You know the drill, you all know the score... try to do what’s right (song reference). Every summer I pack up some essentials and leave the humble lair of the Argapanator to do some creative woodworking on the road or at some cottage. Today we left for the summer house and I brought tools, a couple of instruments, a large chunk of mahogany, some fugly traveller blanks, a rifle, and a Morley fuzz wah pedal.
In this pic you see the slab of mahogany on the thickness planer, before running it through. In the bottom right corner are three of the travel uke blanks.
Problem is, and it should be apparent already, that the summer workshop is crammed with stuff and crap. I need a large and preferably empty workbench...
... and I want it now. So I gathered a load of boards from a rack where they’ve been drying a few years. They will form the workbench slab.
I coerced my son Johan to help me carry the thickness planer out. Tomorrow I will prepare them and start glueing them together. Wohoo! And the weather is set to be shite all week!
But what’s this then? Remember that I mentioned a strange monstrosity bass I’d finished, asking if anyone would like to see it? Well none other than Howlin’ Hobbit said, yeah show it. So here it is.
Before you judge me, look up Vox Winchester basses and guitars. I got the idea from those.
The connection points between wood and strings; holes. On my first couple of travel ukes I made ferrules but those were very fiddly to get right. Often a small burr on an edge would tear the string without being seen. So I think this is a better way.
I’ve been away last week so there’s not a heap of progress to show today but some. First is me chamfering the edges of the holes through the bridge, with my wee pin wise.
Then I made holes in the pegs. I forgot to take pics of fitting the pegs but I’m pretty sure I did that with the last one.
And last, the most tricky holes. The ones at the nut end, going through to the round back of the neck. I can’t drill them straight down, then the outer ones would burst out on the sides of the neck. And if I aim towards the middle I’m afraid they’ll collide. So I aim the outer ones towards the middle, and the middle holes are slanted to exit a bit further from the nut. If all works they should form a nice arch at the back.
I finished the travel uke you’ve seen me working on, but instead of taking pics I wrapped it up for shipping! Stupid, I know, but it meant I had to crack on with the other I have on the bench. Starting out by carving the neck, I opted to skip the entry point carve and go directly for some spokeshave action.
In the pic you see my Miller’s Falls cigar spokeshave, a cylindrical kind that is extremely fiddly to sharpen and set up. In fact I haven’t had that much success with it before, but this time my mindset must have been just right because it worked wonderfully. The point of the cigar shape is of course that you can do very tight inner radii curves.
And it leaves a fine surface. This’ll go into the zero sanding series.
The straight Stanley spokeshave and the Little Victor plane also helped, can’t remember if the small wooden spokeshave saw any action. In the pic it’s hiding under the wooden rule.
But later that day I thought better than I did in the morning and unravelled the packing on the finished Argapa 114. Just to show you.
The hollowed out backside is a bit rough. I need a spear point blade for my Record router, I imagine it would cut more cleanly.
The last two pics were taken at the office btw. You won’t find carpet like that at home.
The first travel ukes I made had a fairly intricate arrangement for passing the strings through the soundboard behind the bridge. I used bits of a tiny brass tube and made ferrules. It was hell. So for this I quickly invented a new bridge with a thin part behind the ridge to double up the wood there, hopefully eliminating the need for ferrules.
It’smore visible here. The small ledge is for aligning the holes and to avoid having a visible super thin edge meet the soundboard. I don’t know. I’m making it up as I stumble along.
Then I made holes for the tuners. I even made a guide block to steer the drill. To the right of the clamp you might be able to spot the carbon fibre tube that’ll turn the strings.
The inside width determines how far in I can push the reamer. It’s not very far so I have to shave the pegs down more than I would on a regular headstock, the thickest part of the pegs is only 6.2 mm.
Here the carbon tube is more visible as well.
Buy quality, cry once - my Juzek peg shaver made short work of taking the pegs down. Only one caught and shattered, I guess the batch was good with fairly straight grained pegs. I need to get more of them, and would you have guessed: it’s cheaper to get them from metmusic in New York than in the violin store here in Stockholm. The reamer and shaver are both from there too.
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.
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.
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.
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.