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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Shaping and fitting the neck

I took an hour today and aimed at shaping the neck for the piccolo. Thise of you who's been here a while know that I enjoy neck carving immensely, and today was no exception. The cherry was unusally beautiful too, with rays and a nice chattoyance. 

First I shape the heel and the area around the nut end, so I get entry and exit points for my small contour plane / spokeshave. 

Then I do most of the shaping, trying to avoid flats or divots. A sharp tool will do what you expect of it but I had to go in different directions to handle the grain. 

The profile was cut with my large rip saw so the last bit outside the lines was planed off with a tiny violin plane. Look at that shaving!

At the heel I make a relief cut which helps as I mate the neck with the body. I sand the heel on a thick metal plate with sandpaper on it to get the joint perfect, and also the angles. 

Here's the metal plate in the background. 

With a one piece top and a one piece rim we're at a loss of centre lines, so I put low tack tape at both bouts and find the middle with a centre finding rule. 

Then it's check - sand - check centre line- sand - check angles - check centre line - sand - check joint - and then at last GLUE, DRILL, SCREW. Finish [now cold] cup of coffee. 

Here it is. Next up are back braces and then the back itself. 

Happy new year everybody, hope you stick around in 2016 even if this ain't facebook. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Chris's uke and a piccolo

This morning I put the first coats of shellac on the vise soprano. Strange piece of wood this, but it looks good and sounds really promising. 

And what here? I started on a cherry piccolo, my most common model and one I really enjoy building. I've built so many I can put them together fast and smooth. I sanded the parts last weekend, bent the sides on Tuesday night, braced the top and glued in the kerfed linings on Saturday and glued the sides to the top on Sunday. I may seem prolific at times but I spend more time cooking and doing laundry than I spend building. If only I could cut down the amount of time I waste at the office. 

And here we are tonight; on the piccolo the sides are profiled to the somewhat radical curve I like and the linings are glued around the back edge. 

The soprano then. I spent some time pumicing (but not with pumice, as avid readers of this blog know) to fill the pores, and then I put more shellac on. By now I break all the rules I've sworn by since I learned about French polishing by reading the stellar articles by the Milburn brothers. Find them at www.guitarsint.com/articles

Even though I don't follow the instructions and recipes any more I wouldn't be anywhere without those articles. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Wood inlay

Another post title I had in mind was "shit marquetry" but as I am rather pleased with the result I thought again. 

The ukulele is for my good friend Chris Davies. We have a trade economy going me and Chris; he gives me stuff and I have so far fettled his tenor uke. But as I'm in the red after he gave me a massive vise I am building a uke for him. A koa soprano that I want to make a bit personal. 

So, what better way than inlaying the fretboard. The motif was obvious, the technique not so obvious. I went with wood, and chose mahogany. The fretboard then had to be ebony so the mahogany would stand out. 

Here's the vise, a Record with quick release. I love it. 

Here's the sketch of the inlay. Overly complicated. 

Here's the wee piece after glueing insanely small pieces of wood. The joint between the handle and the screw is a half lap joint with a cut out to make it look three dimensional. I won't do this again.

Hogging out the recess with a router bit. I kept the fretboard on the moving table and turned the cranks.

After much fettling with tiny chisels it went in, and I soaked it with cyanoacrylate glues of different viscosities. 

The caul is covered with masking tape and the tape is covered with wax to stop it from getting caught in the glue. 

Then I made the slots and planed the edges to the desired profile. I won't continue to show you the fretting because I have had a spot of trouble seating the frets. Ebony is tough but it will be ok with a bit more work. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Strung up, tuned and ready

The only thing left is punching in the serial numbers. I never do that until they're done and through quality control. (Which involves some mind-numbing noodling across C-F-G7 and a bit of droning under a blues scale. You'll see in the vid.)

You can also see my square section tuning fork, when I found it it was tuned to 432 Hz. So I filed it off a bit raising it to 440. 

Tony's inlay, Slayer-esque. They're playing tonight, in bloody Gothenburg. Would you believe it, skipping Stockholm when I haven't seen them in 18 months. 

Paul's birds. Sailor Jerry-esque. 

Mary Agnes's unicorn. Grot-esque. 

I kept the headstock ends rough, and Paul gets a ding from the sawmill as well. I hope no-one minds, I like keeping spots imperfect but maybe I'm the only one?

Sunday, November 29, 2015


On the 31 of May this year, I made a stringholder and regretted I didn't show the process. And knowing you lot you've hardly slept since. But finally we'll get closure on that troublesome matter because here is a post thick with pics, tips and a glue never before seen on an Argapa. 

First I made three wee blanks of two bits of wood. One is Ipe, one is Jatoba and both are samples that came to my office. The Jatoba is from the same piece as the fretboard of my old number one soprano. 

I cut the rabbets on the table saw since it was up and running, usually I make cuts like this with a tiny plane. 

And that tiny plane was still used to clean the rabbets up a bit. It's from Veritas' miniature series and it works great. 

From the same series comes this spokeshave, here I use it to make the bottom of the stringholder concave to match the cover plate. 

Like so. It fits but it slides around like crazy and I got a great idea for drilling the mounting holes from below. 

Look! A glue gun with melt glue. Two dabs keeps it steady, if not rock solid. 

Drilling with my Proxxon and a depth stop on the drill bit. Two holes as far apart as possible in the outer holes. 

After removing the stringholder I drilled holes for the strings, stearing clear of the screw holes. 

And this it what it looks like. Using counter sunk (and cut) screws against flat metal is of course unclean but in this case it helps to keep the stringholder in place when the screws go in. 

And there you have it - three stringholders on the cover plates, which are loosely placed on the ukes. 

And Mary Agnes - I gave your unicorn a black eye. And it's coming for you. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Would ya believe it...

Back from 'Nam, fortunately not in a body bag, I am determined to finish these three resos and ship them in time for christmas. This morning, after catching up on the severly messed up sleep, I polished the shellac with Liberon burnishing cream, put side markers on two of the ukes, and laid out all the screw holes for the cover plates. 

Here's me drilling holes. 

And a close up to bring the number of pics up. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Here they are, the three resos. And a mandobird on which is slapped a tenor guitar neck. That neck has cost me some time away from the resos, but this weekend I thought I could finish the French polishing process. The first layers were applied with a goat hair brush and levelled with scrapers and steel wool. So it was the glaze coats that remained, I thought. 

Here's me doing magic circles with the magic pad. Do not try to understand the process. 

It went quite well, but I have to do some wet sanding before the final final glaze coats are perfect. This puts the completion date a bit further into the future I'm afraid since I have to go to Vietnam the week after next. But I can't hide behind the bad boy image all the time, I want these three to look really good. 

And there are a few other small things to do. Here I'm rounding the fret ends with a small file to make them smooth. 

I'll try to do that wet sanding tomorrow, I promise. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Drilling for tuners

Sorry for not posting any updates for such a long time, you must be starved of my Swemerican musings and tool pics. The fretboards are fretted and glued onto the necks so it's time to consider the tuners. 

In the first pic you can see the tuners I use on the already heavy resonator ukes, and the one on the right is dismantled to show the parts. The post (at the top) needs a 5 mm hole and the bushing (second from top) needs a hole just under 8 mm. It should be a press fit so an 8 mm hole won't do and a 7.5 mm will be to small. 

But the post goes through the bushing of course so we need a counterbored, or stepped, hole. This is fiddly to do with drill bits so I bought a few new tools. 

A couple of step drills and two different countersink drills. They're a bit rough but they will do. 

Measuring all the parts of the different drill bits I found that one of them was a combo of a 5 mm brad point drill, and... (wait for it)... a countersink of just under 8 mm! What luck. Although I was hoping that one of the yellow Devo hat looking ones would fit the bill, they're so much better looking. 

Onwards with my favourite drill. 

First hole sorted. No depth stop needed since the countersink doesn't grab and pull itself down. 

But aiming with the cast iron drill isn't easy so I dug out the drill guide I never use, and made 5 mm pilot holes with the cordless drill. Then I used the countersink thingie and all holes turned out perfect. 

But why do we need the holes already? Easy - without holes I can't hang the ukes to dry when I put the finish on. Wait, finish? Really? Where are the pics of that, I hear you ask. Or is it the voices in my head...

The first layers are drying, and I will show you in a bit. Stay tuned, as they say, for more rock'n'roll. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fretboards slotted and trimmed to size

But most importantly, each have landed on a ukulele. The one on Paul's uke will get some fretmarkers, and all of them will get side dots. And frets. But this morning, this is how they look. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Inlays on fretboards

My pal Tony is a kind and cheerful man. He asked for the Swedish word for Joy inlaid in his fretboard. Offsetting the uke's reputation of being a happy instrument, I made a design inspired by my favourite band. I routed thin lines with my Proxxon router table, turning the board so I only needed to turn one crank for every line. 

And you have listened to Slayer's new album, right? Repentless is their best in many years, and a bloody good one. Buy it, or... well repent. 

Here it is. Slightly runic too. The diagonal lines will save it from being mauled by the frets. 

And another one, the end result of which will be a secret. I'm carving a piece of maple with one of my new chisels, the "perfect pattern" chisels from Lee Valley. 

Routing the cavity with my miniature router plane (also Lee Valley / Veritas).

And here I'm notching two minuscule pieces of ebony to make a half lapped joint. Finger is included to give a sense of scale. 

The tiny cross is assembled and I shave it down before inlaying it. Stay tuned, folks!