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View Full Version : White Cedar for a Ukulele Neck?



Matt Clara
11-03-2009, 01:54 PM
I was at a woodworker's shop over the weekend, and spied a 2 x 4 x 32 in. bit of white cedar that was marked down because of some knots. If you turned it on its side and screwed your eyes up, it was almost quarter sawn, and I could see how at least one neck could be carved out of it, around the knots, so I bought it for the princely sum of $5. I've roughed a neck out of it, but now I'm seeing it's a very soft wood, and I'm wondering if it'll work for a uke neck, and if it will, is there a finish that will keep it from getting dinged up? You can gouge it with a fingernail.

(I should mention, the first neck I made was out of ash, and while it's a very nice looking neck, serviceable, even (I think) it's also sturdy enough to crack heads with. And not light. That's what prompted the cedar trial.)

Matt Clara
11-04-2009, 08:24 AM
It looks like people like to read the post, but no one knows the answer. Very well, I will be the white cedar uke neck "expert" (if making and using one counts as that, which it doesn't) on the Ukulele Underground.

I've done some further reading on the characteristics of white cedar, and it has these in its favor: keeps bugs away, resistant to rot, extremely stable. The first two might be good in a pinch, but the third is definitely a plus. It's also extremely easy to work with. Working against it is the fact that it's not particularly strong. However, I'm going to guess it's strong enough for nylon strings, particularly as it has good stability working on its behalf. If it isn't strong enough, it might snap, but it shouldn't bow or otherwise warp. Someone please correct me on that if I'm wrong (like I need to ask).

To protect its soft exterior, I'm thinking several coats of poly clear gloss on the backside, and a standard coat of fingerboard on the front, with some veneer on the headstock, with more poly gloss on top of that. It's a very light neck, so some thick poly shouldn't effect it much in that regard.

RonS
11-04-2009, 09:47 AM
I wouldn't consider using white cedar when there are better materials around. Hopefully you will prove me wrong.

Matt Clara
11-04-2009, 09:50 AM
I wouldn't consider using white cedar when there are better materials around. Hopefully you will prove me wrong.

It was cheap, available, and much lighter than the ash, plus, I was thinking, they make whole ukes out of spanish cedar, so why not a neck out of white?
I think, in retrospect, that the spanish cedar must be denser than this. And further reflection on the use of this wood has me concerned for the tuner holes, and the fact that they may end up out of round. This may call for some hardwood bushings. ;)

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-04-2009, 09:58 AM
they make whole ukes out of spanish cedar, so why not a neck out of white?
Makes you wonder then why they use Spanish cedar over white cedar doesn't it?
I have no advice to offer with white cedar, I've never used it. I use Spanish cedar almost exclusively for my necks now and even that I reinforce with a carbon fiber rod.

RonS
11-04-2009, 10:03 AM
I was thinking, they make whole ukes out of spanish cedar, so why not a neck out of white?


Spanish Cedar Cedrela spp. is not a true cedar.

Cedrela odorata is of the family Meliaceae, which places it in the mahogany family.

cornfedgroove
11-04-2009, 11:33 AM
Spanish Cedar Cedrela spp. is not a true cedar.

Cedrela odorata is of the family Meliaceae, which places it in the mahogany family.

Ron wins the "Word of the Day" challenge:D

Matt Clara
11-04-2009, 11:48 AM
Spanish Cedar Cedrela spp. is not a true cedar.

Cedrela odorata is of the family Meliaceae, which places it in the mahogany family.

Oh sure, Ron, now you tell me!
;)

RonS
11-04-2009, 03:59 PM
Lol :) :D

erich@muttcrew.net
11-09-2009, 11:14 AM
However, I'm going to guess it's strong enough for nylon strings, particularly as it has good stability working on its behalf. If it isn't strong enough, it might snap, but it shouldn't bow or otherwise warp. Someone please correct me on that if I'm wrong (like I need to ask).

To protect its soft exterior, I'm thinking several coats of poly clear gloss on the backside, and a standard coat of fingerboard on the front, with some veneer on the headstock, with more poly gloss on top of that. It's a very light neck, so some thick poly shouldn't effect it much in that regard.


I'm curious as to why you decided to use the white cedar for a neck. What scale length did you have in mind? Remember that (on average) the total string tension on a tenor is almost twice as much as on a soprano uke.

You might have done better with piece of spanish cedar, mahogany, maple... I would agree, however, that the tension on a uke is not all that tremendous. Still, Chuck suggests a fiber carbon rod for Spanish cedar necks, so with white cedar you certainly want to look at some means of reinforcement.

Regarding the finish :agree: multiple coats of poly with plenty of drying/hardening time between coats (like the finish on a basswood or alder bass body) should give you a nice protective shell. Depending on the lacquer you might need lotsa (10-20 :uhoh:) coats, and lotsa time.

HTH, Erich

P.S. If you decide the white cedar neck is too much trouble, or if the neck ever snaps, you can get out your plane and turn it into nice shavings/chips and then put them in a pretty cloth bag to put in your closet or wardrobe. Never waste wood!

Matt Clara
11-09-2009, 11:48 AM
The white cedar was available, cheap, and for the most part quarter sawn.

RonS
11-09-2009, 01:31 PM
The white cedar was available, cheap, and for the most part quarter sawn.

But the most important part is that the wood is white cedar.

Matt Clara
11-09-2009, 03:11 PM
But the most important part is that the wood is white cedar.

I've carved two necks in two nights, cut the headstocks into shape and learned a tremendous amount for five bucks. I'm satisfied. I'm going to bolt one onto a scratched up cigar box someone gave me and see what it does. I'll bet dollars to donuts that it won't snap. Any takers? I love chocolate covered fried cakes.
;)

RonS
11-09-2009, 03:27 PM
I've carved two necks in two nights, cut the headstocks into shape and learned a tremendous amount for five bucks. I'm satisfied. I'm going to bolt one onto a scratched up cigar box someone gave me and see what it does. I'll bet dollars to donuts that it won't snap. Any takers? I love chocolate covered fried cakes.
;)

It won't snap, over time it will warp.
I guess you'll learn that too.;)

Matt Clara
11-09-2009, 03:50 PM
It won't snap, over time it will warp.
I guess you'll learn that too.;)

You say that with such assurance, Ron, do you have some examples you could tell me about, or are you just taking an educated guess? One thing I have heard about white cedar is it has very little tendency to warp--it's great for fences because of that, and the fact that it's slow to rot. Whether it will warp under the strain of string tension isn't a known factor here.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-09-2009, 03:52 PM
Ron S got the jump on me while I was typing. What he said.
We're not worried about the neck snapping, that's not going to happen. We're not even concerned about any immediate effects. What you should be concerned about is the effect of string tension and environmental conditions over a long period of time, primarily things like a neck warping or twisting that make an instrument unplayable.
I'm not saying white cedar is a poor choice for neck woods but I'm not familiar with it being used as a neck material. At the very least a wood of doubtful characteristics should have some sort of reinforcement spline, be it hard wood or composite. Remember, a lot of the materials and techniques used in instrument building are traditional for a reason.
If you're building ukes do last a week or a year do anything you wish. At least you got some neck carving experience behind you.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-09-2009, 04:00 PM
You say that with such assurance, Ron, do you have some examples you could tell me about,

Plenty.
Call any instrument repair person who works on ukes. Although I usually don't do repairs myself I often run into people who want me to straighten their necks out. And I'll add, the majority of these are home made jobs. I'm involved in a large guild of mostly amateur builders. I've seen everything. Twisted and warped necks are common when advice isn't heeded.
Just so's you know...........

Matt Clara
11-09-2009, 04:57 PM
Plenty.
Call any instrument repair person who works on ukes. Although I usually don't do repairs myself I often run into people who want me to straighten their necks out. And I'll add, the majority of these are home made jobs. I'm involved in a large guild of mostly amateur builders. I've seen everything. Twisted and warped necks are common when advice isn't heeded.
Just so's you know...........

I should have been more clear--I meant specifically with white cedar. Maybe Ron was generalizing and I didn't realize it.

So, to reinforce it, basically route out a groove under the fretboard and add a hardwood dowel, or some such? Do you glue it in place?

erich@muttcrew.net
11-09-2009, 07:43 PM
So, to reinforce it, basically route out a groove under the fretboard and add a hardwood dowel, or some such? Do you glue it in place?

Chuck suggested using a carbon fiber rod earlier on. I would second that, simply because you're getting more stiffness per millimeter than with a wood dowel.

And yes, you would want to glue it in place.

RonS
11-10-2009, 03:56 AM
Maybe Ron was generalizing and I didn't realize it.

No I wasn't, I was going on information you supplied.
White Cedar is a poor choice for a neck, adding a carbon fiber rod, as Chuck suggested, will greatly help stabilizing the neck.

BTW - 20 years ago I built a canoe using white cedar, it bends easily under stress.

Matt Clara
11-10-2009, 04:00 AM
No I wasn't, I was going on information you supplied.
White Cedar is a poor choice for a neck, adding a carbon fiber rod, as Chuck suggested, will greatly help stabilizing the neck.

BTW - 20 years ago I built a canoe using white cedar, it bends easily under stress.

Built of cedar strips? That's one of my future projects. I love canoeing and kayaking. (And no, I don't plan on using white cedar.)

RonS
11-10-2009, 05:25 AM
Built of cedar strips?

Yes, and white cedar is a good wood for building canoes.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-10-2009, 05:44 AM
When the neck stock is still dimensional I'll dado a groove into it to accept a 1/4" X 3/8" CF rod and I'll epoxy it in. Cheap insurance from Stewie Mac. It's as light as balsa and strong as steel.
At the very least I would split the neck in half lengthwise and sandwich a 1/4" spline of stabile hardwood such as ebony, etc.
If you want to speed up your learning curve, at least start with traditional materials. Don't try oak for a neck, redwood for a finger board etc. Get some experience down first and experiment when you become more comfortable with materials and techniques.