View Full Version : Using 3 Foot Level to Join Top Plates

02-04-2015, 05:30 PM
I've been trying to join two bookmatched figured Oregon myrtle top plates today and it was not a pleasant experience. I've joined straight grained woods like spruce and redwood before in minutes with no problems at all, but this myrtle was another thing altogether. I actually put in 6 frustrating hours (!!!) trying to get a perfect joint until I finally found something that worked.

This particular timber has a beautiful knot in the middle at the joint which is why I bought it. The plan is to position the knot right where the sound hole is going to be so it gets cut out with the thought that the denser wood around the sound hole will reinforce my rosette. Also there is some wild grain radiating out of the knot that should look like sound waves coming out of the sound hole. That's the vision anyway.

I tried the shooting board thing which was a complete failure since the plane tended to dig in a little bit on the knot or skip over a tiny bit. Went to the old sandpaper on a flat surface method and that didn't work either. Tried a sanding stick on the knot to compensate and that ruined my edges, so.... I tried the sand paper taped to a 3 foot level method and it worked like a charm. It has a handle in the middle which allowed me to press down just a bit over the knotty part and I got perfect edges and a perfect joint using the tape method. Just thought I would pass it along... Highly figured wood is cool looking, but brings all sorts of other things into the equation like knots. Knots suck.

02-04-2015, 06:42 PM
But why worry about a chipout in a spot that'll be cut away? But good that you found a method that worked for you, and that anything was left after six hours, I'd have been looking at a backpacker uke after that time!

02-04-2015, 07:00 PM
It was a baritone sized piece of wood and I'm going to be building a tenor so lots of room which was part of the original plan, but yes, lots of sawdust was produced. The problem with the plane was chipout plus skipout which makes a little ridge. Why not just cut the knot out? Then you have two planed edges separated by a cutout. No good. Scalloping. What a nightmare. Yes, good thing the top plates were baritone sized because it is a tight tenor now. If anything, I'm persistent. What else are you gonna do>>?

Pete Howlett
02-05-2015, 02:24 AM
You need to address your plane setup. A properly tuned try plane would tackle this easily...

02-05-2015, 04:10 AM
Search this forum for Chuck Moore's jointing method using a router table with a 1/2" spiral bit. Fast, easy and works everytime.

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
02-05-2015, 04:43 AM
id cut the knot away before leveling.
Also, cut the boards to just longer then your body- then your only joining, say 12.5", not pissing about trying to true up 24" of wood

02-05-2015, 05:20 AM
Chucks method is the best I've found. Fast, clean, perfect!
And what Beau said. No longer than needed.

02-05-2015, 07:30 AM
In this modern world, I believe there's a reason we have access to "things". However, even in this modern world with things, some old world things still hold true. As Pete said, tune the plane. In my case, tune the jointer (this is my "thing").

Sometimes I'll still run it on my granite surface (with sandpaper), but not to level, just to raise grain, depending on the wood (read: Spruce).

02-05-2015, 07:57 AM
Anyone wondering what the method entails, it's the third item down on my uke construction tips page. The router bit and guide method is also shown.


Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-05-2015, 08:13 AM
There are may ways of preparing plate joints and it's all a matter of what degree of precision you're after. I want my plate joints to be perfect and the more money you spend on the jig the better your joint will be. To get a perfect joint using the method I use you really don't want to use a double fluted bit. A spiral bit (Eagle America part # 120-0402--about $30) will keep a cutting edge on the wood at all times and eliminate the minute scalloping you'd get with a double flute bit. Also, I've never seen a straight edge that was true. It's better invest in a real straightedge where it's only function is to be straight. Lee Valley has some good ones but they'll cost you about $55 for a 24" (http://www.leevalley.com/en/wood/page.aspx?cat=1,240,45313&p=56676). The only downside to using this method is that it can be very difficult to see your centerline after it's glued up, even under magnification. To make the centerline easier to find I stagger my joints about 1/16".

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
02-05-2015, 08:20 AM
Here is a picture of Chuck staggering his joints 1/16th :shaka::biglaugh:


I bought an beautiful Japanese aluminium straight edge to be "my straight edge", then ive managed to drop it on every corner making it pretty useless....at least the middle is still straight ;(

02-05-2015, 09:50 AM
Now that's funny!
I used a piece of ground Starrett stock I had for the straight edge of that fixture.

02-05-2015, 09:54 AM
The joint came out perfect. Picture of the top in question below. The figure might not be to everyone's taste, but I think it might make a cool looking uke...


Now as to Pete's comment on the properly tuned plane: Absolutely, however I'm better at tuning ukes than planes. Working on that.

This joint is not a terribly complicated task. It just has to be perfect is all and the 6 hours of work was ridiculous. I became frustrated and that led to an unharmonius uke shop which led to wasted time and effort. Fighting wood is not the way to go.

Anyway, I'm a beginner and this will only be my 6th uke so I occasionally fight things. But I'm learning. Oh and cutting it down so I'm not mucking with a 24 inch piece of wood is also excellent advice, but I wasn't sure which way was going to be the neck and tail. I couldn't make heads or tails of it.

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
02-05-2015, 10:06 AM
Good use of the grain-

The other way would be to position the knot thingy under the bridge, that way the grain would sweep out with the lower bout.

02-05-2015, 10:30 AM
Glad it worked out. It looks cool, did you consider glueing the other edges? The grain would've followed the curvature of the sides.

I'm not criticizing, you don't have answer - I'm sure you tried every way and went with the best.

02-05-2015, 05:40 PM
The other way would be to position the knot thingy under the bridge, that way the grain would sweep out with the lower bout.

Actually that was my original thought and it could still be done of course, but... I pause thinking about having a bridge right over a knot. Could this cause a structural issue down the line? Cracking under the bridge would be bad. Knots, no mater how pretty, are still unstable in my mind. But maybe it is my mind that is unstable... I wish I had taken Sven's idea and flipped the outer edges in. I never even thought of that.

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
02-05-2015, 06:05 PM
Id just leave it as is and work away on it :)

I dont think it would cause any problems if you had the bridge there either. I think i would have done what you have done.

If its not sanded to thickness, you could band saw it in half again and re glue the outer edges, but id make sure the grain wasn't to far off quarter. Still, what you have looks good with interesting grain.

Pete Howlett
02-05-2015, 11:50 PM
Well done for solving this problem. However there may be further challenges ahead. When I used a similar piece for a back it moved with every minor fluctuation in RH. No matter how many times I sanded smooth the curls, in a week it was like a plowed field again. That knot indicates the proximity of a former limb and is an unpredictable
stress point. It's pretty wood but not recommended for the job you have in mind ...

02-06-2015, 07:41 AM
I hear ya Pete. The knot has to go. However, I've seen and heard some amazing ukuleles with this highly figured myrtle stuff. Gorden Mayer at Mya-Moe uses it and gets good results. I'm no Gorden Mayer, but it can be made to work. Besides Pete, I'm looking for a challenge to keep the uke building motivation going. I think I found it.

I've never worked with Oregon myrtle (Umbellularia californica) before other than with a chainsaw when cutting it up for firewood where I found it cuts and splits nicely but takes forever to season (year+) before I could burn it. It is common around where I live. Working with it up close like this has been a surprise and a pleasure. A couple things I noticed with my short experience so far:

It occasionally gives off a lovely scent when sanding. Very subtle and almost perfume like. Indescribable
It looks harder than it really is but still plenty hard. Density about average to hard. Janka rating of about 1200 I understand which puts it between mahogany and rosewood. Specific gravity about 0.50. Or so I've read...
It really soaks up glue well. This could be good or bad. We shall see. CA staining?
"They" are saying it responds acoustically like Koa. I'm not sure I buy that conclusion. This kind of statement is so objective as to be almost useless. But encouraging.
I have no idea how it will take a finish.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-06-2015, 09:04 AM
Well done for solving this problem. However there may be further challenges ahead. When I used a similar piece for a back it moved with every minor fluctuation in RH. No matter how many times I sanded smooth the curls, in a week it was like a plowed field again. That knot indicates the proximity of a former limb and is an unpredictable
stress point. It's pretty wood but not recommended for the job you have in mind ...

That even happens with a small percentage of highly figured woods Pete. The joints will be perfect when you first surface them only to have them not fit perfectly a couple of days later. That's why I like to prepare the joints and glue them up soon afterwards.

Pete Howlett
02-06-2015, 12:46 PM
I was talking glued up Chuck.... As for myrtle; I use it for back and side wood. Bends like a dream....

02-06-2015, 06:58 PM
I use the sandpaper on a level method. I really am not interested in moving along too fast, but I had a shooting board, and I shot the edge with a special jointer I have that is set up for low aspect ratio book matches, where there isn't going to be any edge compressions. Then I had sandpaper on the level for something long since forgotten, hit the edge with that, then I used the Overholtzer glue up method. It went fast the joint was perfect so much so I have often lost it if the end is well lined up, and I forgot to mark it. Never bothered finding another way. My level is 18, or 24 inches, use the same process on guitars.

There are some woods that are crazy to plane. I've been making and using planes since the late 70s, and used to talk about getting shavings 4 tens thickness back when people thought that was a lie. Some woods will roll out a big chunk, seemingly if you ran the plane over them without the blade projecting. Nasty Osage comes to mind. Sanding just isn't efficient in some scenarios, and there are places where it is.