From PDF to MDF: Making a guitar body routing template Part 1

One of the questions that I have been asked a couple of times is “Where can I find a guitar body plan and how do I make that into a router template”? This series of posts will outline how I do it. It definitely isn’t the only way. It may not be the best way. But it is the cheapest and consequently they way I do it.

The first challenge is finding a good accurate plan. My first port of call for Fender style designs would be TDPRI. There are also several excellent plans available over at www.gitarrebassbau.de.

Most plans are available in PDF format, and that is what I’ll be talking about primarily, but occasionally you’ll find a plan in DXF format (AutoCAD’s interchange format). In these cases you can use the free online version of AutoCAD (requires registration) to convert to PDF.

Download and install Inkscape, a free vector drawing program. Head over to http://inkscape.org/ and download the version relevant to whichever operating system you prefer. Once you’ve got it installed fire it up and we can get started.

The first decision to make is what orientation of paper would best fit the plan. For most guitar body shapes (Strat, Tele, Jazzmaster, Les Paul, etc) I’ve found that four landscape sheets (2×2) is about the most efficient, but for a larger body shape you may find you need six portrait (3×2).

In Inkscape, to change the document orientation, you choose File -> Document Properties (or Shift-Ctrl-D).

Next we’re going to import the PDF plan into Inkscape. Choose File -> Import (or Ctrl-I) and select the PDF file. Accept the default suggestions in the next step.

Now we could just print off the plan just as it is, but to help align the sheets as they’re stuck together I like to overlay the plan with a pattern of diagonal lines.

To draw the lines;

  • Select the Bezier/Straight Line tool (Shift-F6)
  • Click once then hold down the Ctrl and drag the mouse out diagonally. Click a second time and then press enter.
  • Duplicate the line by pressing Ctrl-D and then flip it horizontally by pressing “H”. This gives us two diagonal lines at right angles to each other.
  • We now want to duplicate these lines many times over. First we need to group the two lines into a single object so select them both and press Ctrl-G.
  • With that still selected, choose Edit -> Clone -> Create Tiled Clones.
  • We want 100 rows and 1 column (to repeat the pattern 100 times).

  • On the “Shift” tab we define how much each subsequent copy should be moved. For “Shift X” choose 5% per row and 0% per column. For “Shift Y” use -100% for both row and column.

  • Click the “Create” button and you’ll find yourself with a pattern of intersecting diagonal lines.

  • Drag to select all of the lines and group them into a single object (Ctrl-G).
  • Now drag the grid pattern over the top of the plan. If it is not big enough, you can grab any of the corners to resize.
  • Select both the plan and the overlaid grid pattern and group these together (Ctrl-G).
  • You can now grab the whole thing and move it over the page image, and print overlapping areas of the plan.

You may find that the lines on the plan are much more faint than on the grid. You can correct this by selecting all of the items (Ctrl-A), pull up the dialog that allows you to change fill/line properties (Ctrl-Shift-F), on the “Stroke Paint” tab, make sure the stroke colour is set to black. On the “Stroke Style” tab set the stroke thickness to 1px.

Then it is just a simple matter of trimming the edges (assuming your printer doesn’t print right to the edge) and taping them together. And in best Blue Peter fashion, here’s one I prepared earlier.

And now comes the most important step of all – take a good ruler and CHECK IT IS THE RIGHT SIZE. Please don’t ask me how I know.

The next instalment will cover the making of a template from the paper plan.

Additional resources

BigPrint is an excellent application that can do all of the above for you, working from a picture or photograph. It is not free but is well worth the money.

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5 thoughts on “From PDF to MDF: Making a guitar body routing template Part 1

  1. I know I say this a lot about your blog, but thank you! This is fantastic! I’ve got three body blanks starring at me and it has been weighing on my mind for so long. I even found a tele plan from TDPRI months ago but didn’t know how to translate it into a useable template. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • My pleasure! I’m really glad it will be of some use. Could you do me a favour? When you try this out could you keep a note of any steps that I’ve missed and let me know?

  2. Of course. It may be a while, but I will be posting my own experience (with another hearty thanks to you!)

  3. hello dave. I was not be able to print a full size template from a guitar body. can you tell me how to do it. I just open a pdf file and the only thing I get is a tiny part of the whole template. thanks. oscar

    • Did you try opening it in Inkscape as I describe in the post? It could be the way your zoom is set. Press ctrl-a to select everything and then “3” which zooms to selection. Can you see the whole thing now?

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