Binding and Purfling the Body

The binding is the outermost strip of wood around the edges and overlaps the joint between the top and sides; the purfling (if any) goes between the top or back and the binding. The binding is functional and serves to protect the relatively soft edges of the top from damage. The purfling is purely decorative and tends to be much shallower than the binding. I’m using koa for the binding and a very simple black/white/black laminate for the purfling. The first photo below shows the body ready to be bound.

I’ve found binding one of the hardest things to get right and potentially one of the most frustrating aspects of building. Like most builders I’ve found some ways to make it easier. The first difficulty is getting the ledge cut at the right angle. The ledge is cut perpendicular to a horizontal plane running through the body of the guitar, which is perpendicular to the sides. What this means is you can’t use a router resting on the top of the guitar since the top (and back) are both radiused. The purfling would then stick out from the sides since it would be square to the top, not the sides. There are several ways around this. I tried using a machine developed by Tom Ribbicke which worked very well in some areas but I found really hard to finesse around cutaways.

It took me a while but I was able to find a manufacturer that made an articulating arm that I could adapt for my needs. I’ve been very happy with the results. This arm gives me tremendous control over the tool which is the key for the kind of results I’m looking for.

ready for binding articulating arm bending the binding

Wood binding (and several types of purfling, like herringbone) have to be bent before they’re attached or they’ll break. I use the Fox bender for this and following the same procedure for bending as I did with the sides. After drying out for a few hours they’re ready to be applied.

I use tape for the majority of the clamping and bar clamps and rubber bands for some of the trouble spots. After drying I use a small block plane and scrapers to level the binding and purfling and finish with pneumatic sanders.

The last step before finishing is to fill the pores. Most hardwoods have tiny pores in them to conduct sap. Most of the time you can’t see these but they become very noticable once a finish is applied and need to be filled for the finish to be flush. On this guitar I used McFadden’s silica filler on the neck. The CA treatment I used on the body had ended up filling the vast majority of the pores so it didn’t need any further filling. After rounding over the edges of the purfling and finish sanding, it’s ready for the booth.

3 Responses to “Binding and Purfling the Body”

  1. 1 JSD

    Hi –

    From the photo you cannot see what is going on behind the arm. From guessing, it looks like you are still using the top to reference the perpendicular requirements of the ledge.

    Do you have a photo from the other angle? And perhaps one of the bit, etc. Is it guided by the sides, instead of the top, as presumably the sides are 90 degrees to the top, were it perfectly flat?



  2. 2 Don Hoffman

    How is herringbone purfling manufactured? How was it made ca. 1900? Surly, a clever laminating process must be at the root of the manufacturing? I assume the woods are likely stained or made from wood fiber/dust? My older Martin (0-28, 1928) has a beautiful rosette of wood fiber instead of the white and black Bolteron (celluloid?) used on Martins and other guitars since circa, the 1970s

    I have combed the web without satisfaction. Any info to which you can direct me will be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you. —Don

  3. 3 Seth

    Hi Don. I would recommend you do a Google search for “Making Guitar Rosettes.” That will give you the general idea of how it’s done. I’ve never made any herringbone rosettes or purfling and don’t expect I ever will!

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