Hand Tools Archive

Mahogany Les Paul Specials

David Weaver
While I'm waiting for the varnish to dry on two other telecasters, and looking for a diversion from building two cabinets that the mrs. wants done, I can start two les paul specials.

I like this guitar type better than a typical les paul, but have never bought a gibson version (I do have a collings 290, which I can sell if these turn out well - collings isn't a familiar name to most, but they are a company who builds probably the highest quality electric guitars in the world without getting weird. Perhaps the same can be said for acoustic. They do everything by the book (wood selection, etc) first and set the price later.

Anyway, I've never worked mahogany before since I don't build much furniture, and was curious as to how it would plane. This is honduran, by the way, not an imitation.

I intentionally planed it against the grain to thickness it to see what it's like, and it's very agreeable to say the least. I'm not finish planing this because it'll take its lump in construction, but it's important that it's flat and tearout free. On the telecaster forum, that's "only achievable with a drum sander or router sled, it, it tears out if you plane it".

I didn't finish plane it, so I don't know what the ultimate brightness will be, but with sizing shavings (4 thousandths or so off of a smoother to clean up the surface, it's agreeable in every direction with the cap set). I wouldn't typically measure the smoother shavings, but I figured it's worth knowing, as before the double iron, I'd have taken much longer to plane this, and perhaps saved my billets and gone to a local shop here that has a three stage drum sander. That'd have been a shame. I'd have finish planed it walking on eggshells just like the D&W video shows the the cabinetmakers doing with walnut.

I've never planed anything that's as easy to work, and I've never sawn anything that's high quality and as well behaved. I can see why gibson gravitated toward it for their solid body guitars.

This blank was a cut price blank because it's too close to the center of the tree, and even at that, through seasonal shift, the cupping is minimal and I can center the neck and bridge/pickups etc in the center of it and what little that occurs after it is under finish (not much) won't affect the playability or stability of the guitar. Paying the same price for a multi-piece blank would've been technically better, but it doesn't look as good. A good quartered honduran mahogany blank like this that's low density as this is would be $200, and I haven't made a good one of these yet, so maybe later. Gibson will not put a blank even like this one in a guitar less than $3000. One of the perks of building is controlling the materials and components without having to pay a huge premium for them. The downside is that it's probably a fair expectation that if you didn't want a guitar you built, you could probably get the cost of materials (about $400), and Gibson could get 6 to ten times as much. I don't know if they'd (to be fair, they're providing warranty service, paying wages and servicing a substantial level of debt).

I don't think this plane has been used for many decades - many, but someone was nice enough to keep it in a dry place. In all of that time, it stayed flat and well fitted, and I think it took a total of about 45 minutes to complete sole flattening, and get the iron and cap iron prepped initially.


The wide shavings with holes in them (tearout) are from against the grain with the try plane. Not set close, set sort of close. The final smooth shavings come out without holes in them (even though they're relatively thick) once you hit your mark.

I saw a video of someone planing mahogany at CW and to use the word deliberate would've been a huge understatement. The curator described a time budget of about 1 hour per board foot for dimensioning and smooth planing. It boggles the mind! I doubt that's historically accurate, and felt a little bit sorry for the guys in the video doing the planing. I don't think they'd be open to my suggestions (I know that as a matter of policy, they don't allow double irons).

You can see a festool sander in the background. When I made my kitchen cabinets, I wanted them to look factory, so I sanded them. I thought it would be a time saver, too, but I think it's only a time saver if you have an industrial setup and can do most of the work with multi-stage stationary sanders. I hate the amount of consumables you go through. The cabinets my wife wants are going in adjoining areas to the kitchen and she wants them to look the same. I'm on the fence about using the sander for the cabinets that go outside of the kitchen, but the first one in process is an extra cabinet to replace something in the kitchen that I thought we'd keep (an RTA rolling cabinet with a butcher block), so conceptually, I'm sanding that one to keep the look uniform. Nobody would notice. Hopefully when I make flat top and arch top guitars, I'll have some use for the power sanders.

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