Hits and misses of DIY projects, both big and small.

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Custom Roman Shade made by recycling clothes

The Roman shade on our bathroom window finally disintegrated after decades of use. Bathroom shades must be replaced for obvious reasons, but our window is an unusual size and hard to fit with readymade coverings. Custom retail shades can cost up to $200! Although I knew that buying new fabric for a homemade replacement would save us a lot of money, I decided to take it up a notch and figure out how to make a Roman shade from an old linen garment. This would save us buckets of money, and I knew I’d like the result much better than a commercial window covering.

My DIY Roman shade project turned out even better than I’d hoped. You, too, can make a cheap Roman shade for your home. All you need is basic sewing skills and a few simple tools — no sewing machine required. First, carefully read these instructions and plan your shade before you search for clothing to recycle.

Step 1: Measure Your Window

Measuring the window frame to make an inside-mount Roman shade

Your first step is to take careful measurements of your window. Graph paper is a good way to figure your fabric needs, and is especially helpful if you must make your Roman shade out of multiple clothing panels, as I did. Don’t forget to include extra for seam allowances and hems in your calculations.

Because I wanted to make a Roman shade that could be raised and lowered inside (not overlapping) the window frame, I needed to take accurate measurements of the distance between the frame’s interior wooden elements (see photo). Inside-mount Roman shades should be slightly narrower than the window’s inside width so they can move without dragging on the frame, so I remembered to subtract a small amount from the measurement: The interior width of our bathroom window is about 26-3/4 inches, so I rounded down to 26 inches. I also measured the inside height of the frame and added on several inches to create plenty of wiggle room. (Step 7 includes information on how to adjust the finished height.)

Step 2: Go Shopping

Large garments can be reworked into custom window shades.

Go forth in search of clothing to recycle into a cheap Roman shade. Bring along your finished measurements (from Step 1), because they may influence the garment you buy. You’ll be lucky to find a single piece of clothing wide enough to cover your window. Never mind — you can stitch together several vertical segments to make what you need. The most important thing is to get enough fabric height to avoid a distracting horizontal seam.

For my window covering, I knew I needed a finished shade that measured 26 inches wide by 32 inches high, not including seam allowances and hems. But the $3.00 dress I found at a thrift store was made up of long, flared panels, none of them wide enough for my window. I really liked the dress’s linen fabric, so I decided to make the Roman shade by sewing together three strips cut from individual dress panels. That meant I needed three separate panels, each measuring 9 inches by at least 40 inches. (This is why graph paper comes in handy.) A quick measurement of the dress panels in the thrift store showed me that it would work.

After finding the exterior fabric for your shade, your next step is to refer to the lists at the end of this article and gather the materials and supplies needed for the project. All the thread, lining fabric, equipment and supplies I needed for this project came from my sewing room. I used leftover polyester cord from the original bathroom shade; you may have to look for “blind cord” or “lift cord” in the curtain section of your local sewing supply store.

Buy, scavenge or recycle enough decorative ribbon to cover the seams and the stitches for the plastic rings — the reason will become clear in Step 6). Be sure to calculate how much ribbon you’ll need to cover the stitching for every row of rings. So, for example, my shade plan called for three vertical rows of rings to hold the lift cord. To cover the stitches, I would need the height of my shade times three: 32 inches x 3 = 96 inches of ribbon, plus a few extra inches for hems. Other than the dress, the ribbon was the only item I had to buy for my cheap Roman shade.

Step 3: Prepare the Fabric

Use a seam ripper to pick out the pockets and any decorative or structural features that you don’t want to end up on your finished shade, and wash, dry and iron the clothing you’ll be recycling. I put the linen dress and ribbon through a regular cycle in my washing machine because I knew I’d want to be able to launder the shade eventually.

Take up a scissors and break down the garment by cutting along the seam lines to separate the panels you need. For my shade, I ensured perfectly straight edges on these panels by pulling a single thread along one raw edge and cutting along that line. Then, I measured 9 inches across from this straight edge, pulled a thread on that mark, and cut along that line. The result was a panel that would hang perfectly straight inside my window frame. I repeated this for the remaining two panels. (To watch this technique in action, see the video Pulling a Thread to Get a Straight Cut in Fabric.)

I decided that the dress’s existing hem would make a nice bottom edge for my shade, so I lined up and pinned the bottom hems on all three panels before sewing them together along their long, cut edges. I didn’t bother cutting or hemming the top edge of the shade because it would be hidden by the wooden batten in Step 7. I used a sewing machine for this step, but you could stitch these seams by hand.

Before proceeding to the next step, I re-measured the finished three-part panel to make sure it was the correct width for the window, then marked the side hems, turned them under (wrong sides together) and ironed them in preparation for stitching.

Step 4: Lining

Sewing lining to the back of a homemade Roman shade.

You can use whatever plain, sturdy fabric you have handy for the lining of your DIY Roman shade. I chose muslin because I had some in my fabric stash. Instead of carefully measuring and cutting the lining for your own shade, you can do as I did and sight it, tear the fabric, turn under and iron the side and bottom hems, and then whipstitch the lining to the back of the shade’s side and bottom hems with a needle and thread. I left the top edge raw because it would be hidden by the wooden batten in Step 7.

Step 5: Rings

Stitching plastic rings 6 inches apart onto the shade lining

To make an operable DIY Roman shade, you’ll need to sew rings onto the back for a lift cord to slide through. You can buy shade tape with pre-sewn rings, or you can sew separate rings to the shade lining.

Shade rings are usually made of super-smooth, snag-free plastic. The typical spacing of Roman shade rings is 5 to 6 inches apart from top to bottom, arranged in evenly spaced rows across the lining. A 6-inch spacing between rings will give your shade 3-inch folds when it’s drawn. Because I like the look of 3-inch folds, I marked the lining with pencil every 6 inches from the bottom hem to about 6 inches from the top. I recycled the plastic rings from the lining of my old shade, and sewed them to the new shade at the seams joining the three dress panels, stitching through all the layers.

Step 6: Decorative Ribbon

Next, you’ll add decorative ribbon to hide the seams and the stitching on the front of the shade. I cut the ribbon into strips that extended slightly beyond the top and bottom edges of the shade. I pinned the ribbon in place on the front of the shade, covering up the ring stitching and making sure the strips were straight and evenly spaced, and then whipstitched them into place with matching thread. At the bottom edge of the shade, I wrapped the ribbon around the hem and secured it by stitching through all the layers.

Step 7: Batten

Homemade wooden battern for a DIY Roman shade.

Your next step is to prepare a wooden board (aka “batten”) for mounting the shade to the window. To make a batten for your project, you’ll need to saw a small board to a length that fits loosely inside your window frame at the top. Install eye hooks — one for each row of rings on your shade — to the bottom of the batten, spacing them exactly the same distance apart as your rows of rings. (You’ll be threading cord through these eye hooks in Step 8.) You’ll also have to drill holes through the ends of the batten for screws that will secure it to the window frame. I reused the old 1-by-2 batten from my original bathroom shade. For extra stability, I added angle brackets on the ends to connect the batten to the window frame.

You’ll have to mount the top of the shade to the batten, but first, it’s a good idea to adjust the shade’s length. I lightly tacked the shade to top of the batten and had my husband hold it in place while I marked where the shade needed to wrap around the batten’s top. I took down the shade and trimmed the remainder of the shade’s top edge even with the back edge of the batten. I also zigzagged along the top edge with my sewing machine to prevent raveling, although you wouldn’t have to bother with this if you didn’t intend to ever launder the shade. After all the adjustments had been made, I used 1/2-inch finish nails to mount the top of the shade to the top of the batten. A staple gun would also work great.

Step 8: Lift Cord

Threading lift cord through rings on shade lining

To make a Roman shade that can be raised and lowered, you must install a lift cord. First, decide on which side of the shade you want the pull to be located. I wanted my pull to be on the right side of the installed shade so we could use the cleat already mounted to our window frame. I flipped my shade and batten to the lining side and reminded myself to leave the loose cord ends on the opposite side of where I wanted the pull (because the shade was upside-down). Next, I tied the cord in a double knot to the ring on the bottom-right corner of the lining and snaked it up the shade’s entire height, across the batten, and down the shade’s opposite side about two-thirds of the way. I cut this first cord, threaded it through all the plastic rings and metal eye hooks, and then repeated these actions for the remaining sets of rings (see photo). Each cord on your DIY Roman shade will be a different length, so don’t pre-cut them all the same.

When you’re finished threading every cord through the rings and eye hooks, tie their ends together loosely. Mount the assembled Roman shade to the inside top of your window frame with screws, and test the operation. The shade should glide smoothly up and down when you pull and release the end of the lift cord. If the bottom of the shade is lower in one spot than another, untie the knot and experiment with pulling or releasing the individual cords until you get the look you want. Trim the ends of the cords even at this point; this will make it easy to line them up for installing the pull in the next step.

Step 9: Pull

You’re almost finished! You only have to install a pull. Almost anything small and unbreakable with a hole or loop for the lift cord can be used as a pull — jewelry pendants, upholstery tassels, even metal washers. To install your chosen object, you’ll need to thread the cord ends through the pull’s hole or loop, line up the ends (now you understand why you trimmed them even in Step 8), and knot them together securely. Mount a cord cleat to your window frame, and your project is finished.

Now that you know how to make Roman shades by recycling clothes, you can stitch up money-saving coverings for windows all around your house. Whenever you’re at a thrift store, browse the plus-size racks extra-large clothing made of beautiful fabrics, and stock up on materials you can use to sew a cheap but stylish Roman shade.

Total cost for my DIY Roman shade: Less than $5.00 for the linen dress and ribbon.


• Clothing to recycle
• Lining fabric
• Thread
• Shade rings
• Ribbon
• Wooden batten board
• Eye hooks
• Angle brackets
• Lift cord
• Wood screws
• Shade pull
• Cord cleat

The measurements and quantities of the materials you need will depend on the size of your window.

Tools and Supplies

• Graph paper – optional
• Tape measure
• Seam ripper
• Scissors
• Marking pencil
• Straight pins
• Clothes iron
• Sewing needle
• Handsaw
• Drill
• Staple gun or 1/2-inch finish nails & hammer
• Screwdriver

is an Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, where her beats include DIY and Green Transportation. She's an avid cyclist and has never met a vegetable she didn't like. You can find her on .


Clementine Crate Spices

This is one of my favorite DIY crafts. I've been decorating Clementine crates since I was a student in college. They make great little storage containers and organizers! The process is very involved (lots of layers of paint plus drying time) but it's worth it. I've made six so far: two hold tea, two hold spices, one holds paperwork and the last one was turned into a little decorative wall shelf.

The clementine crate DIY combines two of my favorite crafts: painting and collaging (also called decoupage). It's also very cheap DIY: I have never needed to purchase supplies for just this project (other than the crate of clementines). When buying your clementines, try to pick out the best crate available - they're not all created equal!

To make your own repurposed clementine crate you will need:

• 1 wooden clementine crate
• Acrylic paint
• Collage materials (magazine clippings, wrapping paper, junk mail, stationery, tissue paper)
• Sharpie marker(s)
• Cotton swabs
• Mod Podge sealer
• Brushes
• Scissors
• Sandpaper (optional)
• Pliers (optional)

Gather your materials, let's DIY!

First, inspect your crate. Make sure there are no sharp edges or staples that could poke you. If there are, sand or remove with pliers.

Decide how you want to decorate your crate. What colors will you use? What items will be collaged on it? How you intend to use your crate can give you design ideas. My tea and spice crates are collaged with images of tea, spices and chocolate from food magazines. The crate that I use as a small shelf has a large collage on the inside of the crate that wouldn't be visible if I used it to store anything. Purpose and design go hand-in-hand.

First, paint your base layer on the crate. You may need several coats, depending on the color and how thickly you paint (thin layers dry faster than thick). Once your base color is complete, you can begin collaging. Like with all of my craft projects, I like to lay out and plan my design before busting out the glue. With some papers, especially thin and delicate ones like tissue paper or newsprint, once they have been glued down they're not moving!

To make it easier to dry, I only work on one or two sides at a time. If you start gluing on three or more sides at once, it becomes more difficult to find a dry side to rest the crate in order for it to dry.

Clementine Crate Art Shelf

When you're satisfied with your collaging efforts, you can make some embellishments with a sharpie marker or additional paint. For my tea crates I wrote several quotes about tea and chocolate and added bright dots of paint with cotton swabs. For my spices crates, I added splashes of silver paint over a red crate and white over a black crate (always be sure to protect your work surface when working with paint).

Once your final additions are dry, seal the whole crate with Mod Podge. I recommend at least two coats.

This is a time-consuming DIY project, but I've always been pleased with the results and enjoyed the process. Use your crate to corral your mail and house keys, library books or CDs — whatever needs to be organized in a stylish but cheap manner!

Clementine Crate Tea

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Seed Packets

As spring arrives in Seattle, visions of seed packets dance through my head. I await all of the bounty to come. I must admit I have never been very good at growing plants from seeds. I am not sure if the missing ingredient is patience, a greenhouse, or time. My dear friend and gentleman farmer David is a master of this art. In the past, David and I have gone to nurseries, looked at catalogs, and made purchases together, all the while talking about heirloom seeds and the rich gift of taste they add to our lives. And still I can’t quite seem to plant and harvest my own crop.

Thankfully, David pays our household a visit during the summer season and often brings with him a sampling of what he has grown. These treats are almost always grown from heirloom seeds, without the interference of biogenetics or chemical-focused farming. The flavors from his food, as well as our CSA's share, are always notably bolder, richer, and more distinctive.

In conversation with Carly at the dinner table recently, I was talking about a smoothie that I made for some friends. One of the ingredients was not organic, a compromise I thought would go unnoticed, but I noticed. This ingredient was nearly flavorless, even though I had added two entire cups. I have heard it said that there is no difference in flavor between conventional and organic food products, but I can't agree—nor can my taste buds. I have also heard it said that we cannot feed our world population without the help of biogenetic and factory farming. I’ve also read evidence to the contrary.

In our conversation about flavor, nutrition, and healthful food, Carly noted her sadness that healthful, organic, and sustainable food is so expensive in our country. Having traveled to many of the world’s developing countries, where the standard of living is regarded as lower than ours, she recalled more affordable healthful food.

Why do we continue to price healthful food and healthy bodies out of the general population’s budgets?

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Carpet Sample Rug A1

This colorful rug is a great way to re-purpose the little carpet samples you can pick up at home-improvement stores. This DIY project is fairly easy to make and only requires four materials!

The most difficult aspect of making this rug is sourcing carpet samples. I was able to get mine at a used craft/art supplies cooperative. This co-op operated like a cross between Sam’s Club, JoAnn Fabrics and Goodwill. Members paid a small yearly fee and one day a week were able to come and collect as many cast off home goods and craft supplies as they desired, at no extra charge. Some of the items I often took home included fabric, yarn, thread, ribbon, wallpaper sample books and carpet sample books.

The carpet sample books are great to work with because all of your carpet samples with be of a uniform shape, size and texture. They can be a pain though if the carpet samples are well glued into the book. It took me a while to pry each carpet sample out of the books, but it is doable. If you don’t have a craft/thrift store in your area that might carry carpet sample books, I recommend asking your local home improvement store if you can take 15-20 individual samples home. They are usually free, but it’s best to ask since you’re wanting to use them for a craft project rather than picking out new carpet for your living room. You could even see what the store does with their old carpet samples - they might be more than happy to have you take them off their hands!

Carpet Sample Rug B1

The total cost of this project is minimal. There’s a good chance you already have everything you need at home and the carpet samples will most likely be free.

To Make Your Own Carpet Samples Rug You Will Need:

Gather your materials, lets DIY!

• Carpet samples (uniform shape, size and texture are the easiest to work with, but sample pieces can be trimmed to a specific size), the number depends on how large you want your rug to be.
• Duct tape
• Hot glue, hot glue gun
• Non-slip rug pad (you can purchase these in large rolls and cut to fit your rug) 

The first step is deciding on a pattern for your run. Lay all of your carpet samples out and arrange them in whatever order you prefer. Have fun with the colors and pattern! I like to create a few different options and take a photo of each arrangement. Then I can look at and compare all of the possibilities at once.

Once you’ve decided on the layout of your mat, flip each carpet sample over so the carpet side is down (make sure to maintain the order and arrangement of the samples). I recommend working on one row/line of samples at a time. Using duct tape, tape an entire row/line of carpet samples together. Repeat until all of the individual samples in each row are taped together, then tape all of the rows together.

To make the rug as sturdy as possible, I ran a line of hot glue down each row on the opposite (carpet) side of the mat. Allow the glue to dry before proceeding to the next step.

The final step of this project is gluing a non-slip rug pad/mat to the back of your rug. Duct tape can be really slippery and you want to make sure your rug is safe to walk and stand on! Once your non-slip mat is attached you only have to decide where to put your lovely new rug!

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 


Maple Tapping Hanging Bucket 

Maple tapping time is just around the corner! Have you ever considered taking up this fun hobby but wonder how it all really works? I’m so excited to share with you everything we’ve learned about sugarmaking. I know you’ll find it to be a great outdoor family activity and I think you’ll see it is much simpler than you thought. Best of all, your reward will be one of nature’s sweetest treats: pure maple syrup.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take you through the process of tapping trees, collecting sap, and turning this sweet bounty into enough syrup to feed your family all year long. For now, I’d like to answer a few questions I’ve run into and give you a little primer on the tapping process.

What Kind of Trees Can I Tap?

The best maple syrup comes from sugar maple or hard maple trees because their sap has the highest sugar content. You can also tap soft maples, birch, or box elder but the end product will taste a bit different and the boiling process takes a little bit longer. The tree must be healthy with a full canopy of leaves in the summer – thanks to the magic of photosynthesis, the more leaves a tree has, the sweeter its sap. One taphole will produce up to 12 gallons of sap in a season (which boils down to approximately one quart) and larger trees can accommodate more than one tap. Most sugarmakers follow this taps-per-tree rule:

• 12-inch to 18-inch diameter = 1 tap
• 18-inch to 32-inch diameter = up to 3 taps
• 32-inch or more diameter = up to 6 taps

Does Tapping Hurt the Tree?

If the tree is healthy when tapped and proper tapping procedures are followed, the taphole will start healing within a few weeks of the spile’s removal and the tree will be perfectly fine. Many maple tree farms have been tapping the same trees for over 100 years. Each taphole, however, must be placed in a different spot on the tree from the previous year. One thing to note: the bottom 4- to 6-foot "tapping zone” will result in trees that are less valuable if cut down for lumber.

When is Tapping Season?

The sap run typically begins in March and lasts through mid-April or until the trees bud out. The start date will vary depending on where you live but the run is always triggered by the same conditions: below-freezing temperatures at night followed by daytime temperatures in the 40 degrees Fahrenheit range. So, if you live in a zone with this seasonal freeze/thaw cycle, you can become a sugarmaker!

What Tools do I Need?

You need just a few basic supplies to start tapping trees – and with proper care, these tools will last for many seasons. For drilling the hole, you’ll need a cordless drill or a hand brace fitted with a wood-boring bit. The taps or spiles typically come in two sizes (5/16-inch and 7/16-inch) so make sure your bit matches the size of your spile. You’ll also need a small hammer to tap the spile into the hole.

Obviously you’ll need spiles for every taphole and a way to collect the sap. Choices for collection abound and you can find preassembled taps and tubes (which can also be connected with couplers to run all through the woods into one large bucket); buckets that hang right on the spile; or sacks that are designed to fit into a channel-type holder that also hangs on the spile. Any and all of these systems work just fine and really are a matter of personal preference. We used all three this past season just to try them out and my favorite was the tubing – it is more of a “closed” system which keeps debris and bugs out of the sap. (I know that sounds gross but don’t worry, anything that gets into the sap will be filtered and boiled out!)

You’ll also need an extra (or two or three) food-grade buckets for collecting your sap each day. We found that it was much easier to go to each tree with our larger buckets on the back of the ATV. Not only did it save time but we were able to get the containers back in place quickly so we didn’t have sap dripping on the ground.

How to Drill a Taphole

This is so super simple! We actually drilled many of our holes with our neighbor kids (ages 8 and under) and they loved helping out – by the fourth tree, they were running the drill. Here’s the quick step-by-step:

Step 1: Mark your drill bit with tape or a marker at 1-1/2 inches from the end. This will show you how far to drill into the tree.

Step 2: It’s not essential, but for best sap flow select a spot above a large root or below a large branch on the south-facing side of the tree. Drill the hole 2- to 4-feet off the ground and make sure you measure from the ground and not the snow level – as the snow melts, your tubing may not reach your bucket! Also, if the tree has been tapped before, locate your new taphole no closer than 12 inches above or below an old mark or 6 inches from side to side.

Step 3: Hold the drill steady and drill at a slightly upwards angle into the tree, stopping when you hit the mark on your drill bit. This ensures that you will only drill into the sapwood and not the heartwood, which could render the tree more susceptible to disease. Be careful not to wobble the drill – this can result in an “ovaled” hole which will not adequately hold the spile and may allow sap to leak out around the edges. As you remove the drill, try to pull with it the debris left in the hole. Sap will most likely begin running as soon as you drill the hole. Go ahead and taste it – it’s just barely sweet. 

Step 4: Insert the spile into the hole and gently tap until the hammer begins to bounce back. Be careful not to tap too forcefully as it could cause the spile to bend or break and possibly damage the tree.

Step 5: Attach your collection container and smile. You’ve just tapped a tree!

What to Do Next

Once you’ve tapped all your trees, it becomes a waiting game. If the temperatures cooperate, you will need to empty your containers every day. Sap can be collected and kept chilled for a few days until you’re ready to boil. In my next blog, I’ll talk about best collection practices and get you ready to start cooking. Until then, Happy Tapping!

Photo by Julie Fryer

For more information on sugarmaking, Julie can be reached at Her books, Guide to Maple Tapping and Kid’s Guide to Maple Tapping, are available on Amazon in both ebook and printed versions.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Read Part 1 of this series of a general materials list for this project.

Read Part 2 with help in designing and planning a pallet guitar project.

Tools for Installing a Guitar Sound Chamber

You will need a few basic tools to do this build:

• A plunge router, this is used to create the cavities.
• A rotary tool
• An orbital jig saw

tools 1

Making a Plan for the Inner-Workings

This post is done on a very cold day here in Wisconsin, -20 degrees. Too cold to be outside. Besides, this is much more fun. Anyway, below you will notice a horizontal cross section of the guitar. Imagine the top cut off. This shows, I hope, the routed out areas that make up the sound chamber, pick-up pockets, and control panel - brown in color. The brown hatched areas are the built-up sides. These are, for the most part, free hand drawings, so bear with me. I draw these again to actual size to avoid transposing measurements, I’m Irish, old and simple, need all the help I can get. Here goes. Again maintain that center line. If you look close you can see it on my plan.


guitar image

Applying the Plan to the Material or "Field Engineer” If It Is Wrong

Once you have developed the plan you are hap! hap! happy with, cut out around the outer perimeter of the drawing, lay out on the block of wood material selected for the body with neck attached, and trace. Don’t cut out the shape until you have routed out the inside cavities with the router. Once the routing has been complete, cut out the perimeter “shape of the guitar." This is where the jig saw comes in handy. Now the body and the neck should be one piece and in a rough form. Using the rotary tool, clean up any rough areas.


I use copper foil for all my shielding. You might say, “what in the heck is shielding and why?" Without proper shielding, the pick-ups, potentiometers “pots” and input jacks would pick up outside humming noises, even hum-bucking pick-ups don’t always stop all noises. I save as much copper flashing material as possible for this use. If purchasing is the only source, hobby/craft stores carry copper foil by the roll or sheet. I use latex-based contact adhesive to adhere the shielding material to the cavity base and sides. Got to think (environment) sometimes. If you want, you can substitute magnetic chalk-board paint for copper shielding, this works, but is not quite as effective as copper. Remember, all cavities should be shielded, except for sound cavities.

I know this may be hard to understand without progressive images. I didn’t start taking image shots till later builds. Feel free to contact me with questions.

We used to make what we thought was music with very rough instruments: stump fiddle, wash tub base and drum, four string guitar and harmonica. Not in tune, but fun. We didn’t consider ourselves poor, just resourceful. Doesn’t take much to make me happy. Did I mention I’m a simple, poor Irishman?

Electronics: Fun Stuff

electronics harness

Now we get into the electronics. I made up my harness outside the guitar, this way I can take time soldering and will be able to test the components before installation. I used all reclaimed pieces, pots, input, pickups, and any switches needed. You will need the following equipment. Various electronic component diagrams are available for free on the internet. Just search "guitar electronics." Many diagrams will show up. To start with, select one that is basic. I use all passive systems, meaning no pre-amps or batteries are needed, must keep that carbon foot-print as small as possible.

needed equipment

Needed Equipment:

• soldering gun
• flux
• solder
• cordless drill, I'll explain this later
• multimeter 
• wire stripper
• assorted pliers

Follow the diagram very closely as to where the wires are located. I label all components, and use colored wire. You will notice some pick-ups have 4 wires and some 2. I make most of mine 2 wire applications, again, I’m a simple Irishman. Now we are ready to test.


This is where the cordless drill is handy. I use an amp, cordless drill, and a multimeter for testing. Follow this procedure and things should go well.

testing tools

1. Solder following the diagram.

2. Test connections using the multi-meter set on ohms to check continuity.

3. Plug your jack cord, one end into the input of your harness, the other into a small guitar amp.

4. Turn the amp on with volume about half, crank the volume and tone pots all the way up.

5. Using your cordless drill, hold it near the pick-ups, you should hear an amplified version of the drill.

sound test

Happy thoughts, thanks.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Read Part 1 of this series of a general materials list for this project.

Read Part 3 for how to build a guitar sound chamber.

Top View/Basic Measurements

Guitar top

This bout design allows me to play all 24 frets comfortably, sitting or standing. The playing scale length is the distance from the nut to the bridge. The fret layout depends on this distance. I made my fret layout gauge from measurements obtained from a book. You can now find them on the net for free.

The distance across the body was directly influenced by my planer, that's the widest stock I could run. To cheap to buy a larger planer. The neck, body and headstock are made together. You wouldn't need to do this, a set neck could fit into a pocket built into the body, or a bolt on type could be added.

Always work with a center line, this will almost guarantee a near perfect alignment for strings, bridge, pick-ups, headstock, etc. Design your guitar to fit you and your artistic slant. Try to use recycled, or reclaimed materials. They are very dry, and probably not plantation grown, these two characteristics make great instrument material.

Side View

side view

This view gives a visual of the entire instrument. I canted the headstock so I wouldn't need string hold downs and to give it that Irish flare. The neck is a three piece laminated unit. I cut the pieces using a gauge I made of old sub floor material. One piece of the neck is mahogany, two are maple, cut identical in shape but not length. The center piece goes the length of the guitar from head to body tail. The Maple pieces go from head to two inches into the body, Glue and clamp. I use Tite Bond glue, does the trick.

This is my neck gauge.


Body Back

The drawing below shows how the neck is incorporated into the body back. The center Mahogany piece is 3/4 inches wide and runs the length of the instrument for strength and looks. The Maple pieces run just inside the body. You can run them 2 to 4 inches in. They are also 3/4 inches wide. The body back is two separate pieces 3/4 inches thick x 6 inches wide x 20 inches long cut to fit tight to the neck material. Dry fit, glue and clamp. To achieve the body thickness, I stacked another piece of 3/4-inch material around the perimeter of the body. This material can be anything and in pieces, no waste, and a good way to use small pieces.

body back

cross section

Body Cross Section

I'll get into the inner body design next post. Remember to maintain that center line through out the project.

We, my two brothers and I grew up in a small house that sat on cedar posts, our job was to help lift the house, no not by hand but, with screw jacks and build a block foundation under it. The point I am getting at is this, the blocks were used, salvaged from another house we tore down. At nine years old, I was chipping mortar from blocks to reuse them on our house. This type of approach has stuck with me through the years. We didn't get paid to do this, just our way of life., but a little cash would have been nice. Oh well, foiled again. Have a good time. Recycle, Re-claim, Repurpose.


Willow, Maple, Walnut, and Cherry

Read Part 3 for how to build a guitar sound chamber. 

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