Bench Craft: In a Binding Bind? Check Out StewMac's Binding Router Bit Set
This is the first installment of Marlin Hall's new luthiery column, Bench Craft. Feel free to ask Hall questions in the COMMENTS section below.
In the world of guitars, binding is generally recognized as a “deluxe” feature.
From the simple and understated single-ply binding of a Telecaster Deluxe to the nearly excessive multiple laminations found on a Gibson Super 400 CES, binding indicates, at the very minimum, a step up from a basic model.
In this column, I’ll introduce you to a nearly foolproof tool to create binding ledges for any design.
The Stewart MacDonald Binding Router Bit Set ($146.50 as tested) includes a carbide-tipped cutter with a ¼-inch shank, 19 precision bearings, Allen wrench, brass extension bushing and instructions for proper use. StewMac also offers a scaled-down version of the kit that has fewer bushings and a lower price.
If you have the bread to splash out for the complete set, I recommend it. You’ll save money in the long run and be just about ready for any binding job right off the bat.
The special router bit is threaded on the end opposite the shank. An Allen screw allows the user to install the proper-size bearing to suit the size of your binding and/or purfling strips. (Purfling is found on the fancier bound instruments and just adds another flash aspect. Think binding inside of binding and you’ll have the idea.) The precision bearings allow for cuts as shallow as 0.040” (1.02mm) and as deep as 0.210” (5.33mm).
I used the tool and my BOSCH Colt handheld router to install binding and purfling on my recent build of the StewMac Limited Edition Koa Soprano Ukulele kit. Besides the challenges of bending figured maple by hand and an occasion of operator error, the installation was a smashing success.
The carbide-tipped cutter gave me nice, clean, square cuts. The multiple bearings were appropriately sized for the materials I used. The multiple sizes allow for a dizzying array of designs. This, like nearly all of the tools I’ve purchased from StewMac, is a very well-thought-out tool.
The StewMac Binding Router Bit Set is the best solution I’ve seen for cutting the precise “stair step” ledges that are required for a high-quality binding installation and the full kit provides unmatched versatility. I rate this product a perfect 10 out of 10!
For an in-depth look at the installation of the binding on my ukulele, visit my blog at timbuildsguitars.blogspot.com.
Marlin Hall is a self-taught guitarist, sound engineer, performer and writer. His 25 years in the music industry inform the deeper levels of his newest career, luthiery. Hall designs, builds, repairs and finishes electric and acoustic stringed instruments in Minneapolis. To learn more about the skills involved in stringed instrument building, visit his blog at timbuildsguitars.blogspot.com.
The directions list the actual diameters of the bearings and the depth of cut that each bearing allows. They also explain the critical Climb Cut technique that is an essential skill used for routing any S-type curve. A few tips are thrown in for good measure.
The bearings are “bottom bearings” which means they are found opposite the shank end of the router bit. Removing the Allen screw and the washer allows the user to install and secure the proper-sized bearing. The brass extension bushing puts the bearing slightly further away from the cutter for increased stability when needed.
The smaller the bearing, the deeper the cut. To select the proper-size bearing, measure your binding material. Locate that size and its respective bearing on the Depth of Cut chart on the directions sheet. Choose the next-smallest bearing for a cut that is slightly deeper than your binding.
The BOSCH Colt has a proper-sized collet to accept the ¼-inch shank of the cutter. It also features variable speed which can be very useful when routing different species of wood. And it’s overall just a well-made, easy-to-use tool.
Once you have the right bearing picked out, you have to expose the right amount of blade length from the foot of the router. There is no good way to fix a cut that goes too deep, as measured from the top or back of the instrument.
I used a scrap of Red Alder from my custom Tele build to test my setup before going for the money. This let me perfect my setup with multiple test routes before ever touching the ukulele. I was able to check the fit with my binding materials and then get a successful route on my instrument without much worry.
The complete kit includes a carbide-tipped cutter, nineteen bearings, Allen wrench, extension bushing and instructions and tips for successful use. The bearings include a very handy “flush cut” size that is the same size as the cutter. It has found multiple uses in my shop.