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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Another zero sanding piccolo

I had yet another request for a cherry piccolo, by someone who promised to play tango music on it. How could I say no. I couldn’t, and thought it’d be nice to bring it to MUMF in May, finished or half finished. 

The pieces I had kicking about were very uneven both in shape and in thickness. So I set out with scrub plane, jack plane and a few more planes. The jack plane has a new replacement iron from Hock and cut just beautifully. Of course it made me want to do this zero sanding style. 

It’s tricky to clamp the piece down so I used my planing board with stopping strips at two edges. 

I shot for 1.6 mm thickness. When it’s this thin it may want to buckle and crack so I put a lot of my albeit wee body weight on the plane. 

Then I marked out the contours for the front and back. A transparent template makes it easy to line it up with the grain direction. The outer line is drawn with a washer, offsetting the mark an exact distance all around. 

Then the long piece for the rim. This is even more difficult, you can only clamp the back end or it will buckle and shatter. I had to use a small block plane to get at the spots where the clamp was, going almost against the grain. 

But it was a success, 1.6 - 1.7 mm over the entire length and a surface almost as hard and shiny as a piece of glass. So I bent the rim on the iron and put it in the mould. 

Then after the rim had sat for a couple of days I reversed two clamps to spreader clamps and forced open the slot at the top of the mould, enough to get a saw in to cut the rim to length. 

I grabbed an offcut from the travel uke and ripped it to get an end block. I need to set the teeth of this saw, it tends to bind in the kerf. 

My wee bench hook is great for cutting and squaring small parts. Here I use it as a shooting board to plane the ends of the block. 

And here it is, glued and clamped in place. Now I’ll take a break to do some shopping, pack a bag and go to Africa for a few days. Day job is still painfully necessary. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Update on a couple of projects

When did I last show you the mahogany piccolo? It must have been when I carved the neck. Let’s catch up, even though I think it was visible in the background on a few pics last week when I worked on the travel uke. 

First pic shows the neck attached, the rim profiled, the lining strips glued in and the same strips sanded flush with the rim. 

Then the back braces were installed while the uke was on the solera. The braces have a gentle curve, which together with the more aggressive lengthwise curve of the body gives the back some compound geometry thingie going on. 

Slotting the neck and fretting was done together with the travel uke, and in the exact same way. 

Then I made a bridge and glued it on. This was a couple of days ago, meaning...

... we have the first coats of shellac on! I think it’ll be a fine instrument. 

 A few pics of the reso then. Since last time I have received information from a reliable source, it’s not cocobolo - it’s ziricote. Please forgive me for spreading fake news on the internet, and well spotted Mikael. 

Anyway, I put on a faceplate and a fretboard of the same wood. I think it looks really cool. Ziricote is hard to work and tough on tools so almost every step is a bit of a struggle. But we’re getting there. 

I tried using a scraper but it skidded around, just burnishing the wood. So out came the Festo ROS. When I can’t avoid power tools I prefer to use the best ones. 

Hardly a surprise, but ziricote is hard to finish. The shellac dries slower than on the mahogany piccolo and I must be careful not to rush the process. It will look quite dramatic. 

I have built this to my own specs, but I do have someone in mind. If it turns out good after all the hardware is grafted onto it, I will brush off my school French and write an email to a certain guy. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Traveller mk II completed

Of course I use the regular wooden violin pegs for the traveller, but the geometry makes it a bit different. The pegs need to be both thinner and longer to work, you’ll see why in a bit. 

To get them to a consistent taper I use the peg shaper, an advanced sharpener not unlike those for pencils. In this case I went further to get them thinner too. 

And why do I need them thin then. It’s because of my reamer, to get a larger hole it would need to go further in and it can’t of course, the width of the soundbox prevents that. I could cut my reamer off but don’t want to mess with an expensive tool. 

Here they are, the pegs. Before I cut them to length. To the right is the carbon fibre tube that guides the strings. It’s not perfectly perpendicular to the sides. I guess it’s true then, only Allah can achieve perfection. 

Here it is next to the OG, number 102. This new one is number 105, I really should pick up the pace. You can see the extra bit at the nut end, it really does help and makes it a lit easier to play first position chords (which means playing at all in my case).

And from the back. If I ever build another I will make the recess first, then cut the board to length and width. I must remember that. 

As it wasn’t ever touched with sandpaper I included the code ZS for zero sanding. This uke will be for sale at or after MUMF in May. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Travel uke mk II, cont.

Worked on two different ukes in parallel yesterday, but will again limit the blogging to just the travel uke. 

First pic shows the carved neck. It was very different to carve one without heel and headstock; and not easier. For some reason the end was hard to get straight so I was glad I hadn’t cut it to length before carving. And I decided to keep it as a zero sanding project, all surfaces shaped with blades.

... which of course made it hard to finish the surfaces on the inside. But scrapers got me quite close. The soundboard ended up being 1.5 - 1.7 mm. 

Then I cut the neck to length. Keeping a few centimeters above the zero fret was my main incentive for building this, so I hope I kept enough. 

Carving the end grain with a sharp knife gives it a glassy surface I’d never get with sandpaper. Others might of course, I just never developed the patience needed for going through the grits up to several thousands. 

Here I’m cutting off the aris along the neck edge with another knife, leaving a minute chamfer. The difference is hardly seen but instantly felt. 

Then sawing the fret slots. This is where I worked on another piccolo as well, and I took some pics of installing the fret markers on that. But that’ll be in another post. 

Looking at the thin wall of end grain wood at the butt I was worried it was weak. It was too uneven to glue in a piece of veneer so I sealed the outside with shellac and poured in some superglue on the inside. Maybe it’ll help. 

Here it is, fretted. And the other uke as well, the all mahogany piccolo. I continued by planing a tiny bridge for the traveller, 5 mm high to give me 2.5 mm clearance above the 12th fret. 

The bridge and the string through holes. I lined the holes with lengths of brass tube, or shorts really. It was very very fiddly - they’re only as long as the soundboard is thick!

And the holes at the nut end, or zero fret in this case. These holes go through the neck at angles, I got three of them right and the fourth right-ish. 

To finish this one I only need to install the carbon fibre tube and the tuners, then some more shellac. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Travel uke mark II

I have quite a lot to show you*, but to keep it relatively logical I’ll limit this post to one project. A project I foolhardily started today. 

I thought I should bring my Argapa Fugly Wanderer to the MUMF do in Wales, but if all I bring are ukes in my possession that means it would be prototypes of varying degree of success. For example, as I played my travel uke the other day it was obvious it’s too short at the nut end. So wanting to show a decent travel uke in May I have no option but to build another. 

I found a slab of cherry. 

I roughed it down with my no.4 Stanley, the one I’ve set up as a scrub plane. Maybe I should widen its mouth some, and let the transmogrification be permanent. 

In the pic you can see the characteristic undulating surface the heavily cambered blade leaves. 

After smoothing it out lengthwise with a no.5 jack plane I checked the surface with some makeshift winding sticks. 

Then I ripped it to width to get the outside contour in order. 

I took the neck down to its tapering width, checking it with the fret slotting template and a ruler to see where the bridge will end up. 

Through all this I protected the upper face with cork linings in the vise. It’s too easy to mar the surface. Don’t ask me how I know. 

Then I flipped it over and started hogging out the wood that’s not supposed to be there. It went slower than I remember from last time, but I didn’t want to faff around with a drill.  

Halfway down I started thinking about a drill. Here’s my Record router plane doing its best. 

* I’m not sure I have any readers but addressing a bunch, imaginary or not, makes me feel more sane. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Carving bigger necks

I did get to spend some time in the shop this weekend, and I had company. For the two experimental builds it is time for the necks. The neck blanks we chose are of alder and I put a couple of carbon fibre rods in each. The rods are 12.5 mm or so, and the grooves I made on the mini table saw were just under 10. So my no. 4 plane which is set up as a scrub plane took them down. Nasty stuff, carbon fibre. 

Then I thicknessed the headstock by sawing down with my wee rip saw. I tried making a groove with a rasp first, to enable me planing it down with some plane, but reached for the saw. The plane just wanted to break off the edges of the headstock. 

And you’ve seen this before I think. The small plane that once was a spokeshave. It isn’t much use for anything else than this but it does this really well. 

Then Johan learned to carve a neck with spokeshaves and knives. He was really impressed by it taking so little time, and I was happy for the company and that my methods suited him. 

But that poor plane from the first pic... don’t worry, the whetstones are soaking and the iron will soon be better. In fact I have a bunch of tools in need of sharpening. Tomorrow, I hope. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Carving a wee neck

The mahogany neck blanks from the last post were measured and marked, then one of them went under the knife. The glove / mitten is kevlar re-inforced, I’m sure you remember my various mishaps with the carving knives. 

I started out by roughly carving the profile at the nut and up against the heel. 

If your knife is sharp mahogany will carve beautifully. The heel was easy. Now I had an entry and an exit point for the spokeshave and put the neck in the carving jig. 

But the work with the spokeshave was fast so no pic from then. Instead a couple of glamour shots of the almost finished neck. 

Keeping a ridge for the v-shape reveals any flats or bumps. As you can see here the transition from the heel towards the middle of the neck isn’t good enough yet, so I kept at it until it was. 

I’ll try to concentrate on building this weekend. If band practice doesn’t happen. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Real necks

No. It was a shit idea and I shouldn’t have bothered. Those cedar neck blanks with the cocobolo layer looked corny and I messed up the geometry (hey - I’m only an architect).

Luckily I was able to buy some mahogany today, for example this piece of 52 x 52 mm. It’ll be so much better. 

There is a blemish in the wood but I was able to lay out two neck blanks ahead of that. One piece nested necks. No real wiggle room between the headstocks so I put on a new blade on the bandsaw. Anything to get it to cut straight. 

I went really slow and it worked great. To give you an idea of how small this saw is I placed a 150 mm rule on the table. To save the saw and the blade from any more work tonight I decided to continue with hand saws. 

This is the short rip saw I renovated last summer. It cuts well enough but I need to use it more to get it to really shine. A bit of oil on the blade helped it today. 

And here we are, an hour later I have two crisp neck blanks. I will admit I arranged the tools for the pic, but I did use all of them. And the mock lute got its neck attached too, I forgot to take a pic of that.