View Full Version : Incense Cedar Top

01-28-2009, 03:55 PM
New member, my first post. I am thinking of building my first ukulele and have access to some very nice(20+lines per inch) incense cedar. It has sentimental value. Would like to use it but do not want ot devote a huge amount of time and effort to something that just won't work.I have read about western cedar topped ukes but have not seen anything on incense cedar. Any info on usability and finishing would be appreciated. I read somewhere that some people use lacquer instead of oil because cedar tends to soak up the oil. Also, any thoughts on the thickness of the top would be helpful. Trying to learn as much as I can before I take the big plunge and try building one of the charming instruments.

01-28-2009, 08:11 PM
I could be wrong, but I believe that incense cedar is the same type that Japanese build furniture out of. I have a couple pieces in the shop somewhere.

As far as the finishing goes, I've sprayed over western red cedar, but never oiled it. It does soak up the laquer, so I imagine that it would be worse with an oil finish. If I have the type of cedar correct, it doesn't seem to be as soft as red cedar, so it probably won't soak up as much of the finish.

01-28-2009, 08:16 PM
Okay, I'll bite, just so you know that we're not a bunch of non-responding jerks here.

To be succinct - you're basically asking how to build an `ukulele from scratch. Personally, I'm working on years, and I'm still learning. I'm fairly confident you won't get the response you're looking for - you've asked a very BIG question.

While this may not answer your question, here's some suggestions based on the questions:
Take a class.
Research other online builder's forums.
Buy some books (not just one, some).
Start with a kit.
Practice on scrap.


And just like that, Paul cuts me off at the pass - too fast bra!

Pete Howlett
01-28-2009, 10:14 PM
Try it - I have recently experimented with a range of indigenous woods here in the UK and they have all turned out different... great, but different. If you are building something that has 'special meaning' to you then it doesn't really matter what it sounds like does it. these days, bunging a pick-up in is a great solution :shaka:

01-29-2009, 05:27 AM
Thanks for the replies. A little more info on my plans. I am planning on buying a kit but thought the cedar top would make the uke a little more "custom" for my wife(it is from a downed tree from behind her cabin). I have read one book on building ukes(I think by Denis Gilbert) and have ordered the construction manual from Hana Lima. I have never built a musical instrument but have some experience and tools in woodworking. I really appreciate the help and advice. Thanks again.


01-29-2009, 10:28 AM
look on the bright side...no matter what it looks or sounds like...incense cedar is what nice #2 pencils are made of...so at the very least it will smell like homework!

01-29-2009, 09:31 PM

If you want to be daring and have a bit of confidence, gun it from the start with the cedar. Or, you could take the safer route and build one for practice, then make one for your wife with the cedar. It would certainly be nice to build your first instrument for your wife, with wood that came from behind her cabin. I completely understand the sentimentality involved. The first true custom I built was for my wife's birthday, shortly after we married. There is a little bit of risk involved, though. To this day, I get extremely nervous when I have to do a build with wood that is one of a kind. Good luck!

My advice is to keep it simple and build up your repertoire from there. And remember to learn from your mistakes. My best teacher throughout the years has been screwing up big time, and learning not to do that again! Until I do it again, and swear not to do it a third time... sometimes a fourth.

I did some research and it's not the same type of cedar as Japanese cedar. According to Wikipedia, they do make pencils and shakes from it, though. If the build comes out good, you should to some test finishing on an extra piece. It would be a shame if you went that far, and ended up making a big mistake with the finish.

01-30-2009, 06:01 AM
The secret to any kind of woodworking (or life in general, for that matter) is to learn how to recover gracefully from your (inevitable) mistakes.

02-10-2009, 05:44 AM
A potter once said something to me that has helped with my woodworking: "You have to take the time to be bad at something before you can become good at it." As cpatch pointed out, accept that you may make mistakes; relax and enjoy the process.

I'm preparing to begin building my first "from scratch" uke using wood that is neither expensive nor dear. I'm excited to see what I will learn in the process!

02-12-2009, 05:09 PM
Being a teacher by profession, I have come to really appreciate the philosophy many of you have shared with me. We often forget that it is OK to fail(or make mistakes). All of you have inspired to "give it a try". I plan on combining a plan and partial kit with the "custom" top from the fallen cedar. Who knows what the outcome will be but I am sure I will learn lots during the process. Thanks for the inspiration.