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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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Posting pics of hardening finish is a practice best avoided (see "watching paint dry"), but that is what is happening in the shop right now. The shellac has been put on, left to dry, flattened and final polishing is under way. 

Meanwhile I'm making stringholders for the cover plates. 

I chose a piece of mahogany (or possibly that other wood, sapele) and ripped a long piece on the small table saw. This will be enough for all six of them. 

The rabbet for the knots and the slope at the front edge were also made on the saw and cleaned up with small planes. The wood has a quite lively grain but planes nicely, getting a very smooth and hard surface. 

Not much left now. No deliveries before christmas but early next year. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sander is here

Super short post, but I want you to know I'm alive. My Festool sander got here and I've started to flatten the shellac finish on the seven ukes. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

More waiting, and distractions

I bit the bullet and bought a new random orbital sander. The idea of sanding the finish on these seven ukes was too much to bear so I ordered it earlier this week. But DHL tried to deliver it at noon on Friday so naturally I missed it. I'll try to change delivery address to the office.

So, this weekend won't go down in history as the great flattening and polishing weekend. Instead it might go down as the not so great bass restoration weekend. But first let me show you some ukes. 

Argapa 100, destined to be the odd child of every schoolyard it dares to tread. A taropatch soprano, who'd've thunk it? I'm rather pleased with the fret markers as I'm sure you are as well. Double strings slightly out of sync. 

And here they all are, with a rather heavy coat of shellac. I slathered it on with a brush so more a spirit varnish than polishing this time. You get why I need that sander. 

But the sander isn't here so I turned to my short scale Teisco bass. I will swap tuners, electronics and the pickup. I already did a re-fret job and made a new pick guard. And changed the bridge. So it's not much left of the original (it was already heavily altered when I bought it).

Here's the back of the headstock. I filled some screw holes. 

And I read in Dan Erlewine's book on guitar repair: "... guitar electronics is one area of repair where a novice usually doesn't do much damage." Those are good news since I'm a bit of an amateur when it comes to soldering and stuff, but look at the state of it now. It can't get any worse. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Finish prep

The last couple of weeks have been thick with dust. After sanding all seven ukes with the Abranet sanding block I told you about I have used the rolling pin sander to get at the waist areas, and after that I went over all of them with a random orbital sander that begs to be replaced by a better model. But it works, sort of. This is when I round over the edges on the body, and I take care of any knife marks left on the neck. 

So today I drilled pilot holes for the tuner holes and ground some blonde shellac flakes for one of the maple bodies. For the rest I'll use some darker shellac but this one is requested as blonde as possible. We'll see what happens. 

The grinder is some small herb chopper but cuts the flakes as if it was meant for it. 

I had to make a few extra hooks, and checked that they all hang freely. Wouldn't want to stand around with a wet uke in one hand and have to fabricate a hanger with the other... again. 

And then, the payoff. Walnut especially can look quite dull after scraping and sanding, so I had to take this pic. It's alive!*

*Also the title of one of the best live albums ever. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Tedious work being done

I apologize in advance for what will be a very boring post. But I'm going through the grits and I'm still working on all six resos in parallel. So we will be here a while yet. I promise there will be a pic of all six fretboard ends at the bottom though, not that you can't go straight for it right now.  

First I trim the overhang on all of them, with my 1 3/4" chisel, a carving knife and a few other tools. 

Here's one of the small spokeshaves I got from Lee Valley. Not bad but the walnut wasn't really cooperating. 

Then after trimming them I started sanding with my Mirka abranet sanding block. It's got a hose at the back so the dust gets out of my face. 

45 minutes and two are done to a certain level. I'll do a couple at the time before whipping out the rolling pin sander. That hasn't any dust extraction so I usually use it sitting on the balcony. 

I warned you it was going to be a boring post! 

But if you're still with me, here's the picture of the gang with all the different fretboard end shapes. Well two of them do look a bit like each other, I see that now. 

And despite moaning about this part of the process, I'm quite happy that I've managed to get this far with the whole batch. Can't wait to start shipping them out though, my economy is in shambles and I really want to get on with some other projects. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


I'm draw filing the edges and fret ends. Once they're straight and flush I check against the neck where it belongs. I want it exact or a smidge narrower than the neck so I can scrape the neck back to the fretboard. 

This time I don't bevel the fret ends before glueing, I want to use my new fret end bevelling file. 

Holding it in place I trace an end shape. This is the classic Argapa reso fretboard end shape, but strangely enough I haven't used it in a while. 

Sawing it out with my Knew concepts saw, then refining the cuts with a Bahco file. 

But what's this? A staple? Yes. I put teo of them into the neck and cut them off. The pointy ends will stop the fretboard from sliding around in the glue. It's important to press the board down so the brads go into the wood before you add the glue. 

And this is after clamping the fretboard down with the rubber hose, a slotted maple caul, a few clamps and a wedge at the nut end. 

But what of the rest of the batch? Don't worry, they're all done already. I'll show you the different end shapes next time. 

A lot of scraping and sanding is next. Woo bloody hoo... sanding. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Improved fretpress

Time to try the new brass caul I made! The lower jaw has its wobbly foot partially secured by a piece of leather jammed between it and the arm of the jaw, so the flat wooden caul won't play any tricks on me. Awkward sentence that. 

Anyway, after running the triangular needle file in each slot, I hold the whole piece of fretwire in the now widened slot and aim with the brass caul. 

And squish, in it goes. Much easier and with more control than with my old wooden caul. Getting rid of the wobbliness plays a big part here (see the awkward sentence in the first paragraph).

Seated perfectly in its entire length. 

This pic is an attempt to show how the light reflects evenly on all frets [of the next fretboard]. I don't expect I'll have to use the levelling edge of my new dual purpose fretfile on these. 

And this is to get rid of the backbow that we get after pressing in all the frets. 

Only three more boards to fret and we're getting closer to the last steps; levelling fret ends, glueing fretboard, final trimming the overhanging bits of tops and backs, sanding, sanding, sanding, drilling for tuners, finishing (a project in itself everytime), making the stringholder, secret Argapa setup step, fitting the hardware, making the nut, compensating the bridge, attaching the biscuit to the cone, final assembly, stringing up, lowering the action, stamping the Argapa logo and number. Times six. With Argapa 100 chucked in between. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tool making

I promised myself I'd kit up before fretting the next time. Trouble is specialist tools are hard to buy. They're reasonably priced in the US but the postage, customs and VAT charges, and worst of all the postal service's own charge add up until you hate people you never met. 

So I thought I'd build my own tools for seating frets and filing them. 

First task was sawing some brass into a suitable lump. 

I made the cut face flat on the sanding plate. Nasty business this metal work, not at all like wood. 

Then more sawing. A few drops of oil helped the blade. 

Then cutting a slot (with a dull blade). 

And here it is, more or less done. I'll try it in a few days. 

Tool number two is a dual purpose fret file. The file was a Husqvarna for chain saws, made in Germany. 

I planed the block flat and square, and one edge to 30 degrees, and put magnets into the edges. 

Here it is, the edge for levelling frets...

... and the edge for bevelling the fret ends to 30 degrees. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Back at work, slotting fretboards

Got home from South America with a cold, and that is a drag. I've been well for over a year and forgotten what it feels like. Now I know; it feels like shit. 

But I won't let that stop me. I slotted all seven fretboards. 

First I made one of the edges perfectly straight with a Record no.5 plane. 

Look at the shaving. Then I put the slotting template on with double stick tape and ran the boards over the narrow blade in the crosscut jig. 

The jig has two rails registering on either side of the table of the, erm, table saw. 

And here we are. I'm very pleased with how the slots came out on Brian's heavily inlaid fretboard, it's easy to mess the letters up with the frets. 

I'll proceed with fretting next, but need to make a couple of tools first. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Inlay progress, at least some

I read, just the other day, a thread about inlays on a forum concerning ukulele building. One of the posters mentioned all pearl bits should be oriented in such a way they all flash at once when light hits the instrument. 


I'll find some comfort in the fact this fretboard will flash all the time since the pearl bits are oriented in one way each. And that's a good thing right, a flashy uke. 

(I did try to make the letters as one piece jobs but quickly gave up.)

Now I have gathered some speed and experience so here's how I do it. First a rough trace of the piece needed. In this case with two curves I'll make the inner one first. 

Starting with the saw, it doesn't show in the pic but it's a great saw from Knew Concepts. I need to find better blades for it though. 

When the piece is sort of finished some adjustments are made to the cavity. I use my smallest chisels and even one I made from a miniature screwdriver. 

When the piece goes into the cavity without too much force I add the glue. This glue is medium viscosity but it's still thin enough to wick its way around and under the pearl piece. 

And the wooden inlay for Kris, compared to working with pearl it's a piece of cake. 

Next week I'll be in South America so I'll make an effort to do more on this tomorrow. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The slowness of something very very slow

Sorry Mike, Andy, John and Mysterious client buying for the wife - I'm about to slit some fretboards but really need to finish inlaying two of them. Takes forever. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Back glued on Argapa 100

After fitting the back braces to the sides I grind away at the body with my radius dish. It looks rather threatening compared to the tiny uke shell, but its weight really helps. 

Then, with a suitable insert undee the neck at the nut end, I get screws and cauls out. 

Then clamping the back down with the screws and wingnuts. Now would be a great time to link to the posts with the radius dish and the screw system, and I'll try to do that on the computer later. 

Since my solera is by the wall I check for an even squeeze out with a mirror. It looked perfect. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Backs are on

Glueing the backs is easy. I just pare the heel down so it's flush with the body on two of the resos, then use them as clamping cauls for each other. I had a layer of fleece fabric as padding between the backs, and sent a thought of thanks to the me who wrote "B, INSIDE" on the backs so I knew which went where. 

A monster not with two backs, but two faces. A Janus uke, anyone? 

And then the excess trimmed off on the small bandsaw, carefully so I didn't saw the neck off. 

Hhe batch is still moving in unison as we close in on the fretboards.