Building my first electric guitar - binding the body

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Blog entry by thamar posted 05-03-2014 08:00 PM 3117 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch

I would like to use natural wood binding on the Les Paul type body. My day at the shop started off well enough. I wanted to create a wood binding made up of maple and Peruvian walnut alternating veneer strips. Today I cut the walnut veneer on my resaw bandsaw and sanded it quite thin on my drum sander. It came out pretty well. I don’t think the drum sander would work on a wide sheer of veneer but on the 1” strips (supported on a melamine board) they came out looking good.

(Sorry for the sideways pics)

Now I turned my mind to ways to bend veneer strips around the body. The Les Paul “horn” is my biggest concern.

My first brainwave was to cobble together a steam box. I thought I’d save myself a bit of time by using some PVC plastic sewer pipe and a leaf gutter insert to rest the wood on during steaming. It looked pretty sweet:

After some minutes of steaming I learned two important things:

A. PVC sewer pipe can’t take this kind of heat. It just all sagged and I’m going to have to make a wood steam box; just like the instructions suggested, I’m too embarrassed to show the pathetic outcome of the sewer pipe steambox.

B. It doesn’t look like the veneer will bend around the horn with just an application of steam. I’ll have to do more research and thinking on this. Maybe one of those electric pipe heaters might work.

And so the day ended badly. One of many setbacks to come.

I’ve regrouped a bit and now have finished building most of my binding jig. The idea is to build up bend layers of maple/walnut veneer around the jig. When the time comes to actually mount the wood binding it should hopefully come off the jig and onto the real guitar body with little fuss.

The jig was made with black 3/4” recycled UMHW plastic. It doesn’t let glue stick to it and it routes easily. I routed a 1/8” deep x about 1/2” tall rabbet in the plastic. I will be installing toggle clamps around the rest of the jig when they arrive. So far it looks like this:

My heater thing arrived from China. I’ve done a couple of test bends on the “horn” area and I think that this might just work.


The ‘heater thing’ didn’t work very well. What has finally worked is a kind of aluminum jig/mold in the shape of the horn. It is made out of 1/2” aluminum plate (the same thickness as the binding). The gap between the sides of the mold are 1.7mm (the maximum thickness that seems to bend reasonably consistently) + about .3mm (the thickness of a stainless steel strap that goes on the outside of the bend.

I made 2 molds; one for the thicker outer binding piece and then a smaller radius jig for bending 2 to 3 very thing (1.0mm) maple/walnut inner banding parts.

Here’s a picture of the two jigs:

What I do to get the tight bend on the Les Paul “horn” is the following:

a. sand the outer banding to 1.7mm thick x 60 inches long
b. soak the banding in Supersoft II veneer softener for at least a week
c. heat up the jig to at least 250 degrees F (I use one of the silicon acoustic guitar bending heat sheet things. I think it would work OK to just heat it up on the BBQ or your stove. The trick is to make sure that the aluminum jig is HOT)
d. heat up the maple binding for a couple of minutes. I spray it with water (which turns to steam ASAP) to help ensure that the maple doesn’t burn
e. put the maple strip in the jig with the stainless steel strap going around the outer part of the horn
f. spray more water/steam right at the where that tight bend will be
g. grab the stainless steel strap and apply pressure with the strap while you slowly bend the maple strip.
h. tighten down the jig so the maple is tightly formed around the horn
I. run the jig in cold water (or the residual heat will burn the maple)
j. let it dry for about a week

Same general procedure for the thinner strips which bend much, much more easily.

I then put the various strips all together and put them in the gluing jig. Before you do so, it’s a good idea to heat up the outer maple binding (but not on the part that is near to the horn) so that it is soft enough to bend in at the two waist areas of the guitar form.

When all the strips are in the glue jig, I spray them down with water and leave things for a week. When they are all dry, they keep the general shape of the guitar.

At this point nothing is glued together.

I then route out the top of the guitar to the exact width of the various layers that are going to make up the binding. I then tightly hold everything together just at the horn area. I then get my assistant to dab on some Superglue 10 (the real thin stuff) right at the horn area. After a minute or so of applying as much pressure as I can at this area, the binding is now stuck at the horn area.

From here on it is a lot easier. I just slowly move around the guitar using the same hold and glue technique.

Once this is done, I use a small block plane to remove a lot of the 1/2” binding material that is sticking up from the body. When I get that down pretty close to the body I use a power orbital sander 220 grit to sand the binding down flush with the body.

I have to say that even with this technique, there is only about a 50/50 chance that the thick 1.7mm outer binding will take the bend at the horn area without breaking. The more figured the wood is, the weaker it seems to be. If you can find a 60” long figured maple board with good figure at one end and fairly plain at the other, then try to use the plain end at the horn area. It will improve your odds of success!

Good luck.

1 comment so far

View Dave G's profile

Dave G

337 posts in 3124 days

#1 posted 06-29-2015 10:55 PM

I tried the PVC thing too! Good way to learn something not so valuable and it did not cost more than a few pennies.

-- Dave, New England - “We are made to persist. that's how we find out who we are.” ― Tobias Wolff

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