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View Full Version : what to use when cutting a soundhole?



Matt Clara
11-04-2009, 02:38 AM
I bought an inexpensive circle cutter to go with my dremel, and I've yet to cut anything that resembles a perfect circle with it. I don't trust it for the real deal. For my first cigar box uke, I bought a 1 inch spade bit (http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51K23Ha2fwL._SS500_.jpg), which worked great for the first hole, but on the second it snagged and tore out a half inch close to the edge. Fortunately it glued back in smoothly, and then I used the dremel hole cutting tool to make the hole bigger, albeit, still not round, and then I used the dremel and a sanding drum to make it better--actually looks pretty good. I was considering the stewmac Soundhole/Rosette Routing Jig, but you also have to buy the routing base, bringing the cost to $100+. I googled the subject and found a page that said to use a small circular saw. That made me laugh--not that it isn't possible, but it certainly wouldn't be the first route I'd choose.

Sigmund
11-04-2009, 02:45 AM
Just a guess, but the "circular saw" reference was probably really meant to be "hole saw", which would be an inelegant but effective approach if you were careful.

cornfedgroove
11-04-2009, 02:55 AM
i got a hole cutter bit for the drill...the spades suck for the reason you mentioned. You need something with alot of small teeth. You can even run it backwards for a little bit to get the groove started if you want, but that depends on how sturdy you think the box is.

http://cgi.ebay.com/Diamond-Hole-Saw-Drill-Cutter-Bit-Tool-Glass-Tile-110mm_W0QQitemZ310175159584QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_D efaultDomain_0?hash=item4837e15520

Mine's not near this fancy...mines black with regular looking teeth, 2 inches.

Sven
11-04-2009, 04:04 AM
I'll chip in with the most primitive method. I just drill holes along the perimeter and shape the hole as can be seen here:

http://argapa.blogspot.com/2009/05/making-soundhole.html

It works a lot better than it looks. Doesn't work at all if you need a ring around the soundhole.

Sven

dave g
11-04-2009, 04:08 AM
Use a Forstner bit.

cornfedgroove
11-04-2009, 04:15 AM
Use a Forstner bit.

I know forstners are the bomb, and I could be wrong about this...but it was suggested that forstners might be too studly for a "who knows what kind of wood and how sturdy it is" cigar box.

sweets
11-04-2009, 04:25 AM
Is this the circle cutter you've got?

http://www.amazon.com/Dremel-678-01-Circle-Cutter-Straight/dp/B000HI5WTY

I found it quite easy to use so perhaps there's something wrong with your setup?

I used a piece of MDF as a backer so I could have a nice deep pilot hole. Here are some action shots:

Matt Clara
11-04-2009, 04:43 AM
Is this the circle cutter you've got?

http://www.amazon.com/Dremel-678-01-Circle-Cutter-Straight/dp/B000HI5WTY

I found it quite easy to use so perhaps there's something wrong with your setup?

I used a piece of MDF as a backer so I could have a nice deep pilot hole. Here are some action shots:

I've been using some scrap pine as the backing (so I am using some backing). Do you run your dremel fast or slow when making the cut?

sweets
11-04-2009, 04:56 AM
I don't remember adjusting the speed, unfortunately. I can ask my building buddy on Saturday...

Some other things:

Don't try to cut the whole depth in one pass. I took two passes.
I'm guessing that the bit I was using was some fancy down-cutting bit from stewmac or LMI, but that shouldn't make too much of a difference.
Make sure you're going in the right direction around the circle.

What kind of problems are you seeing? Is the hole more oval shaped than round, or is the edge wavy, or rough, or?

Dominator
11-04-2009, 05:16 AM
Is this the circle cutter you've got?

http://www.amazon.com/Dremel-678-01-Circle-Cutter-Straight/dp/B000HI5WTY

I found it quite easy to use so perhaps there's something wrong with your setup?

I used a piece of MDF as a backer so I could have a nice deep pilot hole. Here are some action shots:

I use this one without any issues. Works just fine.

ukantor
11-04-2009, 05:19 AM
I use a 1/16" bit, and chain drill the perimeter - just inside the circle, of course. Then it is a simple matter to cut the centre out, and finish by sanding.

Long-hand, time consuming, but satisfying - and you can do irregular shapes. They don't HAVE to be circular.

Ukantor.

Timbuck
11-04-2009, 05:23 AM
I "Mill" mine out on a turntable along with the Rosette groove( Never had any problems) here is a test piece being done.
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/ukulele%20pics/IMG_1594.jpg
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/ukulele%20pics/IMG_1595.jpg
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/ukulele%20pics/IMG_1580.jpg

thistle3585
11-04-2009, 05:45 AM
I use an adjustable fly cutter. I filed the cutting blade to the width of my rosette channel and will also cut the sound hole out with it. I don't go all the way through on the soundhole but leave just a hair and finish it with a knife.

Pete Howlett
11-04-2009, 06:12 AM
I've made a set of fly cutter with depth stops when I got my micro lathe. Though I have toggle clamps to hold the work to the board - that masking tape look positively scary...

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-04-2009, 06:28 AM
One thing you need to understand is that generally, a better tool, especially one that is designed for a specific job, will give you better results. You use a cheap tool expect it to have it's limitations. That's why quality builders who have quality tools are capable of building quality instruments. Don't expect cheap tools or poor techniques to give you a superior result. The suggestions mentioned above will all you adequate results but all have their shortcomings. I've tried them all at some point including free hand cutting, hole saw and flycutter. Amongst the tools mentioned I've had best results cutting both sound holes and rosettes with the Dremel hole cutting attachment, provided that it is set up correctly. But even it is limited with it's small collet size, requiring a couple of passes at least for the necessary width and depth.
The best tool for the job, and the one I use, is similar to the StewMac jig that uses a laminate trimmer.
One good tip when cutting either sound holes or rosettes especially in soft woods is to treat the area to a couple of coats of finish beforehand to reduce tear out.
Again, don't expect superior results using inferior tools. You are finding out that to do this well, consistently and relatively easily may cost you a few bucks in the way of tools and equipment.

Pete Howlett
11-04-2009, 06:46 AM
I used to use a router but I found upmilling always a problem. I got over this by having the cutter undersize and the pivot hole very slightly oversize. I could then cut the sides of the channel in quarter segments according to the direction of the grain, then revewerse the dirwection to take the ramining quarters with the grain. It was efficient but laborious. Then I looked again at some production videos and Jeff Traugott's set-up and went back to the fly cutter. If you keep it sharp it works really well. All of mine are guaged for various rosette styles and it takes just 10 secs to do...

RonS
11-04-2009, 06:47 AM
I totally agree with Chuck



The best tool for the job, and the one I use, is similar to the StewMac jig that uses a laminate trimmer.

If you use a tool like this remember to cut downhill to the grain to avoid tear out

Matt Clara
11-04-2009, 07:06 AM
The best tool for the job, and the one I use, is similar to the StewMac jig that uses a laminate trimmer.

Did you manufacture that yourself?
Thanks for all your (and everyone's) advice.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-04-2009, 07:10 AM
Personally, I flood the sound hole area with thin CA before cutting a soundhole or rosette. It totally stabilizes the wood and eliminates any tear out. This may not work well on light woods such as spruce because it could discolor the wood. Also, down cut spiral carbide bits have rocked my ukulele building world. There are none better IMO.

cornfedgroove
11-04-2009, 07:17 AM
dont downplay "technique"...tools are the focus of this thread I know, but you only mentioned technique in passing and I wanna stress that technique is equally if not more important than superior tools (and I think more). I only say that for those of us that might get discouraged not having fancy tools or the ability to get them, and think that we cant produce something nice w/o lots of cash.

I think better tools weigh heavier in allowing you to do a job more efficiently than necessarily better. Of course it will open the door for "better", but for us that dont make a living off what we are doing, I think some of us need to focus on our technique and skillset. Like Chuck said before in another post...you gotta do it over and over 1000x to develop the technique in order to produce consistent quality. Once your technique and understanding of what it is you're doing develops, you'll then realize the limitations of your current tools and methods, and evaluate the need for a new setup or not.

I dont know if that is right, but its the way I'm thinking at the moment. If you can learn to do the job well with a crap tool, you can learn to do it better with nice ones...and then convince your wife that its worth the money:)

RonS
11-04-2009, 07:43 AM
If you can learn to do the job well with a crap tool, you can learn to do it better with nice ones...and then convince your wife that its worth the money:)

Many times you can't even do a good job with a POS tool.

Sadly crappy tools do more to discourage people then enable people to learn proper techniques.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-04-2009, 07:53 AM
My reply was directed primarily towards Matt, who after just buying a good thickness sander apparently has more than just a passing interest in building. Good tools are always worthwhile and will do a better job faster. These tools are normally required as your interest and proficiency grows. Adequate results however can be achieved with lesser tools. I don't use adequate as a bench mark for my work. Maybe Matt does. I don't know, I don't know him. As a beginner use whatever you have to attain the results you expect. We all started with poor tools. I've built many dozens of ukes primarily with hand tools and a hand held belt sander. My expectations were low then. And I met them!

cornfedgroove
11-04-2009, 08:23 AM
I hear you guys...I'm not fussing at all.

I'm just speaking from where I'm at....I'm improving at little at a time with the low-tech means. Chuck, you're stuff is truly phenomenal...its clear you have top rank expectations. I aim for above average right now, but I'm apples and oranges compared to you most you guys. In terms of progression, I am simply focusing on improving what I can currently do with what I currently have. I can do alot of stuff, and I like to think I can do it pretty well for what I have...that being said, I cant begin to list the things that I cant do or would like to do, it would be discouraging. I just eat one bite at a time and when I get to the point where my current tools are inadequate, then I look to see if I can A)afford it or make it B)find a place to put it.

I have goals for my builds and goals for tools...as I can see how I am limited even now. I focus on milking those tools and achieving the highest limit they can give, acquiring the limited technique they afford until I can purchase something a little better, and start all over but with, I hope, a slightly faster learning curve:)

different jobs require a different range tools, and within that range, you can achieve varying degrees of quality. I just think in the area of soundhole...you can get a nice looking hole with an inexpensive addition. I've been wrong before lol.

ukantor
11-04-2009, 08:39 AM
What happened to the traditional craftsmen who could build a beautiful uke using only hand tools? Nowadays all we seem to have are one-man factories, whose operatives expect to build a complete instrument in two days, then spend the rest of the week talking about their latest machine tool, and how many parts of their anatomy they have accidentally removed with it.;)

Ukantor.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-04-2009, 08:54 AM
A lot of them are building excellent guitars in Paracho, Mexico. These skilled craftsman are using little more than jack knives and wood rasps and have been doing it for generations. I am in awe of what they do.
I doubt if I have the skill to pull off what they are doing. I know I don't have the time. Then there's that silly old economic reason that most craftsman need to consider. My self-employed health insurance bill alone is probably more than they earn in a month.

RonS
11-04-2009, 09:38 AM
:) I never said good tools need to be expensive.



What happened to the traditional craftsmen who could build a beautiful uke using only hand tools? Nowadays all we seem to have are one-man factories, whose operatives expect to build a complete instrument in two days, then spend the rest of the week talking about their latest machine tool, and how many parts of their anatomy they have accidentally removed with it.;)

Ukantor.

I'll admit I'm a tool junkie, some of my best tools are the ones I made.

And there is nothing new about one-man operations. It is a centuries old tradition and quite common in lutherie.

Antonio de Torres (1817-1892) was a one man operation who build some of the finest guitars ever. Some call him the Stradivarius of the guitar world. When he pasted and his family came in to clean his shop, they found a guitar whose sides and back where made from paper mache. Word has it that it was one of the sweetest sounding guitars ever made... and the secret how to make them died with Torres. I'll bet that if there where power tools in Torres's time, he would have purchased them as well.

Timbuck
11-04-2009, 10:06 AM
:eek:I have a "Five Ton Fly Press" with a 1 3/4 inch: Round Hole Punch Tool" i'll put a piece of mahogany sound board in it and punch it out just to see what the results are ???..I don't expect it to be great...but you never know untill you try.

Pete Howlett
11-04-2009, 11:16 AM
It is easy to despise a man for using improved technology because the notion that if something is handmade that is what it needs to be. I don't agree with that.

Edward Barnsley, one of the greatest 20th century cabinet maker/designers employed a foreman called Herbert Upton. Almost all of the work was done by hand until electricity came to the shop. Upton had a bandsaw jig that he used to cut fine dovetails... he found a better way than doing it by hand. I have learnt, like Chuck, that as a full-time builder there is always a bottom line. And as much as it's a great job, you have to be efficient if you want to be able to pay the bills and feed your family.

And if you know anything about the life of Torres you will know that he turned to making guitars again (known as 2nd epoc guitars) out of necessity - He was old and infrim with a young family to support. He had arthritis so bad that the local priest had to come in and help him glue up his last instruments. Do you think he enjoyed working by hand? He probably resented every hour he spent in that hot stuffy workshop in Spain.

There are days when I thank the Lord that someone had the presence of mind to invent the power tools I use and others, like today when I was sharpening my Frosts carving knife that I thank Him for the simple things in life....

Oh and I need to soak in the bath to get rid of the smell of Hippo tusk from my skin - the dust clings and penetrates like nothing I have ever used before :) So I am also thankful that I have hot water that comes out of a tap and I don't have to climb into a tin bath in front of the kitchen stove like my parents once did.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-04-2009, 11:24 AM
Pete, you got the number of that priest? :D

BTW, I've earned the right to use my power tools. After all I generate all the power I consume and even gather all the water I use. My daily life is challenging enough!

cornfedgroove
11-04-2009, 11:29 AM
I have learnt, like Chuck, that as a full-time builder there is always a bottom line. And as much as it's a great job, you have to be efficient if you want to be able to pay the bills and feed your family.


agreed, I dont believe that a guy making instruments with just handtools is better than one with power tools...just varied skillsets

cornfedgroove
11-04-2009, 11:30 AM
Pete, you got the number of that priest? :D

BTW, I've earned the right to use my power tools. After all I generate all the power I consume and even gather all the water I use. My daily life is challenging enough!

what the heck???

Pete Howlett
11-04-2009, 11:33 AM
Those guys Chuck refered to in Paracho are living in an entirely different economy. And Chuck, I could not live like you do - tried it once and it beat me. The only thing I miss from those days is the head freeze from the ice cold water of a bore hole that cost me $6,000 to sink.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-04-2009, 11:51 AM
I sure ain't for sissies. It's getting to be winter soon so I just spent 4 hours on my roof realigning my solar panels to catch enough sun to run the air conditioner and dehumidifier in my building room. Now I've got to water the 48 cells in my 16 batteries. After that I need to treat the 20,000 gallons of rain catchment water. If I have time after that I'll drive into town and collect my mail since I don't get delivery way out here. Thankfully my wife's not afraid of work so she takes care of the animals, garden, orchard, etc. I figure it takes about 20 hours a week of maintenance just to get to the point where everyone else takes for granted. Somewhere in between I manage to build a few ukes.
I really do need that priest!

Matt Clara
11-04-2009, 12:07 PM
I use a 1/16" bit, and chain drill the perimeter - just inside the circle, of course. Then it is a simple matter to cut the centre out, and finish by sanding.

Long-hand, time consuming, but satisfying - and you can do irregular shapes. They don't HAVE to be circular.

Ukantor.

I will keep this in mind for when I want something other than round (and I really love the koaloha onion shaped soundhole, though I doubt they call them onion shaped...!).

I'm also looking into Pete's suggestion of fly cutters.

I will probably invest in a forstner bit for now.

Matt Clara
11-04-2009, 12:10 PM
I sure ain't for sissies. It's getting to be winter soon so I just spent 4 hours on my roof realigning my solar panels to catch enough sun to run the air conditioner and dehumidifier in my building room. Now I've got to water the 48 cells in my 16 batteries. After that I need to treat the 20,000 gallons of rain catchment water. If I have time after that I'll drive into town and collect my mail since I don't get delivery way out here. Thankfully my wife's not afraid of work so she takes care of the animals, garden, orchard, etc. I figure it takes about 20 hours a week of maintenance just to get to the point where everyone else takes for granted. Somewhere in between I manage to build a few ukes.
I really do need that priest!

You're hard core, Chuck, and, I'll warn you right now, if I ever make it to Hawaii (been dropping hints with the Mrs., though she needs to finish her Ph.D. and get a job first) you're on my list of people to visit. You may want to be out of town that week... ;)

Pete Howlett
11-04-2009, 12:38 PM
That guy who builds the xaphoon has a similar lifestyle to you Chuck - your mad mate...absolutely barking :D

camface
11-04-2009, 02:29 PM
I sure ain't for sissies. It's getting to be winter soon so I just spent 4 hours on my roof realigning my solar panels to catch enough sun to run the air conditioner and dehumidifier in my building room. Now I've got to water the 48 cells in my 16 batteries. After that I need to treat the 20,000 gallons of rain catchment water. If I have time after that I'll drive into town and collect my mail since I don't get delivery way out here. Thankfully my wife's not afraid of work so she takes care of the animals, garden, orchard, etc. I figure it takes about 20 hours a week of maintenance just to get to the point where everyone else takes for granted. Somewhere in between I manage to build a few ukes.
I really do need that priest!

How about for a summer job I come out and do that 20 hour a week work in exchange for a uke and being able to watch you work? Sounds like a great deal to me! :P

cornfedgroove
11-04-2009, 02:35 PM
How about for a summer job I come out and do that 20 hour a week work in exchange for a uke and being able to watch you work? Sounds like a great deal to me! :P

wax on, wax off

Philstix
11-04-2009, 05:34 PM
Back to the original question, here is my setup to cut a sound hole. A laminate trimmer, i.e. small router, with a shopmade base. A backboard with a metal stud glued into it. I use a downspiral carbide router bit. I drill a hole the same size as the stud in the middle of the soundhole on the soundboard. Place the sound board over the stud onto the backboard. The router then goes over the stud and rotates to form a perfect circle. The cut out peice is not a problem as it is held in place by the stud. Haven't had a problem with chipout with the downspiral bit. ( the bit in the trimmer is the one I use to trim excess from gluing on the top and back, not the spiral cutter.)

koalohapaul
11-04-2009, 07:06 PM
Something else you may want to consider, if you stick to one size or shape.

Make a template out of something. I prefer acrylic, because you can see through, but you can achieve equal results with laminate board or plain old plywood. With a pluge routing bit, you can pop the bit straight through the top. Follow the template with the grain and you have a sound hole in about 5 seconds.

You can use the template whether the instrument is assembled or not, although I prefer punching the hole before the top is attached. Again, it's a lot easier if you make it out of acrylic, because you'll be able to see right through. Assuming you choose clear, of course.

You can use a plunge router or regular router or laminate trimmer. Doesn't really matter.

Timbuck
11-06-2009, 05:32 AM
As promised I had a go at punching the sound hole out with the 5 ton Fly Press..and the results were better than I expected..I used a piece of Maple for the test..The tool is designed to punch steel plate..so with a punch & Die made with closer tolerance should work even better..its the fastest sound hole I've ever cut:eek: just seconds to do four holes.
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/PICT5437.jpg
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/PICT5441.jpg

dave g
11-06-2009, 05:37 AM
You can do some serious production with that method :rolleyes:

RevWill
11-06-2009, 05:39 AM
Why am I picturing a large, cone-shaped sanding bit mounted in a drill press? Seems like that would be a creative solution to cleaning up a less-than-perfect soundhole.

Not something that I've ever seen that I'm aware of, just what my mind came up with.

RevWill
11-06-2009, 05:41 AM
As promised I had a go at punching the sound hole out with the 5 ton Fly Press..and the results were better than I expected..I used a piece of Maple for the test..The tool is designed to punch steel plate..so with a punch & Die made with closer tolerance should work even better..its the fastest sound hole I've ever cut:eek: just seconds to do four holes.
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/PICT5437.jpg
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/PICT5441.jpg

Perhaps we should all send our tops to you!

Matt Clara
11-06-2009, 08:36 AM
Perhaps we should all send our tops to you!

No kidding! I thought he was joking when he started talking about a five ton press...!

Timbuck
11-06-2009, 09:09 AM
No kidding! I thought he was joking when he started talking about a five ton press...!
No I was serious..Press work is an amazing thing to get into..They use them in manufacturing all sorts of material..Clothing & dress patterns are cut out in bulk with presses especialy Jeans..The Famous Magic "Fluke and Flea" ukes cut out their whole Top's with a modern high power 10 ton press..See here towards the end of the Vid. at about 8:22..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWKFID7KXKA
I thought the nesting of the felt pick's was a waste of good material tho'...I could have got twice as many out of each strip.....if you want to do it this way here is the place http://www.ccsi-inc.com/e-press-atom.htm

camface
11-06-2009, 10:35 AM
Why am I picturing a large, cone-shaped sanding bit mounted in a drill press? Seems like that would be a creative solution to cleaning up a less-than-perfect soundhole.

Not something that I've ever seen that I'm aware of, just what my mind came up with.

I think that's how Sven made his. Maybe he didn't hook it up to a drill press? I dunno.

EDIT:
Yep. http://argapa.blogspot.com/2009/05/making-soundhole.html

Sven
11-06-2009, 10:40 AM
No motor, just a plastic funnel bought for 50 cents... I've been quietly reading these posts after writing my own. And now I feel more primitive than ever. Still, it works. I can even move the hole around a bit before it reaches the full size.

Sven

Timbuck
11-06-2009, 10:51 AM
No motor, just a plastic funnel bought for 50 cents... I've been quietly reading these posts after writing my own. And now I feel more primitive than ever. Still, it works. I can even move the hole around a bit before it reaches the full size.

Sven
In my opinion ..Svens method of rounding out a "rough cut hole" is as good as any method i've come across..Simple procedure and anyone can do it.:agree:

Sven
11-06-2009, 10:53 AM
Thanks Ken. I'll never tell you about the methods I stopped using...

Timbuck
11-07-2009, 07:37 AM
From what I heard about you Sven I can imagine you wrapping abrasive paper around your todger, and getting some enjoyment out of the Job:drool:

Sven
11-07-2009, 11:55 PM
What the hell have you heard about me?

Note to self: google "todger"...

Timbuck
11-08-2009, 12:49 AM
What the hell have you heard about me?

Note to self: google "todger"...
I remember your remarks regarding "the aroma bone made" when cut with the bandsaw :rolleyes: