(See video at the end of this article: How To Make A Guitar Body Template)
Get into the habit of making templates. They are not necessarily fun to make but will definitely make the guitar building process faster, safer and produce more accurate and cleaner cuts.
What Materials To Use For Template Making?
The best material for template-making is not wood, but rather, man-made materials like acrylic and MDF. The one I prefer is MDF because it’s relatively inexpensive, commonly available, comes in various thicknesses, cuts easily and is predictable. However, the dust it produces is very toxic, so make sure to wear mouth, nose and eye protection. Don’t get MDF dust dust in you!
What Parts Of The Guitar Need Templates
Although templates are not absolutely required for guitar making, they can nevertheless be very useful for:
- the guitar body
- the peghead and tuner holes
- the fingerboard
- the neck
- pickup cavities
- back electronic cavity + cover
The guitar body and peghead templates should have curved lines while the neck and figerboard ones should be perfectly straight. Regardless, all edges on templates must be perfectly square so that a router bit bearing can ride on them smoothly.
To make curves shapes, you can use rasps, files, sandpaper, oscillating spindle sanders, etc. For straight cuts, you will need to cut with reference to a perfectly straight edge.
How To Make A Template
Step 1: Starting from plans on paper, transfer the shape onto the template material by tracing along the edge of the paper using a marker.
Step 2: Make a first template from a thin piece of board so it’s easier to work with. A thickness of 1/8″ is probably ideal for this step. Cut the shape with a jigsaw or bandsaw if it’s curved or on the table saw or another straight-edge cutter if the lines need to stay straight.
Refine the edges of this template so that no more dips and bumps are present along the edges.
If using power sanding tools, take sweeping passes, do not stay in one small area because it will tend to create dips. Also, make sure to always keep the sanding tool at a 90 degree angle to the edge.
Run your fingers along the edges to check for irregularities and remove them by sanding. Fingers are ideal because they are very sensitive to small changes. Vary the speed at which you scan the edges with your fingers, this will help you detect different sized irregularities.
Make the template as perfect as possible, this will help you save time later. Don’t forget to transfer the centerline from your plan onto the template.
Step 3 (optional): In order to improve the template, transfer it to a new piece of board by using a router. The act of using a router will give you perfectly square edges. Refine it some more using sanding tools. This is now your master template. However, this step is optional, you can go from step 2 to step 3 if you wish. If so, then your master template is the one created in step 2.
Step 4: Using a router, transfer the template onto a thicker piece of board, preferably a 1/2″ to 3/4″ MDF. Again, refine this one a little bit and you are done. This is now your template that you will use to cut the wood for the guitar. Make sure to transfer the centerline onto it.
Step 5: To protect your new templates, spray a thin coat of polyurethane along the edges in order to harden and protect them. This way, they will last longer.