Tooled for Trouble- Hand & Powertools for Homebuilds

@GloopyJon mentioned his recent bench drill purchase in my NGD thread, so I'll start with the option I chose when I was looking for a solution for drilling holes in the center of the body, e.g. string through holes or removing material in the pickup or control cavities with Forstner bits before changing to the router.

I quickly found that bench drills with an outreach big enough for my needs are way out of my price range for the most models, but a solution that is used quite often by members of various German boards is this:

Wabeco Drill & Routerstand

This particular model has a pillar height of 500mm and a max. outreach of 350mm. I use it with a Bosch GSB 13 RE drill, both together are about € 200.

Another reason for the Wabeco is that it has a 43mm collar which opens the possibility to use it with a router, for example my trusty Bosch POF 500. It's also possible to turn it into a DIY pin router, which is definitely on my short list.
Right, it appears that I've been summoned to this thread! This is going to take some time and I will have to make several posts, so I will try to organise them by type of tool or by theme...somehow! I'm essentially going to list the tools that I've bought and give my impressions on how suited they are for building guitars. I hasten to emphasise that these are early impressions because I'm still making my first two guitars at home, but I already have some definite impressions.

Before I start, I shall bow to a higher authority - Ben Crowe from Crimson Guitars, who a couple of years ago made a video (here) on the tools that you need for starting to make guitars at home. He came to a cost of £600; I've certainly spent more than that, but I don't want to waste time doing things manually when there's a tool that will do it faster and better - within reason, of course, as I don't want to spend thousands! Nevertheless, I'm seeing this as - hopefully - a long-term hobby, and it's worth investing a bit if I want to do it properly.

I will provide links to the things that I bought, usually on Amazon (DE or UK). These are not necessarily recommendations, but rather so that you can see pictures, details and specifications of the various tools.

So here goes with the first category of tools, which are the first ones you need when preparing to make a guitar...


A band saw is, if not absolutely necessary, extremely useful, and it's one of the two most essential power tools (I'll get to the other one later!). You might think it's a luxury, but when I did my courses, I was often running to the band saw to cut something. You use it for shaping the body, cutting out the neck, shaping the headstock and then for all sorts of little bits and pieces. It's just so easy to cut something with the band saw compared with any other option!

I decided to get a small, table-top bandsaw that was quite cheap and which I've been able to bolt onto my flip-top table, so that it shares the working space with my spindle sander (I've posted a picture of this elsewhere). I therefore bought an Einhell TC SB 200 which cost me about €130 including delivery. I've used it quite a lot already, but despite the promised 80mm cutting depth, it struggles with anything over about 20mm and it's very slow going for something like the body. If you have the funds and the space, I'd certainly recommend going for something bigger and more powerful.

I also bought a circular saw - a Bosch PKS 55 (I like Bosch a lot) - not so much for guitar building but for other reasons. However, it can be useful occasionally. I recently cut strips out of a neck blank in order to make laminate necks. I first did that with my band saw, but the blade wanders quite a bit and so I had a lot of work with the thicknesser afterwards and lost a lot more wood. Later, I used the circular saw on some other pieces, with a guide, and it worked quite well. It would be tricky on small pieces, though.

I made a big mistake when I bought the circular saw, because I should have bought one that I could also mount upside down and use as a table saw. In the back of my mind, I'm considering buying a Triton TA 184CSL for this purpose, but I'm loath to buy a second version of the same item so quickly. If you have a larger band saw, though, you probably don't need a table saw.

Lastly on the power tools, I have a jigsaw and a mitre saw, but I don't use those very much for guitar stuff and they weren't bought for that purpose. They can come in handy, but I think you can always do the same job with one of the other saws.

Coming to hand tools, I already had a couple of cheap, basic saws and a little hack saw. None of them were particularly good, and I've bought a better panel saw, a better hacksaw and a cheap jeweller's saw. I also got a Crimson Guitars fret saw, since they are designed to be the right width for fret slots.

That's it for saws. I'll gradually add further posts for other types of tools - this is a huge topic!
Saws are a nice starting point. I expect my new bandsaw to arrive here around next week, will post my first impressions as soon as I get it all up and running.

I'm a big fan of Japanese saws. I have a Kataba that I use for pretty much anything even cutting out neck or body shapes.
A Dozuki, with a more rigid spine is also high up on my list for tasks like cutting neck angles and such.

If you have a larger band saw, though, you probably don't need a table saw.
If I had the space- and funds, obviously- I would absolutely get one. We used a table saw for so many things at Stratmann, from bringing necks to shape over cutting strips for the wood binding to an absolute genius way of positioning the pickup rings and countless other tasks.
I've just had fun unpacking and exploring today's new arrival, and so that brings me onto the second category of tools...


This actually has two distinct parts - the drills themselves, and the bits which deserve a whole chapter to themselves. For the drills, there are several types for different jobs or which have different characteristics. I have four drills now:

1) An old, standard Black & Decker power drill that I've had for donkey's years, with a keyless chuck and a hammer function. It's served me for putting up shelves and all sorts, although it's not especially powerful or exciting. It does the job, but recently I needed a more powerful drill for making holes in concrete and bricks, so I bought...

2) Bosch PBH 2100 RE (Rotary Hammer) - a much more powerful drill with an SDS chuck that is much, much more effective at drilling into masonry. I've only used it for this purpose so far, so it's not very relevant for the guitar stuff!

3) Black & Decker cordless drill driver - i.e. a drill and electric screwdriver. I hesitated over buying a cordless drill because I already had my normal corded drill, and so I decided just to buy a cheap one. I'm delighted with it, it's a fantastic tool! It's so handy just to have it lying around permanently ready to use, it's very easy to change bits and I don't have to worry about plugging it in. When I was building the chest of drawers, I was constantly swapping between bits, and I would happily buy a second one if I was doing a lot of that. Brilliant tool! I use it for drilling and for driving screws, which saves my wrist. Being a cheap cordless, it doesn't have a lot of torque, but it's enough for most basic jobs with wood, and I can always do the last tightening up by hand if necessary.

4) Bosch PBD 40 - this was today's arrival, a bench drill - i.e. a miniature pillar drill. These are mainly used for two things in guitar building: making sure you drill precisely vertical holes (e.g. for the tuners), and for drilling out large quantities of wood prior to routing, with a Forstner bit. You can buy a small pillar drill (a bench drill) for under £100 but they all have very mixed reviews on Amazon, and it sounds as though the quality is very poor. I decided to spend a bit more to get this one, and although I haven't done any more than drill a test hole, this looks excellent. It has a laser sight and a work light, and two gears with variable speed. It has a little screen that shows the speed, and it also shows you the drilling depth, so you can set that to zero with the bit resting on your piece, and then drill down to a precise depth (to 1/10 mm). The only limitation is the throat depth, i.e. the distance from the bit to the support pillar, which is 12cm. This won't reach the middle of a guitar body, but I'll just have to work within that limitation. I'd have to spend a lot more and have a much bigger tool in order to do much better than that.

Drill bits

There are a surprising number of different types of bits. If you're starting from scratch, it's probably good to buy a decent quality set of all of the common types. I have sets of metal bits, brad point bits and masonry bits, but the ones that I use the most for guitars are the brad point bits, and you want a decent set of those. At least one countersink bit is a necessity if you don't want your screw heads to protrude, and you also need some long drill bits for occasional tasks, particularly for drilling the holes between the pickup cavities and also drilling through the control cavity into the bridge pickup cavity. This set seems to be enough for me so far.

At Crimson, we also used a stepped drill bit (like these) for a couple of jobs, but I'm not totally convinced of their necessity and haven't bought a set yet.

Finally, you need some Forstner bits - I bought this set of Makita bits, which come in a nice wooden box and seem perfectly good for my needs. Based on the reviews, I thought it looked like a good idea to spend a bit more than the minimum in order to get a reasonable level of quality. That's another topic that is worth discussing here, but my experience so far certainly shows that for a lot of things, it's a really good idea to spend more and get a decent tool, and the bottom of the price range is usually very poor and almost a complete waste of money. It hurts to spend more, but it's worth it in many cases.

Earlier, I mentioned that there were two most important power tools...the second one is a router. Routers are essential if you don't want to spend hours and hours with chisels and mallets, shaping the various cavities and other parts of the guitar. You use a router for lots of operations - making cavities, cutting the body and neck to templates, rounding the the band saw, a router is a tool that you keep going back to throughout the early stages of a build.

I bought a Triton JOF001 which gives you all of the functionality that you need for guitar building, and has ample power. It's not the cheapest router, but then again it's not a very expensive, professional-level router either, and it has a good price/quality ratio. I partly wish I'd gone for the next one up, the MOF001, which has a better system for controlling the plunge function (turning the side handles), but that was significantly more expensive. If you have the money, go for it, but if you're on a budget the JOF001 is fine. I find that the plunge mechanism sticks a bit and sometimes needs a bit of persuasion; perhaps I need to squirt some oil in it somewhere.

There are plenty of other good routers on the market, but again I'd avoid the bottom end. This is a really important tool and you need to be able to rely on it.

Routers can generally be used in two ways, either handheld as a plunge router or mounted under a table. Triton sells a dedicated table for its routers and circular saws, but I just made a router table out of my workbench. I bought a couple of wooden chopping boards from Ikea and cut out the holes for the screws etc. so that I can fix it onto my router in place of the base plate, and then I cut a rectangular hole (with a lip) out of the middle of my workbench. You can see this in the photos - the router comes with the handle to adjust the height of the bit, especially for table mounting. This works very well, and I also made a large fence that I can clamp to my workbench for guiding straight cuts.
IMG_20171025_003415687.jpg IMG_20171025_003443561.jpg

For detailed work, particularly inlays, I have a Proxxon multitool - I bought the IB/E, although they have several models, and I also have an extra router base which is helpful for cutting inlay holes to a consistent depth. This is an alternative to the better-known Dremel multitools, and the Proxxons are very well thought of and come with a nice variety of attachments, including small router bits, tiny drill bits and various cutting and polishing wheels. This is not a necessity, but it is pretty useful for detailed work and tidying up any rough parts. With the variety of attachments, it's also very versatile.

Router Bits

Router bits are like drill bits in many ways - they perform some of the same functions, and their variety is even more confusing. I shan't go into details here because you can read about them on many DIY sites, but it's useful to have a variety of bits available. The prices vary wildly, from about three pounds to sixty pounds or more for a single bit!

You definitely need some pattern bits, which have a free-wheeling bearing at the top or bottom to follow either a template or the edge of the guitar (e.g. for a roundover bit). It's useful to have a selection of widths and depths.

I dithered over these for a long time before making my choices, and was also confused by the different collet sizes (I can post more on this subject if anyone wants). I went for all quarter-inch bits (collet/shank size), and bought the following:
Bosch 15-piece set - lots of the basic router bits, reasonable quality. A great basic set.
Then a variety of pattern bits of different sizes - Trend C121, Yonico 14169q, and Wishfive Template Router Bit. All of these are useful in different circumstances.
Because the JOF001 strangely comes with all collet sizes except 1/4", I also bought a Triton TRC140 collet. 1/4" seems to be the most common size for router bit shanks, and I struggled to find suitable bits in the sizes of the collets supplied - a bit of a black mark for that router.

The wide variety of prices for router bits was quite confusing when I was choosing these, as a noob, and I was concerned by the fact that Crimson recommends - and indeed sells - very expensive Radian router bits (see here). So far, though, I'm satisfied with the ones that I bought, and they weren't too expensive although I certainly didn't go for the cheap ones.
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@GloopyJon mentioned his recent bench drill purchase in my NGD thread, so I'll start with the option I chose when I was looking for a solution for drilling holes in the center of the body, e.g. string through holes or removing material in the pickup or control cavities with Forstner bits before changing to the router.

I quickly found that bench drills with an outreach big enough for my needs are way out of my price range for the most models, but a solution that is used quite often by members of various German boards is this:

View attachment 33141
Wabeco Drill & Routerstand

This particular model has a pillar height of 500mm and a max. outreach of 350mm. I use it with a Bosch GSB 13 RE drill, both together are about € 200.

Another reason for the Wabeco is that it has a 43mm collar which opens the possibility to use it with a router, for example my trusty Bosch POF 500. It's also possible to turn it into a DIY pin router, which is definitely on my short list.
Does this thing come standard with the table for horizontal travel? If so seems very good for the price. My cheaper column will need replacing since it not very reliable.


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Well this thing has a lots of parts and can do a lot off stuff, so one tool that can do a lot and should not take a huge amount off space is a good thing for me, since space for me is very limited. The milling motor should be a kress, they have a collar to use in this Drill stands. And with the normal cheap drill stand the you have to keep pressing a lever on spring to move drill down, so basically i have to hold the handle and manage to press the button on the drill to use it. My drill does not like to have the button press down, it has that capacity but it does not work properly.

This is one of the most important and time-consuming parts of a guitar build, and so you may well end up with lots of different solutions for different situations. I'm going to divide this into powered tools, sanding blocks and sanding supplies (sandpaper etc).

Power tools

I have three powered sanding tools:
1) A Triton spindle sander - mounted on the flip-top table with my band saw. This is particularly useful for shaping anything curved, particularly the sides of the guitar body. Surprisingly, it can also be used to sand things flat, if you mount a fence behind the spindle (you just run the piece along the fence so that it gets sanded down to a consistent width. Very useful for headstocks, and anything else where you want to sand something down to a shape, e.g. after using the band saw to get it close. This is a bit pricey (£120 on Amazon) and not absolutely necessary, but definitely nice to have.
2) A Bosch random orbital sander. Good for intermediate sanding, the random orbit means that you don't get sanding patterns although generally at the end of the sanding process I was told that you should sand by hand along the line of the grain. At Crimson, they had a different sander that I felt worked better - I think it had a wider and softer sanding base. I'd look around for good options in your desired price range - it's worth having one of these, but I don't know if my choice is the best one. I have had some issues with the sanding discs not sticking to the base, but I don't know if the problem is with the base or the discs. The discs can be rather expensive if you buy them from well-known brands, but the cheapest sandpaper is a total waste of money. I don't yet have a solid recommendation in this area.
3) I also have a cheap flat sander that I've used for other tasks, but it's not very useful (and hasn't been used) for guitars since they usually involve curves.

Sanding blocks

What's so complicated about sanding blocks, I hear you cry? Well...actually, quite a lot. You can use standard blocks or make curved blocks to help with general sanding, but there are two very specific types of sanding blocks that I will mention.
1) Radius Blocks - these are used for sanding down a fretboard to your desired radius, and as such are almost essential. Some people use other methods for getting close (planes, belt sanders, even special router bits), but in the end you need to sand the fretboard. Unless you have a compound radius, you're probably going to use a block with the desired (concave) radius for this. I tried making my own radius block using my router sitting in a simple hinged mechanism, because the commercial radius blocks are expensive, but ended up cursing and abandoning the attempt. Instead, I bought a set of five aluminium radius blocks for €90 from Guitars and Woods, which is a great and slightly cheaper source of a lot of luthier's tools and supplies.
2) Levelling Beams - these are basically sanding blocks that are carefully manufactured to ensure that they are perfectly flat. Crimson Guitars sells them, among others, and I have two different lengths. Particularly useful for levelling the fretboard and frets. Not cheap.

Sanding supplies

This mostly means sandpaper, although of course there are also abrasive compounds, sanding pads and other solutions. I don't have specific recommendations here, although I strongly encourage you to stay away from the cheapest sandpaper packs, because I bought one and it is complete rubbish - the backing paper is flimsy and tears with the slightest pressure. I have bought some 5m rolls of various grits from 60 to 400 (e.g. this and this), which should cover most of my needs, and so far these seem quite decent, and a reasonably economical way of getting sandpaper. You'll probably use a lot of it.
For the orbital sander, I bought this set of various grits but I will try some different ones in future, probably more expensive to see if they are noticeably better.
I do have a small supply of higher grit paper, up to about 3000 I think, although it's not strictly necessary unless you lacquer the guitar and need to use very fine abrasives to get a glossy finish.

As a final miscellaneous item, I bought a rectangle (about 30x50cm) of 6mm thick glass from my local DIY store. I use this as a flat base and have glued (with an intermediate layer of masking tape) 60 grit sandpaper to it in order to have a perfectly flat sanding base.
Health, safety and cleanliness

I probably should have started with this topic, but then perhaps some people wouldn't have read any further! Anybody working with tools really ought to take this very seriously. You don't want to lose a finger or your hearing, or have respiratory problems because of dust, and these are just some of the risks you take.

Everybody should have at least a dust mask and hearing protection, and get used to wearing them a lot of the time. I've been wearing both of those most of the time while I've been working, and only now am I arriving at some of the tasks where I can get away without wearing those, such as installing the frets or working on the electronics. I'll briefly outline the main items that I've got.

Dust mask - there are plenty of options, I got this one from Amazon which fits quite well and I'm fairly happy with. It came with a number of spare filters, but I'm still using the first one (I probably should change it now). Dust in the lungs can cause problems, and some woods are toxic, so something like this is a must.

Hearing protection - I bought a pair of ear defenders - you can find lots of different ones, just pick one that looks ok. I already have mild tinnitus and my hearing certainly isn't what it used to be, and I don't want to damage it any more. Closed back headphones can also provide some protection, and I also bought a set of closed Bluetooth headphones that I sometimes use to protect my ears and play music while I'm working. Bluetooth was important to avoid trailing a wire around my body that could get caught on something!

Eye protection - I wear glasses so actually I don't bother with this as much as I should, although I do have a pair of safety goggles. Eyes are precious.

Dust extraction - as well as a mask, you're going to need something for dust extraction. No, really - I thought I could get away with using our home vacuum cleaner, but it quickly proved inadequate. The capacity of a regular hoover is nowhere near enough, and you need attachments to connect onto power tools which can take out a lot of the dust while you're working - unless I'm doing something very small and quick, I regularly attach mine to the bandsaw, spindle sander and thicknesser, and occasionally to other tools too. As well as reducing the mess and the potential dust breathed in, this keeps your tools cleaner while you're working, which makes it easier to see what you're doing. Wood dust can also be explosive, so it's never a good idea to leave a lot of it lying around.

There are quite a few options for dust extraction. This is one area where I was happy to go for a relatively cheap solution, and I bought this 50L capacity dust extractor. I've already filled the whole thing once, in a couple of months! I also bought a 5m attachment of a regular-sized vacuum tube, but I haven't really used that - I just stick with the supplied 10cm tube and attachments. I'm sure that more expensive extractors have more sophisticated attachments, but this thing does the job OK. I made a little platform on wheels so that I can pull it around easily, and that works very well (5 wheels on a disc of plywood, and the drum sits on top of it quite securely as there's a lip at the bottom).

Other tips...don't wear loose, flappy clothes, and if you have long hair, tie it up. Crimson recommended wearing sturdy shoes or boots in case you drop a tool on your toes. I've considered protective gloves, particularly since I've already had plenty of small cuts and scrapes on my hands, but haven't really done anything there yet (although I have plenty of gardening gloves). You can also buy latex gloves for doing things like staining, but I haven't got to that stage of a build yet - plus I hate wearing latex gloves!

On the subject of health and safety, some machines come with push rods and you can buy other things for holding / pushing wood against power tools so that you can keep your fingers well clear. I highly recommend using these!

The last point is simply to know how to use your tools safely, and not take silly risks or shortcuts. It's not worth it.


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Remember, gloves are an absolute no-go when working with machinery that has turning or spinning parts such as drills, routers or electric planers.
In case anyone wants to question this, as it can seem almost counter intuitive:

Woven gloves can get caught in moving parts such as drill bits/chucks, router bearings and collets etc. The material will drag you with it before it rips, pulling your hand into the tool. NEVER wear gloves when using such tools, losing a finger tip or nail is much better than losing multiple fingers!
More safety tips are very welcome in this thread!

To clarify, I have mainly been considering using gloves when I use my Shinto rasp (haven't come to that yet!). Its handle is not very big and I often find myself also holding it or bracing it by the rasp part, which is rather sharp, and I've cut my fingers at least three times doing that.


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Never put you hands near moving parts, most important part. When you need to adjust stuff just unplug the machine, that way its not possible for it to accidentally start. My orbital sander once restarted it self, i had set it down on the floor since lack off table space, but the button got in a weird position half off/half on, guess what it started by it self so i was holding the guitar body and orbital sander was sanding my floor, i manged to hold it in position by placing my feet on top off it, that ruined the sanding paper, nothing else.

But other machines are not so kind on you.

I see people at work changing grinder's disk with the machine connected to power, and that grinder not the small hand held ones, it a large gone, holding it its not easy. If it starts what can it do, lot off damage.

One Year ago, at work one person placed it's arm where it should not have, well he still has the harm but its like not having it. Just recently an other person placed the hand where it should not have place it, broken and dislocated.

Also my brother lost part off 2 fingers on an angle grinder with a adapted cutting wood disk from a circular saw.

I like to say i am very attached to my fingers, and hope i always keep my focus on doing stuff. Distractions usually end in disaster.