View Full Version : Building a Laminated Uke

12-05-2010, 05:44 PM
For those of you who do not have a shop full of tools and are trying to get the nerve to attempt a scratch build, here is a Christmas present. After a fair amount of trial and error, I have worked out this construction method that simpifies the building process and is easy on the checkbook. In a nutshell, the body of the uke is constructed of laminated veneers. Three layers of veneers yield a thickness of 1.7 - 1.8 mm, which is ideal. No thickness sander or tedious sanding, scraping needed. The sides are cold bent and laminated over a form, so no side bender is needed. I purchased the veneers from a Woodcraft store, they are fairly inexpensive, and are available online if necessary. The selection of woods available is large, and because you are building a laminate, you are free to design some wild looking instruments. Here are some pics of the first one I built. Outer layer of the top is fiddleback maple, outer layers of the back and sides are walnut. The two inner layers are H. mahogany. The three piece neck is walnut with a maple center. I will be posting the construction details and pics shortly.

12-05-2010, 07:42 PM
It's beautiful. What about the sound? Look forward to posting of construction details. Even I may be able to do it. Hope so.

12-05-2010, 08:52 PM
wow, that is interesting.
Please share with us the construction details.
I am interested to build one too.

mm stan
12-05-2010, 11:50 PM
Aloha Brad,
Nice job, I prefer cold bending, it must have a nice sound.....Thanks for sharing....MM Stan

12-06-2010, 08:33 AM
Wow, can't wait for more details Brad! That looks very nice and I am intersted in learning this building method as well, thanks for sharing! :)

12-06-2010, 10:09 AM
Yes, I want to know the secret! I tried to build a laminated back a year ago, using three layers of cherry veneer, and couldn't get them to stick together properly. I was using hot hide glue - maybe I just didn't get them together fast enough. But it seemed as if some patches just sucked up glue, whereas on other it sat on the surface.

12-06-2010, 02:15 PM
OK, here is installment number 2, how to laminate the top and back. ProfChris put his finger on the main problem, what glue to use? With thin veneers glue bleed through is going to happen, so regular Titebond is out. Regular hide glue has a short working time, and wrestling with veneers takes a while. What worked for me was Titebond Liquid Hide Glue. It has a very long working time and set up time, what bleed through that occurs is easily removed with a damp rag and it does not matter anyway because the bleed through does not show through the finish.

The pics show my clamping jig, which is just two pieces of 3/4" birch ply topped with Formica so the bleed through does not glue everything together. You can see one of my test runs on the jig. The holes were drilled in the ply to help things dry. Even then, you need to let things sit overnight to set up properly. So that is the short version, let fly with any questions you may have. Next up, how to laminate the sides.


12-06-2010, 02:35 PM
Hi! Brad,
I really appreciate that you share your methods with us.
SO, the first question I can think of is ...do you glues the veneers cross grain?
does this matter at all?

12-06-2010, 03:33 PM
Hey UkeforJC, you are very welcome. I have benefitted greatly over the years because a number of world class luthiers freely shared their knowledge with me, this is my way of giving something back. To answer your question, yes, I glued the middle layer with the grain 90 degrees from the outer layers. Whether this is important or not, I don't know, but it is the standard way of laminating wood.


12-08-2010, 03:07 PM
Here is how I lay up and bend the sides. The pics show the bending form I made. The form consists of two pieces of 1/4" plywood, cut to the shape of the sides, (-1/8" to allow for the thickness of the sides and the cross sticks), with a number of 1/16 x 3/8 x 3.5" cross pieces. Rubber bands are used to hold the veneers in place while drying. Craft sticks are a quick and easy way to get the sticks. The layup consists of two long outer layers and three pieces of inner layer material, cut with the grain 90 degrees to the other layers. The sides are glued up in two operations. The inside long piece of veneer is layed over the form, glue is applied the the center of the inside veneer, this is placed over the waist area of the side and using gentle pressure to bend things to shape, rubber bands are used to hold thing in place. Then you add the other two inside veneers on either end, again using rubber bands to hold things together. Let this setup dry overnight, and add the third layer of veneer as before. That is a quick and dirty explanation of the process, again if something is not clear, ask me to explain.


12-09-2010, 04:25 AM
Thanks for this Bradford. Ive been contemplating an instrument or two with double sides, and how to go about it. This post makes things a little clearer in my mind.

Take care,

dave g
12-09-2010, 05:46 AM
Fascinating! How's the sound?

12-09-2010, 07:54 AM
It sounds great, I took it to the ukulele group that I play with yesterday and they could not believe it was a laminate. I'll try and do a video when I get a chance. I think this type of construction has a lot of potential for home builders. You could use it to make a top for a CBU, make the whole body like I did, or do the sides and back with a solid top. By bookmatching, you can do concerts and tenor sizes. I've just scratched the surface here, hopefully others will join in and we can refine the process.


dave g
12-09-2010, 08:33 AM
I'm thinking arch top :)

12-09-2010, 11:13 AM
Here is a video sound sample of the uke.

Dave the idea of laminating an arch top is interesting.

12-09-2010, 01:26 PM
Brad ..I just watched the video..I had no idea that you were such a good looking dude:)...The uke is very impressive, great method for wannabe builders who dont have the bending and sanding gear.....My very first attempt at building a uke (3 years ago) had 2 layer veneer laminated sides, I glued the two pieces together with "Titebond" then bent them in the hot Foxy bender..the heat seperated them from the glue and they ended up as scrap.:mad:

12-09-2010, 02:51 PM
That was a great video Brad. The uke sounded really good

12-09-2010, 05:13 PM
Here is a video sound sample of the uke.

Dave the idea of laminating an arch top is interesting.

Thanks much, Dave, for everything. I'm beginning to believe I can do it too. About your video: impressed by the sound of this laminated uke, good voice, great performance, loved the stage and the hands free magnifier on your head was a nice touch. Sincerely appreciate all the written and video info.

12-09-2010, 07:41 PM
That is a very nice video. You play and sing so well too.

So, in order to bend the sides, I will have to figure out a way to make the form first.
However, I don't have any power saw to cut the plywood.
Is there any other way of cold bending? or other kind of form that can possibliy serve the same purpose?

Like the kind Dave g uses in his video?

Thank you ..

12-10-2010, 07:06 AM
Great idea Brad! This just might be the ticket for my next backpacking ukulele!

Vic D
12-10-2010, 10:40 AM
What an excellent idea and that uke sounds fantastic. Really. Can't wait to see the supplies and instructions available in a package for folks. I might even be tempted myself.

12-10-2010, 12:19 PM
I have done some veneering in my cabinet work from time to time. I researched it quite a bit and for cold press veneering they have special glues that work better than the titebond. This was one of them I looked at. I ended up use titebond as this was not readily available locally but I made a note to get some ahead of time when i had another veneer project. This can be used with or without a vacuum press. http://www.veneersupplies.com/products/Better-Bond-Veneer-Glue-Color-Medium.html

A vacuum press would be an interesting addition to the process if you started to scale up production. The form and veneers in a bag, crank up the press and come back later.

Cool idea.


12-10-2010, 12:49 PM
Great stuff Bradford. The uke sounds fantastic. I think you are on to something here for those that want to get their feet wet without a significant investment in tools.

Koa Soprano
12-10-2010, 06:40 PM
Very neat uke.

About what glue to use, Lee Valley sells Pearl Hide Glue which it states is a better choice for veneering than Granular.


12-14-2010, 01:42 PM
Thanks for all your great responses. As for not having a power saw to cut out the plywood for the side bending form, you could use several layers of stiff cardboard and cut them out with an Xacto knife. However, if you are thinking of building a uke like this, you will need some sort of saw sooner or later. A simple coping saw will work or a cheap saber saw will also do. I put a fair amount of thought into this particular design to make things as easy as I possibly could. The top and back are flat, I usually radius both. The shoulders are square, so the end blocks are flat, no need to match curves. This also helps when fitting and attaching the neck. In this case, I fitted and attached the neck before gluing on the back, using two wood screws and regular Titebond glue. If any of you would like a drawing of the body plan, send me an email at donaldson_b@earthlink.net and I'll draw it up and send it out.


12-15-2010, 10:44 AM
One more set of questions Brad. How do you clamp the sides in the mould when laminating them. You made a passing reference to elastic bands - is this sufficient to get a good bond? Do you place some sheet material on top to get even pressure?

My understanding is that you glue the inner layer to the middle layer in two stages (waist, then upper/lower bouts), allowing overnight drying between each. Then you apply the outside layer in the same way. Have I got it straight?

12-15-2010, 12:55 PM
Yes, ProfChris, I used rubber bands to clamp the sides in the form. I checked the thickness of the sides after laminating them and compared them to the top and backs, which were laminated under much more pressure. They were the same, apparently the Titebond liquid hide glue acts like regular hide glue and draws the wood together as it dries. You do have the procedure I used correct. I used enough glue that I got just a little squeeze out, and a moderate amount of bleed through. It may take a bit of practice to get it down.


12-16-2010, 02:02 AM
Excellent write up! Every laminate uke I have ever heard has sounded fantastic

12-16-2010, 08:12 AM
When gluing up the top and back, does it make a difference if you glue on the top (visible) veneer last or first? Have you noticed any audible changes in different wood types of the veneers you have used?


12-16-2010, 09:31 AM
I can't think of any reason that it would matter what order you glued on the outside layer. As for your second question, I don't know, I've only built one uke this way. I am hoping that a number of us will start experimenting and we can learn the answers to such things. I'm starting #2 now, will keep the group posted on the progress.


01-27-2011, 08:02 PM
any progress on the new laminated uke?