Working out the Workshop
Looking back, it’s hard to believe how quickly PJD Guitars has progressed, from a shed in my mum’s back garden to the 3000 square foot of space we’re in now.
Where PJD Guitars began
The shed was my dad’s. He built it with a mate when he got ill so he could keep doing his carpentry work. He’d insulated and plaster boarded it, so it was a nice place to spend time. It was his space – I didn’t go in there that much. It was only after he passed away that the space became mine. I think my dad would have liked that I was using his shed as my first workshop.
My dad was a master carpenter who learnt his trade using old hand tools, such as a hand saw and router, so these were the tools I started building guitars with.
My first guitar
The first guitar I ever made was made in that shed. I got some Ash from a timber merchant, drew a template onto paper and then cut it out in MDF. I used a circular saw to cut out the body and sanded the wood by hand. A friend helped me; it took us ages. We sprayed it fluorescent green, no spray booth, masks, nothing – I didn’t know a whole lot about health and safety back then!
It felt good to be holding that guitar in my hands, a guitar that I’d made and that actually worked. But I knew I could do better. I wanted to do better.
Guitars for a band
I bought some proper templates, a better router and built a few more guitars, each one better than the one before.
I emailed an American band, Four Year Strong, and asked them to check out our guitars. To my surprise they put an order in for two, almost straight away!
It took us 6 months to build those guitars, alongside our day jobs. Once they were made, we packed them up and sent them all the way to Spain to be finished. It was terrifying sending something away that we’d worked on for so long, but when they came back, they looked amazing. We went to the Roundhouse in Camden to deliver the guitars to the band. They did a sound check with them and we couldn’t believe it when they decided to play the full set with them too.
For five or six more years I kept honing my craft, working on protypes in my dad’s shed, and filling the space to the brim with all my wood and tools, learning as I went along.
I spent a lot of that time drawing up guitars on AutoCAD and got my templates laser-cut from plywood.
I bought a planer thicknesser and managed to almost slice my fingers off the first time I used it – I ended up in A and E that day and got a parking ticket to top it off!
I also got myself decent band saw, plus a laser cutter for precision, and I bought my first CNC machine. It was flat pack – I had to assemble it piece by piece. It was just a desk top machine and was painfully slow – took about 2 hours to cut the body of a guitar – but really accurate.
My first CNC Machine
By the time I’d made the decision to build guitars full time, my shed workshop was jam-packed. My mum wanted to move out of London so we upped and moved to a house in York, this time with a double garage – I couldn’t believe how much space there was. I planned out my new workshop meticulously and spent a month making benches, plaster boarding the ceiling and painting the whole place up. I bought a new CNC machine – semi-pro – still slow (1.5 hours to cut out a body compared to under four minutes that the one we use now takes) but it was a massive step up in terms of accuracy.
My workshop didn’t stay in that garage for long as, within a year, my mum wanted to downsize our house.
Onwards and upwards
The move was a good thing – I’d already had interest from retailers – it prompted me to rent a 1000 sq. ft workshop. It felt huge. It had a separate office and kitchen and again, I planned out where all the different parts of the workshop would be, but it was still just me. I enjoyed it though, driving to work with the radio on – it felt like a proper job rather than a hobby in my garden.
Things stepped up a gear here. I got an order through of 96 guitars, which enabled me to buy the specialist equipment I needed. I bought a massive CNC machine. It’s the size of a small car and, with all the space it needs for moving parts, it took up half my workshop. It’s got an invisible shield – a laser curtain which switches the whole machine off as soon as anyone gets too close. It’s incredibly safe.
After I’d been in the new workshop 3 to 4 months and completed the first order, it was obvious that I needed even more space (and more people) to up production levels. I’d been outsourcing all the finishing and wanted a bigger workshop where I could fit in a spray booth.
Where PJD Guitars are now
The workshop we’re in now was originally 1500 sq. ft but we’ve put in a mezzanine to double to the floorspace. Downstairs we have our reception, CNC machine, Milling and sanding and wood storage, all open plan. Each workstation is set up so the worker has everything they need and can move between stations if required. We’ve now got a professional planer thicknesser (that I haven’t cut myself on!) and I’ve replaced my old drum sander with a belt sander to improve precision.
Upstairs there is a self-enclosed, ventilated spray booth (all compliant) and next to it is a buffing wheel. There are three workstations for fretting and final assembly, and a separate area outside the spray booth for staining. All the final checks happen upstairs, and the office is up there too where I do my drawing and design.
Tools don’t work themselves, and there’s no way I could sustain the level of production we’re working at on my own, but I’ve been lucky to find a team of skilled people to work with me.
I can’t believe how quickly PJD Guitars has progressed from being in a shed at the bottom of my garden, that was smaller than the office I’m in now, to this great workshop and our talented team of crafts people. And, if everything goes to plan, we’ll be acquiring new premises within the next couple of years to increase our working space even more!
You can check out our workshop and meet the PJD Guitars team in our new video https://youtu.be/e6ULEPr64nw