View Full Version : first build - kit

Harold O.
02-19-2009, 06:37 PM
UAS has found it's way to my house, so I decided to answer the call with two hands. Using this forum, Hana Lima I'a, and Waverly Ukes, I ventured forth and built this soprano kit.

I ordered it through Hana Lima, but it's a Stew-Mac kit with pre-bent sides. I also have a Hana Lima kit with straight pieces for my next attempt.

Many lessons were learned along the way, some expected, some not. Research cannot replace practice. The results are pleasing. The only real trouble is that the top has a slight inward bow to it along one of the short bouts.

Sound results are forthcoming due to the new strings being installed just today. But the sustain is good. I chronicled the build at my website:

Any suggestions on what to look out for during Build II are appreciated.

02-19-2009, 06:46 PM
Your uke looks great! And your blog is very inspiring. I am definitely putting "make a uke" on my very long list of things I want to do.

02-19-2009, 08:23 PM
Looks fantastic. Looking forward to hearing how she sounds.
I'm going to build something soon too :rolleyes:

02-19-2009, 09:59 PM
That looks a really good job. I've made several Stew Mac kit ukes, and they all sound terrific. Onwards and upwards!


02-20-2009, 01:46 AM
Looks great and awesome job journaling your build. Nice site too.

02-20-2009, 01:55 AM
Nice job on your first uke build, Harold. It must be very satisfying playing on an instrument you built.

Harold O.
02-20-2009, 03:43 AM
Thanks for the kind words. Playing hasn't happened yet. The strings are still adjusting to getting stretched and they go out of tune very fast. Soon, though, soon.

The goal on this kit was to build an instrument in order to learn how to do it as opposed to building the best sounding ukulele ever. Keeping that goal in mind let me move along faster than I maybe would have otherwise. I usually build and design on the fly - an inefficient use of time. It was fun to pay attention to technique instead of design this time

Owing to a recent UU thread, I glued the sound hole purfling with medium super glue. It wicked into the surrounding wood a little, and would not entirely sand out. But when applying the finish, it blended right in. I use SG as a pen finish on occasion.

Bending will become an issue on the next ukulele build.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-20-2009, 05:52 AM
Very nice Harold! Bet it won't be your last. Building ukuleles is a bit like eating potato chips in that way.
Bending sides on a hot pipe is pretty easy. It's only problematic when you've got lots of curl. Attaching the back is normally done with spool clamps, easily made with threaded rod and sections of dowels. I use a dedicated clamping jig for the job, others use rope or twine, even bed spring clamps.

02-20-2009, 06:02 AM
very nice job on the write-up! the uke is lookin' good!

02-20-2009, 06:10 AM
wow you made that!! i am BAD at stuff like that.. big ups to you on that one!! i might try a cigar box one someday..


02-20-2009, 07:12 AM
Hopefull it plays as nice as it looks...excellent job (and the blog of the build process was excellent as well...thanks)!

dave g
02-20-2009, 11:27 AM
Looks great, Harold :cheers:

02-20-2009, 09:25 PM
Attaching the back is normally done with spool clamps, easily made with threaded rod and sections of dowels. I use a dedicated clamping jig for the job, others use rope or twine, even bed spring clamps.

Ditto on Chuck's comment regarding gluing on the back. I've used bed spring clamps (a la David Hurd) and started to build a jig utilizing spools. In the end, like Chuck, I used a dedicated jig, incorporating a radius dish - but that's way down the line in another building story.

Personally, my bracing goes on before the top is glued to the sides. Most builders will notch out the linings where the bracing goes. This helps to hold the bracing in and prevent it from popping off.

I would guess your next build will have a more detailed finish. Maybe a decision on how you treat the bridge may be part of your process. Gluing and taping is fine. Some builders scrape the footprint of the bridge after spraying, then glue. Some tape off the footprint, spray, remove tape, then glue. The latter two allow polishing in an easier fashion.

On the fretboard caul, I use a notched one, so the pressure doesn't bear on the frets itself.

Some references you may want to go try:
David Hurd's site (Kawika `Ukulele) - sort of makes you want to give up, though.
Cumpiano and Natelson's book - an extremely long read, and somewhat outdated, but, it does provide techniques to show (somehow) where we were and how we got here.
Kathy Matsushita and William King have blogs that are worth seeing, as does Dave Means.

Normally, I wouldn't go so in depth after a kit build, but it seems as though you not only have access to tools and know how to use them, but also have the ability to use them well. And, it seems you're not going to stop.

Hope this helps - Aaron

Harold O.
02-21-2009, 03:22 AM
And, it seems you're not going to stop.

Hope this helps - Aaron

True, stopping is not yet an option. And thank you for the compass.

On jigs:
The SM kit called for one simple jig and I found it useful. From looking at other threads and sites, I can see where more involved jigs will allow for a smoother work flow, better joints, and more consistent results. So before I build another uke, I will build a couple of jigs. And study the application of radius discs.

Strikes me as dark art at this point. I am confused when a builder speaks of tuning the braces to match the uke. During construction, it would seem that no one yet knows how the thing will sound. How can you fine tune it? I understand trimming the edges to fit, but get hung up on the word tuning. I'll just follow the plans for now.

I am capable of better finishes than this ukulele implies. I used a spray can lacquer with woodturner's finish on the fret board and bridge. The goal of this kit build was to learn some of the larger aspects of instrument construction without getting bogged down on too many details. The entire project took four days. My next kit is a Hana Lima tenor with bubinga and ebony. I expect to spend more than four days on the finish alone.

I am reasonably proud of this ukulele. In another year or so, it will likely find it's way to a display position high up on a wall somewhere (way high up).

Thanks again for the encouragement.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-21-2009, 06:12 AM
There's a joke about people like us that goes: How many luthiers does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. One to change the bulb and 9 to make the jig.
As you get into this Harold you'll realize the importance of good jigs and well made molds. They not only make things go faster and easier but more importantly your results will more accurate and consistent. Especially when you're starting out you'll spend a lot of time making jigs. I personally like it because you can get really inventive and creative at it. BTW, most builders take real pride in their jigs and molds and many times they look as good as their finished products. Check out Charles Fox.
You're right about bracing, some do see it as a dark art while others see it as a lot of BS. Just keep in mind that you want the top to be stiff yet flexible and do whatever it takes to achieve that. Most new builders tend to over build. Remember that the bridge has got to move, it's the pump that pushes the air. I spend a great deal of time on the sound board, constantly adjusting the thickness in some areas, shaving the braces in others, looking for that perfect balance of flexibility and strength. David Hurd (Kawika) has taken a lot of the guesswork out of this with his deflection jig which measures the amount of deflection in a given sound board so that it can be consistently repeated. Some builders like a scientific approach, others go by the seat of their pants. There are some awesome guitar builders in Paracho, Mexico that build guitars with little more than a jack knife and a wood rasp. Either way, the more you build, the less you'll be certain of, and the more you'll know there is to learn. That's what keeps this fun.
Good luck.