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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Solera insert

Well the plan is to make a building board with space for different thin soleras, one for each size. Here you can see the tenor one being dished with planes and scrapers.

Being immensely clever

I've finally made new perspex templates, and here you can see me tracing the contour. Not just once, but twice. To offset the line 5 mm I let the pencil go in a washer of suitable dimension.

You'll see where all this leads soon.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Backs are on, merry christmas

Both concerts got a one piece back, which is now trimmed flush to the sides. Tomorrow I'll try to sand a bit and choose wood for the fretboards.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New radius dish, part II

And hey presto, it's done. Apart from the obvious need to cut the base board to shape, but I can't run the bandsaw this late because of the neighbours. A few blobs of thick construction glue spread on and between the small blocks will secure it and make it even more rigid.

And the best things about it; no dust! No noise! No cumbersome sled jig for the lethal router! I'm so happy.

New radius dish, part I

I got tired of my old dish that I routed out of solid MDF ages ago. So I decided to have a go at this method that I learned at Ukulele Underground. A 3 mm board will be forced down onto circles of small blocks, going from 2 to 6 mm. The distances and heights were worked out in Autocad.

The radius I chose for the dish is 2500 mm.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Glueing done

All joints are done. The tape method is swell, and fast.

Monday, December 19, 2011

New jig project

These are thin pieces of basswood, 5 mm. I glue them together with the tape method which seems to work great.

A lot of pieces will be joined, the result should be stunning (well, if everything goes according to my rather dim plan).

Monday, December 12, 2011

Back braces on the concerts

I do it this way, but I know most builders glue the braces on the back first. I find this way lets me make sure all the measurements are correct and the sides are parallell.

These two are among my cleanest builds yet, I'm very anxious to hear what they will sound like.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Necks attached

I think the pair of them looks reet nice. Next up; back braces and then the back.


Hey, this was an unexpected bonus. I just flipped the whole setup and clamped the perspex strip in my Zyliss vise.

In the pic you can see the angle attachment I have for my Proxxon drill. It's as small and versatile as a Dremel, but far superior in quality. The angle attachment makes a loud noise but is essential when I do this.

The procedure is a bit different from the one I use for the piccolos, you should be able to find that in earlier posts.

Aligning neck

Prior to drilling from the inside of the body, I make sure the neck is straight and that the surfaces are flush. This is a new fangled method, using some perspex. We'll soon see how it works.

The hole for the barrel nut is made already.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Shaping necks, finished

So the other one is done as well. Even faster since I didn't bother with pics. (But I did use my 12/36 mm Ibex finger plane with the curved sole on the back of the headstock. Sorry for not ranting about that one!)

Now they just need some sanding.

And this was to be a project, this neck carving documentary. I didn't mean it to end this fast. What am I supposed to think of now?

Shaping necks, final steps

Finishing touch with the neck held in hand. This small knife is also of Swedish steel, a carving knife that I made even shorter by grinding away the back end of the blade down to the width of the tang, before I made the handle. This is a trick I learnt from my beloved wife.

The edge is ground straight on both sides, with no second bevel. Cuts clean and exactly how I want it.

Shaping necks, back of the headstock

I won't say I wouldn't want a gizmo for sanding it to thickness, but my Little Victor plane and the Mother of All Chisels does the trick quickly.

Since I use wooden violin pegs on my ukes I don't worry about the the sides being absolutely parallell - and I quite fancy the tapered headstocks on vintage ukes. On them the tip of the headstock is very thin.

Shaping necks, carving

A few minutes with the spokeshave, and then an old Swedish carpet knife (curved, on the right) and a Hock violin knife.

It's nearly done!

These posts have gone out in real time, with a break to play piano with Li.

Shaping necks, cont.

After the two slanted cuts I put the neck-to-be in the carving jig and go at it with the mini spoke shave.

Li makes sure it looks big.

Shaping necks, for the concerts

This is how I shape my necks initially. The small wedge is there to show the cut. I'll post a few more pics of the later stages on these ones.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shaping the contour

Small plane - check.

Messy bench - check.

Small wonderful shavings - check.

This pic has all you can ask for. Plus it shows how I shape the profile of the rim on one of the mahogany concerts.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Neck blanks trued

Ten minutes with a sharp and properly adjusted low angle block plane, and I have flat crisp surfaces on the concert neck blanks. They've been measured and marked, soon I can start carving them.

With the sharp knives etc etc. Did I mention those before..?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Figure? Curl?!

What's this? I can't believe it.


Splitting the alder log

After reading a bit further about drying and resawing, I decided to get things going a bit faster.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Concert progress

Now before you say anything, I know it looks like shit. And I know the workshop looks like this in all my pictures. But no matter what it looks like, the concert soundboards are braced with really nice spruce braces and another reso skeleton got clad. With cherry sides this time.

Next up, some overdue cleaning up.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Carved neck

I'm pleased with this one. The neck is a bit beefier because of all the strings, but the little volute and the throat before the headstock feels really good.

Some rough shaping first with a japanese hand saw, then a stationary belt sander. But the detailing was all made with knives.

You can also see the mandolin tuners. Turns out they have a huge ratio, I didn't think of that when I ordered them. Tuning takes a long time, but hopefully that'll be better once the strings are stretched.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Finally in tune

And that is in D-tuning. I tune all my ukes in C, but Ronald is a D guy. And I needed to try it to see if the soundboard would fly off.

I'll keep an ear open tonight for the sound of wood coming apart.

But the sounds I've managed to get out of it so far are convincing, it sounds really good. If only Ronald would come to pick it up.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Side by side

I spent the latter half of the evening bending sides on the hot pipe, or bending iron really. The one piece rim I made for a concert was very challenging since it just happened to be of exactly the right length. So the bends had to be in the right places. But I have gotten better, and managed to get it right in just twenty minutes.

Then I went on to the first of the resos, which will be clad in cherry. I had a good set of sides, but it was of two halves. Luckily one of the reso skeletons had a dowel exactly in the middle, so the joint will be backed up there. I intended to use one piece rims on the resos as well, so the dowels are placed a bit inexactly.

The cherry one is spoken for, but I really don't know by whom. I think all who saw my prototype this summer wanted a wenge one, but I only have wenge for one more. The others will be as good looking or better. Now I make one each of wenge, walnut, ash and cherry.

The third side you see is for the other concert. It has blocks now, and will get kerfing soon. Both concerts will have a bookmatched top of the best mahogany I have, and a one piece back of mahogany that is a bit twisted in the grain. Looks lovely but I want the soundboard to be straighter than that.

But what of Ronald's tenor, I hear you (Ronald) ask. My bet is he'll get it with a passive pickup and that he'll sort the pre-amp a lot quicker than I can...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pesky effin' electronics

Shellac is all but done, it could do with a final glaze coat or a careful rubbing. And the tuners are in place, strings take forever to tune but it works! It sounds different from all my others, as was expected. I'm not used to the tenor scale, so I'm eager to get Ronald over here so I can listen to it being played.

And I got a pickup in place under the saddle. And it sort of works, but the preamp is nigh impossible. I am crap at electronics and have no clue at all.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Concert sides bent

My first concert is under way. I let the shellac on Rockonald's tenor rest today and bent this one piece rim. I'll make two identical concerts of ye olde mahogany.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

French polishing the 8-string

I've been a bit reluctant to call my process of putting on shellac "french polishing" because of all the secret mumbo jumbo that is connected with the method. But after a few ukes and with increasingly better results I now call it french polishing.

This is me doing it, and for a base coat / sealer I used vernice bianca, a mixture of gum arabic and egg whites. It was something I read about and wanted to try. The gum arabic was dissolved in water, and it felt weird to apply the mixture to the seasoned and dry mahogany wood. But no harm was done, and maybe a few pores were filled.

It's a bit awkward to polish around the bridge and fretboard end, and for those areas I don't use the muneca but an eraser wrapped in cloth. The edges of the eraser are a lot easier to use in the corners.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ron's tenor... and a couple of concerts?!

Fretboard is finished, and glued to the neck. I sanded the body outside, in the forest behind my house, with our new cordless sander (to the right in the pic). It works great, and everything that helps to keep the dust level down is hugely appreciated.

I also made a very neat bridge of ebony, and it gets sanded underneath to conform to the domed soundboard.

But the strangest news is... the Argapa concerts took a leap forward when I sanded all the flat parts today. I made the necks last weekend. Look out, Ben and Brian! The parts can be seen behind Johan's jelly-fish-ulele.

Now; supper.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ronald's tenor, back on

How come I never thought of this before? With a magical mirror, I can show both sides in one pic! Oh the joy of discoveries...

The back went on yesterday, and I cut the overhang tonight. With knives and a chisel. Laminate trimmers and flush cut routers are for non vikings. And wimps. And posers.

Anyway, you should be able to see the ash peghead veneer and the ash heel cap, the latter of which is integrated in the back. Both pieces come from the same tree that was used in Jukka's and Aya's wedding uke (see label called something along those lines).

This tenor has moved on quite fast. I'm used to mahogany and the new mold works great. For finish, I'm considering egg white pore filling and shellac.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bridge repair on a factory made uke

A friend of a friend asked me to repair her uke. It's a decent concert, sort of blinged and with a plastic lacquer. Bridge have come clean off together with the lacquer (yes it was glued on top).

But wait a minute... Glued? Look at the underside of the bridge. It's double stick tape! Complete with fiber reinforcement! Some industrial grade, not carpet tape. It has bonded with the finish and it worked for a couple of years. Now it's hard and brittle. I had to pause chipping it off to document this.

This bridge is going to get a wood to wood bond, as it should have been in the first place.

Grant's 'ook-oh lay-lee strung up

That's my new spelling, innit!

It was hard enough putting it down for the time it took to take the pic, so descriptions will be made in the upcoming video. Watch fb and the forums. I must try to record the sound with my Zoom, and then sync and... hm. Might actually be built in mic as usual.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011


It's hard to take a decent pic of something shiny. But here's an attempt. There are maybe 6 coats of Tru oil on it so far, with some careful sanding in between. One coat was applied with the oil on a sandpaper, to grain fill. That gives you a slurry that is very hard to get even. I ended up rubbing the surface with my palms. I reek of Tru oil.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Scale length

It's not always easy for me to get the distances right, and this new body shape tricked me a bit. But with the guitar sized template (and some luck) I could choose a new scale length that will give me the desired neck to body connection, neck length and neck block to bridge plate distance.

Phew. So it'll be 440.5 mm scale length plus compensation, and a 14th fret connection.

Now I just need to keep calm and remember which slots to use when sawing.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ronald's tenor, sides glued to top

Bracing pattern is sort of instinct based. I'll leave the back off for a bit so I can tap and feel after neck is bolted on, and the hole is cut. Then there's the issue of Rockonald's undersaddle pickup... I don't know anything about those yet, other than that they're lying in a heap somewhere.

The essence of Argapa bridge theory

The unfinished bridge on Grant's uke, here with a replaceable pao ferro saddle. Some touching up, then glueing. But first, bike excursion with Ann and the wee monsters.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fretboard and stuff

Good evening! I cut the slots and put the frets in tonight. In the pic the pao ferro fretboard just rests on the neck, and a rosewood bridge blank plays the part of mock up bridge. The pao ferro bridge blank was still too big to resemble a bridge.

No markers on this one, except for side dots. They'll be my regular 1.6 mm white dots.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ronald's tenor

Too late in the evening to drumsand Grant's fretboard, so I bent the sides for Ronald's eight string tenor. These are the first sides built to my new mold. I braced the top yesterday and today I remembered Chuck Moore's advice: make the sides before you make the top and back. And, they didn't crack. Bending iron was a lot hotter than usual today (I'm so impatient I always rush things otherwise), and the bending process was fast, smooth and turned out perfect.

Grant's fretboard will be sanded to thickness during the week, I might plane it down a bit first.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stack of skeletons

It came to me that I could sell these as innards for uvver peeps' reso projects. But can I be arsed? Can I hell.

All six turned out perfect. I was aiming at five good'uns so I'm well chuffed. But I'm leaving them at the cottage so I can get Grant's soprano and Ronald's tenor ready.

But I could order the hardware. Hm. Must check my Paypal account.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Grant, are you still there..?

Grant, I thought, now there's a bloke in need of some good news. So here you are sir, maple binding is on and needs only some touch-ups.

And maybe a juniper fretboard? Hmm?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

First skeleton assembled

I love it when things work out (even if some brute force was involved along with a hammer). I drilled for dowels around the edge, and managed to get the two halves at the right distance.

Next time I'll use a pencil sharpener on the ends, it'll make it easier to press down the second half. And some distance blocks cut to exact height will also be good.

The one standing up is seen from its back, and the well for the cone needs a big cut-out from its bottom. But I have a bus to catch. And at home there are two acoustics waiting for some attention. So I'll leave this pile here at the cottage, hopefully I'll get here next weekend.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A luthier's lunch

Pete Howlett phrased it nicely, about our task being to "combine 22 pieces of wood and make them sing".

But let me tell you, making a sandwich this good is quite a feat as well!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Reso parts routed

With the templates I prepared, cutting these parts was easy. All are now shaped to their outer contour, and these two are the first ones with the inner hole pattern done.

I check the top one against the cone from my prototype, but it is a 5 7/8 cone, and this batch will get the 6 inch size.

Progress. Gotta love it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Resonator production 2.0

Here are the router templates I'm making for a quicker and more precise production of parts.

Hopefully I can get stuff done this weekend.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Piccolos packed

Well they're done! An old bow case will get them to England. We're on the train as I write this.

I don't know what will happen to them, I might even keep one for myself.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Piccolos hung to dry

Who forgot to bring in the laundry?!

Between coats, I wet sanded them. It turned out really good (though they feel like plastic).