From Chaos Comes Custom Order - A Day In Dan Fobert's Shop

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What strikes me most about Dan Fobert is the fact that everything he creates is truly a creation of his own. Dan doesn't follow the traditional mold in anything he does (luthier pun intended). Perhaps this is why his instruments are so intriguing. When you play one you know that you're playing a one-of-a-kind beauty – like his archtop sympitar design with sympathetic resonant strings running under the fingerboard. I'm not sure what he'll call his newest creation – a bouzouki combined with a harp complete with a ‘Fred Carlson’ style access port on the back. Clearly we're dealing with a man whose mind is unfettered by the constraints of 'main stream thought', and that's what's most refreshing.

As most LINT members know, Dan has forged a reputation within the group not only as an amazingly talented luthier, but as a master tool designer. Dan has recently blown the minds of LINT members with his innovative, highly specialized tools (just take a look at his fast-acting clamping system from the Dec 2004 LINT meeting). His talent and aptitude for highly detailed precision craftsmanship shows in everything Dan makes.



In October of 2004 Dan brought his articulating binding router arm to the LINT meeting and explained the finer points of creating such a device. The main purpose of the arm is to hold the laminate trimmer perfectly perpendicular to a horizontal work surface while allowing the router to move freely both horizontally and vertically.

When I saw this I knew right then that I would not be able to live without one. Clean binding channels are fundamental to instrument-making and the simplicity of this design can turn even the most challenging archtop binding into a piece of cake. Here’s the best part - Dan graciously offered to help me make one of my own.

For the benefit of anyone interested, I’ve documented the process we went through that day.

I met him at Home Depot early on a Saturday morning. We needed about 8 feet of 1x4 poplar, several feet of 3/8” rod, a handful of washers and nuts and a Ryobi TR-31 laminate trimmer. This specific laminate trimmer is chosen due to its light weight, and the fact that its base plate offers a very nice niche for a riser piece to be installed. More on this critical riser piece later.

We arrived at his shop and it was obvious that he spent a great deal of time here. There was saw dust, stacks of various wood types in all sizes, every kind of tool imaginable, and in the midst of this chaos laid gorgeous, half-finished instruments that were still in the process of being born. I briefly ogled the pieces and then we were off to the task at hand – making an articulating router arm.

Drawing of the articulating binding router arm.
The "elbow" of the arm.
I stood at the miter saw and Dan gave me the measurements to cut from the poplar that we purchased. He glued them together to form the “elbow” of the arm, and then formed another one for the end of the arm onto which the router attaches. Elbow at the end of the arm.


The next pieces to be made were the 1” x 2” extension arms. These pieces are very important because they ensure that no matter how you maneuver the end of the router arm, it remains perpendicular to the work surface. When creating these arms, it is critical to make sure that they are exactly the same length, and that the holes are drilled in exactly the same place. To ensure the two pieces were identical they were clamped together and drilled on the drill press.

We found that the 3/8” rod didn’t slip easily in the 3/8” holes we were drilling. Dan suggested re-drilling with a ½” bit, and using bronze bushings with a 3/8” inner diameter and a ½” outer diameter. I found these at Elliott’s Hardware and they made a vast improvement in the smoothness of motion. The rods slip easily through the bushings. Bronze Bushing
Bronze bushing.

All extension arms in this project need to be exactly identical in length and hole placement – specifically the 1” x 4” extensions in the first phase before the elbow, and the second phase 1” x 2” between the elbow and the router.

From the diagram above, it’s easy to see what needs to be done to build the arm. Simply attach the arms to the elbow and end piece with the 3/8” rod (which needs to be threaded on the ends to accept washers and nuts. The rods were cut to length from blank 3/8” rod available at any hardware store. They were manually threaded down about an inch on each side to allow for the screws and washers.


Dan with a blank rod in the vise as he threads it with his die set. Dan with a blank rod in the vise as he threads it with his die set.


The next critical piece is to make the custom little wood riser that fits in the niche under the router and above the plastic base plate. For this, we first used a lathe, and then hollowed out the middle with a Forstner bit on the drill press. Fifty percent of the magic of this router arm is its ability to stay perfectly perpendicular to the floor no matter how you move it. The other fifty percent is this little wood riser piece. It raises the router and is the real ‘base’ that touches the edge of the surface to be routed. Its tiny footprint means that no matter how the top of an instrument may arch, the effective router base is small enough to stay clear of trouble.


Dan at the lathe. Here’s Dan on the lathe. Notice he took the router base and the new plastic base and put them on either side of the riser while it was being shaped. This made it easy to figure out when it was the right size because it would nestle between them perfectly when done. This is a smart move…one of many that I learned this day. Drawing showing how to orient the router base and the new plastic base and put them on either side of the riser.


Photo showing how to orient the router base and the new plastic base and put them on either side of the riser. 

Now that we had the majority of the arm finished and the riser completed, the last pieces to make were the vertical plastic plate and the plastic base. These were a snap. This plastic is available at hardware stores and is easily cut on a band saw.

Some customization had to be done to notch the vertical plate so that it would fit snuggly against the router, and an extra hole was drilled to secure the router base through the vertical plate into the wooden arm. Another nice thing about this router is that it has a threaded hole on the side that is perfect for securing the router to the vertical plate.

View from the bottom.

There are several ways to mount the router arm. Dan has two approaches; he has one that mounts onto his drill press, another which is wall mounted. The blueprint above shows the wall mounted version, but this can easily be converted to a drill-press by just removing the wall mount bracket and placing the 3/8” pivot rod into the drill press.

Finished product. 

Here’s my finished product hanging temporarily in my drill press. I am currently working on wall-mounting it.

From the dust of Dan’s shop emerged a splendid tool that I’ll use for years. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a Saturday – working with and learning from one of the great resources of LINT.

It’s easy to focus on Dan’s tools, but as fantastic as they are they pale in comparison to the instruments they are used to create.

-Andy Avera