View Full Version : First Attempt - 25 Torpedo Cigar Box Soprano

Vic D
03-11-2009, 12:43 PM
Long time lurker here. I bought a Stewmac soprano kit but decided that since this is my first attempt at building an instrument I would use up some cheap material. The box is a 25 Torpedo cigar box and I added the sitka spruce top. The neck is poplar as close to quarter sawn as I could find from Lowe's. The veneer on the peghead is from a strip of wood inside the cigar box. I have no idea what kind it is but it's some sort of redwood I suppose.
Anyway here are some photos. The neck was what scared me the most but it was actually very fun to carve and I'm surprised how well it's coming together. I'm working on a maple fretboard, shaping the heal, adding a rosewood heal cap, binding, final sanding and shaping.
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. This isn't only my first instrument build, it's my first woodworking project ever... well after the work table I had to build.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
03-11-2009, 01:08 PM
Nice job Vic. I don't know how you've braced it but just make sure that sound board isn't too thick. In the photos it looks like it might be.
You'll be bending sides in no time.

Vic D
03-11-2009, 01:33 PM
You're right, it's just a little thicker than the mahogany top that came in the Stewmac kit. I have some scraping and sanding to do to the top. I'm using the wagner safe-t-planer and a hand held belt sander for now, but in the future I'm going to build a thickness sander for sure. I suppose if I'm careful I can scrape and block sand it down to just the right thickness.
Oh yeah, I braced it just like the Stewmac kit, Two spruce across and a flat maple under the bridge.
I have some redwood sides ready for my bending station which consists of a 3" aluminum tube in a jig with a 200 watt bulb and beside that a 400 degree curling iron with constant heat supposedly, for the small bends.

Vic D
03-11-2009, 01:51 PM
And hey Thanks! for the complement! Your work is awesome!

03-11-2009, 01:55 PM
i love the shape of that cigar box!

03-11-2009, 03:01 PM
i love the shape of that cigar box!
I second that. By gosh, it even looks like an ukulele!

It would be great if you can make it into a fair sounding instrument as well. Keep us updated!

03-15-2009, 11:25 AM
looks dope as hell.. any video of it!

03-15-2009, 11:44 AM
Great looking cigar box uke. That taper gives it real character, and your workmanship is ace. I find that 3/32" thick works well on box uke soundboards. You CAN go thinner, but I'm chicken, and mine sound fine at that.

Keep us posted,


Vic D
03-16-2009, 01:57 PM
Thanks! I have to say I surprised myself on the neck, and the freedom to work the neck to my liking (elliptical / c shape) is great. I'm very picky about neck shapes.

Well today I messed up another fingerboard, just a hair off on one of the cuts. Tommorow I build a proper miter box type jig for doing fretboards. If anyone has a method for doing fretboards that doesn't involve buying a table saw I'd be very interested. For now I'm going to copy a jig that I saw on the web. For the past few years I've scoured the web for luthier tips and recently saved and made notes of all the great new videos online, but one thing I've seen only a couple of times is someone slotting a fretboard without some kind of automated system.

The top measures 1.7 mm, just a hair thicker than the mahogany top on the Stewmac kit. I'm hoping the shape of the box and the tight grained sitka spruce top will give this sucker some sound. It's some really nice spruce off ebay that had some blemishes and didn't make the grade for a full size guitar, great way to shop for uke wood I think.

I've looked at this box for over five years now and it was just screaming "make me a ukulele!", that and a desire to own a certain special guitar of my own design (starting it now, will probably take a while) is what got me started. I'll make a tenor uke version of the guitar first then a full size electric, both will be semi hollow body. While I'm working on the special I'll be making more ukes! More UKES!

03-16-2009, 02:41 PM
Hi Vic,

At 1.7mm I'd say that's about right. I certainly wouldn't want to go any thinner than that.

I've only ever slotted my fret boards by measuring, marking and cutting the grooves by hand, in the old-fashioned way. Done it six times, and scrapped one. All my other ukes, I used ready slotted fret boards (cheating, but SOOO much easier!).

I think you'll be very pleasantly surprised by the sound of that box uke. Nice work!


Vic D
03-16-2009, 06:11 PM
Oh yeah, I named this uke Blue Frog #1. I've had that name a long long time in my mind, I wrote it on the top before I glued her up.

Vic D
03-27-2009, 03:16 PM
Made a fret slotting jig. Works pretty well, if I did it again I would add T-track to the bottom for the sled to slide on. Uses a dremel grinder bit for indexing pin. In the future I'll probably do the table saw thing. Uke is shown with maple fretboard. I don't like it, I'm going to use the ebony fretboard that came with the Stewmac kit I think.
Got some spanish cedar sides ready to bend. Sitka spruce and western cedar tops and backs cut. Spanish cedar necks being started. Bone blanks ready to go into an amonia bath for a couple of weeks.
Stewmac kit in the jig... sides aren't bent to match the template, just a bit off up top. Not too worried about it, it'll probably be fine once it's glued up, I'm not going to try to re-bend it, or should I?

Vic D
10-11-2009, 05:29 AM
Ok I'm almost done with the 25 Torpedo cigar box soprano. I decided to use the stew mac ebony fretboard. It only took me most of a year and about $3000.00 to build. But now I have a new Jet drum sander, delta table saw, fret slotting jigs/blade, a real bending iron, replaced the crapsman band saw with a nice delta... etc etc... Right now I've got the pieces cut for some zebrawood, cherry, walnut and mahogany sopranos.

Here's a list of stupid questions, before I make my radius dishes, what's the best radius for soprano, concert and tenor tops and backs. What's a good way (jig?) for making sure the neck angle is dead on to match the radius of the top.

And... I'm pretty sure I'm going to go with Stew Mac's water based lacquers.. do I need all four grades of polishing compound? Can I go from course to fine? I read that some people like to use a different sanding sealer so which is the best? I can't spend a lot because now I'm about broke and out of a job... But I do have a ukulele shop!

Ronnie Aloha
10-11-2009, 06:13 AM
What brand was the torpedo box? Cool angles.

Vic D
10-11-2009, 06:53 AM
I thought it was Behringer cigars but can't find that name online. I haven't been able to find another one like it.
I remember it had a man with a white beard and funny hat on the label inside. I tore off the top and replaced it with sitka... never thought it would be hard to find another like it.

Pete Howlett
10-11-2009, 07:05 AM
Go and visit the luthier section at ukulelecosmos (http://www.ukulelecosmos.com). A chap whose avatar name is ecosteel has posted an ingenius dustless method for creating a radius dish - it makes a 'boat' curve which, strictly speaking isn't a spherical radius. Nevertheless it's a great method and one that might suit you.

Otherwise it's a lot of dust or buy the dish from Blues Creek Guitars - 22' for the front and 12' for the back.

Do not radius the entire front - only go south of the soundhole on the top itself, keeping the rim flat. It sounds like it shouldn't work but it does. This then does away with neck angle for me anyway - neck angle is a concern more for guitars...