View Full Version : Build Log for #002

12-30-2011, 09:32 AM
There was recently a very interesting discussion started by Pete Howlett on the subject of peer review and this sub-forum. As a beginning builder, Iím not going to offer anything to the peer review discussion because Iím not a ďpeer.Ē With respect to the use and usefulness of the sub-forum, it has certainly been of immense value to me and, Iím sure, to other inexperienced builders. For aspiring builders, there is a practically endless vein of useful information already in place and, also, an opportunity to get constructive criticism from the experts to improve our projects. As someone else observed, there may be the occasional ďattaboy,Ē and no one doesnít like praise, but most of us would rather get useful advice about our materials, tools, and techniques even if some criticism is involved. So, Iím going to toss up a log as my second build goes along. I hope that it creates a vehicle for input from others and, perhaps, an inspiration for other beginners to take the plunge.

Since my first build was a concert, I thought that it would be a good idea to do another concert for the sake of continuity. In reality, the first few builds are less about the final instruments than about 1) making tools and jigs, 2) learning about tonewoods and other materials, and 3) learning how to do things in ways that are consistent with good lutherie practice and still compatible with your own skills and the available tools.

Collecting wood has been a lot of fun. One of the pros recently mentioned that amateurs have a freedom that the pros donít. We can use woods that donít turn up much in commercially mainstream ukuleles because we donít have to conform to what customers will accept. This opens up a wide range of potential materials that work fine but arenít koa or Honduras mahogany or the other classic choices. There are only two hardwood outlets within an hour-and-a-half drive so pickinsí ainít easy but itís still amazing what turns up from time to time. Last week, the hardwood place in town got in a new load of walnut and right on top of the stack was a seven foot 1x5 board with nearly vertical grain through most of it. Someone had thoughtfully put it on the top of the stack for me to find so it got taken home. After resawing a couple of slats and thicknessing them on the drum sander, the hot pipe was fired up and all went well until the second side snapped. This was a real surprise because I thought that I was taking it slow, but thatís how you learn the feel. Luckily, the good piece was back-to-back with the next surface on the board so a matched replacement was sawn off and the sides were completed.


Although this is only my second instrument, Iíve tried bending a number of woods and have found that walnut takes to bending well enough to be near the top of the list of beginnersí woods.

There is a shop down the road that uses Port Orford cedar to make planter boxes. The guys there kindly gave me some 2x6 drops to experiment with. Each piece is enough to make a laminated neck. An eighth inch of walnut was laminated down the middle with epoxy.

All other gluing on this instrument has been done with hot hide glue but it seems like epoxy is a better choice for neck laminations to avoid water absorption and possible warping. The dowels were used to hold the three pieces in position so they wouldnít slide during clamping. Of course, they are removed when the neck blank is sawed to the correct profile.

The Wagner Safe-T-Planer has detractors and supporters and it wonít add much if we debate its virtues here. I will say, though, that it works wonderfully when the work piece is moved beneath it on a sliding table. Iím lucky enough to have a metalworking mill to do this job but the same could be accomplished with a cross-slide table under a drill press.




12-30-2011, 09:33 AM
I've tried a couple methods for truing up edges to glue tops and backs. Sanding with a vertical guide over sandpaper stuck to a piece of glass works but planing with a shooting board is quicker, truer and cleaner.


After making some mistakes when gluing plates, I've settled on a one-two approach. The tape method allows the hot hide glue to be applied and the joint closed quickly. The wedge method then comes into play to insure continued, firm contact and flatness. The oak 1x2 down the middle was chosen because it has a substantial bow that helps to apply pressure at the center of the plate.


The resulting joint is pretty well tight.


Here in Oregon, we can buy perfectly quarter sawn western hemlock all day long at Home Depot. Brad has commented on this and has successfully used hemlock in his super-economy build for kids. The grain is usually very fine but I stumbled on a QS 1x12 plank with grain that looks more like cherry (cherry on the left and hemlock on the right, with the contrast boosted to better show the grain).


The hemlock is stiff and has a nice tap tone, so we'll see how it sounds as a top.

Now for a question. A 15' dish was used to contour the sides for the radiused back.


I’ve read that a good way to avoid problems with the neck and fret board angle is to radius the top only below the sound hole. How is this done? How do you get a gradual transition between the flat area and the radiused area?

Thanks and best regards to all,

12-30-2011, 07:04 PM
Looking good David. Your cookin in oil now.

12-31-2011, 07:29 AM
Here's how I answered my own question. The top rim of the sides was first sanded flat. The upper half was taped off and the lower half was sanded in the dish with a piece of heavy paper under the upper half. Pencil witness marks were put on the rim near the waist and the lower half was sanded until the marks were gone almost to the waist. The tape was removed and the sanding continued right to the end of the witness marks and a bit past with a little rocking motion to create a smooth transition between the upper and lower halves. This may not be the best or most efficient way of radiusing only half of the top but it works.

In retrospect, the tape step wasn't necessary but caution was a good idea at the time.



Solid linings were bent out of Honduras mahogany. This worked out fine except that they are a bit more trouble to glue in place. They have to go in in one piece per side and there is a lot of clamping to be done quick.

12-31-2011, 02:32 PM
Thanks, tonewood!

Cutting a sound hole on a mill is way overkill for accuracy but that's not a disadvantage. It certainly is a convenient way to do this job. There is a Proxxon tool lashed to the mill head because the mill only goes to 3000 rpm, which isn't enough for little router bits in wood. The rotary table insures a perfectly cut hole.


This afternoon was spent developing deep respect for people who do detailed rosettes. This was the second effort. The first was thoroughly botched mess of wood and CA and had to be completely routed out. The primary wood is walnut, to match the body. The black and white are wood purfling strips from LMI.


12-31-2011, 04:17 PM
Looking pretty good, Saltytri. (What's that mean, anyhow?)

01-01-2012, 07:45 PM
Thanks, John.

The name goes back to my seafaring days. I'm not quite as salty now.

01-03-2012, 03:55 PM

Number 2 is coming along. Next, I'll shape the back braces, trim the top and then get to work on fitting the neck.

For the life of me, I can't see how it's possible to work at the speed necessary to glue a top on with HHG without getting glue in places where it shouldn't be. Lots of experience, I guess.

Another lesson learned: The sides were raised in the mold to provide some clearance while gluing the top. The turnbuckle cauls in the bouts weren't tight enough and as the go-bars were put in place, the sides slipped down in the mold. This released the pressure provided by the go-bars, so I quickly removed them and the top. When I used water to help clean the rapidly gelling glue off the top, it went "potato chip" on me because of the moisture. It was pretty alarming but I put the top onto the radius dish and weighted it well. The next day, it was fine, thank goodness.

Of course, some things do work out as planned. With the neck squared up to the body and the fretboard in place, the basic relationships for a good setup are right on target: a straight edge from the 1st fret to a 1/8" rod at the 14th fret ends up yielding a saddle height of .40" - sweet! And the lower end of the fretboard sits flat on the top.


01-05-2012, 05:42 PM
Time to whip the neck into shape. First, a 1/4" diameter carbon fiber tube was epoxied into the neck for insurance. The neck will bolt on with a barrel nut and a #10 screw. Hardware store barrel bolts take 1/4" screws and are made of steel. To "add lightness," every little bit counts, so I made up a few out of aluminum and tapped them for 10-24.


A fret caul was made to mount in the drill press. I got my first taste of ebony and it really took some careful work to get the frets pressed in straight. It helps to run a little triangle file along the slots to open up the tops a bit so that the frets can get started straight down. In the end, the frets seem to be pretty even and it looks like there won't be a huge amount of leveling required once the fretboard is glued flat.


01-05-2012, 06:01 PM
After the first concert, I altered the mold to make a flat just wide enough to seat the neck. This makes a lot of sense to me, as perfectly fitting a neck to a curved surface isn't easy. A hole was drilled perpendicular through the heel block to match the approximate location of the barrel bolt in the neck.


Since I know machine work better than lutherie, I tend to fall back onto machinists' tricks to solve problems. This nifty hardened steel tool is commonly used to locate a hole to match an existing hole. They come in sets in 64th inch increments but it is easy to make one to suit a particular purpose like this by turning a piece of brass rod in a drill press.


The neck is aligned in the correct position against the body and the pointed rod is pushed in a bit to mark the place to drill the corresponding hole in the neck.



I couldn't decide whether to do 12 or 14 frets to the neck so I settled on 13 like a Koaloha. The fretboard was kept short, no longer than the heel block that is under it. I'm not a good enough player to do dazzling things way up the fretboard and leaving it short may allow the upper bout to contribute more to the sound.

Shaping the neck will come next.

01-05-2012, 08:23 PM
Its coming along very nicely, and should turn out a treat.

Don't know if you're aware of issues with CA and softwood tops, but it bears mentioning in case others reading this don't. When using CA on softwoods like spruce, western red cedar, red wood etc. always seal the surface with something like shellac, lacquer or even hide glue. Otherwise the CA will wick up the end grain quicker than a rat going down a drain. Staining the top in a way that no amount of sanding will save. It's a very common mistake, and one you don't forget quickly.

The other tip about using HHG for attaching any large surface that you are having trouble getting around will make it dead easy. It involves using the very thing that makes using HHG a treat. It is reactivated with moisture and heat.

First off you need to size both mating surfaces with thin HHG glue. All you are doing is getting a very thin wet surface. Then let completely dry if you like while you get your clamps and wits about you.

Now if you're not confident in doing the whole plate in one go, you can do it in small pieces. Start at a point that makes sense to you. Like at the neck block if you use an alignment pin or your upper bout with the transverse braces fitting into the linings. Apply full strength glue to that area and clamp up.

Now that's out of the way you need a pallet knife to dip into your glue and then slip that between the top and linings. Spreading a layer of fresh hot glue. Remember it doesn't take much. You've already got glue in there when you sized the parts. Do a short stretch and clamp up. Continue around the perimeter until it's all complete. And it doesn't matter how large the instrument is. This technique works just the same on a uke as a double bass.

Turn off the glue pot and grab a beer while you stand back and admire your handiwork. And don't forget to give yourself a pat on the back.

As an aside, this is also how you accomplish some types of repairs where HHG was used originally.

01-06-2012, 03:37 PM
Those are both great tips - thanks, Allen! I bought a thin pallet knife today and I'll try this method when the back goes on. It makes perfect sense to break the job down into manageable segments.

01-07-2012, 02:50 PM
The method used to glue the back was adapted from Allen's advice. Both surfaces were sized with thin glue. The upper bout was clamped to the sides and the back was lifted about a quarter inch so that glue could be applied. After the lower bout was clamped, the upped bout was raised a bit and glue applied. Also, the warm palette knife was slipped in the joint as far as it would go toward the lower bout to make sure that glue got all the way into the joint. Doing it in halves gave me enough time to feel comfortable.


After the glue was set, final fitting was done to the neck and the body was sanded. Next, the neck will be sculpted to form.


01-07-2012, 04:08 PM
Love the details! I plan on trying my hand at building a uke this year & posts like these are so instructional & motivational as well.

01-07-2012, 07:07 PM
There you go. Easy as, wasn't it.

Liam Ryan
01-07-2012, 07:53 PM
The other option, similar to allen's method, is to glue it in a mad rush then go through with the pallet knife to sort any bits that didn't stick down properly. Most of the time I find it all sticks down fine.

01-08-2012, 04:17 AM
Go for it, Gmoney. The rewards far outweigh the frustrations. I see that you're on Brad's list also. I spent a dizzying afternoon with him last summer getting a big dose of practical lutherie. At that point, the plan was no more than to acquire one of his instruments but the building seed took root. I'm looking forward to having his work to play and also to copy, as that is a tried and true way to learn.

Hot hide glue certainly has a discouraging reputation. Someone commented here recently that he's getting good at it after twenty-five years. I'm learning that it really isn't quite that grim. It does take more time and care than glue-in-a-bottle and there is no point in second-guessing those who decide that HHG isn't worth the trouble. Both are valid preferences but I'm having fun for now with the more traditional approach.

Thanks for that idea, Liam. Now, I've got to figure out how to make a heated palette knife.

01-08-2012, 04:28 AM
Thanks for that idea, Liam. Now, I've got to figure out how to make a heated palette knife.

Check out this DIY link for artists who work with Encaustics.

01-08-2012, 04:56 AM
Thanks, Gyozu! That site is a goldmine of ideas. It made me realize that the solution is my under my nose. Stay tuned.

01-08-2012, 09:16 AM
With a bit more practice and confidence you'll find that getting around a uke in one go is quite easy. But there is nothing wrong with doing the glue up in manageable parts either.

01-08-2012, 09:57 AM
You can bet that I'm looking forward to that!

01-08-2012, 02:39 PM
Your pix are really good, Saltytri. After 30-odd years you guys are pushing me toward HHG.

01-09-2012, 02:48 AM
The comments made by Allen and Liam about using a palette knife to assist got me going.

Pore filling with epoxy (Bob Smith Finish-Cure) means waiting time that got filled up with some thinking and fabrication. A trip to Ace Hardware yielded a 25W Weller soldering iron on sale for ten bucks. The tip is made of copper, of course, so it was easily cut with a very narrow kerf hobby saw. The blade of the palette knife was cut off and soldered into the kerf. No need to get out a soldering iron for that job - the tool makes the tool! The solder melts at something like 360F so it will be fine at 140F for HHG. The aluminum sleeve around the shaft isn't strictly necessary but it provides a place to put a port for a temperature probe and also serves as a heat sink to improve the delivery of heat at a stable temperature. A Powerstat variable AC transformer is used to regulate heat but a small light dimmer would work just as well.

The next time the HHG is hot, I'll do some testing.


01-10-2012, 06:49 PM
I bent a piece of cheap mahogany into a faux side and bent a strip of myrtle to simulate a solid lining. Both were sized and allow to dry. The soldering iron was then used to reheat the joint inch by inch, clamping as I went. The verdict is that this seems to be a useful tool. No doubt it is better to develop the skill to work quickly so that whole pieces can be glued at once but I can see how this is a useful thing to have in the bag of tricks. Now, back to the uke.

lauri girouard
01-11-2012, 02:43 AM
Saltytri, This has been a very informative post to look read/look at. Great job with the photos and explanation of the step in process. Keep them coming.

01-12-2012, 07:13 PM
There are lots of ways to keep the fretboard from sliding around while clamping it. This is what works for me. Music wire is widely available in hobby shops. The .039" or 1mm size is about the same diameter as a #60 bit. Two holes are drilled in the back of the fretboard and 1/4" pieces of wire are inserted and then glued with a small drop of CA. The wire is then cut off close to the fretboard with end nippers, leaving just a nub. The fretboard is then pressed into place on the neck. This is enough to keep it in place while gluing.


The fretboard is glued to the neck with epoxy. Clamping it with the frets in contact with a piece of flat and thick plate helps to keep it flat and to minimize fret work later on.


Walnut and hemlock from the same boards that were used for the body were used to make a peghead plate. The walnut had some pretty twisted grain at the end of the board that was perfect for this piece. CA was used on the edge joints to speed up the process. My informal testing seems to show that CA edge joints aren't impressively strong but they ought to be fine here. After all, the plate gets glued to the peghead so the assembly ends up plenty rigid.


The peghead plate is glued on with epoxy. A spacer the exact width of the nut is inserted before the plate is clamped down. The front edge of the plate is beveled to 14 degrees so that it sits flush against the spacer. The spacer is waxed so it pops out easily, leaving a perfect nut slot.


01-12-2012, 09:53 PM
Dang, your workshop is so clean. Makes mine look like Port-au-Prince.

01-13-2012, 03:01 AM
Sven, I'm deliberately not showing any wide-angle views so that I won't be embarrassed!

01-13-2012, 03:18 AM
I'd have to zoom in quite a bit and take a macro pic between two shavings to make it look as neat as what you're showing...

01-13-2012, 03:28 AM
Does this make you feel any better? :D:D

01-13-2012, 09:49 AM
Ha haa! Really, thanks.

Now let's continue to follow your build, sorry for the stupidities... I really like your engineering skills, displayed in your jig and tool making.

01-14-2012, 07:01 AM
On the home stretch! These 3" diameter sanding drums are great for doing the fine work on the compound curves at both ends of the neck. They are stiff enough to hold their shape without being mounted on a form and make short work of producing curves that are fair and smooth.


The neck got a coat of epoxy for pore filling, like the body. The Port Orford cedar smells so good that it is a shame to cover it up!


Liam Ryan
01-14-2012, 11:25 AM
Does port orford cedar have pores?

01-14-2012, 11:57 AM
Not really, but the walnut stringer and peghead plate need filling to match the body and this step will probably do the cedar some good, also. It isn't practical for me to spray lacquer this time of year so the finish regime, which is already well along on the body, is epoxy, then Tru-Oil Sealer & Filler, then Tru-Oil.

01-14-2012, 01:39 PM
I really like the neck you made, especially the grain at the head stock is symmetrical. Very very nice.
I like the laminate neck you did here.

01-14-2012, 02:14 PM
Thanks! It's got that stripe of yellow in it but I decided to think of it as a feature rather than a defect. It's all about attitude.

Orienting the grain that way results in nice grain stripes along the sides and a "fan" on the underside of the peghead. :)

01-20-2012, 04:44 AM
Getting closer all the time! After preliminary finish with epoxy, Tru-Oil Sealer & Filler and Tru-Oil, the neck was bolted and glued to the body using HHG. Of course, the joints were scraped to wood before gluing. The sealer is intended as an undercoat but it seems to work fine when applied over Tru-Oil to touch up flaws so a couple of coats were used at the joint to make it look nice. A few more coats of Tru-Oil will be applied with some rubbing in between. While that is happening, I'll make the bridge, which is the last part to be fabricated.


01-21-2012, 05:50 PM
The ebony bridge blank was cut to size and then slotted on the mill. This makes it fairly easy to get a perfectly flat bottom in the slot and a snug fit for the saddle.



The bridge is sitting on the partly completed mold for the next project.

Hippie Dribble
01-28-2012, 01:13 PM
wow David, this is a very classy, insightful, humble and detailed thread. Just read through from go to whoa, seriously impressive in skill and attitude mate. Wonderful. Congratulations on your progress, it's looking amazing. I love walnut as a tonewood also, and will be really interested to hear this once it's strung up...

01-28-2012, 04:23 PM
Nice to hear from you, Jon, and thanks for the good word! I've been having fun out in the shop and #003 is well along. But "humble" I don't know - any beginner who would use the number series 001, 002, 003 etc. instead of 1, 2, 3 has got to be cocky. ;) Like I'm really ever going to need all those digits.

I'm still enjoying your CDs. They are great to listen to on the way to work - kind of a perky way to start the day.

Best regards, David

02-01-2012, 04:26 PM
#002 is finally complete and ready to send off to its new owner. All along, this one has been earmarked for a young lady whom we have known since before she was born. She is of the Lady Gaga generation so I hope it isn't too plain for her. :D


After quite a few thin coats of Tru-Oil and a few days of drying, Birchwood Casey Stock Sheen and Conditioner was used to lightly rub out the finish. This leaves a lustrous satin sheen. Last, Minwax paste wax was applied. I like the Minwax product better than other paste waxes because it has very little odor. An instrument ought to smell like wood, not like wax.



02-01-2012, 04:30 PM
It's strung with Fremont Black Fluorocarbons and the sound is full with lots of sustain.




02-01-2012, 08:00 PM
Absolutely gorgeous. When are you accepting orders?

02-01-2012, 08:31 PM
Your build is so clean. Hard to believe that this is only your #2.
The young lady is lucky to have this ukulele.

02-02-2012, 07:56 AM
Thanks, folks!

02-02-2012, 09:07 AM
wow and WOW. thats amazing work for your second!!!!

02-02-2012, 09:37 PM
Beautiful. I love the simplicity of plain ukes.

02-03-2012, 02:25 PM
Very nicely done. I am working on my first uke - a tenor and my work is no where near as nice as yours. Great job and thanks for all the detail and pictures in your documentation of this build.

:) :):)