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I’ve  been getting a lot of crack repairs in lately. I’ve been successful in getting the glue joints clean and tight. But struggle with those lower bout cleats. Seems the crack is always in a location just out of my reach through the sound hole. So placement of the cleat become difficult.  Any tips or tricks for the tough locations? 

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You could cut the bottom wire off a coathanger, glue into a short piece of pre-drilled 3/4" dowel for a handle, bend into a parabola so that it reaches the spot you're after, sharpen the tip, and stab a cleat. Keep it as short as possible to limit flex.

Magnets for clamping.  One outside, one in.  If you can't reach it inside, that magnet and cleat can be on the end of a steel ruler. 

Super magnets allow you to use a magnet outside the guitar to move a magnet to where you want a cleat inside the guitar. The cleat is tack glued to the super magnet going inside the guitar. The magnets are vertically aligned:

Magnet outside of guitar

guitar top or side or back

magnet inside guitar

cleat tack glued to inside magnet

glue on outer face of cleat 

Move the magnet into position on the outside of the guitar, the inside magnet will follow it, then flip the outside magnet over. This will cause the inside magnet to also flip over, placing the cleat with the glue side onto the crack.

I took a coat hanger cut it to size so i could bend it where i needed it ,cut off the top of a golf tee drilled a hole in stuck it in one end of the coat hanger  i then use a rare earth magnet sitting on the gulf tee attached magneticly  then blue tack then my cleat to the magnet ,,stick it in the sound hole toward the crack location with another rare earth magnet  on the face of the instrument right where i want it and snap they connect !! it works very well

The bent rods with a sharpened end work quite well for installing cleats. Something a bit heavier than a coat hanger is desirable to limit flex but a coat hanger could work in a pinch. These are fast to make and eventually, you will end up with a nice set of cleat tools if you make a new one for each application, rather than re-bending an existing tool. Mirrors used inside the instrument with some lighting will let you see in there well enough to place the cleats. Hot hide glue works best for placing the cleats, it tacks rather quickly and will hold well enough after 30 seconds or a minute to let you wiggle the pointy end of the tool a bit, letting it fall out of the cleat. Hide glue will also draw itself tighter as it dries, no clamping necessary. I use magnets frequently for other interior repairs but not for placing or clamping cleats.

A few of my cleat tools. The long one on top is from a coat hanger and is fairly lousy but worked. The other three are nice and stiff, they work much better than the crappy coat hanger version.

Thanks everyone!!!

Magnets: I have tried a few methods and have not had luck with them for placing the cleats. Though I am not opposed to trying that again. Specifically, holding the cleat between the magnet and the wood that allows for a flat contact to the top. I have considered making a jig with a cutout for the cleat to set in with 0.20 of the cleats bottom sticking out. Maybe something like 1.5" x .5" plexi with a single magnet at each end with a square recessed for the cleat. A matching magnet for the top to align it… keeping the cleat straight and oriented. 

Any reason the cleat has to be square? I like to get them lined up straight inside, but if I made them round, it really wouldn't be as challenging to get them lined up.  I do try to set the cleat with the grain at a 90 degree from the wood grain.

Paul, Peter and Robbie, I like this idea a lot too. And the picture is worth a 1000 words. Are you able to get the square cleat positioned straight? (Meaning in line with the crack, or does if often end up diagonal etc)?

This isn't an original idea by any means. If memory serves it came from Don Teeter's first repair book back in the day.  

It's basically a tuning machine mounted on a wood block with a small hole in the center.  A hole is drilled through the cleat (.012" or so) and through the crack itself.  Using a .010" string with a ball end, the string (with cleat attached) is fished in through the soundhole and drawn-up snug with the tuning machine.  

There's more to it, in terms of sometimes needing to insert the string (minus the ball end) from the top, then attaching the cleat and the ball end, but you can fill in those blanks.  

You can make flat-bottom contraptions; curved for waists, reverse curved for bouts ... the fun never ends!  The pictures tell the story.  The downside, of course, is needing to repair the .012" hole in the top, but that's not a big problem.

Not always the first choice, but sometimes they're just what's needed.  

very nice Mike. I have always loved this idea … minus the hole it leaves, bit it resolves so many other issues that its almost a no brainer. May have to reconsider this too.

Can we also talk about cleat shapes?

I currently make mine square with all 4 edges chamfered. I doubt it has any real significance other than it looks cool. I see that Stew Mac is now selling some sort of round cleat contraption. Making round cleats actually resolve the alignment issues I have. 

This is a Gibson Song Bird I repaired last week. The side crack was pretty extensive. After hide gluing the crack and chips back in place, I added the 3 cleats. Trying to get them aligned with each other was a small challenge. But this was much easer to reach then the Martin top crack from this weekend.

Cleat shape makes little difference and should be sized/shaped for the job at hand. I am partial to the diamond shape, purely for aesthetics. I try to keep any cleats used for sound boards minimal as possible but will bulk up a bit when adding weight is not a factor.

Nice job on the tuner-cleat rigs Mike, mine took about two minutes...and look like it too.

Try the different methods of attaching cleats. I have used all the ones described and have a distinct preference.

The violin restorers have done much work on all aspects of violin repair, including cleat material, shape, orientation etc. Do a search in Google for "maestronet cleat shape" and read to your hearts content. 

Rob, that was actually a great read! Thanks so much. I pretty much had that portion down correctly, but the shape does appear to have some stability characters. The parallelogram seems to be the most accepted based on how it tapers off at different points along the grain line. Who'd a thunk that!!  

Thanks everyone for your help. I have a bit of trial and error in my future to take my Cleats and installation to the next level. I've been doing this for almost 40 years, and this year has been the most I have seen top and side cracks in years. So its great to use the power of the internet to help something I struggled with like reaching those hard to get to spots...

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