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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy new year!

It's been a very good year, for me and for Argapa ukuleles. 

To send you off until we meet in January, here's a pic of some scraps going up in smoke tonight. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Resonator assembly

Well I do have a lot to show today. Now it's time for the backs to go onto the resos. 

I took a few minutes to superglue some tiny bits of kerfed lining around the perimeter of the bodies, to stop the backs from sliding around in the glue. I haven't done this in ages but it is very good practice to do it. 

Then spread the glue. I'm using my finger though sometimes I use a tiny rubber roller. 

After both have glue I sandwich them together with a thick piece of foam between. 

The foam will even out and distribute the pressure. The nice thing about resos is they're flat and so sturdy - they can handle some serious clamping. 

I even rememered to clean up some squeeze out from the insides. I'm not bothered by a little glue but I know others are. So I thought why not. 

Pore filling with chalk

I gave up looking for finely ground pumice and settled for chalk. I did some experiments recently on the walnut tenor (which sadly seems to be lost in transit near Ipswich) and now I'm turning my attention to the little koa soprano I'm making. 

It had two wash coats of amber shellac a few days back, enough for me to see the pores. I was a bit braver than last time, I simply used the muneca almost dry to smear the chalk out. 

As you can see the back turned dull and greyish. I kept rubbing for a while, using the chalk as an abrasive. Then when I had chalk powder in the pores I brushed off the edges (where a lot of powder had gathered) and loaded the muneca with shellac. 

And wiped down the back. Then I did the sides and the top. Much trickier, the sides are curved and the top has both the bridge and the fingerboard extension blocking the way. But here's a pic of the back. I might repeat the process but actually most of the pores seem to be filled already. 

Piccolos, bending sides

I've got a bit too much to post so I'd better get started. I have had two inquiries for piccolos and since it was a while since I made any of my stock model I accepted them as orders. 

I have loads of good cherry wood, some of which I resawed by hand this summer. Last week I sanded it all down to thickness in the drum sander, remember this is my stock model not zero sanding specials. 

And then I bent the sides. First I mark out the crucial points on the pieces, then soaked them quickly under the tap. 

And away I bent. This was the first one. On the second I bent both waist bends first, then the lower bout and the upper last. That was easier to get symmetrical. 

The sides relax in the mold for a couple of days. 

And this morning they got their neck blocks. I don't use end blocks on these. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Resonators for Phil and Phil

Yesterday I cut the holes using my fab cutter made by Micheal Connor. I tried to cut the large one to the exact size and to make the small soundports complete with the mesh before glueing the tops to the skeletons. It's pisible to cut the all afterwards but it is cumbersome. 

Here they are, after glueing the mesh. 

To prevent slipping after putting the glue on I taped the tops down, aiming to keep the large hole exactly over the soundwell. 

And here's the clamp burger, taking care of both bodies at once. My antique bookpress is a better choice, but it's at my summer house. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

More easily made inlays

Working with the resonator for my mate Philly-Phil, and he wanted an inlay on the fretboard. Luckily, I had the exact font to use. 

First pic is of the paper, stuck on the board with double stick tape. 

I cut the letters out and fired up the Proxxon router in my home made router base. 

With a 2 mm router bit I removed the bulk of the wood. Then I used tiny chisels to refine edges and corners. I had to grind an edge on one of those tiny tiny screwdrivers you use on spectacles to get all nooks. 

Then I peeled the paper and tape off...

... and here's what it looked like late in the evening. A chip out at the correct place would've made it Philty Phil, like Philty Animal Taylor. 

Out came the Milliput. Wonderful stuff. 

And this morning I could sand off the excess and it's done. It'll be a challenge to position the frets so they don't render it illegible, but it'll work. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Completed Argapas 76 and 77

Yesterday I strung the piccolo up so now I have two new ukes to show at the same time. 

I chose the quilt background to give an even more crafty impression. 

Bookmatched panels on the tenor, one piece top and back on the piccolo. 

Maple rosette, you can see the joint at four o'clock. 

The bridge on the tenor. 

The ebony bridge on the piccolo. 

But where will they end up? Ho ho ho.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Inlays, the presumed hard way

Last night I found the fretboard for the koa soprano, and started thinking about inlays. I decided to put a shardvof broken mother of pearl at the seventh fret, and in preparation for routing the cavity I glued it on with a drop of ca glue. 

Then I scored around it with a Swiss marking knife, very pointy and sharp. Like my boots. 

Then off it popped, leaving the traced line around the contour. 

But it was too late to fire up the router. Still I wanted progress. So out came the small chisel. And I made the line deeper and started digging in. 

And after five minutes and without the increase in heart rate that my router inevitably gives me, the cavity was done. The piece fitted snugly. 

Add glue, a piece of plastic and press it down!

Then this morning I drilled for 2 mm pearl dots, again without using power tools. My miniature drill works just as fast. 

I'll still have use for my Proxxon drill, but mush less. If I didn't need it with its angle attachment when I mount piccolo necks I'd put it on ebay.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Resonator sides

Do you remember the post from just after summer, where I started all those ukes at once? Well things are moving along. The concert is done, the tenor an the piccolo need only a final rubbing and bits like nuts and tuners. The koa soprano is actually well under way and also spoken for. 

But what of those resos. It's a wee bit annoying; I have gotten so much praise for them and so many enquiries from people who saw or heard one. Yet I build them sort of reluctantly. Get me right, I love how they turn out and I'm awfully proud of them. The truth is they sound a lot better than most resos. But I depend heavily on the hardware that I have to import, and that's both expensive and cumbersome. 

And then it's my method of building them, an improvised way from the start but one I don't dare to stray from now. Building the skeletons take forever. 

But the worst task is bending a one piece rim to a snug fit around the skeleton! Drives me mad. I also make two piece bookmatched sides but today was one of each. 

First out was the one piece rim, of mahogany. I can't remember sanding this piece but today I found it was on the thick side of ideal. 

It took me two hours! Then I clamped it using no fewer than 666 clamps. 

Then I turned to the two pieces of ash for the other one. They bent easier than masking tape. Took me all of five minutes to bend both. I put brown paper tape at the joint and did a dry run, which you can see in the pic. 

Last pic is of the koa soprano, top and bottom cut flush to the sides, then the whoke assembly was sanded and scraped. I remember slotting the fretboard for this one. Hopefully I can find it. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Videos of number 75, and a few others

I sat down yesterday and made a demo of the recently finished koa concert, number 75.

And then later I grabbed a few more ukes and made this:

They might go in and out of tune but hopefully you can hear the differences, which were quite big at least in the sofa. My boy Johan was very excited and I might start using his newly fangled words next time I describe differences in sound!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


The koa concert needs either the final "glaze coat", which so far has proven to be very difficult. Or a buffing with some polish compound. I might settle for the latter, that at least I know how to pull off. 

The walnut tenor and the mahogany piccolo (sod secrecy; here it is) are sealed, almost pore filled and ready for some more shellac. I could do another session of pore filling but have yet to decide exactly what I'm aiming at with these two. Semi-filled pores might be just right. 

Here's the concert. Rather cool figure. 

I gave the piccolo and the tenor a few more coats. It's starting to build up nicely. I'll let it shrink back a couple of days, then scrape it with a card scraper and start the french polishing work. Up until now I have avoided oil, but will use it from now on. I use walnut oil instead of olive oil, my experience is better with the aforementioned. If I understand it correctly, it dries together with the shellac and gives a tougher finish. Be that as it may, I don't have to wipe any excess off between coats. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Workshop glimpse, early November

Oops, we're in November already and October didn't see much action on this blog. Sorry about that, especially since I keep referring prospective buyers here. 

The explanation (which is not an excuse) is I've been abroad in work and then I spent a wonderful week's vacation at the summer house. But the project there is building a sauna at the moment. 

But things do tend to happen in the Argapa cave even if I don't publish enough. So tonight I'll show you some pics of the concert and of the bridge to the walnut tenor. 

The koa concert is on the home stretch. I've given it its wash and build coats of shellac and scraped it back. My new method of doing these coats cut a week from finishing, at least. 

Then some pics of that bridge. I showed you the one I made for the concert, this will have wings but I chose the same wood and the same tools. I considered ebony but that's so hard to plane and carve. And I thought this bridge would go nicely to the headplate veneer. 

The only machining I did was cutting the slanted saddle slot on my mini table saw, before and after that it was only edge tools. No sandpaper or even files. 

In this first pic you can see how I chisel away the end to make a wing. On the first end the grain direction was helping me, on the other end it was really tricky. 

Here you can see the wing after paring for a few minutes. 

The other end done, and a couple of facets. 

Two curves snuck into the design while nobody was watching. 

I love freehand carving. Never will I settle for a bridge design and crank out twenty at the time, it's so much more fun to let them grow into shape depending on the piece of wood and my mood. 

I think the walnut shows some promise, don't you?

(What I haven't shown is the custom piccolo. It's taking shape but it's gonna be a surprise for someone. Anyway it got its fretboard glued today.)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Bridge shaping

I found a piece of really hard mahogany which will make a good bridge. I shaped it with nothing but a chisel and my Leslie Nielsen no.1 plane. Both razor sharp. 

A dry fit, or more exactly; the bridge lying on top of the soundboard. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Improved fretting

Fretting time! On the koa concert. I've decided to try a method reminiscent of the one I use on the piccolos, which are fretted directly into the neck. 

On ukes with fretboards, I've done it like this: http://argapa.blogspot.se/2013/10/fretting-fretboarding.html

I've cramped the fretwire into the fretboard before cutting it to length, then snipped it off with pliers before filing and sanding the ends flush with the board. It works well enough but I want to minimize the risk of protruding fret ends if the fretboard dries out. 

Since it isn't possible to file and sand the frets on the piccolos I undercut the tang and shape the ends before pressing them in, and it's the undercutting I'm going to do on this fretboard. 

Here you can see what I rant about. The tang is cut at a 45 degree angle. 

To get the length right I measure it at the slot. Always start with the longest ones; if you make them too short just move it a step or two closer to the nut end. As you can see that happened on the first fret tonight, that's why there's a seated one in the 14th slot while I'm working on the 15th. 

Give one end a tap with the hammer. I use a brass hammer on which I file and polish the face regularly. 

Then I use my lowlife cheapo fretting pliers. You can see it in more detail here:

I start at one end and work my way across. It works really well, at least well enough for me to forget about the upgrades between the occasions it's used. 

In the last pic the whole board is fretted and lies on the neck. The slight backbow disappears when it's glued on. 

I will show the file work in a later post, on this fretboard or on another.