“70’s Craftsman Handsaw” Three-Stringed Electric Lap Steel Guitar

I picked up this old, Craftsman handsaw for eight bucks at a local thrift store about a year or so back. I liked the tarnish on the blade, as well as the ornate handle. It seemed long enough to make into a cool 17″ scale guitar and I hadn’t built any other handsaw guitars, so I thought I’d give it a try.

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Video:

Handle and Finish

D04A085F-E3E4-4E12-A914-4CB84AC0A227My plan was to take off the handle, remove the finish, burn it with a torch and then refinish it with a vinegar and steel wool solution.

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I did all of this things, but the torch didn’t bring out nearly as much wood grain as I had originally anticipated. I wish I had kept the original reddish-orange stripped finish, but it looks old and weathered, so I’m still happy.

Neck

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The neck was the most difficult part not only did it have to sit completely behind the blade, it also had to be cut and molded to fit the blade and attach to the handle to keep the blade from bending—plus, it had to look cool. Against my better judgement, I went with a 3\8 x 2 length of oak. I would have preferred one inch, but the handle sat 3\8″ off the back of the blade and it would be a clean match.

I would be installing a handmade pickup, so I found the best place for the pickup and drilled a 1″ by 1-1\2″hole. The neck was sanded completely and then finished with white vinegar, balsamic vinegar and then apple cider vinegar.

I used bevel to find the angle of the part of the handle the The neck would butt up against. I marked and cut that angle and then used a round file to shape it precisely to the handle. Then, I marked and cut the angle at the top of the blade —the object was to hide the neck behind the blade, so the it still looked as much like a saw as possible. I drilled through the blade and neck to add a brass binding screw close to the handle to hold the neck in place.

Pickup and Output Jack

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I placed one of my homemade JSA Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickups into the hole in the neck. Since the pickup is topped with magnets, installation was easy, given the blade is steel.

I couldn’t find a reasonable place on the handle to locate the 1/4″ output jack, so I elected to use one of my homemade steel spacer jacks. I found a plastic strap that fit the jack snug and then fastened it to the neck just above the pickup. The pickup and jack wired up easily and locaton of the jack has way more function than could have been found on the handle.

Tuners

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I wasn’t sure how many strings I wanted to add, as I was concerned that the neck and blade might not hold up. I originally thought two seemed reasonible, then I began thinking that a piece of pipe strapping could probably bind the neck to the handle, while keeping the force of the strings from bending the blade at the handle. Therefore, I decided to go with three strings. I installed some cheap tarnished bronze looking tuners, adding a length of pipe strapping (two holes on each side) and fastened it using one of the saw handle bolts and some sheet metal screws that I had laying around.

Bridge, Nut and Ferrules

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There was a hefty difference between the surface level on the side of the handle and on the side of the sawblade. To bridge the gap I filed a small groove at the tip of the handle, just before the blade exited, and inserted a small diameter length of brass rod.

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On the nut end, I ground down and then filed a length of 3/8″ rebar to the height necessary to bring the two levels to equilibrium. Rebar has two raised lines on either side of its diameter—I chose one side as the surface for the strings and flattened the side opposite.

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On the front side of the handle, an optimum location for the strings was found and three holes were drilled in a diagonal formation. On the back side of the handle, larger, 1/4″ holes were drilled over the string holes—three string ferrules were then inserted.

After the instrument was strung, small grooves were filed into the brass rod and rebar to keep the strings in place.

Final Thoughts:

This turned out to be a pretty cool instrument. I added a strap button, made of a brass knurled nut and security bolt, so a strap could be tied to the handle, if one wanted to play it like a traditional guitar, but I like it better as a lap steel. Incidentally, one could still use this guitar to cut a 2×4 in a pinch.

Thanks,

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