Ukulele Finished!*

Sort of…

My original plan was to have a cherry sunburst finish on it, but this was held back because the shellac pigment/dye that I ordered hadn’t arrived by the time I got this far. And I wanted to play the thing! Also, there’s a bit of neatening that needs to happen on the nut and saddle. both of which are not quite right, and as a result the intonation is off on a couple of strings.

Regarding the process that got me here, I should really post here more often. Every time I stick an image on Facebook I tend to forget I should keep my progress updated here as well.

That said, this was really sort of a trial balloon project. Is this something I can actually do, and if so, can I do it well and understand all the bits and catalog all of the errors along the way. And do I want to make another?

The answer to the first and last is “Yes!” though I’m not currently sure when that will take place. I’ve left a few other projects on hold for a bit so I could finish this in reasonable time. As to the middle question, I think I have a decent list of things that I understand now that I didn’t before, and know I could do a better job the second time around. Here’s a not-terribly abbreviated list:

Neck Joint: research indicates there’s a lot of options here. I chose to use a simple tapered dovetail joint, but I’m out of practice. but like the boat deck beams, I know I can do a better job. It is worth while to cut that joint in the block before assembling the sides. Much easier to manipulate if it’s not already attached to the soundboard, back and sides.

Rosette: I chose to do an odd shape, and as a result sorting out the inlay of the rosette was harder than it needed to be. in future, construct the rosette, then cut out the surface of the top. Quilting seems to be an apt analogy.

Binding: didn’t bother this time, in retrospect I can see the importance of binding in hiding the glue joints of the front and back, and potentially the neck to body area. Need to sort out the correct tool for carving away the corners that are replaced by the binding. If I make the faces thinner, I might be able to get away with the x-acto blade in a fixture, but as thick as this one was, I would hav needed to use the router. In the end, I chickened out a bit there, because I was afraid that the router would simply shatter the curly maple, the way the planer and the table saw did.

Bracing: I left it all too thick. especially for this size instrument. also too stiff. I built this entire instrument out of the same maple, and I would have done well to use some spruce or similar for the structure parts. The corner blocks especially, it would have made them SO much easier to carve.

Fretting: I think for the future I’m going to set up a template in a vector drawing program to measure the fret distances. I wrote a little program in python to give me the values and as far as I can tell, they’re all correct, but the problem arises when copying them to the fretboard. I think it would be easier for all involved if I just print out a pattern to match up. Also, flush cutting nippers are essential. (if only to save time.)

Clamps: I found a few patterns of easily makable clamps. I needed some good little clamps to hold down the soundboard and back as well as some deep throated ones to hold the bridge in place. The lever lock clamps look easy enough to make, and I have a wooden threading set that should. make some nice screw clamps for the other issue.

Soundboard: attach this first. there’s an argument for doing the back first, but in general it seems like a good idea to do the front first.

Sander: if I make more of these, (and I have some ideas for unique shapes) it will be so worth it to buy a thickness sander. Especially for this curly maple. I did pretty well with the emergency replacement made out of the lathe and some left over plywood and the baseball bat blank I bought on a whim a few years ago… (There’s also a valid question of investing in a good resaw too, but for the moment if gearbox labs is willing to let me continue to make use of his, I’ll hold off a bit. I don’t really have the space for a full size bandsaw…)

Given a lack of a drum sander, make the best of what you got…

Bending: I did okay with the sides, sort of. I do need to make them thinner in general, (ditto the top and back) but I also need to up the gear for the bending part. to that end, rigging up a decent heater is key, as is getting the sheet of stainless spring steel to be a backing for the bends.

On the other hand, carving the neck was a hell of a lot easier than I thought it would be.

Lastly, molding. I chose to use the violin technique of making the mold for the inside faces rather than the seemingly more common wraparound mold because of the sharp corners on this instrument. When assembling the sides, it made a lot fo sense to overlap the sides and cut off the excess later. something that would not have been possible had I gone the more standard route.

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