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iBankai145
11-02-2013, 02:57 AM
Is it possible to build a ukulele completely (or almost completely) using hand tools? I'm building one for my senior project and I figured that before I get started I make sure that this is feasible. The only "electric" tool I have is a drill, and I don't really want to use power tools...
Would this make the building process much harder? I'm mainly concerned with cutting the neck and the headstock angle.

Thanks,

iBankai145

Kdogg
11-02-2013, 03:19 AM
I'm not a Luthier, but there were stringed instruments before electricity so I would say yes.
You will probably need at least some wood carving tools and a Mitre box to cut the head stock angle correct and straight.

jcalkin
11-02-2013, 04:34 AM
You can certainly build a uke with only hand tools. Your skill level and time will be the main issues. Long apprenticeships used to be the rule in the old days, so skills were built very gradually. Also, don't assume that because they had no electricity they had no machinery. The first were human powered, then animals, water, and steam took their turns. For instance, the hand-cranked drill press goes way back. Still, I don't want to discourage you. Instruments can be designed to make construction easier, and you might have to dismiss many contemporary ideas about what makes the perfect instrument. An acquaintance tore apart an old desk, built a simple box without resawing anything, and stuck on an old tenor banjo neck. Its plenty loud enough to practice with, and by adding a transducer he can be as loud as he needs to be to play out (which he does all the time). I'm not sure what kind of grade he would have earned, though. Discuss the issue with your teacher to find out what his expectations of you are. Check out CigarBoxNation.com for some ideas to take to him. I also met a man who made a very fine Brazilian rosewood guitar from lumber and did all the resawing by hand, did everything with hand tools. Determination is as large a factor as anything else.

David Newton
11-02-2013, 06:00 AM
Yes you can, and yes you should!
Think about words like: rough, primitive, handmade, elemental, cool, different, good.
Embrace the work!

hawaii 50
11-02-2013, 06:12 AM
I just built a uke at Hanalima...

building a uke and make it sound nice and look nice, not as easy as you think...

we had a full shop of tools...table saws,drill press etc....

depending on the quality of the build that you want...not easy making it with the right tools....
so no electric tools sounds pretty hard to me....

and if is your first ukulele,it will be interesting...good luck

fyi I have decided not to do any more garage builds...if I want a new uke I will leave it up to the many luthiers who do this for a profession...but this only me....

itsme
11-02-2013, 06:41 AM
Benito Huipe was a classical/flamenco guitar builder (now retired) who did everything by hand.

There's a DVD showing his techniques, which should apply to uke building as well.

http://www.fernandezmusic.com/GuitarmakingDVD.html

BlackBearUkes
11-02-2013, 08:39 AM
A good luthier who knows their stuff could make a good sounding uke with a sharp pocket knife and enough time. Since most of us aren't stranded on a far off island without all the essentials, building a good uke can be done any number of ways. If you want the experience of using just hand tools, go for it, but learn how to get the tools sharp before you begin or your experience will be frustrating.

David Newton
11-02-2013, 10:30 AM
Now after cheering you on, I think it would be best for you to buy "serviced" wood for your first handmade build. Get the wood thinned and a rough neck blank. I guess I'm saying buy a kit of "flat wood".
LMII could supply it as well as any of the kit suppliers. Bend your own sides, shape your neck, etc.

vetcvm
11-02-2013, 12:22 PM
i'v built my first uke in a very well equipped workshop with all the "toys" and power tools you can imagine, it was a great experience and made a lot of things fast and easy. now i'v almost finished building my second uke with very few tools and even fewer power tools (rotary tool, drill, jigsaw and bending iron). it took me longer and was more difficult but on the other hand it made me think more and improvise, which makes the result more enjoyable.

my advice would be to get a good Japanese saw and a lots of clamps of different sizes.

good luck!

gyosh
11-02-2013, 12:57 PM
I took Rick Turner's build class. I can't say enough about what a great class this is and how much of a great teacher Rick Turner is.

Anyhow, based on taking this class, it's my opinion that if you truly want to learn the "how" everything works and how it works together, building your first uke or two or ten, completely by hand will teach you skills you won't learn by relying on power tools, and it will make your builds better in the long run. Using a power sander for instance took seconds to get something close to the shape I wanted, but chiseling, filing and sanding gave me a greater appreciation for the wood and its characteristics etc. The wood kind of lets you know how far you can take it when you're working by hand, something you won't get a feel for using a planer to get down to the thickness you want for instance.

Just my two cents.

afreiki
11-02-2013, 01:00 PM
I think thinning the wood would be the most challenging. File and microplanes can shape a neck pretty quickly.
I find the whole process addictive, but I do have power tools.

Anne Flynn

tangimango
11-02-2013, 01:10 PM
yes you can cause I did and im a newbie. handplane to thin the soundboards. sharp xacto blades to cut the sound hole and a utility knife to flush trim the sides. but you will need somekind of heat sourse to bend sides.

but to make life easier at least buy a flush trim router to flush trim the excess wood when you glue on the sides to the back and front. your hands will thank you.

Garry Petrisic
11-02-2013, 07:11 PM
My workshop is very basic and I do most of the build by hand. I used to plane the wood down and then scrape and sand it to thickness. I have however moved on from there and now have a drum sander as I use a lot of curly wood which is extremely difficult to plane. You can certainly build a uke using nothing but hand tools.
I built my first guitar with almost nothing. Mind you it was a lengthy exercise and a lot more difficult than it needed to be. The bending iron was made out of a piece of 40mm water pipe mounted on a fibro cement base. I put a propane soldering torch up it until it was hot enough to bend the sides. I use spoke shaves and coping saws a lot as well as some really great files called razor files to shape necks .
Good on you for having the right frame of mind to challenge yourself.
Regards
Garry Petrisic.

igorthebarbarian
11-02-2013, 07:28 PM
Cigar Box Ukulele's seem like they would be one of the more basic ones you could make. Plus they kind of look cool and they're meant to be primitive/ raw/ authentic/ roots-y.
Side note - I can barely work a screwdriver so maybe I'm not the best person to take advice from - haha!

Sven
11-02-2013, 08:16 PM
I don't build my ukes with only hand tools, but I have done all parts and processes by hand on various ukes. I think you might find some inspiration on my blog, www.argapa.blogspot.com, look for labels tools, wood, workshop if you don't want to read everything.

And sharp tools are essential. In fact, really sharp is really essential.

And the last spruce top I made was planed to thickness, and the result so brilliant I'll never sand a spruce top again.

Allen
11-02-2013, 09:16 PM
How do you think that they built instruments prior to the industrial revolution? Or for that matter, in many parts of the world today?

I remember just 20 years ago watching a group of men in Mexico building guitars in a lean too shelter with nothing more than hand tools and very rudimentary work benches.

BlackBearUkes
11-03-2013, 06:54 PM
How do you think that they built instruments prior to the industrial revolution? Or for that matter, in many parts of the world today?

I remember just 20 years ago watching a group of men in Mexico building guitars in a lean too shelter with nothing more than hand tools and very rudimentary work benches.

I have seen many of these instruments from Mexico come into my shop. Unfortunately, most of them are very crude and don't hold up well. But that is the point for these instruments, they are made for a quick and cheap market and aren't meant to last. The folks who put these guitars together are fast and can do 5 -10 guitars in a week by themselves. I couldn't put together that many guitars in a 3 months even with all the power tools I needed.

iBankai145
11-04-2013, 02:18 PM
Thank you for the tip. I was planning on buying some guitar wood form Stewmac and thicknessing it to the correct thickness (what is a good thickness for sitka spruce?). I kind of want to buy guitar wood, though, since I have a bit more wood so a bit more room in case I mess up...

iBankai145
11-04-2013, 02:20 PM
Thanks Sven! Your blog is awesome! Great pictures of the building process! Would it be possible for you to give me some tips on tool sharpening?

Sven
11-04-2013, 05:45 PM
I'll get around to it in a couple of days. Thanks for your kind words!

Red Cliff
11-06-2013, 01:56 AM
I say go for it. Reality is that many hobby builders don't have the space for lots of machinery - as useful as that would be.

I only use a bandsaw and a pillar drill - everything else is by hand - the results don't have to be inferior to machinery made ukes - but as people have already said - skill takes time to develop, so your first efforts may be perfectly functional but less sophisticatd than would be possible with power tools.

Sharp tools as has been suggested are a must - and I would also advocate spending time to make a range of jigs, guides and templates to guide your hand tools and ensure as much accuracy as possible - some of the older guitar making books from 50's through 90's such as those by sloane etc. are great for showing how to do things well by hand. But it will take a lot more time by hand.

Michael N.
11-06-2013, 08:48 AM
It doesn't have to be that slow. The one thing that does slow things down is hand planing/thicknessing. Hard to beat the speed of a thickness sander. I once heard a Guitarmaker state that he can thickness 30 sets of Backs/Sides, fretboards and Tops in a morning. It's impossible to compete with that using hand Planes. You can make things a bit easier/faster and use the approach that I finally settled on. It involves using 3 different planes, each set to do a specific task. The first Plane is a No. 4 (or a Woodie) but with a cambered blade and an open mouth. Not quite a scrub Plane but not far off. It's set to remove thick shavings, mostly working across the grain. I refer to it as a gentle scrub. The next Plane is set finer with the blade much less cambered. Finally the smoother, removing wispy thin shavings.
That's the quickest method that I know for thicknessing using hand planes. At a push you can use 3 different blades rather than 3 different planes. Get the blades fiendishly sharp. Sharp makes everything so much easier.
Here's one method. Not to everyone's taste but it clearly works, as demonstrated at the end. Blades should be at least as sharp as that:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6ykVzL2VAM

iBankai145
11-08-2013, 04:25 AM
It doesn't have to be that slow. You can make things a bit easier/faster and use the approach that I finally settled on. It involves using 3 different planes, each set to do a specific task. The first Plane is a No. 4 (or a Woodie) but with a cambered blade and an open mouth. Not quite a scrub Plane but not far off. It's set to remove thick shavings, mostly working across the grain. I refer to it as a gentle scrub. The next Plane is set finer with the blade much less cambered. Finally the smoother, removing wispy thin shavings.
That's the quickest method that I know for thicknessing using hand planes. At a push you can use 3 different blades rather than 3 different planes. Get the blades fiendishly sharp. Sharp makes everything so much easier.
Here's one method. Not to everyone's taste but it clearly works, as demonstrated at the end. Blades should be at least as sharp as that:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6ykVzL2VAM

Thanks Michael for the tip. I only have one hand plane and one blade, though, and they are of quite low quality...Do you know if I could achieve the same results using only sandpaper, or possibly a card scraper or something? High quality hand planes are above my budget (unless you know of some cheaper but nicer ones?) so I'm not sure how else I can thickness my wood. Also, to measure the thickness of the wood, do you use a caliper? I was looking online for calipers, but they are all quite shallow. I want to get something that can measure the thickness of the wood on all areas of the wood, like the middle of the board along with the outer areas of it. Do you know where I can find something that can do that?

I'm still a noob, so I have a lot of questions, sorry!

Thanks in advance,

iBankai145

ProfChris
11-08-2013, 09:33 AM
As you have a plane, use that and keep stopping to sharpen it. I build using hand tools alone, and the difference a sharp blade makes is remarkable. Plane across the grain as you approach final thickness, and do the last fraction with a card scraper or coarse sandpaper.

I don't use callipers, just a scrap of wood the right thickness placed alongside the workpiece. Final thicknessing is about flexing the wood and taking some off here and there with the scraper. Feel, rather than measurement.

BTW, I'm finding I can drill much nicer holes with a brace and bit, so if you have one try that first.

Titchtheclown
11-08-2013, 09:47 AM
When hand thicknessing for a uke, you want flat so a cheap plastic vernier calliper from your local $2 store/eBay is fine for measuring thickness at the edges, then lay it flat and test flatness with the edge of a ruler.

Final hand sanding is easier with a torture board (long sanding block}. Get quality sandpaper. Glue it to one side of a 2 by 1. The long direction of a regular size sanding sheet is fine for a uke size. That being said, better quality sandpaper is sold in lengths off rolls. I have never seen bad sandpaper sold off rolls. I even hear a rumour that they make sandpaper in finer than 40 grit;) A 40 grit torture board made from quality sandpaper will remove wood faster than a cheap rasp.

Michael N.
11-08-2013, 11:14 AM
The cheapest Planes are old woodies. I doubt that you could possibly get that type of quality for any less. I bought 3 on the bay for the huge sum of 1. The postage cost 8.
One of them was made by one of the last commercial English makers, sometime in the 1960's. It was in such pristine condition I doubt that it ever saw a piece of wood. Serious blade and chipbreaker that would probably match the best carbon blades being made today. There is effectively 50 worth just in the blade and chipbreaker.
Unfortunately such beasts aren't for the novice. You have to know what you are looking at and learn how to adjust/set them up to be of their best. You also have to learn how to use them because the weight distribution is completely different to that of the metal Plane.

http://i56.photobucket.com/albums/g193/mignal/6a40d476-d3b6-4017-a2e4-e77d38ba462b_zpsb84d6fe7.jpg (http://s56.photobucket.com/user/mignal/media/6a40d476-d3b6-4017-a2e4-e77d38ba462b_zpsb84d6fe7.jpg.html)

Sven
11-08-2013, 12:50 PM
I'll post some links about sharpening as I promised. Just haven't had the time for it yet.

And yesterday I set an ordinary Stanley plane from a garage sale up properly, it now performs as good as a much more expensive smoother. A lot of people don't know that you can adjust the frog and set the chip breaker in a number of ways.

Tarhead
11-09-2013, 10:45 AM
Great advice so far except no mention of a method of holding your work while using hand tools on it and you need a place to do your work other than a dining room chair;). It can be as complex as a full on workbench with hold downs and various vises or as simple as a flat board, plywood or 2X4s. Here is a link to a simple small workbench top made of 2X4s you can clamp to your dining room table or kitchen counter top: http://www.popularwoodworking.com/article/milkmans-workbench-without-screws
60757

Or here's a simple one using a piece of plywood with cams and wedges:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/wb8nbs/sets/72157625378050141/

How do you plan to make perfectly square cuts with a handsaw? Start with a Bench Hook:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBYG6OGGqcU and clean up the resulting cuts with a simple Shooting Board: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=shooting+board&sm=3

Check out Tom Fidgen's website: http://www.theunpluggedwoodshop.com/ Although he hasn't made any stringed instruments, his Youtube videos are very good for showing workflow and general use while making things using only handtools.

Good luck and keep the blood on the inside!

Sven
11-10-2013, 08:19 AM
Tarhead, that was some great advice. Holding the work on a sturdy bench is crucial.

Now, as I sort of promised, I'll give some pointers about sharpening that I think are good. I've tried loads of systems and methods and own a few machines and stones.

I have tried sharpening and honing with sandpaper but didn't like it. I'm more for stones, but whatever you choose the final piece of wisdom is at the bottom of this post (I nicked it of course).

I have one of these, they're Swedish even:
http://www.tormek.com/en/machines/t3/index.php
But I don't recommend them for precision work. Of course I could learn more and buy more jigs but honestly I use it mostly for hatchets.

I bought a few Japanese water stones and a really well made but expensive honing guide from Lee Valley tools:
http://www.leevalley.com/US/Wood/page.aspx?p=51868&cat=1,43072,43078&ap=1

It does work but I really wish I had bought this simpler model:
http://www.leevalley.com/US/Wood/page.aspx?p=60311&cat=1,43072,43078&ap=1

Because I have read and tried the method advocated by Chris Schwarz, and a simple vise type honing guide and his wooden guide block seems like the best method to me. Before the links to his videos and articles, here's what he says and with what I whole-heartedly agree: choose a method and stick to it.

Setting the angle with a simple guide:
http://www.popularwoodworking.com/woodworking-blogs/chris-schwarz-blog/sharpening-angles-for-dullards

Improving the honing guide:
http://www.popularwoodworking.com/woodworking-blogs/chris-schwarz-blog/tune-up-a-cheap-honing-guide

The ruler trick:
http://www.popularwoodworking.com/woodworking-blogs/chris-schwarz-blog/a-trickier-ruler-trick

Setting up a plane:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAYcwubAO2E

There is a video somewhere where mr Schwarz shows honing a chisel on a couple of stones too, but can I find it? Can I heck.

I hope you get some inspiration. I can also recommend the thicker scraper from Stewmac, the Carruth ultimate scraper they call it. And there are tons of videos on Youtube about sharpening regular scrapers.

Michael N.
11-10-2013, 12:09 PM
Don't worry. Veritas are bringing out a MK III version soon. Maybe in a couple of years the MK IV will be out.
So many honing guides. So many people trying to invent the ultimate one. It's endless.
When they produce an effective honing guide for gouges and router plane blades I might start paying attention. At the moment all they seem to be concerned with is producing a guide for blades that are very easy to sharpen freehand. In fact Plane blades and Chisels are the easiest of blades to sharpen freehand. So we buy a guide for the easy stuff yet freehand the difficult.
I think I'll give the guides a miss. I've spent enough trying out different types of stone. One could easily spend over a $1,000 on this sharpening gear! . . and to think what a simple objective the whole thing is.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
11-10-2013, 12:47 PM
Thanks Michael for the tip. I only have one hand plane and one blade, though, and they are of quite low quality...Do you know if I could achieve the same results using only sandpaper, or possibly a card scraper or something? High quality hand planes are above my budget (unless you know of some cheaper but nicer ones?) so I'm not sure how else I can thickness my wood. Also, to measure the thickness of the wood, do you use a caliper? I was looking online for calipers, but they are all quite shallow. I want to get something that can measure the thickness of the wood on all areas of the wood, like the middle of the board along with the outer areas of it. Do you know where I can find something that can do that?

I'm still a noob, so I have a lot of questions, sorry!

Thanks in advance,

iBankai145

You can make your own inexpensive deep throat calipers with a dial indicator and some hardwood or plywood. It won't be super accurate but good enough to gauge plate thicknesses.

Sven
11-10-2013, 08:11 PM
... In fact Plane blades and Chisels are the easiest of blades to sharpen freehand. So we buy a guide for the easy stuff yet freehand the difficult.
I think I'll give the guides a miss. I've spent enough trying out different types of stone. One could easily spend over a $1,000 on this sharpening gear! . . and to think what a simple objective the whole thing is.
I know exactly what you mean about the multitude of gear. But I find my results are better and more consistent with the guide, and it's a good help the first time when I choose the angle (if a change is needed). When I hone a blade I want it to be quick and perfect - for some reason I'm seldom in a good mood when I sharpen edges. Often some incident with a blunt blade precedes the process, ruining both mood and looks.

Timbuck
11-11-2013, 12:28 AM
You can make your own inexpensive deep throat calipers with a dial indicator and some hardwood or plywood. It won't be super accurate but good enough to gauge plate thicknesses.

Here's one I was going to make...;) but never did...You calibrate it with a known thickness.
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/PICT0024-4.jpg (http://s219.photobucket.com/user/shiregreenbod/media/PICT0024-4.jpg.html)

The Big Kahuna
11-11-2013, 01:00 AM
Somewhere on the forum, there's a video of a guy building a ukulele in Hawaii from, I believe, the early 20th century. If anyone can remember the link (I've had a quick look, but can't find it), it might be of interest.

David Newton
11-11-2013, 03:20 AM
the link

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxapCiRm278

The Big Kahuna
11-11-2013, 03:40 AM
You're a star :)

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
11-11-2013, 04:22 AM
May the Schwarz be with you.

Ive got and like the Richard Kell honing guide

Timbuck
11-11-2013, 05:22 AM
Somewhere on the forum, there's a video of a guy building a ukulele in Hawaii from, I believe, the early 20th century. If anyone can remember the link (I've had a quick look, but can't find it), it might be of interest.
I first came across that video about 5 years back...Did a load of sluething on it ... and I had a go at building in that style.
The links to my efforts can be found here...And like the "Honourable Member for Chesterfield" say's it might be of intrest.

http://www.ukulelecosmos.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=14607&p=167831&hilit=1917#p167831
http://www.ukulelecosmos.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=8218&p=91540&hilit=1917+ukulele#p91540
Click on this for the slideshow :)
http://s219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/1917%20uke/th_PICT1010.jpg (http://s219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/1917%20uke/?action=view&current=18572ff0.pbw)

The Big Kahuna
11-11-2013, 05:25 AM
the "Honourable Member for Chesterfield"

Ooh, I like that :)