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View Full Version : How thick for sitka tenor top?



JamieFromOntario
06-20-2012, 07:39 AM
I'm getting ready to start my second, serious, kit build. I'll be using a tenor stewmac kit but am planning to swap out the mahogany top for some nice sitka spruce I picked up.

From what I've seen on the 'net, it looks like a thickness of around 2-2.5mm is optimal.

Does that sound about right?


Also, I have another top that's engelmann spruce that i'll use for my next next build; Should it be thicker/thinner/same as the sitka?


thanks

weerpool
06-20-2012, 07:43 AM
there's a couple of forum topics that touched on this particular subject just recently. theres some ballpark figures for the thickness if youre not sure what tonal quality your after.look it up.
I'm getting ready to start my second, serious, kit build. I'll be using a tenor stewmac kit but am planning to swap out the mahogany top for some nice sitka spruce I picked up.

From what I've seen on the 'net, it looks like a thickness of around 2-2.5mm is optimal.

Does that sound about right?


Also, I have another top that's engelmann spruce that i'll use for my next next build; Should it be thicker/thinner/same as the sitka?


thanks

Bradford
06-20-2012, 08:20 AM
My normal range for a Sitka tenor would be between 1.9 to 2.2 mm. Engelmann is usually a little lighter and more flexible that Sitka, so I would go a little thicker with it.

Brad

JamieFromOntario
06-20-2012, 08:27 AM
My normal range for a Sitka tenor would be between 1.9 to 2.2 mm. Engelmann is usually a little lighter and more flexible that Sitka, so I would go a little thicker with it.

Brad


Thanks - I think i'll aim for 2.0mm for the sitka and maybe 2.5mm for the engelmann.

Now, to find someone in my area with a thickness planer...

Bradford
06-20-2012, 09:33 AM
If you are going with 2.0 mm for the Sitka, I would aim for 2.1-2.2 mm for the Engelmann.

Brad

Sven
06-20-2012, 10:09 AM
Now, to find someone in my area with a thickness planer...
Oooh - that's risky. To plane wood that thin in a planer, you need to stick it to a sturdy piece of plywood to stop it disintegrating. And then it'll be hard to peel it off the plywood.

I planed cedar once, so take my word on it. Both scenarios.

Find someone with a thickness sander, or learn how to do it by hand. (Or build a thickness sander. By hand.)

Good luck.

Allen
06-20-2012, 10:21 AM
Absolute disaster is waiting for you trying to use a thickness planer with wood that thin.

Drum sander is what most of us will use. Otherwise it's hand planes and scrapers.

Michael Smith
06-20-2012, 10:34 AM
Most planers will turn your nice top into tooth picks. You need a thickness sander.

JamieFromOntario
06-20-2012, 11:00 AM
Most planers will turn your nice top into tooth picks. You need a thickness sander.


Thanks everyone for pointing this out.


I'll keep trying to connect with a cabinet maker or similar woodworker. Do you think that they would have thickness sanders?


thanks again,
~jamie

JamieFromOntario
06-20-2012, 11:07 AM
Absolute disaster is waiting for you trying to use a thickness planer with wood that thin.

Drum sander is what most of us will use. Otherwise it's hand planes and scrapers.


In terms of doing by hand, I guess I'm looking at some hand planes (a scraper plane, perhaps)?

I'd be totally willing to try it; I like to work with hand tools and don't mind taking the time. My big questions would be on how to assess the thickness as I do the hand planing. I don't have any sort of calliper, and the ones i've seen on stewmac (http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Calipers/Thickness_Caliper.html?actn=100101&xst=3&xsr=16605) are awful pricey for me right now...

singh44s
06-20-2012, 11:24 AM
Thanks - I think i'll aim for 2.0mm for the sitka and maybe 2.5mm for the engelmann.

Now, to find someone in my area with a thickness planer...

At what amount of thickness reduction would those of you in the know begin using hand planes and cabinet scrapers?

UkeforJC
06-20-2012, 12:49 PM
I start from 3.5 - 4mm, then hand plane down to ~ 2mm.
When you purchase tone wood sets on ebay or other tone wood suppliers, usually they have sanded the sets to around 3.5-4.5 mm.
It is a lot of work using a hand plane. Very very slow, but eventually you will get there.
YMMV..

JamieFromOntario
06-21-2012, 03:51 AM
So, assuming I can't find someone with a thickness sander (and I do not have the money, space or skill to build one myself), what is my best choice for thicknessing these boards?

I've read that a scraper plane would be a good type to use. Or if there another type of plane that would work better? (please don't suggest that I use like three different types of plane or some such - I simply don't have the cash to purchase more than one)

Since I don't have a calliper to check thickness at different points on the board, how should I gage thickness? Using a ruler and straight-edge?

mzuch
06-21-2012, 04:59 AM
Check to see if there is a Woodcraft store or a woodworkers' collective near you. They typically charge an affordable hourly rate for use of their shops and equipment.

Liam Ryan
06-21-2012, 05:28 AM
There's a reason people who build with any sort of regularity spend stupid amounts on tools and machines. Even the hand tool purists have some pretty pennies invested in nice planes, chisels etc.

You can't build a nice uke on the cheap.

JamieFromOntario
06-21-2012, 05:44 AM
There's a reason people who build with any sort of regularity spend stupid amounts on tools and machines. Even the hand tool purists have some pretty pennies invested in nice planes, chisels etc.

You can't build a nice uke on the cheap.


I totally hear you on this. I am prepared to spend a fair amount on a plane, I just need to know which is the best choice assuming I can only get one.
I would love to have a larger house (with a garage) and a couple grand for tools (i just spent $500+ on supplies and fret pressing tools). I'm sure that over the next ten years, I'll get there.


Mzuch - I am trying to connect with such a group but haven't had any luck yet.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
06-21-2012, 06:11 AM
Start cruising Craigslist to get a good head start on some used tools. In the time being seek out a wood workers guild in your area or cabinet shop to help you out with some of the more tedious tasks. Plan ahead and get all the materials thickness sanded for several ukes. It should take less than an hour and will save you days worth of time, and you'll likely end up with a better product.

Allen
06-21-2012, 10:00 AM
It shouldn't be all that difficult to find a local builder who has a drum sander either. They may be willing to thickness sand some pieces for you if you ask nice and show up with a slab of beer or whatever the going commodity is in your area.

Sven
06-21-2012, 10:41 AM
How much does a caliper cost where you live? I can get a cheap digital for the eqv of 17 or 18 dollars, and a better non-digital one for about twice that. And a good caliper is nice to have.

JamieFromOntario
06-21-2012, 11:13 AM
How much does a caliper cost where you live? I can get a cheap digital for the eqv of 17 or 18 dollars, and a better non-digital one for about twice that. And a good caliper is nice to have.

I've only looked on Stewmac so far for callipers - as you may have seen, they are quite expensive there.

You're right that I could probably get one at a local hardware store. (lo and behold:http://www.canadiantire.ca/AST/browse/6/Tools/MeasuringTools/SpecialtyMeasuring/PRDOVR~0586800P/Mastercraft+Digital+Caliper.jsp?locale=en)

Does the one you got for $18 have long arms so that it can reach to the middle of a piece of wood (i.e.: top)? Or are these arms really necessary? Maybe you've got another method to check the thickness in the middle of a piece of wood...?

Sven
06-21-2012, 11:29 AM
Nah. I just sort of get the thickness consistent across and measure at the edge. But as I reach near final thickness I stop measuring and go by feel.

I don't mean to come across as patronising (spelling?). As you start you'll notice that your fingertips often are more sensitive than your eyes. You'll feel ridges, dips and bumps that you can hardly see.

When I started, and before I built my first cheapo drum sander, I thought of sticking the wood to a perfectly flat surface, then make a large sanding block by glueing sandpaper to a flat board, or stone, or desktop offcut. I would then, after planing, sand my wood piece with the block lying flat on it. Going down through the grits it might have worked. But I built a drill-powered drum sander of scrap wood and a rolling pin from the kitchen.

Good luck. I'm convinced you'll find it easier once you start.

Sven

JamieFromOntario
06-21-2012, 11:59 AM
Nah. I just sort of get the thickness consistent across and measure at the edge. But as I reach near final thickness I stop measuring and go by feel.

I don't mean to come across as patronising (spelling?). As you start you'll notice that your fingertips often are more sensitive than your eyes. You'll feel ridges, dips and bumps that you can hardly see.

When I started, and before I built my first cheapo drum sander, I thought of sticking the wood to a perfectly flat surface, then make a large sanding block by glueing sandpaper to a flat board, or stone, or desktop offcut. I would then, after planing, sand my wood piece with the block lying flat on it. Going down through the grits it might have worked. But I built a drill-powered drum sander of scrap wood and a rolling pin from the kitchen.

Good luck. I'm convinced you'll find it easier once you start.

Sven


You don't come across as at all patronizing, and I really appreciate the advice, both from you and from all the others who have chimed in.

I think that you're right that it will be easier once I get started, which i'm really pumped to do. It all comes down to if I can find someone with a thickness sander in the next week or so. If not, i'll be getting a plane (and a calliper) and doing it by hand.

Anyway, while I wait to hear back from the local cabinet makers and woodworkers RE the thickness sander, I just got a delivery of some other new tools that I'm excited to play with:
- a laminate trimmer (ie: router) with circle cutter for sound hole and rosette channel
- an arbor press (now I just need to figure out a way to attach my fret press caul) - it's going to be so much better than hammering!

I'm going to raid my father's tool shed too so I can get a jig saw (and maybe he's got some planes I could 'borrow'...) so that I can make a better form (time to go and watch some of Pete's form/mold making videos).

Oshwega
06-21-2012, 07:12 PM
Keep an eye out for the (if my memory is correct) a #5 jack plane. These were made in thousands to the nth, and should be available from garage sales, auctions, etc. for very little money. They have a plane body around 14" in length, which would allow you to plane a uke top, and still have the plane resting on a couple of thicknessing strips close to the final thickness you want for the top. You will likely need to sharpen the cutter on any used plane, and possibly flatten the sole, but a used jack plane may be the most economical way to go. Look for Stanley or Bailey (or sometimes both) brand. They are decent and usable tools.

eor
06-22-2012, 01:02 AM
hey jaime

I havn,t made it past getting tools togeather but i have been practicing planing with a couple of stanley planes and a spoke shave i scrounged.

I use cedar shingles to practice planing and sharpning a plane. works well as practice wood

good luck

SweetWaterBlue
06-22-2012, 02:59 AM
If you want to just use the edge thickness as a guide then try to match that across the top (as Sven said), you might be interested to know that the US Mint says a freshly minted US Nickel is 1.95mm in thickness. Close enough to 2mm I'd say.

There are also several plans or pictures of homemade thickness gauges made from cheap dial indicators, you can pick up from places such as Harbor Freight in the US for less than $20 (not sure about Ontario). I bought one years ago and its really handy to have when you are working on engines, etc. There is one shown here about half way down the page.

http://z11.invisionfree.com/Stringed_Instruments/index.php?showtopic=16&st=50&#entry556079

I seem to remember that someone posted one here a few years ago (Ken Timms?) that didn't even require the dial indicator, but relied instead on a simple lever and a calibrated scale on the other end.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
06-22-2012, 06:14 AM
I use cedar shingles to practice planing and sharpning a plane. works well as practice wood

good luck

Split cedar shingles can make excellent tops.

Timbuck
06-22-2012, 10:39 AM
I seem to remember that someone posted one here a few years ago (Ken Timms?) that didn't even require the dial indicator, but relied instead on a simple lever and a calibrated scale on the other end.

It wern't me that posted it Mr Sweetwater.....But it's not hard to work out wot! you mean....Here is a ruff sketch I just drew up whilst downing a nice bottle of spanish red :drool:...It needs dimensions but i'm sure you can come up with those..it can be calibrated by using objects of known thickness...I hope this helps..Oh Yes ! I forgot to add the rubber band that acts as a spring:)
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/PICT0024-4.jpg

SweetWaterBlue
06-22-2012, 12:36 PM
Yes, thanks Ken. That looks similar in function to what I saw somewhere. It shouldn't be too hard to build one, and if he wants only to measure 2mm he will only need one mark on the scale, although I would favor more, if he can find known thickness things to measure and calibrate it. A stack of US Nickles could give you marks at zero, 2mm, 4mm, 6mm, etc, an then 1mm, 3mm, 5mm would just be half way between.

Briangriffinukuleles
06-23-2012, 08:28 PM
Jamie. You can get an excellent dial caliper from Grizzley for about 12 bucks. I use mine Dailey and take a top to .085 before final hand sanding after boxing up takes it down thinner.
Brian griffin

dustartist
06-25-2012, 07:56 PM
You can get a dial indicator at Harbor Freight for around $15. Use Ken's drawing and substitute the dial indicator for the needle contraption he has there and you are in business.

Ken W
06-26-2012, 10:15 AM
Dave at Waverly Street ukes used to thickness his panels with an inexpensive hand-held belt sander. He now uses a store-bought thickness sander, but I'm guessing quite a few of his ukes were built with the process shown at the link below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqhYs7SloR8&feature=channel&list=UL

WOBster
06-27-2012, 06:53 PM
For those of you using drum sanders...what grit or grit ranges are you using when you do this? I assume you start with a more aggressive grit and move to less aggressive grits...is there a rule of thumb? Not asking anyone to give away trade secrets if this comes under that heading but I own a drum sander that I have only used for larger boards which get finished with traditional planes and scrapers, so I am curious about working this thin...
Thanks

weerpool
06-27-2012, 07:32 PM
i use 80 grit the finish off with a scraper but the again im just an amateur
For those of you using drum sanders...what grit or grit ranges are you using when you do this? I assume you start with a more aggressive grit and move to less aggressive grits...is there a rule of thumb? Not asking anyone to give away trade secrets if this comes under that heading but I own a drum sander that I have only used for larger boards which get finished with traditional planes and scrapers, so I am curious about working this thin...
Thanks

Allen
06-27-2012, 10:44 PM
I use a twin drum sander with 60 on the front drum and 100 on the back drum. The back drum is set to just kiss the already sanded surface. A cabinet scraper is used after that.

thistle3585
06-28-2012, 02:37 AM
Here is a thread at mandolincafe just about thickness gauges (http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?4401-Thickness-calipers&highlight=thickness+gauge). Another option on your first instrument might be to buy the wood joined and thicknessed from a builder. Also, keep in mind that you will probably sand off almost .020 during the final sanding process from having used an 80 grit paper. If you want to be at .090 at finish then you need to stop thicknessing at .11.

WOBster
06-28-2012, 05:42 PM
i use 80 grit the finish off with a scraper but the again im just an amateur


I use a twin drum sander with 60 on the front drum and 100 on the back drum. The back drum is set to just kiss the already sanded surface. A cabinet scraper is used after that.

Thanks! That is much coarser than I would have thought.

oudin
07-02-2012, 04:18 PM
Safe-t-planer. Or clone. Google "Drill Press Planer." It will change your life. Maybe.

JamieFromOntario
07-03-2012, 01:17 AM
Safe-t-planer. Or clone. Google "Drill Press Planer." It will change your life. Maybe.


Yes, I have seen this and heard many good things about it.

However, to use one, I would require:

a) A drill press
b) enough space to have a drill press


I think I'm going to have to go the hand plane route as I can't find anyone locally with a drum sander. The person I asked from the local woodworkers association didn't know of anyone who had one. In fact, they were eager for me to let them know if I found someone who had one so they could use it!

Sven
07-03-2012, 10:11 AM
The Safe-T-planer is indeed good if you get used to it. But bear in mind that the recommended speed in the manual is greater than most [readily available] drill presses go to. Can't recall the exact numbers, was it 3000 rpm?

Chris_H
07-03-2012, 10:38 AM
I have an overhead, widebelt sander. For most woods I will finish sand to 120. Resinous woods only to maybe 100, or until loading becomes a problem. For spruce, you could easily go to 150, 180, 220. I would definitely surface an instrument top to at least 120-150, unless maybe it was going to be graduated towards the edges, or some other specific reason, and maybe even then still. If you surface only to 80 grit, you better leave some room to bring the surfaces smooth. I think you could do a much more precision job going finer. For preparing veneers in some species, I will often stop at 120 on the glued surface to give a little more 'tooth' for the bond. Maybe with different tooling, the answers would be different. My sander surfaces veneers very well, and with a pretty high degree of precision. To be more precise, a dual drum widebelt sander with a platen would be beneficial. For long term storage, both surfaces should be sanded to the same grit.

Chris_H
07-03-2012, 11:54 AM
I would keep looking for someone who can provide you with joined, thicknessed tops, if you cannot do this yourself, or, maybe with the old school methods if you feel inclined. Keep looking.... Lots of people have this capability. Almost any true production shop has a widebelt sander. I would be very surprised if you cannot find one locally.

oudin
07-04-2012, 02:24 PM
The Safe-T-planer is indeed good if you get used to it. But bear in mind that the recommended speed in the manual is greater than most [readily available] drill presses go to. Can't recall the exact numbers, was it 3000 rpm?

From manual:
"Set the belt for the highest speed but not over 5000 rpm."
Personally, I've hacked up (aka cleanly thicknessed) curly maple, ebony, rosewood etc. anywhere from 1,500 to 3,500 rpms and I can say that the faster the better, but even light-duty machines will get the job done in a hurry.
(a bit of a rabbit trail, but i'm a fan.)

oudin
07-04-2012, 02:34 PM
Back in the day I would thickness plates using a spindle sander in my drill press (lack of drill press duly noted) or my belt sander (craigslist find for $30) with a ghetto-rig something like the "luthier's friend." Seņor Howlett has a great video on this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4ZKygG3XqU) What I would do is rig up an over-sized Howlett-esque device on the spindle end of my belt. I used a 40 grit belt and eye-balled my way through the cut. With some practice on scraps I got this technique down. It wasn't too dissimilar to the function of a overhead thickness sander. It was crude and risky, but it happened.
I would look into the idea of getting creative and decide if jerry rigs are right for you.

ThomD
04-15-2013, 08:08 AM
Just in case any other Torotonian hits this wall, the HF Griz. equivalent is Busy Bee they have indicators and calipers. If you are stuck downtown, you might try out Atlas Tools, or Lee Valley for planes. We have a well attended antique tool sale twice a year in Pickering. There are lots of power tool stores around town if you ever get around to ordering a sander.

Kijiji has numerous small drill presses the type you can carry in one hand, for sale, pay around 30 bucks. Seems like there is a deal per exit of the 401 at times, very available.

Anyone making a lot of guitars clearly needs to gear up. But my observation over 25-30 years is that there are many people who want to build musical instruments who are not really woodworkers, and are gagethounds. When you see people acquiring major pieces of kit like drum sanders, benders, whole suits of molds, fretboard tools, binding tools, etc.... Stuff Tores could never have dreamt of, just to make their second Uke, it isn't because one can't efficiently do this stuff with a very small kit of hand tools, and possible a hot tube bender. I think the reasons are:

1) people who get into it are as interested in the cool jigs as anything else;

2) they aren't interested in, or confident in their ability to acquire conventional skills. Up until relatively recently even most woodworkers shied away from learning basic hand tool skills, but the teaching level has risen to the point where these skill are relatively easy to acquire;

3) if you want to make instruments and nothing else, the specialty jigs make more sense than a lot of jigs, like hand planes, that don't do the specific task in lutherie, better than a jig.

But all that said, there are people who claim to have made major instruments with just a knife (Boaz Elkiam ?), and I have made them with a small kit of hand tools. Mathias Wadel is currently youtubing his uke build, and he is trying to do it all with a table saw and stuff like a clothes iron. Kinda fun to watch.

One of the reason why hand tool challenged instrument makers get so frustrated with hand tools is because they don't start coarse enough. Planes have their counterparts to 40 grit sandpaper, except it is more like a controllable 1 grit. It is bizarre to watch someone with a tiny finger plane designed for the last few strokes in a violin trying to hollow out a whole archtop guitar plate. That is a job for a guttering adze and a hatchet, though one can well understand why people are intimidated about taking that approach to a pile of wood that just cost them 500 dollars...

droze
04-15-2013, 03:28 PM
Just in case any other Torotonian hits this wall, the HF Griz. equivalent is Busy Bee they have indicators and calipers. If you are stuck downtown, you might try out Atlas Tools, or Lee Valley for planes. We have a well attended antique tool sale twice a year in Pickering. There are lots of power tool stores around town if you ever get around to ordering a sander.



Another place to get some inexpensive stuff is Princess Auto (terrible name. cheap prices). I just picked up a dial indicator there for $9.50 on sale: http://www.princessauto.com/pal/product/2970986/Magnetic-%26-Deflection-Acc/2-1/4-in.-Diameter-Deflection-Gauge

If you are interested in making woodworking machines, like a drum sander, they also have motors, pillow blocks, etc.