start.

The worst part about this form of procrastination is that it discounts the most powerful form of learning: Experiential learning. That is, the knowledge you gain from doing.

I still allow time in my day-to-day for learning from teachers, books, videos and podcasts. There’s value in that. But only if you apply that knowledge as you gain it. The most effective education, in my opinion, is in alternating periods of academic learning with real-world application. Education should be viewed as ongoing and pervasive rather than as something you do before you can be productive.

Avoid perfectionism procrastination

Perfectionism procrastination is the other form of subversive procrastination. This one is especially tricky to spot because being a perfectionist is at the core of being a craftsman. Don’t get me wrong. Being a perfectionist is a good thing in lutherie. I consider myself to be one. I also, however, suffer from perfectionism procrastination, which is not a good thing.

Let me explain it this way:

I have realized that there is a finite amount of mental energy that I can devote to any one thing before I begin to lose interest. When I lose interest, the quality of my work suffers. This seems to be an inescapable fact. With that in mind, it makes sense to critically analyze the build process and determine where clear, focused energy is most needed, and to work with an efficiency mindset at the times when clear focused energy is less necessary.

I see the same thing in students who attend my courses. They begin the course with a full tank of mental energy and a high interest. As the energy wanes. the work suffers. The end result is that the student is more focused and detail oriented in the early and middle stages, and more rushed at the end. Fortunately, I’m there to push them when they need to be pushed in the early and middle stages so that they still have something in the tank when they get to the final stages of assembly and setup, where a detail-oriented mindset is more important.

The point is that there are points of the build process where a perfectionist’s mind is not necessary, and it is at those stages where the perfectionist risks not only wasting time, but even sacrificing the quality of their work  further along in the process.

Use the Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique that involves breaking up a task into manageable 25 minute intervals of intense focus. Each interval is followed by a 5 minute break. Four intervals is considered a set and earns a longer 15 – 30 minute break. The idea is that there is no reasonable excuse to go off task when intervals are just 25 minutes. For example, even if you have to use the restroom, you can wait until the next break. If someone calls or interrupts, you can address it on the next break. When you first start the pomodoro technique, you will likely find yourself checking your phone or walking off to the bathroom during a Pomodoro out of habit. It’s important, however, to catch yourself and get back on focus once you recognize that you’ve strayed. After some time of practicing Pomodoro, however, staying on task will become more habitual.

I use this technique fairly often. When I’m having an off day, it helps to have a system like this to fall back on. Sometimes I use an app called Kanban Flow, and sometimes I use a simple kitchen timer.

Put away your tools after every job or atleast at the end of the day

Nothing wastes time like a messy shop. It’s hard to even muster the motivation to work when your benchspace is crowded and your tools are not where they are supposed to be.

The best time to put tools away is immediately after the repair or the particular job (side bending, neck carving etc.) is complete. It is much more manageable then than it is 3 weeks later when every bare spot of bench is covered with tools. The next best time is at the end of the day before you close up. Atleast then, you can walk into a clutter free environment the next morning.

Personally, I still let my workshop become a mess from time to time. In the moment it seems more efficient to leave the tools out on the bench and simply get started with the next thing. However, everytime I do that, I come to the conclusion in hindsight, that I would have been far more productive if I took a minute to clear the bench between jobs.

Now be careful here! Because there is another form of procrastination lurking in a messy shop. That is procrastination by cleaning everything in sight! I’ve fallen for this trap before. It begins innocently enough by putting your tools away. Then maybe you shopvac all the bench space to clear the dust. Then you notice dust clinging to the window trim, so you vac that up as well. However, the windows look a bit streaky, so you break out the windex… stop! You are procrastinating again! You can make a note that the windows need cleaning and add it to your workflow later. There’s a good chance that you will look at the windows later and realize that they didn’t really need cleaning after all. You were just using the windows as an excuse to put off the work that really needs to get finished now.

Keep tools sharp

Not scary sharp. Just serviceably sharp. For those just getting started in woodworking, pay to have your chisels and plane irons sharpened by a professional just one time. That way, you can see what a sharp tool is like, so you can understand the value of a sharp tool when it comes to your time and the value of your work. And just so you know, a new tool is not a sharp tool. Not even close. If you just bought a shiny set of chisels, yes, even those need to be sharpened. It makes all the difference in your productivity, the quality of your craftsmanship and the satisfaction you get from woodworking.

Schedule regular “sharpening sessions,” where you take the time to sharpen all the tools that need sharpening. No need to get carried away and sharpen every tool you have. Just the ones that need it. I recommend the Worksharp 3000 for fast efficient sharpening.

This video from the online course can help: Chisel Sharpening

Phone calls are less time consuming than email

This is one of those things that is true for me, but definitely not true for everyone. It really depends on your personality type. Some people are very efficient at answering e-mails. I, however, am not. I think long and hard about everything I am typing, but when I am on the phone with a client, the words just fall out. An answer that takes 30 minutes to write up in e-mail, could be a 5 minute phone conversation. And the best part about phone conversations is that the client can ask follow up questions and you can address those on the spot, whereas e-mail can become a long drawn out affair with weeks of back-and-forth dialogue.

I still answer plenty of e-mails. In fact, most of the time it is quicker to just fire back an e-mail for questions like “Is there still available in the October course?” However, if someone asks a question or several questions that I know requires an in-depth explanation and possibly will result in many follow-up questions, I explain that to the person and leave my number. Customers with hard questions are always delighted to see that I’ve given them the option for more personable communication through the phone.

Establish deadlines

This one is key. Many projects in lutherie don’t have a deadline imposed on them by someone else. For example, if you are building an instrument and that instrument is not for a specific client, then that project does not have a deadline unless you impose a deadline on that project. For some of you, this may sound like a good thing. Perhaps the whole reason that you got into lutherie and woodworking was to escape the world of arbitrary deadlines.

Just let this sink in:  Projects without a deadline don’t get finished and they are the biggest drain on your time.

You have to impose a deadline. If the project doesn’t seem important enough to have a deadline, then that is probably not a project that you need to be doing.

I use what I call the 10 X rule to schedule deadlines. That is, you estimate the time that you think it will take to complete a project, and then you times that by 10. And that is your deadline.

A deadline, in my opinion, need not be near term. It simply needs to exist. Being realistic and putting the deadline far into the future makes it more likely that you will stay true to deadlines.

Right now, you probably have half-finished projects collecting dust in your shop. I know that I have several! It is a good idea to make a list of those projects and impose a deadline on each one. If you feel a heavy resistance to imposing a deadline on any one project, then you should consider scrapping that one. It is a drain on your energy.

Prioritize tasks the night before

Prioritizing tasks and making a “to do list” the night before allows you to get into your workflow immediately in the morning. I don’t do this as often as I should, but when I do I have an immensely productive day. If I don’t do this the night before, I am at risk of starting my day by working on the tasks that are the easiest or the most satisfying in the moment. Unfortunately, the easy and fun tasks are never the most important ones! Kanban Flow, the same app that I use for the Pomodoro technique, is a great app for prioritizing tasks.

Start work immediately!

And that brings us to our next practice: getting started right away! I’ve tried all kinds of “morning routines” that “productive people” swear by: meditating, exercising, journaling, drinking kale smoothies etc… These are all things that get you into the “right mindset” to tackle what you need to do that day. And they do, honestly, have their merits.

But I have found for me, nothing beats simply rolling out of bed, pouring a glass of water and starting a Pomodoro (see Pomodoro technique above). I don’t take a shower, and I don’t eat breakfast… yet. These can wait. Meditation and exercise (if you’re into that) can also wait. Whatever morning routine that works for you, will feel so much better if you put it off until after you’ve gotten atleast 25 minutes of focused work done. That’s it! Anybody can work hard for just 25 minutes. Nothing gets you in the mood for having a productive day like checking something off your list first thing in the morning.

And if you really want to step it up do a whole set (4) of Pomodoros (~2 hrs of focused work). The most productive days I have start off this way. Waiting 2 hours to have breakfast isn’t always easy for me, so I don’t do this every day.

Once I’ve completed either one pomodoro or a whole set of pomodoros I can go through my morning routine (shower, breakfast, exercise, or whatever) without the anxiety of feeling like I’m wasting time.

I don’t have to commute to the shop. I live on-site. So this works especially well for me because I can simply wake up, walk down to the shop and get started. I understand that this is not the case for many people. However, there is always some work that you can do from home. Think about it. Maybe it’s posting photos of your work on your website or on social media. Just wake up 25 minutes earlier and get that done before going through your morning routine. It sets a great tone for the rest of the work day.

Be Consistent

Above all, be consistent! All of the above mentioned practices only work if you practice them with some level of consistency.  So be very mindful of this from the outset. Consistency creates habit. Once a practice becomes habitual or second-nature, we spend less mental energy, or sometimes even physical energy, enforcing the practice. The mental resistance is no longer there. When you start a new habit, you are in the honeymoon phase of habit formation. This is where you are most inspired and determined. This may even give you the false impression that maintaining this habit is going to be easy. The key to making a habit stick is to be aware that the honeymoon phase of habit formation will end, as all honeymoons do. If you are aware of it, you can say to yourself, “This is easy now because I’m inspired, but the real test of willpower is coming.” That way, you will be ready when the honeymoon phase ends.

This is not to say that a habit is not worth forming if you can’t do it consistently forever! That is ridiculous. You can fall off the wagon. I fall off the wagon all the time. In fact, falling off the wagon is actually a good thing! “Nonsense!” you say. Oh, but it’s true! Falling off the wagon gives you the opportunity to develop the most important habit of all habits: Getting back on the wagon. When you fall off the wagon, rather than throwing your hands in the air in defeat, you can calmly and coolly commit to resuming your practice as if you never fell off in the first place. Don’t get flustered and scold yourself. Just get back on. Every iteration of Off-the-wagon On-the-wagon, further develops this habit that affects all other habits. If you are the type of person who logs your success in a journal, instead of tracking how many days you’ve done ____,  try focusing on how many times you’ve fallen and gotten back on the wagon instead. See how much more effective that is in promoting longevity in your habits.

When in doubt, just do something

Sometimes a tool breaks or I realize that I ordered the wrong materials. It’s life. This happens. I made my “to do list” the night before, but now I can’t complete any of the items that I need to complete. Bummer…

On a good day, I will go back to the drawing board and come up with a new, revised “to do list.”

However, not every day is a good day. Sometimes I am in an irrecoverable funk and I just don’t know what to do. When things go wrong like this, it’s easy to fall into a state of frustration and succumb to “analysis paralysis.” Now that your entire schedule is thrown into flux, you can work on any project! What should you do?! Sometimes the best thing to do is to just do something. I don’t spend the rest of the workday trying to come up with a new plan. I’m already in a bad mood, so I probably won’t be able to do my best work anyway. I will often work on one of the less urgent, easier, or more fun tasks, and try again for a better day tommorrow. It’s better than doing nothing.

Work Overtime

I’ve saved the best for last! This is the Mother of all Productivity “Hacks!” And I know some people don’t want to hear this, but people who work longer, produce more. It doesn’t matter how often you meditate or how many kale smoothies you drink. If you work 9 to 5, you will be less productive than someone who is in the shop from 6am to 10pm. If you are new to the idea of working for yourself, you may not yet know that working overtime is a necessity.

When people ask about what I do for a living, and I tell them, I sometimes get a response like, “Oh, It must be nice…”, like I somehow inherited my self-employment, rather than took it on voluntarily. These people probably imagine that I get to take long walks in the morning and that I meet up with my friends for brunch in the afternoon. Ahh, the luxuries of self-employment! I can work whenever I want!

The reality is that if you need to work 16 hours and sleep for 8, and there’s 24 hours in a day… well you do the math.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, I assure you that I’m not. I love to work. I love what I do, but I also simply love working hard and getting things done. And there is an important distinction there. Of course, it is important to love what you do, but running a business involves so much more than the part of the business that involves the art or craft of what you do. There are a lot of not-so-fun things. But if you love what you do and you love to work, then you can enjoy yourself when you’re working in any capacity within the business, whether it’s building guitars, teaching, writing blogs, editing youtube videos, answering emails, marketing, or filing your taxes.

Maybe some day I’ll get to regularly take those morning walks and go out to brunch on a Tuesday, but right now I don’t even desire that kind of life. I’m having too much fun doing what I love to do: Building guitars, teaching, and working hard every day. And the acceptance of that kind of work ethic is the ultimate best practice for productivity.
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#39 Hand Carving the Neck

It has been a little while since I posted a new video so for ep #39 here is a video on my process for hand carving necks with rasps and files.

This is a free excerpt from The Online Guitar Building School, so check that out if you haven’t already, and sign up if you want to learn more!

Was this useful? I would love to hear your questions or comments! I try to answer every e-mail I receive, so please be patient with me :) eric@ericschaeferguitars.com

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#38 Installing Binding and Purfling

This episode is another free video excerpt from The Online Course. I demonstrate the way that I like to install binding and purfling with binding tape and superglue (CA glue).

Was this useful? I would love to hear your questions or comments! I try to answer every e-mail I receive, so please be patient with me :) eric@ericschaeferguitars.com

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#37 Making the Most out of the Robert O’Brien Mortise and Tenon Jig

Episode #37 is an excerpt from The Online Guitar Building School. This video is about a jig that I absolutely love! The Robert O’brien Mortise and Tenon Jig (AKA Neck Angle Jig).

There are alot of things about using this jig, however, that trip a lot of people up. So with this episode, I’m going to walk through my process for using the jig, and address some of the common problems that people have. I will also show you how to hook up a shopvac to the jig so you don’t get wood chips thrown at your face!

Was this useful? I would love to hear your questions or comments! I try to answer every e-mail I receive, so please be patient with me :) eric@ericschaeferguitars.com

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#36 Roughing out the Bridge

Another free excerpt from The Online Guitar Building School. In this lesson, I make a rough bridge from

a rosewood bridge blank.

This includes routing the shape, tapering or contouring the wings, and drilling the bridge pin holes.

Was this useful? I would love to hear your questions or comments! I try to answer every e-mail I receive, so please be patient with me :) eric@ericschaeferguitars.com

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#35 Inlaying Fretboard Markers and Side Dots

Another free excerpt from The Online Guitar Building School. In this lesson, mother of pearl dots are inlaid into the fretboard face and plastic rod stock is used to make side dots.

Was this useful? I would love to hear your questions or comments! I try to answer every e-mail I receive, so please be patient with me :) eric@ericschaeferguitars.com

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#34 All Rosewood on CITES: What this means for Luthiers and Traveling Musicians





In September of 2016, the CITES delegates agreed to place ALL Rosewood under Appendix II protection, effective January 2nd, 2017.

Many musicians and builders alike are familiar with the fact that Brazilian Rosewood, or Nigra Dalbergia, is a protected species, and that there are many restrictions surrounding the sale, and transportation of this overly exploited member of the Rosewood family.

Well Brazilian Rosewood is just 1 out of 8 Dalbergias listed under one of the three Appendices on CITES and just 1 out of 304 members of the Rosewood family.

Now, beginning in 2017, ALL 304 species will be listed under Appendix II.  The new listing, by the way,  also includes Bubinga.

Furthermore, there is an annotation to the list which expands the definition out to “all parts and derivatives.” So the list now covers not just raw wood, but finished goods such as musical instruments.

So What is CITES?

CITES (The Convention on International Trading in Endangered Species of flora and fauna) is essentially an agreement between governments whose “aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.”

There are 3 appendices to CITES with Appendix I being the most restrictive and Appendix III being the least.

Here is what you need to know:

Appendix I contains Brazilian Rosewood, elephant ivory and tortoiseshell.

Appendix II contains all other Rosewoods (starting Jan. 2, 2017).

First and foremost, none of this matters if your instrument, your guitar parts, your raw wood or whatever it is that you are selling or carrying does not cross any international borders. It does not matter if it’s Appendix I or Appendix II, CITES only affects border crossings.

For The Traveling Musician

For the musician who travels internationally with their instrument, you may be covered by the Personal Effects Exemption.

“Personally owned or possessed specimens will be exempted as personal effects if both the countries of import and export implement the personal and household effects exemption for the species and the specimen at the time of import, export or re-export was worn, carried or included in personal baggage.”

So this means that you have to check with both the country that you are entering AND the country that you are leaving to be sure that they allow the Personal Effects Exemption. And this only applies to Appendix II. So no Brazilian Rosewood, elephant ivory or tortoiseshell.

There is another exemption for non-commercial shipments up to 22 lbs, though there is debate over what “22 lbs” means.

Fish and Wildlife defines 22 lbs as 22 lbs of RosewoodThis means that a travelling musician can ship an instrument ahead of themselves without a permit if the shipment includes less than 22 lbs of rosewood. This is good news. I can’t imagine any instrument with 22 lbs of rosewood unless the case is made out of the stuff!

Apparently, in Europe, however, some sources define 22 lbs as the whole shipment. Under that definition, you can imagine how a single instrument with it’s case can be outside of the exemption… so it’s a gray area.

It may be easier and wiser to just get the Musical Instrument Certificate, AKA passport.

I’ll explain what that is…

On the Fish and Wildlife website there are two permit applications:

-One application for a one-time import/export.

-And one for “frequent non-commercial, cross-border movement of musical instruments for purposes including, but not limited to personal use, performance, display, and competition with the issuance of just one document.”

The latter is called the Musical Instrument Certificate, and it seems to me that they both take the same amount of time and cost the same amount of money through filing fees and whatnot. So it seems to make sense to just get the Musical Instrument Certificate and not bother with the one-time import/export permit. That way, you save yourself the hassle of having to potentially get another permit in the future. The Musical Instrument Certificate lasts for 3 years.

Fish and Wildlife states that you should allow atleast 45 – 60 days for the permit or certificate, but I have heard from other sources that it may take up to 90 days so apply very early. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a lot longer than 90 days, in some instances. I’d imagine that there are going to be A LOT of permit applications now with these new regulations including all rosewoods. Fish and Wildlife may be understaffed to handle all the new requests. We will see. Either way, you should apply very early.

For Luthiers and Dealers

Okay, now we are talking about crossing borders for commercial purposes.

That could be shipping an instrument to a customer. That could be carrying an instrument for display at a guitar show. That could be raw wood, partially finished kit parts, or finished guitars…

These purposes are NOT covered by the Personal Effects Exemption, the Musical Instrument Certificate, or the 22 lb noncommercial shipping exemption.

Whether selling or simply displaying at a show, you HAVE to get permits.

For Appendix I (again, that’s Brazilian Rosewood, elephant ivory and tortoiseshell), you need permits for every single border crossing. That is permits with an “s”. Plural. Because you need an import permit AND an export permit for every crossing.

For Appendix II (all other rosewoods), you only need the export permit.

There are two options for commercial purposes:

  • a permit for individual shipment
  • a permit for a “Master File”

The Master File costs $200 and lists everything in your shop. So, as a builder, you would catalog every little piece of rosewood you have in your shop, and every time you ship an instrument internationally, you ship it with a photocopy of the Master File.

Any new rosewood obtained after you applied for the Master File will not be covered. You need a new Master File for that. New master files after the original, however, are only $100.

Remember, we are still talking about international shipments. Domestic shipments will not require any permit.

So what do these permits look like?

I have never applied or used these permits. In fact, nobody has because everything I am talking about doesn’t go into effect until January of 2017. But Brazilian Rosewood has been on Appendix I since 1992, and many have gone through the permit procedures for Appendix I items. Personally, I have never even touched a piece of Brazilian Rosewood, so I have no personal experience with the process.

I do, however, teach students from around the world to build acoustic guitars, both online, and in-person. So I’d like to understand this process for them. Last summer, I had a student in my Hands-on Guitar Building Workshop come from Bahrain, a small country in the Persian Gulf. He worked there for 5 years as a contract worker and returned to the US to prepare for a move to Kuwait. While in the US he took my course and built a beautiful instrument, which he then had to trust to a shipping container on it’s way to Kuwait. Now there was no Brazilian Rosewood on this instrument, so no paperwork required. But now that all rosewoods will be on CITES, I’d like to know how this changes things, going forward.

So with that said…

From my research, it appears that a permit, whether for Appendix I or Appendix II, basically involves 3 things, once you get past all the usual bureaucratic fill-in-the-box:

  • Description of the item
  • Photographs
  • Proof that the species was obtained legally

Proof is the tricky part.

As this rolls out, the wood you order post January 2017, should come with documentation… I’d imagine.

However, for pre-2017 wood, or what’s called “Pre-convention” wood, Fish and Wildlife will rely heavily on certified appraisals. I am not really sure exactly what qualifies someone as an expert in these appraisals. I’d imagine that an appraisal from a reliable source in the vintage guitar world would qualify or perhaps experts in forestry. Luthier built instruments can include a notorized statement from the luthier.

Check out a PDF of the permit application here: https://www.fws.gov/international/pdf/permit-application-form-3-200-32-export-re-export-of-plants.pdf

It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds. Rosewood is ubiquitous in the guitar world, so some big, sweeping changes in the industry are about to happen.

I would like to follow up this very “nuts-and-bolts” exploration of the topic with another episode exploring the broader societal and philosophical questions I didn’t answer here. Why ALL rosewoods? And what are the implication of this going forward? Stay tuned!

Note: The information in this article is based on my own research from the following sources:






www.fretboardjournal.com Podcast 127 w/ John Thomas

Any and all statements in this article are statements of opinion, not fact. This is not an official source on CITES. For official documentation see www.fws.gov or cites.org. When dealing with international law, you should conduct your own research. This article is merely my opinion of what I believe to be true. Any resemblance to the actual truth or facts is mere coincidence.



Was this useful? I would love to hear your questions or comments! I try to answer every e-mail I receive, so please be patient with me :) eric@ericschaeferguitars.com

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