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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wrapping up

Well there's a couple of days left of 2013 and I won't make progress around New Year's eve. But today I fitted the back braces and glued the back on Patsy's piccolo, and gave the resos a few glaze coats. In a few days I'll fit the hardware on them!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

A great big thank you to all of my readers, regulars and occasional. 2013 wasn't the most productive of years, fewer ukes and not as many blog posts. I've started making the posts a bit longer though, a new app makes it easier to fit more images in each. 

And the ukes I've shipped have been better and more consistent. I have become better at french polishing and better at using hand tools such as planes and my big rip saw. I've gathered more material, some reclaimed historic wood and some koa and other species. 

Before I show you today's pics I must say that I miss my dear friend Brian Newman who passed away much too soon this summer. I will miss him and his wonderfully mean comments on this blog. This spring I will repair a tenor guitar that he gave me. 

Okay, on to this morning's going-ons; I put the kerfed lining strips in Patsy's uke last night, so today I planed them down to be level with the sides. Oh and the neck's in place, must've missed that particular Kodak moment. 

And here are the resos. I wet-sanded them yesterday to level the shellac and now they await the final "glaze coats". This is a challenge. I've yet to finish the french polishing process without resorting to a bit of buffing with a rubbing compound but this time I aim for a by the book finish. 

Merry christmas and I actually wish all of you a great new year! 


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Facing my fears of binding

A few Argapa ukes have been bound. I think binding is needed around a softwood top such as spruce or cedar, but avoid using it as a decorative element  on for example koa, cherry or mahogany instruments. 

This is only because I think it's so damn difficult. 

So this afternoon as I was getting ready to fit the neck on Patsy's piccolo I had this feeling that I'd forgotten something. Of course, I promised myself to bind the spruce top. 

Out with the router and a couple of wooden strips I had kicking around. I use the tiny Stewmac router adapter for archtop instruments. It's fiddly andhard to use but a more dedicated router setup hasn't been needed this far. 

And here's why I post this (apart from vanity). To bend the strips more easily I taped them together with brown artist's tape so they'd get support from each other and be bent in the same way, to start with. 

And I found that the tape helped the strips from cracking! Here's the strips. 

The tape is on the outside of the bouts and the inside of the waist. I'm not sure if it was purely mechanical support or if the cellulose glue on the tape wicked into the wood, but in any case the tape kept the moisture in the strips and they didn't crack. I'm so happy. 

After both were bent to fit one side I sliced the tape apart and adjusted one to fit the other side. This involved some pretty hard work, the uke wasn't totally symmetrical. 

Then I glued them with regular Titebond glue. Superglue is so messy and I didn't want to attach bits of finger. The back isn't on yet so I stuffed the body with blocks of wood and wedges so it wouldn't collapse. So far it looks good but I won't get my hopes to high up - I have had binding looking so bad after glueing I had to route it off and start over. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Carving a neck

Once more, I'll rant about neck carving. It is (I think) my favourite stage in a build. I've gotten a bit too fast for my own liking though - it's over almost as soon as it's begun. 

So tonight I worked really slowly and tried to make it last. [It took 25 minutes in the end, hardly a success.]

What I had was the rough sawn neck blank with the tapered sides. I used these tools:
- double handled draw knife
- small contour plane
- sloyd / whittling knife
- 1 1/2 inch chisel
- low angle apron plane
- small finger plane

But doing it slowly paid off. The mahogany had some rather difficult reversing grain that I could control by angling the contour plane carefully to match it. 

And look at these pics of the result. It damn well shines! It is totally untouched by any abrasive tools or sand paper. I'll tell you my secret at the bottom of the post, after the pics. 

The secret of my success tonight, then. Sharp tools. 

Sharp. Tools. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Shaping fretboards

I slotted the fretboards and got ready to taper the sides. Holding them finger tight on the necks I marked with a pencil along the edges of the neck. Then I placed a steel straightedge at the marked line and scored a deep line with a marking knife. 

I want the fretboard edge to be ridiculously straight - chances are the edges of the neck are not at this stage. But I can fix that by sneaking up against the fretboard with a scraper when it's glued. 

Before, I would've sliced off a bit on the small bandsaw before planing. But now I have a couple of planes that'll make short work of bringing down the width. 

First up is a Stanley Handyman. It's a simpler version of the 4 1/2, the mouth is too wide and it lacks the adjustment screw for the frog. I've put a camber on the iron and it works sort of like a small jack plane. 

This plane hogs off most of the wood but is prone to tear the grain a bit. 

Next one is a proper 4 1/2, with the tighter mouth and the blade ground and set for smoothing. 

With this plane I work closer to the line and make sure it's dead straight. That's easy since the tool itself is a great reference. 

Finally I made a few passes with the small apron plane to get right into the scored line. 

And all this in ten minutes, both fretboards. I couldn't have done it faster with machines or sandpaper, and this way I only had a few handfuls of curly shavings to clean up instead of nasty dust. 

Continuing the low tech, stubbornly backwards way of doing stuff, I carved the ends of each board with my sloyd knife. Templates, spindle sanders and router - pfff. 

Fun stuff, methinks. (In the well of the left one you see traces of the never ending Argapa quest for quality control.)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


If you've read enough of my rants on here, you know that I really don't like finish sanding. It's messy, noisy (if you use machines), tedious, and above all it simply doesn't give me a good enough result. 

(The above statement is how I feel about it, but I will admit that sometimes I'm pleased with both process and result: sitting outdoors with my cordless sander, a dust mask and some fine grit paper ain't too bad. And some parts of the neck I shape partly with coarse paper.)

But what to do with scratched and uneven wood if finish sanding is out of the question? You scrape. Or more precisely, you get scrapers and sharpening stones, you watch videos online and you buy a burnisher. Then you try, fail, start over and practice. 

I'm getting better at lapping, sharpening and burnishing scrapers and as I do my results improve. 

So this morning I trimmed the overhanging bits on these resos, then I sanded a bit with the Abranet system (a handheld sanding block with a dust collecting hose) to get drops of glue and bumps I missed with the chisel and contour plane. 

Then I scraped them with these. A Bahco card scraper, a goose neck scraper, and a Carruth scraper from Stewmac. In the pic you can also see the burnisher I bought from... was it Stewmac or Lee Valley? Can't remember. I did have some regrets after buying it because I wasn't pleased with what it did, but that was me using it in a wrong way. Now when I compare the edge it gives with an edge I get with a traditional burnisher I find that it's actually better. And it's easier to use. 

But what of the results then. I don't expect it to be perfectly clear in this picture, but it's silky smooth and perfectly even. All traces from the thickness drum sander are gone (and they're usually around at delivery time for each Argapa uke). 

The species are English walnut to the right, and some highly figured Swedish ash to the left. Yes, it's the same as Jukka's and Aya's wedding uke. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Messing around with a couple of necks

I started tidying the shop to get some space for building a christmas gift to myself and my wife. But with half finished projects littering the place it's too damn easy to pick something up and continue building. 

Tonight my eyes fell upon the resos. The necks already had holes for the barrel bolts so how hard could it be just to drill for screws and tie everything together?

The first picture shows the fifth dry run. 

I had forgotten the level of engineering skills I have to fake to build these! How on earth do I choose, and then set, the proper neck angle?

I put a cone in and a cover plate on, then did some dodgy calculations. On my acoustics it's easy - I just bend the neck a bit when I glue the back on. The back always covers the heel and keeps the angle in place. The miniscule difference between the front and back edge on the upper bout is sort of masked by gouge marks and general asymmetries. 

But, back to the resos and tonights frustrations. It seems that an angle of two degrees is about right. I planed and pared away at the heels. The mahogany neck for the walnut reso was a bit brittle in the end grain so after shaping I let some CA glue soak in at the middle. I don't want that barrel bolt to come rushing out when I tighten the screw. 

The ash neck was easier, heavy and solid as a really solid thing. 

Here they are, neck angles and all. Took me 90 minutes. (I still need to clear the bench though.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Scared man's router

Here's me trimming the overhanging bits of soundboard. Others prefer a flush cut bit in a router but I'm, ahem, past that. 

The truth is I don't dare to use a router, and they create un-manageable amounts of noise and dust. Not an option in an apartment workshop. Plus they're no fun to sharpen, chisels on the orher hand... Wait, what? This blog is about ukes? Sheesh. You people. 

And here's the box so far (what's important is that you can get a glimpse of the Argapa tool shrine - never mind the pesky uke).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cutting a rosette

I have gained a bit of confidence, and an excellent tool. So I'm not as terrified of rosettes anymore. 

The cutter comes from the talented tool maker Micheal Connor in Australia. I can't say enough good things about it, or about Micheal. 

I scored two lines, flipping the cutter between them, then routed out the wood with a chisel shaped blade. Pics of the rosette later. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Press to fit

When I bend my one piece sides by hand I often get the curvature a bit aggressive at the neck end. The ends should ideally have a straight couple of centimeters but typically the preceding radius goes on. This makes it difficult to glue the neck block. 

If I shape the mating side of the block to meet the mis-shaped ends it works but then I don't get the flat spot on the outside. I aim for flat since the 12th fret is at the joint. And sanding the outside risks going through the sides. 

So, did you get all that? There will be questions afterwards. 

Straightening the ends on the hot pipe is hard because I don't get any leverage. So I sandwiched the sides between some flat scrap pieces, steel flashing and my heat blanket. After five minutes everything looked wonderfully machine made. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bridge glued on

The koa concert is soon done. I woke up quite early today and started rubbing out the finish, then I fitted the Peghed tuners, and then it was sort of just the bridge left.

Now I'm in a real hurry!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Saturday night action

After the kids had gone to bed I whipped out the shellac and muneca, the bending iron, and Robert's baritone. So look at the pics, in the first you can see the concert half way through the french polishing process. To the right in the photo you see Patsy's mahogany sides bent and put into the piccolo mould.

Second pic shows the baritone which had a loose brace end. I was going to sand the old glue away with a piece of sandpaper in the gap, but the whole brace fell out. That was so much better because I could then plane a new surface and glue it in again.

But..! What of the two latest resos that were in progress?! I know you were wondering. Look at the last photo, both tops are glued to their respective skeleton. This way of doing it saves clamps, and I really want them to move on side by side. (But maybe I just wanted to take a funny picture.)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Koa concert getting there

I think I'll make a cherry bridge to match the headstock overlay. Or maybe an ebony bridge to match the fretboard. 

Then it's just sanding, scraping and finishing! And a few other steps, of course. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fretting / fretboarding

The new clamping setup (even further improved by chucking it in a vise) was so successful and quick this time I missed the Kodak moment when the frets sunk in. But I rapped the ends down into the slots first, leaving the wire in a shallow arch over the board. This is ebony and not really a team player so with only one end in the slot the wire wanted to roll over. And I've heard that this approach forces the barbs sideways, thus securing the fret better.

Then I filed the ends off and turned to the next stage, sanding the edges. And this is a first (about bloody well time innit): I clamped the board against a piece of maple so it stayed straight. After fretting there's a backbow leading to uneven sanding results - typically the ends get more in contact with the abrasive and the edges get a curve. But never again.

I take the fretboard down to a red hair's width less than the neck. Then I can sneak up with a scraper to the neck and get a perfect fit along the edge.

Last pic, clamping with surgical tubing. And a few clamps. Wrapping minmizes slipping but I put some brads in the neck as well. Two staples from a staple gun, nip off the middle parts and you have four points to press your fretboard onto.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

New screws - glueing back with upgraded solera

I assembled the long screws with wingnuts and the extra long nuts and put them on the carriage bolts holding the supports.

Then I stared blankly at the whole setup for a while. Until I remembered some thin basswood pieces that was left over from the inserts for the solera, how fitting! I cut slots and tried them on.

The last pic shows the back being held down. I added some gobars between the strips, I'll fix a caul for the entire edge at some point. But for now, I'm really happy with this.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Neck carved, sides shaped

I put in the kerfed lining strips this morning and tonight I shaped the contour of the sides in the radius dish.

Then I carved the neck. I cut a groove in it the other day and epoxied in a carbon fibre rod as reinforcement so I can make it pretty thin.

So I carved away. And guess what I found? A bloody worm hole! But I've got my sales pitch sorted: "why would I use wood that's so bad not even the worms would eat it?"

Monday, October 14, 2013

Number 64

I got a piccolo strung up tonight, before going to an open stage night. I have some gob irons and a uke with me, but I don't know yet whether or not I'll play. I have very unpredictable nerves.

But the new piccolo turned out sweet. Like the others.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A hundred dollar screw investment

Well you never thought you'd end up here when you googled "screw" did you now. But if you're ever so little into senseless cash dispersal, this is the place for you.

Those of you who've been here a while surely remember this post from last year:

That was an attempt at facilitating glueing down the sides to the top. But since the threaded inserts I put in the solera were the work of the Devil and went in at different angles the whole concept kind of stopped at sketch level. I have used it but the other night when I worked on the koa concert I lost the last sliver of patience.

So. Since rage is the mother of invention I came up with this new setup:

1. New slightly longer carriage bolts for the moveable wooden angle supports on the solera.
2. A wingnut to secure the support to the edge of the insert (the inserts are different for each size uke I make).
3. A double length nut to get... a threaded insert! At the right place (it moves with the support) and at the right angle.
4. A long screw (sigh) with a wingnut close to the top.

You see where this is going, right? Now I can get many more screws (c'mon!) around the sides to which I can attach clamping elements. I don't know yet if these will be short or if they will go across the box as in the sketch version.

In the pic you can also see the lining I cut out from a 1 mm rubber sheet. I put this under the top to protect it when clamping sides.

Stay the hell tuned! I'm a couple of hundred hits from 100.000 visitors on this blog. Make it your startpage already.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Shaping braces on the koa concert

This is the third concert I build, without doubt the rarest of Argapa models. So there are no rules or truths yet, just me guessing and using whatever feeling or instincts I've developed during my almost five years as a hobby builder.

The pic shows the braces and bars about halfway done. I'd almost forgot my larger Ibex plane, and the wooden brace place. Both came in very handy and I can see myself avoiding some nasty cuts in the next softwood top I make - I'll just have to remember to use these planes instead of some more square ones.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Progress on some of the current builds

I have a lot on the bench. I count two resos, one concert and three piccolos. One of which is a custom model, not my standard cherry job.

Tonight's pics show:

- The braces and the bridge patch on the koa concert in the go-bar deck

- The old mahogany and the ancient spruce for mr. Monteleone's piccolo

- A reso body. It's clad with wood on the sides, and I need to trim that flush with the top and bottom. I forgot to run it through the drum sander the other night, and I never grasped the concept of flush trimming with a router. So planing it is... But maybe I'll roll out the sander again. Even if it's cumbersome and noisy.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Making a piccolo bridge

I make my one piece piccolo bridges from a length of bridge blank profile. I've made about a meter of profile two times and only have enough left for one more after this one.

In the first pic I dial in the height. I'm happy to say that this value is quite consistent now, after loads and loads of piccolos. Jigs, solera and skillz.

In the second pic I shape the compensated saddle part. With an expensive Japanese gouge. This is the feature most people mention when scrutinizing my piccolos and I believe it's crucial for intonation.

In the last pic it's more or less done, save for some scraping and maybe sanding.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Using the fretting pliers

With an extra caul I should be able to fret a piccolo neck.

The fret is cut to length and the ends are shaped.

The middle pic [is bad but] shows the pliers as I'm about to press the fret in.

And it works! I need to work a bit on the technique, but who doesn't.