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Ukulelerick9255
01-03-2016, 06:56 PM
What would be the cost of all the equipment needed to build custom ukes....bender, saws, files, chisels, molds etc etc I'm interested in building and want to know what it would cost to equip myself

kohanmike
01-03-2016, 08:08 PM
Go to Stewmac.com and peruse all that stuff on their site. I'm sure it's in thousands of dollars depending on how far you want to go.

Henning
01-03-2016, 08:24 PM
It depends very much on how much of the tools you can manufacture yourself and how long starting time you might accept. I am not a luthier.
YouŽd also need a stock of wood and somewhere to keep it, try to keep that in your mind. Some tools and wood might be found here (http://www.lmii.com/?gclid=CK6Cg9zckMoCFSTicgodF3QLjw).

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
01-04-2016, 06:16 AM
$10,000 -$15,000 ish with second hand drum sanders etc.

Warning, ive seen alot of people get the 'building fever', drop alot of $$$ on a workshop then it never gets used.

Hluth
01-04-2016, 06:26 AM
People who decide to build instruments usually have some background in woodworking and already have some of the necessary tools and equipment (it’s mostly all the same stuff—chisels band saw drill press, etc.). If you’re not already a woodworker, then the learning curve will be steeper because you have to learn basic techniques before applying the specialized techniques used in building an instrument.

Allen
01-04-2016, 09:29 AM
If I did a quick tally of my workshop it would be all of $50,000. You certainly don't need that much, especially if you just want to build casually.

But equipment and tools have a way of sucking up huge sums of cash. Not to mention timber. I've spent close to $5,000 on both in the last couple of weeks alone.

DennisK
01-04-2016, 09:36 AM
Probably can get going for $1000 or a bit more, and then as you build your first few, figure out what tasks you want to spend money on power tools or expensive hand tools for. Humidity control and dust collection are two major expenses that can be put off until you're sure you want to keep building. Wear a dust mask and put a fan in the window, or just do dusty tasks outside. Manage humidity by waiting for good weather and/or building a hot box. I've also used the kitchen stove oven to dry things, but it's a pain because I have to turn it on for a short time to warm up, and then turn it off before it gets too hot, and repeat several times over the course of a couple hours until the wood acclimates.

Make a wood strip hygrometer. Here's a post I wrote on another forum about it http://www.luthiersforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=619433#p619433. Bracing is the most important time to make sure that the humidity is low enough. But anything that involves cross grain gluing should ideally be done in controlled humidity. Long grain gluing doesn't matter as long as both pieces are acclimated to the same level, since they'll expand and contract together after that.

A bender can be made from a scrap of exhaust pipe from a muffler shop, a few bolts and L brackets to attach it to a board, and a propane torch, electric charcoal starter, or other electric heating element inside. You may also want to squash the pipe to an oval shape so you can do tighter bends. If your wife has a hair curling iron with enough horsepower, that can work too :) But she may be angry if you return it with rosewood resin burnt onto it, so stick with clean woods like mahogany/walnut/maple.

The best high dollar tools I've bought are the extra-extra-coarse and extra-extra-fine 8x3" DMT dia-sharp stones. You may eventually need one more grit inbetween when the XXF gets really broken in, but it's pretty aggressive when it's new. Seems much coarser than its rated 3 micron grit. You'll also need something finer for the final polishing. An 8000 grit waterstone is good. The diamond lapping film from Lee Valley works too. Get the pink and/or beige.

Doc_J
01-04-2016, 10:01 AM
Kathy Matsushita has a lot of good info about getting started and tool lists for folks starting out as an amateur/hobby luthier.
http://www.theamateurluthier.com/

This is her 'basic' tool list.
http://www.theamateurluthier.com/amateurluthier/htmlpages/basictools.html

Pete Howlett
01-04-2016, 10:38 AM
High grit sharpening stones? Only if you are finishing directly from these tools. I know of no part of any instrument that isn't touched with sandpaper thus negating the finish you get from an 8000 grit hone. Also, most tonewoods have interlocking grain and a bookmatched softwood/spruce front has the grain going in two directions...

As to your original question - go see how long your piece of string is...

charlotteh
01-04-2016, 11:25 AM
I used to work as a luthier and I can tell you that one of the first lessons I learned was that I could have bought a really nice guitar for what it cost to build my first one. It seems cool, and it is but I realized that the money was at/in StewMac and Luthiers Merchantile. It has become a "hobby". I had the luxury of working under an established luthier, but I think the "hobby" aspect of it has a negative impact on the people who are working luthiers. There is obviously, (I hope it's obvious) more to my story than this brief mention. I've seen really talented luthiers pack it up because it is so hard to make a living at it. I can and I don't and I hope that me staying out of the business makes life easier for the luthiers that are plugging away every day. I will tell you that the there is plenty of misery to go around during the learning process of any craft. Lutherie tools are not cheap. You will spend a bunch. After all this negativity, I still work on instruments but I work on harps and pianos. Mostly pianos. If lutherie is still calling you then consider the words of bank robber and philosopher Willie Sutton. When asked why he robbed banks, he replied, "Cause that's where they keep the money." Consequently I work on pianos and harps.

printer2
01-04-2016, 11:51 AM
Really depends on how many you want to make and how much return you want from it. Trade off time for $$$. Also you need to sell your goodies, a whole different side of the story.

Michael N.
01-04-2016, 11:55 AM
Knowing what I know now I'm pretty sure I could obtain all the necessary tools for easily less than $1000. They may not be the ideal or result in the fastest method, some will be pre owned but the quality of the instrument will only be limited by yourself, not the tools. There are usually cheaper alternatives to things like expensive sharpening media. Scary sharp is expensive in the long run, it's incredibly cheap for building a Uke or two. A soundhole cutter and purfling cutter will cost a packet of scalpel blades ie. very little. A lot is dependent on how many and how fast you want to produce them. Even then there are ways of producing them fast with simple hand tools. That takes much more skill and training though.

Brian1
01-04-2016, 12:19 PM
Is it the woodworking aspect you are interested in or the idea of building ukuleles ?

If you are the type that likes to build things you will probably be able to make one ukulele for under $150. With minimal tools.

I joined a local guitar building club where many of the member share tools, others there have a membership to the local "maker space". And for a fee of $50 per month people have 24 hour access to every tool you can imagine everything from CNC machines, sanders, Laser cutters, 3-D printers, to sewing machines large format printers. (although they don't have a pre-built side bender or steam box You Tube is full of tutorials on how to make your own. Some can even be made in your kitchen. ) And my maker space has a board of directors that might be convinced to buy one. (they are amazingly well funded and organized)

Pete Howlett
01-04-2016, 12:55 PM
Only in Texas Brian, only in Texas! After 21 years at it I am starting, this year, to draw a living wage and take out of the business as savings some of the $75K I invested in it... It takes that long - trust me :)

Allen
01-04-2016, 06:55 PM
I think a better question would be "How long will it take to realise a return of investment into the tools, stock, skills, time and effort when starting a uke building business"?

That's the one where rubber hits the road.

aaronckeim
01-04-2016, 08:18 PM
The important question isn't "how much will it cost to get started?" But: "What level do I intend to build at?" When I got started, I didn't spend much money, but it ramped up quick. After that, its: "How will I commit myself to the years it will take to convince people that I am worth spending real money on." Then, it's: "How will I keep my personal style and integrity while also satisfying every customer." After that its: "How can I make this sustainable so I can support my family and support my past builds/customers."

Are you willing to ship an instrument to Australia, ship it back for a minor warranty repair, then ship it to the customer again? This costs $700-900 just to "make things right." Will you pull the trigger on that once in a lifetime Koa stash at the cost of $10,000? Are you willing to throw away a body with a flaw instead of shipping it? Can you handle both the praise and the rejection? Can you buckle down in the workshop everyday, even when you are stressed tired or sick?

Or, is it just a hobby?

I think if I started over right now, it would be:
bandsaw
thickness sander
drill press
bending equipment
combo sander
orbital sander
hand drill
fret press
table saw
planer
jointer
routers
benches
huge stewmac, LMII order of random stuff like fretwork equipment
chisels, files, planes, rasps, gouges, knives
lights
dust collection
shop heat
sandpaper, glue, finish, frets, bone, supplies, misc...
cases
wood
parts like tuners, pickups, banjo uke hardware

If I roughly add it all up, it could be $40,000 easily. Depends how much wood you buy and wether you buy used tools.

I could go on, but I don't want to discourage anybody too much...
A

Michael N.
01-04-2016, 11:43 PM
But that $40,000 is not necessary. It's not even remotely necessary but plenty of people seem to assume that it is. Richard Jacob 'Weissgerber' made some 3,500 guitars in his career and he didn't use one single power tool. if he'd stuck to making 4 or 5 different models (instead of dozens) he may have reached 5,000. It's all dependent on your approach, training and skill level. The chances of someone recouping $40,000 through making musical instruments (any instrument) is extremely low. Actually the chances of recouping $4,000 is also extremely low. It's possible of course but the odds are stacked heavily against. There are simply too many makers chasing a very limited number of players. As such anyone new to this is much better served using the low tech/hobby approach, investing minimal amounts of money and seeing whether they really like the profession. You have to really like it to be able to stick it out long enough to show any sort of profit. That's if you show any profit at all.

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
01-05-2016, 03:52 AM
i moved to the US from Australia and had to set up a workshop.

I learnt (after i did it) that i should have thought about how much of the tools/wood/machinery i could claim back on tax- If you spend $10,000 on stuff but only pay $1000 tax, thats $9000 claimable lost. Depreciation comes into it though but you get my meaning. Spend wisely

Dougf
01-05-2016, 04:09 AM
I'm a hobbyist builder and I'm guessing my investment at this point is probably in the $4k-5k range. My big ticket items are my 14" bandsaw, 16-32 drum sander, and dust collector, all of which probably account for about $3k. I also have a 6" jointer, a bit of a clunker, but I inherited that for free, as well as assorted other tools that I already owned. Everything else is small stuff, but I'm sure it adds up quickly.

It might seem a bit extravagant for a hobby, but for comparison my brother was into bicycle racing and I think he spent $7k just on his bike. I'm sure there are many other fun things on this planet that cost much more.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
01-05-2016, 06:55 AM
Don't overlook the price of small essential tools. If you've ever looked at a StewMac catalog you know they can add up. Tools and equipment are one thing, supplies like tuners, fret wire, wood, cases, etc are another. I run a small, low production shop with the bare minimum of tools. My tools & equipment are probably worth $10,000. My wood stash and supplies are probably worth $40,000. Most builders quickly become wood collectors, buying good wood when they see it as you may never get the chance again. I'm not a tool guy, I'd rather put my money in supplies since those prices seem to escalate the fastest.

chuck in ny
01-05-2016, 10:49 AM
there are ways and ways to do things more casually so if that's your game, get well chosen hand tools with that in mind, and figure out what your shop tools should be. you could put something together for a few thousand.
in an ordinary way however a wood shop is a wood shop and there are basics. you need a good table saw, a planer, a jointer, a good band saw meaning larger than 14" and heavy, and a drill press. a quality compressor is a plus and for luthier work also a thickness sander. the shaper you can live without for ukuleles. all that stuff is a lot of meat on the floor.
if you want to run a real wood shop you have to know how to lose money. you can get depressed about pete howlett's comments, but you have to lose quite a bit before you earn or turn out work for yourself.
some of the best guys in the business actually don't have a lot, but i am a cabinetmaker and want real stuff around in any case, even if it's to make me feel better about the craft. tools are love the way ukes are love.

Red Cliff
01-05-2016, 11:34 AM
As others have said it depends what the end game is. I can only offer an opinion on what it costs to be a hobby builder. If it is to make a few ukes for yourself and friends, and maybe sell a few a year on the side then you can do that for very little. The first 3 guitars I made I only spent a few hundred pounds on tools - all hand tools - a few second hand chisels, a vice, lots of plywood, a few files, a saw or two, measuring devices, glues, varnish, and some books. But doing it this way you have to invest time in buying cheap on auction sites, making lots of jigs, bending on hot pipes, and much slower building.

Pete Howlett
01-05-2016, 11:39 AM
You can do it with a bandsaw, pedestal drill, router and a basic kit of hand tools with a few specialist ones like fret saw, nut files etc. You have to gear up if you are going to do this for a living. If you chose the latter path you will not be running a wood shop but a luthier's shop - same language, different vocabulary. Don't even contemplate it if you are coming from a zero skill/experience base if you want to eat out occasionally. All craft based occupations involve a great deal of sacrifice and rather like the super league, only a few get to live the dream in comfort. I know plenty of luthiers who want to build but spend most, if not all their time doing repairs... I never have. Hence my earlier point.

BTW - I bend on a hot pipe - takes 5 minutes a side on a good day... very curly wood, 12 minutes max :)

Brian1
01-05-2016, 04:23 PM
Only in Texas Brian, only in Texas! After 21 years at it I am starting, this year, to draw a living wage and take out of the business as savings some of the $75K I invested in it... It takes that long - trust me :)

Not trying to take away from anyone's experience. (cuz there is only one way to get that).

I was just trying to get to the reason behind the question... if someone wants to take a year and build their dream ukulele it doesn't always need to be expensive. And I was also hoping to plant the seed that if one might want to know if building ukuleles is really what someone would want to do before investing thousands of dollars into it.

I was also trying to be sure people knew there was an alternative to spending thousands on equipment that might be hard to unload. That would allow a minimal investment to get started. For example my maker-space has several "polyprinter" 3-D printing machines... one reason they have them (other than they are good) is that because 90% of each printer is manufactured there in the same building. It is unlikely that the business would have had funding to gear up and market 3-D printers if they had to purchase their own equipment. But because they don't build until one is ordered they can offer the machine for much less than they could if they had to have a building, pay for lights, and buy their own equipment. Someday they may plan to gear up and build in their own factory with the revenue from their profits. (if profits materialize.)

Allen
01-05-2016, 09:19 PM
This thread has split into two distinct directions.

One being a hobby builder, and that can be done on the dirt cheap. Spend as much time as you like. Joining a Woodworkers Guild or Maker Space, borrow your Grandfathers tools etc. If I put my mind to it, I'm pretty sure I could get away with not much more than $100. However, that's not what the OP asked.

He asked about doing this as a profession. And that's an entirely different ball game. And building them is one thing. Selling them is an entirely different matter. And I dare say it's by far the most difficult by heaps and bounds.

I can't tell you how many aspiring instrument builders I've met over the years who have built heaps of instruments, and every one of them is still hiding in some spot in their home, under the bed, in the closest or hanging on the wall collecting dust.

Even when you get a name and people are searching you out, there is still a considerable amount of time spent on your marketing. Ask any one of the Pro's here and we'll all tell you the same thing. Building them is just one small piece of the game.

Pete Howlett
01-05-2016, 10:47 PM
Texas - I love the place :) What I mean is there is a vision in the US which sees the emergence of work spaces for the public. Just would not happen here in the UK. The nearest CNC outfit of any note here in the UK is 120 miles away!

Allen is right. 20% of my working week is spent at my laptop or on my phone and for an hour most evenings I am answering emails. At the start of 2016 I have reduced my working week to 5 days and my working day to 7 hours. Every 4 weeks I take a week out to do voluntary work for my Church. At 61, I am beginning to get some work/life balance and take a little money out of the business. This has been a very long road...

Brian1
01-06-2016, 10:14 AM
What would be the cost of all the equipment needed to build custom ukes....bender, saws, files, chisels, molds etc etc I'm interested in building and want to know what it would cost to equip myself


This thread has split into two distinct directions.

One being a hobby builder, and that can be done on the dirt cheap. Spend as much time as you like. Joining a Woodworkers Guild or Maker Space, borrow your Grandfathers tools etc. If I put my mind to it, I'm pretty sure I could get away with not much more than $100. However, that's not what the OP asked.

He asked about doing this as a profession. And that's an entirely different ball game. And building them is one thing. Selling them is an entirely different matter. And I dare say it's by far the most difficult by heaps and bounds.

I can't tell you how many aspiring instrument builders I've met over the years who have built heaps of instruments, and every one of them is still hiding in some spot in their home, under the bed, in the closest or hanging on the wall collecting dust.

Even when you get a name and people are searching you out, there is still a considerable amount of time spent on your marketing. Ask any one of the Pro's here and we'll all tell you the same thing. Building them is just one small piece of the game.

Well I wanted to be sure in my first post if the question was about building full time or wanted to START building. It would be a very big undertaking for someone who is uncertain as to what the costs would be. And wanted to point out that maker spaces are available to the public including start up businesses. If like Pete points out there is one available. And if it is a primary business it might be worth moving near one. Pete, Texas has warm winters. (we won't talk about the summers)

Red Cliff
01-06-2016, 11:44 AM
Apologies to the OP, I may have misinterpreted the question then, as the OP just asked how much it would cost to build custom ukes.

Maybe that means different things to different people. I build custom ukes but I don't do it as my profession. But I do sell them and I do take commissions.

Philstix
01-06-2016, 05:28 PM
I also may have interpreted the question differently. I thought he was asking what the cost would be for the tools necessary to build a custom ukulele. To answer that he needs to decide what methods he will use to build. Ukuleles can be built many different ways and each way requires different tooling. Until he decides on his methods the question cannot be answered.

aaronckeim
01-06-2016, 06:33 PM
To follow up on what Pete and Allen have mentioned about marketing/sales. Gordon and Char estimate that each custom build we do requires 50+ emails and phone calls. We make 200+ ukes per year. Let that sink in. There is a reason that they can barely make it out to the shop. I am blessed that I all I do is build.

Also, to reference Allen's other point. If I wanted to build a really nice ukulele for myself and didn't care how long it takes, I could do the whole thing for really cheap and it would still be a great instrument. The costs add up when you choose to scale up for consistency, repeatability, speed and effeciency.

A
A

dofthesea
01-08-2016, 03:09 PM
Lots of great points brought up by some great experienced builders. I would also like to add that if your thinking about pursuing Luthier as a hobby/craft then it's important to start slow. Don't go out and dump $5-$10,000 on all the tools and supplies. You'll eventually spend way more then that later. Stewmac has a great section under tools where they list Tool requirements of various Luthier schools throughout the country. Start doing some research and see if you actually like/love Luthiery. Luthier is kind of like a sailboat........ if anyone actually told you how much a sailboat actually cost at the end of the year no one would buy one except for the wealthy. There are many avenues for a beginner and throwing a bunch of money at a new endeavor is usually not the best approach.

Timbuck
01-09-2016, 10:51 PM
Band saws are a great asset ..but choose wisely ... I didn't ..I bought a second hand hobby type Burgess at first .. It wasn't very good...so I gave it away and bought a brand new 8" band saw off EBay but it wasn't wide enough and high enough to do resawing and when I tensioned the blade, part of the upper bearing assembly snapped off. So I scrapped that one and saved the table part to make my fret slotting gizmo ...Next I bought a SIP 10" job this was much better and I did a load of work with this one...but! The hight was just a tad too small for resawing work but I managed by removing the upper bearings... Somewhere I read a post from an experienced luthier, and he said any bandsaw size less than 14" is useless for serious work ( I should have researched more in the first place). So ! I put my hand in my pocket again and got myself a heavy duty 14" SIP .... It has served me well for the last 5 years, apart from having to replace all the cheap metal sealed bearings throughout the machine ( they easily get clogged up with dust) I replaced them for high quality double rubber sealed type ..I'm now thinking of upgrading to a better machine ,or maybe not;)

Michael N.
01-10-2016, 12:34 AM
Not sure that luthier is right. A lot depends on the use you want to put a bandsaw to. A small Burgess type isn't going to do any resawing to any great depth but it is very useful for thin stock - there's a lot of thin stock in instrument making. I wouldn't cut 2" material with it though, at least not for any length of time.
Resawing 4", 5"+ material requires a much more serious bandsaw. The one I own was the cheapest of the 14" bandsaws with a maximum depth of cut at 6". I spent time setting it up, bought good blades. It's still going strong 17 years on. I don't take it to the maximum (I have done) but any 4 ", 5" resawing and it's adequate with medium density hardwoods. If you are resawing dozens of sets at a time you might want something more capable. If you are resawing guitar size sets you certainly will. Then again I buy all my Backs, Sides, Soundboards already sawn so the need for a large bandsaw is virtually nil. In fact I'm not sure that doing my own resawing would save me much money, not when the time factor is taken into account.

printer2
01-10-2016, 02:24 AM
Kind of noticed the OP hasn't been posting in this thread after the original post.

Kevs-the-name
01-10-2016, 02:57 AM
I have read this post with much interest.
I am not sure what my start up costs were, I guess in many respects, I am still starting!
I was lucky enough to purchase a considerable amount of equipment from somebody who spent LOTS of money collecting it prior to deciding they didn’t want to build after all! I paid approx 1/3 of the total value, and managed to sell some items I didn’t want or need. almost making my money back.
Much of the other equipment I have purchased has been either used or returned goods, sourced through eBay, Amazon and free ads etc.
Luck has certainly paid a big part in my purchasing costs.

As a beginner, and hobbyist I recognise that I will probably never make my money back. However, I have a set of golf clubs in the attic, spent lots of money on green fees and lessons etc... None of which i’ll ‘get back’ either.

This (for me) is a hobby, I love it and will continue to do so. If I am ever good enough, (and lucky enough) to sell, then I would ‘use the money’ to get more items.
I am looking at major purchases at the moment. A drum sander and quality drill press... A lot of money for ‘a hobby’ tho :-(

Sven
01-10-2016, 03:54 AM
A drum sander is good to have for woods that are difficult to plane by hand. But I manage very well without a drill press at home. I have one in my big workshop at my summer house but I don't need it for ukes.

Kevs-the-name
01-10-2016, 04:08 AM
A drum sander is good to have for woods that are difficult to plane by hand. But I manage very well without a drill press at home. I have one in my big workshop at my summer house but I don't need it for ukes.

You are right Sven,
I didn’t really explain this as well as I could have.
I’d love a drum sander to final ’thickness’ the wood, for now I use a disc sander (similar to a safe-t-plane) on my small budget drill press.
The drill press doesn’t have a ratchet rise and fall table, and vibrates badly at low speed. this makes it slow and unpleasant to use, hence wanting the better / bigger drill. It would be the cheeper (but not better) option of the two!
For now, I should practice using sharp planes!

Things can be done without the extra tools.... I just want them. It makes the hobby more ‘fun’ :drool:

Pete Howlett
01-10-2016, 07:29 AM
I managed without a drum Sander for the 1st 400 ukes using the Sander Kevin uses. If I had to make a choice, the rack and pinion rise and fall pedestal drill would be my choice...

Pete Howlett
01-10-2016, 08:53 AM
When you are ready Ken give me a call. I have a monster that weighs 85K, needs tweeking but as I am done resawing is redundant. Would cheerfully do a swap for your SIP any day :)

chuck in ny
01-10-2016, 03:29 PM
there's one more observation on 'start-up' costs. i've been paying for machinery and tools steadily for 3 decades at least and will stop paying for tools upon death.
it never ends nor should it. i hadn't had a chainsaw for 20 years and got a nice professional one + maintenance accouterments half a year back, nearly a thousand into that. cutting firewood like nobody's business- but also harvesting ukulele blanks from dead trees. there's a payback to this stuff. i had bought several very nice german and swedish axes along with german wedges and american axes and mauls. also helps with harvesting uke material. BTW they charge for all this joy.
broke down and ordered iwasaki japanese plane (?) rasps, just 4 of them from lee valley, fine and x fine, they are coming tomorrow, also an ultra light hatchet for paring blanks to go along with the husqvarna heavier hatchet gotten 4 months back.
it's a steady monthly loss. when i get back to work i'm going for spare bandsaw blades and assorted tooling for the many machines, i have, but am conservative enough to want many years worth in house.
i would characterize trade and craft existence as an alternative lifestyle. you get used to spending for equipment, against current and future receipts, and it would never hold up in the corporate world with the focus on short term quarterly performance. to any adept businessman we are just plain stupid. that's about what it takes to make people happy and do beautiful work.

70sSanO
01-10-2016, 04:22 PM
Interesting thread. Unfortunately no one knows what the OP intends to do. Make custom ukes for himself, as a hobby and sell locally for whatever the market will bear, or pursue it as a viable business that will put food on the table?

All of my ukuleles were made by people who did it on the side and it was not their primary occupation. One is retired and has been making ukuleles for 10 years in his garage. He makes a nice ukulele at a reasonable price, but he has a definite niche and stays in it.

John