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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

More Fugly Travellers

I’m away on a work trip right now but wanted to share a few pics from last week. I started shaping the neck on the first of the walnut travel ukes. No jig is necessary because of the body ’shape’. 

I finally got me a Shinto saw rasp. Incredibly efficient and the smooth surface it leaves behind belies the aggressive wood removal. But I mostly used the spokeshaves that I’m so used to. 

I slot the neck with the piccolo jig, using it in the same way. But on the piccolos the 12th fret is at the body joint, on this uke I look more at the space at the nut end, getting it long enough. The bridge placement is less of an issue on these. 

I prepare the first fret end, filing off the tang at an angle and shaping the end to a parabolical shape. 

Then I measure it, doubling the distance I want at the edges at one end and cutting it flush at the other side. 

Then I take care of the newly cut end, careful not to shorten it too much. I always start at the 12th because if a fret gets too short I just use it in the next slot toward the nut. (I made a few ukes before coming up with this idea and wasted many frets.)

And then I place it in the slot, trying to get equal distance to the edge at both sides, and press it in with my Stewmac Ripoff fret press. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Li’s soprano finished

We decided it was shiny enough but way too quiet. Time for bone bits and fishing line!

First pic is me getting the height of the saddle dialled in. A 3 mm drill bit at the 12th fret gets it there, along with a Hultafors wooden rule. 

Then laying out string positions and string holes through the bridge. Divider by Ken Timms, natch. 

Filing the saddle for compensation. Vise from Stewmac. 

I had a set of Wittner fine tuning ukulele pegs to try out, that I got as a promo gift from Wittner. I decided to spoil my daughter with them. They have no thread like Pegheds, just a press fit taper. My reamer from Metmusic had the exact taper. 

And here they are. The mahogany grabbed them fine, so I went without glue. I was considering Titebond, not CA. I really like the Wittners. The thread on Pegheds can be tough to fit - ream too much and it won’t grab, ream too little and you’ll be forced to grab the peg with pliers to turn them, and the pliers can easily crush the thin wall of the peg. [Don’t] ask me how I know. 

Note the scruffy side of the headstock. That is intentional. Li often teases me for my scruffy sideburns and I wanted her to have a uke that is similar to me. 

And here she is. My wonderful daughter. I am so proud to be her dad. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

A quick update on the polishing

Too much going on at the day job I’m afraid, but every other day I put on a coat or two of shellac. Soon that’ll be done and I’ll move on to saddle, nut and tuners. 

The rolls in the background are paper pots to grow plants in. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Finishing Li’s uke

I got sidetracked fixing the last details on my wahwah bass*. But now it’s time to make progress and wrap this one up. I spent an awful half hour yesterday sanding this with my Festool ROS and today I grabbed a bottle of shellac. 

I can’t help it, I take this pic every time I start shellacing an instrument. The grain pops and I let out a sigh of relief - only the rest left!

*leave a comment if you want to see that monstrosity. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Travel ukes, a new way

I made a jig for laying out the contour of a travel uke a while back. Now I have some pieces of walnut that want to be turned into ukes. One of the ideas behind the jig is to make the hole and recess first, while there is still a lot of wood surrounding it. If I cut the outline first the endgrain by the but is very fragile. 

So the jig is made from two parts, one is for laying out the hole. 

And this is something you don’t see often in the dungeön, me testing on scrap!! I tell others to do that but rately can I be arsed to follow my own advice. I drill using a drill stand, lacking a drill press in my home workshop. 

Once the depth is dialled in I go for the real piece. The drill is modified to leave a smooth bottom in each hole, I shortened the brad point and the spurs. 

I roughed in the upper edges of the hole, screwed the jig back together and pressed the small part into the hole. Then I can scribe around the large part to get the outline of the instrument-to-be. 

And here’s the router plane smoothing out the bottom, and making it deeper in small increments. My thought is to get the hole nice looking then thinning the soundboard with a smoothing plane from the front face. 

At this moment the thickness was 2.3 mm, I went to around 1.8 in the end. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The bridge for Li’s soprano

The work is slow but steady, as always. I had a spot of trouble when I fractured my kneecap and lost some momentum, but some stuff I’ve managed to do. 

Grabbing a chunk of mesquite, I hogged off a piece for the bridge. 

After making two sides parallel I planed a face flat. Mesquite is quite tough so some light oil on the sole of the plane really helps. 

And as I have on a few bridges recently, I cut the saddle slot with a handsaw rather than my small table saw. Less setup, less noise. 

I saw two cuts and clean out the waste with a narrow chisel, it’s ground as a mortise chisel with flat sides. 

After a wee bit of fiddling the bone saddle slides in. You want to cut the slot before final shaping of the bridge, it’s much easier to make the edges parallel to the slot than making the slot parallel to the edges. If you work with hand tools. 


Laying out, masking, marking, drilling, clamping. (Of course after making sure the bottom matches the radiused soundboard.)

I secured it with a guitar string I had on the bench, just to stop it sliding around in the glue. 

And clamping. I get the wedges out to control the pressure, checking all edges for squeeze out. It’s not perfectly straight forward, clamping something with as many angles and facets as this. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

An amp in between ukes

Hiya, sorry for not posting in a while. I hurt my knee and lost, well, the spring in my step. But I have made some stuff in the shop. I bought the amp part for an old guitar combo amp for very small money, and needed a caninet for it. Luckily I had some boards at hand. 

I went at them with a number 4 1/2 plane with a heavily cambered iron, as on a proper scrub plane. Going across the grain is super fast. 

Then I cleaned up all the ends with the shooting board and my number 5 Record plane, which is upgraded with a Hock iron. 

The the really fun part, dovetailing all the corners. I used the exaggerated 14 degree joint but I think I’ll work with a lesser angle next time. 

I glued a 5 mm mdf board to a 4 mm plywood to give the front some rigidity. 

And here’s a shot of me cleaning up the joints with my Veritas apron plane. 

I took some 7x7 mm strips and stuck them together with brown paper tape, so they stayes together while I scored, sawed and chiseled out down to the middle. The aim of course was to make a half lapped lattice. 

And here it is after putting the amp and speaker in. The really cool thing about it is it sounds great, both on clean and overdrive settings. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Back braces and back

I made the back braces from some old spruce wood, salvaged from a loom. Planing in the nut and saddle vise from Stewmac, a great vise for this but I have to watch out so I don’t hit the jaws with the plane iron. 

Then I notch the kerfed lining to accept the braces. I use a Japanese modeller’s saw with very fine teeth. 

And I clamp them with my tiny Japanese brass clamps. 

The whole assembly goes into the radius dish, but of course the braces were roughly shaped before glueing. 

The back seam is reinforced with a strip of cedar, glued across the joint. Really fiddly to keep the strip straight, I ended up paring it straight[er] after the glue had dried. I want a chamfer anyway and I have really sharp chisels. 

The back is prepped with small guide blocks and the cross banding strip is notched for the braces. 

And it is glued in place with screw clamps, a caul, strips of wood and a few go-bars. Not much left now!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

New neck joint

Inspired by an exchange of posts at the ukulele underground forum, I decided to try a new neck joint. Hence the title of this post. One colleague described his method of screwing a hanger bolt into the heel and securing it with a nut inside the uke. A hanger bolt is straight and has a machine thread halfway and a wood thread at the other end. Some call it a lag bolt. 

To get the wood screw thread to hold in the end grain of the neck it’s wise to glue a dowel in. I chose an 8 mm beech dowel. Also I hadn’t a hanger bolt so I took two wood screws. 

I made a shallow slot to let excess glue come out, and the dowel went all the way down. 

Most steps were of course the same as always, here’s me relieving the face of the heel. Much easier to get a good match to the body this way even if most of the relief disappears in the next step...

... which is this. Draghing the body and the neck on the sanding plate, constantly checking the angles and the match between the surfaces. 

I fine tune the alignment with a strip of perspex with a scribed line. Aiming at good enough helps me reach perfect. 

I was going to set the uke on the solera to clamp it down but couldn’t be arsed, so I held it in an iron grip and drilled with my Proxxon and its angle attachment. I put one screw in place before drilling the second hole though so wasn’t overly reckless. 

And then it was done. A bit less stressful than drilling for the barrel bolt so I might use this method more in the future. It felt good to try on a uke that won’t leave the house in a while, it’s Li’s as you know.