Build Thread: StewMac Tenor Ukulele Kit

joeguam

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Hello UU,

I've decided to tackle my first build and starting out small with the StewMac Tenor Ukulele Kit, but converting it to a bolt on neck with a couple of customizations. Eventually, my dream is to build a solid uke from scratch/raw materials, but this is just as exciting! The best part of this build is that my newlywed wife of 9 months has decided to build this with me!

My sole intention with taking the time to document my experience in this thread is in hopes that it will help anyone who decides to take on this challenge as well. At anytime along the way, I would greatly appreciate any advice/suggestions from those who have more experience. Because I'm very new to this, at any point in this build for which I have learned from a mistake, I will highlight and describe it using this notation:
joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #0! said:
This is the notation used to describe a lesson learned. At the end of the build, I will compile all of these entries as a final summary.

I'm a project manager by profession, so I forced myself to go through the Plan/Define/Design stages before I started building. Here are the steps I've laid out for myself, pretty much in the order I will go about this. I would appreciate if anyone has any recommendations to improve this strategy!

I'll be updating this post with dates as I complete each step:

Material Preparation
-Mark Center Lines...DONE: 05/09!
-Cutout Template...DONE: 05/10!

Build Jig
-Cut Plywood & Dowels...DONE: 05/11!
-Assemble Jig...DONE: 05/11!

Headblock & Tailblock
-Dry Fit Headblock & Tailblock...DONE: 05/12!
-Square-Sand Side Ends...DONE: 05/12!
-2nd Dry Fit Headblock & Tailblock...DONE: 05/12!
-Glue Headblock & Tailblock...DONE: 05/12!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/12!

Non-Kerfed Lining
-Size & Trim Back Lining...DONE: 05/12!
-Dry Fit Lining...DONE: 05/12!
-Glue Back Lining...DONE: 05/12!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/12!
-Size & Trim Top Lining...DONE: 05/13!
-Dry Fit Lining...DONE: 05/13!
-Glue Top Lining...DONE: 05/13!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/13!

Back Bracing
-Trace Template...DONE: 05/13!
-Dry Fit Back Braces...DONE: 05/13!
-Glue Back Braces...DONE: 05/14!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/15!
-Rough Sand Back...DONE: 05/16!
-Chalk Sides & Lining: Back...DONE: 05/16!
-Level Sand Back...DONE: 05/16!
-Trim Back Braces for Lining...DONE: 05/17!
-Scallop Back Braces...DONE: 05/24!

Rosette
-Design Rosette...DONE: 05/17!
-Trim Rosette...DONE: 05/17!
-Dry Fit Rosette...DONE: 05/18!
-Glue Rosette...DONE: 05/18!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/19!
-Level-Sand Rosette...DONE: 05/19!
-CA Glue Seal Rosette...DONE: 05/19!
-Final-Sand Rosette...DONE: 05/19!

Top Bracing
-Trace Template...DONE: 05/13!
-Dry Fit Top Braces...DONE: 05/24!
-Glue Top Braces...DONE: 05/24!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/24!
-Rough Sand Top...DONE: 05/17!
-Chalk Sides & Lining: Top...DONE: 05/17!
-Level Sand Top...DONE: 05/17!
-Trim Top Braces for Lining...DONE: 05/25!
-Scallop Top Braces...DONE: 05/25!
-Add Signature & Date Stamp...DONE: 05/25!

Assemble Top
-Dry Fit Top...DONE: 05/25!
-Glue Top...DONE: 05/25!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/25!
-Test Flush Trim...DONE: 05/25!
-Flush-Trim Top...DONE: 05/25!

Fretboard
-Fretboard Markers
--Remove plastic markers...DONE: 05/10!
--Seal Cavity Floor w/ CA Glue...DONE: 05/10!
--Fill Cavity w/ Sand and level with CA Glue...DONE: 05/18!
--Level Sand And Polish...DONE: 05/18!
-Side Dots
--Mark Side Dots...DONE: 06/21!
--Drill Side Dots...DONE: 06/21!
--Install & Glue Side Dots...DONE: 06/21!
--Glue Dry Time...DONE: 06/21!
-Frets
--Install Frets...DONE: 05/18!
--File Fret Ends...DONE: 05/18!
--Shape & Smooth Fret Ends
--Level Frets
--Crown Frets
--Dress Frets
--Mask Fret Tang Side Fill
--Fill Fret Tang Side Slots
-Sand Side Dots & Fret Tang Side Fill

Neck
-Sand-Fit Neck Heel...DONE: 05/26!...REDONE: 05/30!
-Dry Fit Neckheel & Body...DONE: 05/26!...REDONE: 05/30!
-Clamp Neckheel & Body...DONE: 05/26!
-Drill Bolt Hole from Body to Neckheel...DONE: 05/26!
-Install & Epoxy Threaded Inserts...DONE: 05/26!...REDONE: 05/30!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/26!...REDONE: 05/30!
-Install Finishing Nail/Dowel Locator Pin...DONE: 05/30!
-Clamp Neck & Tighten Body w/ Bolt...DONE: 05/30!
-Drill Dowel Hole: Neckheel & Body...DONE: 05/30!
-Dry Fit Fretboard to Neck...DONE: 06/01!
-Glue Fretboard to Neck...DONE: 06/01!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 06/01!
-Sand Neck Width to Fretboard...DONE: 06/01!

Assemble Back
-Dry Fit Back...DONE: 05/26!
-Glue Back...DONE: 05/26!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/26!
-Flush-Trim Back...DONE: 05/26!

Binding
-Measure Binding: Top, Back & End Graft...DONE: 05/26!
-IF ENOUGH MATERIAL: End Graft...DONE: 05/30!
--Measure End Graft & Scribe Outline...DONE: 05/30!
--Test End Graft Routing...DONE: 05/30!
---Measure Router Bit Depth...DONE: 05/30!
---Measure & Clamp Fences...CANCELED!
---Test Route End Graft...DONE: 05/30!
---Test Fit w/ End Graft...DONE: 05/30!
--Clamp Fences...CANCELED!
--Route End Graft...DONE: 05/30!
--Dry Fit End Graft...DONE: 05/30!
--Glue End Graft...DONE: 05/30!
--Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/30!
-Test Binding Channel Route...DONE: 05/26!
-Route Binding Channel: Top...DONE: 05/26!
-Dry Fit Top Binding...DONE: 05/26!
-Glue Top Binding...DONE: 05/26!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/26!
-Route Binding Channel: Back...DONE: 05/26!
-Dry Fit Back Binding...DONE: 05/26!
-Glue Back Binding...DONE: 05/26!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/26!
-Round-over/Smooth Binding...DONE: 07/22!

Assemble Neck
-Bolt-On & Dowel Neck to Body...DONE: 06/01!

Assemble Fretboard
-Fit, Mark & Mask Fretboard...DONE: 06/01!
-Dry Fit Fretboard...DONE: 06/01!
-Glue Fretboard...DONE: 06/01!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 06/01!

Finishing
-Rough Sand: 80/120/220...DONE: 06/03!
-Mask Fretboard & Nut
-Locate, Mark & Mask Bridge...DONE: 06/01!...CANCELED!
-Pore Filling
--Z-Poxy: 1st Coat...DONE: 07/20!
--Z-Poxy: Dry Time...DONE: 07/20!
--Z-Poxy: Level Sand...DONE: 07/21!
--Z-Poxy: 2nd Coat...DONE: 07/21!
--Z-Poxy: Dry Time...DONE: 07/21!
--Z-Poxy: Level Sand...DONE: 07/22!
--Z-Poxy: 3rd Coat...CANCELED!
--Z-Poxy: Dry Time...CANCELED!
--Z-Poxy: Final Hand-Sand to 400...DONE: 07/22!
-Top Coats
--TruOil: 1st Coat...DONE: 07/22!
--TruOil: Dry Time...DONE: 07/22!
--TruOil: Scuff...DONE: 07/23!
--TruOil: 2nd Coat...DONE: 07/23!
--TruOil: Dry Time...DONE: 07/23!
--TruOil: Scuff...DONE: 07/23!
--TruOil: 3rd Coat...DONE: 07/23!
--TruOil: Dry Time...DONE: 07/23!
--TruOil: Scuff...DONE: 07/24!
--TruOil: 4th Coat...DONE: 07/24!
--TruOil: Dry Time...DONE: 07/24!
--TruOil: Scuff...CANCELED!
--TruOil: 5th Coat...DONE: 07/24!
--TruOil: Dry Time...DONE: 07/24!
--TruOil: Scuff...CANCELED!
--TruOil: 6th Coat...DONE: 07/24!
--TruOil: Dry Time...DONE: 07/25!
--TruOil: Scuff...CANCELED!
--TruOil: 7th Coat...ADDED 7/24...DONE: 07/25!
--TruOil: Dry Time...ADDED 7/24...DONE: 07/25!
--TruOil: 8th Coat...ADDED 7/24...
--TruOil: Dry Time...ADDED 7/24...
--TruOil: Polishing/Buffing

Bridge (Added on 06/03)
- Design Bridge and Print out...DONE: 06/03!
- Trace Design to RW...DONE: 06/03!
- Route Saddle Slot...DONE: 06/03!
- Cutout Shape...DONE: 06/03!
- Reduce Thickness to 6mm...DONE: 06/08!
- Carve Design...DONE: 06/08!
- Drill & Chamfer Bridge Pin Holes...DONE: 06/08!
- Final Smoothing and Polishing...DONE: 06/08!

Final Assembly: Bridge, Tuners, Nut & Saddle
-Bridge
--Dry Fit Bridge
--Glue Bridge
--Glue Dry Time
-Tuners
--Ream Holes to Clean From Finish
--Align & Drill Fastening Screw Hole
--Install Tuners
-Nut
--Rough Sand Nut
--Mark & Cut String Slots
--Final Nut Polishing
-Saddle
--Rough Sand Saddle
--Shape Saddle
-Strings
--Install Strings

Final Setup: Nut Height, Action, Intonation
-Nut Height
--File Slots to Depth
--Reshape Nut if Necessary
-Action
--Lower Saddle Height
-Intonation
--File Saddle for Intonation


Thanks again for viewing, I hope you all enjoy the journey!

...
Joe...along with my wife, Jackie!
 
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joeguam

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The kit arrived last Friday, I'm so excited to start this journey!

ED3C39BE-BDB9-461C-99A3-85BD3A991182_zpsx7j26bie.jpg


The package contained the tenor uke kit and the extra tools I ordered:
C2E679E3-824B-46E8-BE9C-B402BEC11C99_zpsx2z6r0x9.jpg


I got started that day!
 

joeguam

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I quickly got to work on the kit this past weekend, doing what I could without the jig. I had to trek over to my dad's house to use his table saw to make the jig. Because it's Mother's Day weekend, I didn't have much time. Here's what I was able to do.

Cutting out the template, this was painfully tedious. I had to scrape every bit of patience I had in me to make sure I didn't mess up this cutout.
5DA9CFFA-BD21-4B94-B700-37077EB5287A_zpstvmq5kgv.jpg


Marked all the centerlines:
649EBB97-CB1F-4333-838C-61E4AE22FB26_zpsuev3k74w.jpg


A828ECED-30BD-4165-AA56-286638AEABDF_zps62rsmvmw.jpg


You can see that the pre-marked center lines that shipped with the kit were a bit off:
C36064E0-7FCF-4EDE-831E-D0FE692340D9_zps3kdzciqv.jpg
 

joeguam

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Traced the outline on the top and back:
AB9A3E53-7031-46F6-90F6-830BBAAD9885_zps6xubxplq.jpg


B7C4A913-BDC7-4672-971E-13B39151CB0B_zpsso4vvgmp.jpg


Marked the centerlines on the head and end blocks, made sure their radiuses matched the outlines:
BC3F8F47-E805-4354-8A4B-D24622F5C6EB_zpsjsez05on.jpg


28CC1597-B3B8-472D-9EB8-7AED6B460BF5_zpsem18doiv.jpg
 

joeguam

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Dry fitted the bracing:
E230676A-C826-4F70-A9C5-E614E7E84E6B_zpscsgyk34r.jpg


Then marked the centerlines on all the other parts:
DB6AD02C-F359-4FDB-ACBC-61E37F83E5C0_zpsh7lp9ihx.jpg


...and that was where I called it a night.
 

joeguam

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The next day my wife and I removed the plastic fretboard markers, we will be upgrading this inlay with sand from our family's private beach here in Guam. This inlay is an inspiration from our good friends Joe & Kristen Souza from Kanile'a Ukulele who use sand from Kailua beach in a lot of their inlays.

We followed this video showing how to remove the plastic dot markers:

We used an awl and a 3/32" bit to drill the initial hole:
73A169E7-865D-476C-AA67-9E61ACEB8EBB_zpsumsd5gyf.jpg


Then we flipped the drill bit over and wiggled it around until the glue released. In some cases, I used a small flat head screw driver to scrape out some of the material:
63CAFA79-88D3-467D-934B-B09EE6E9EA47_zpsejre2zfk.jpg


Repeated the same steps for each dot, then use the flat screw driver to try and level out the floor of the cavity:
8345B65F-76D8-4BBD-993D-2E8E06C35D19_zps1oe5ugpc.jpg


Here's my wife laying in #10 thin stewmac CA glue to seal the bottom of the cavity, she's got a much steadier hand than I. Then, she used #20 medium viscosity to build it up a bit and level it more.
CB51FC80-E90E-45A3-AFC0-EE7A27C3F645_zpsrepbsg0u.jpg
 

joeguam

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joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #1! said:
You can see in the picture below that I pressed/damaged the edge of the inlay cavity while I was prying the plastic out of the hole with the back of the drill bit. I recognized this on the second hole, so I was sure not to do this again. When I add the sand to be inlaid, the CA glue will fill the pressed area and I'll level it flat, but it will still show a bit.
FAEF44B9-0EC4-4A39-9A52-994F47170400_zpsta8wuzgz.jpg


That's it so far, next is to get the jig built.
 

joeguam

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I don't have a workshop but my wife, Jackie, allowed me to rearrange our guest bedroom for this build. I basically stacked everything on top of the bed and covered it all with painter's drop-plastic from home depot.

I've completed a bunch of furniture builds in the past using recycled materials, so to make it easier, I made this quick workbench yesterday out of some pallet wood that had been sitting in our yard for about 8 months. I love the color of the patina that it acquired.

5DF6906B-CF9A-4483-AC45-61E09F70DA08_zps3tf3ud9p.jpg


Because we'll need a very flat surface for a most of the build process, my dad let me use a scrap piece of granite counter top that he had laying around (something tells me this piece won't be going back to his house...heehee).

FB1A006A-9148-407A-BE0B-42DADDE4AC4E_zpsr6l2whvb.jpg


So this is my very modest workshop/workbench for this build, I might add some plywood to the leg braces to make a shelf if I can find some scrap somewhere.
 

joeguam

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I borrowed my dad's table saw and cut the pieces for the jig and Jackie helped me assemble it.

C2A5E90E-5BDD-4652-86C3-F659DE6F3E2B_zpslihx4snh.jpg


Jackie then marked the center lines and traced the template. I've said it before, her hands are much more steady than mine.

9D202E08-FD44-4AE5-929F-C5C4CB244FB1_zpsysktnhls.jpg


I just 2" pieces of a 1" dowel to use as the cauls for the side shaping. Instead of screwing these into the jig, we just glued it using titebond (TB) glue.

5B32114C-D1BC-4A85-A24E-7E97023497E1_zpss9pdbsxn.jpg


I wanted to do a rough fit of the sides while the glue was still wet to see if all looked good.

9BDB3F61-2370-4B11-9011-1BBADB2AA292_zpsdlr7uytj.jpg


Everything looked good so we let the cauls dry overnight.
 

joeguam

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I could not wait to get up the next morning and get back to working on the build. The cauls glued up real nice and solid, so I moved on to the next step which was to dry fit the sides/endblock/neckblock.

joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #2! said:
Thankfully this lesson-learned entry was not as a result of a mistake, instead it was a result of following instructions and recommendations. I've read numerous times that center lines are crucial for referencing. I found the task of measuring and marking center lines to be very tedious and annoying. But, while dry fitting the sides/endblock/neckblock, I reaped all the critical benefits of the centerlines and it made it SO EASY to line everything up to ensure they're square and fitted properly. Centerlines...do it.

F265D2F6-377F-499B-A95A-C74479A6A074_zpsqnasie5k.jpg


While clamping the pieces for the dry fit, something didn't look and feel right. It seemed that the butt joint of the sides that meet at the neck block weren't seating properly.

joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #3! said:
Check all ends for squareness prior to dry fitting. It only takes a few seconds but can save a ton of time.

B8B6F651-9652-44EB-9EAC-84A323A2B14E_zps5pixgwxh.jpg


So I disassembled everything and checked the ends of the sides against a square for squareness. You can see in this picture that there's some slight correction needed. This should be simple enough to square out with a sanding block and 120-grit.

FE966C0A-188F-4DA7-A900-DE4066E6D252_zpsbfk4rrnj.jpg


Thankfully the other end of the sides was actually pretty square.
76C77604-9734-424F-B459-A5E896934534_zps8svspkge.jpg


joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #4! said:
The instructions continuously caution to dry fit everything before you apply glue. I'm so glad that this lesson learned also did not come as a result of a catastrophe. Dry fit first!

Hopefully Jackie and I can square the ends of the sides and get the end/neck blocks glued in tonight.
 

joeguam

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To square up the edge of the sides, I used a tip that I found from a woodworking article months ago, double-sided tape with 120-grit on a hand plane.

37F50864-E49E-4763-983D-534DB2E9E7E4_zpsqbnkekvz.jpg


Keeping both flat against the granite, I used slow and short motions to sand down to the pencil line.

4CADE831-EC88-440D-8AFF-7B20E9589EEF_zpsmncobffo.jpg


I was able to get it real close to square.

9E40747E-23A0-43F0-B6BC-46401946FDE6_zpsrrunsw2p.jpg


I didn't get it perfect, so I kept working at it.

303549BB-7E35-422B-9951-F378E3CFEE65_zpsstv96k6x.jpg
 

joeguam

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After a couple of tries, I accepted that I won't be able to get it perfect using a hand plane. There's just too much variance in my motion. These are the times I wish I had a disc sander. I got it very close and I'll accept this bit of imperfection.

00FE9C47-C588-4690-A6E9-0551DB105148_zpsob3ihgmz.jpg


So after a 2nd dry fit (LESSON LEARNED #4), Jackie and I glued in the end and neck blocks.

49A18F64-380F-4564-A93E-FF84CDC76D19_zpslj7nsn6e.jpg


This is Jackie cleaning up the squeeze out with a chisel.

896BF88C-7FA7-4158-810F-929B1D7946F7_zps3sfvc91f.jpg


Glued up the neck block and cleaned up the squeeze out.

4D0C67BD-7118-48DF-A09C-F864051EC6D2_zpsjmkkcjcf.jpg


Here he is all clamped up, next step will be to glue in the lining.
 

Jim Hanks

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Fascinating. That build plan is enough to scare me off from such a project, but I look forward to following this thread.
 

SeaArtNancy

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Hi! This looks fantastic and your photos are a wonderful guide! I built my first soprano- the Stew Mac kit and never realized how much fun I was going to have while doing it!!!!! I'm now attempting my first built from scratch!
All the best to you and Jackie!
 

Doc_J

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Thank you Joe. I plan on starting a StewMac soprano kit soon, and your posts are just what I needed to see.
 

joeguam

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Thanks everyone for the kinds words, Jackie and I are having a blast and really enjoy doing this build together! Your words give me tons of motivation to keep working and also posting what I can to this thread. Cheers!
 

joeguam

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We dodged a huge bullet last night and recovered from a major disaster...I forgot to put wax paper between the jig and the neckblock.

joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #5 said:
Unfortunately this lesson was learned the hard way. The instructions say to place wax paper between the jig and the neck/end blocks when gluing, but I forgot. Be sure to always use wax paper to ensure you don't glue your pieces to your work surface!

The end block only glued a bit to the jig from squeeze out, so I was able to massage it loose, however, the neck block was stuck. As you can see in this picture, I also cracked a bit of the side overhanging the neck block. Thankfully this piece will be sanded off anyway, but cracks are never a good thing.
4B0F968B-8ED2-498F-B4B1-3D2F4033C4BD_zpssw4epcnm.jpg


I was able to carefully work a small chisel in between the jig and the sides and thankfully get it loose, but there was a bit of damage done.
81E82B5D-38E6-4F9F-9ECD-80DFC8B7DC8F_zpst1mzexkf.jpg


A6240228-8E73-4127-B8E5-083D80AB3ABC_zpsesnkxjoo.jpg


I glued the cracked piece back together using TB glue and sanded off most of the glue residue from the affected area. This area will be pore-filled and final sanded and, more specifically covered by the neck heel.
22CBE161-5797-412C-A31E-F608D35375BC_zps9wkwnw5u.jpg


Phew! Glad it wasn't a disaster, just took about an hour extra of time to correct.
 

joeguam

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So once we got everything back to normal, we moved on to the next step which was to glue in the non-kerfed lining.

I used a chisel to slowly trim the lining until it fit perfectly.
joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #6! said:
Thankfully this lesson was not learned the hard way. I read a previous article somewhere online where the guy got impatient and trimmed the rosette too much, too quickly. He had to band-aid the situation but it didn't look good. I also saw Aaron from Mya-Moe trim the kerfed lining too much in their "Birth of a Mya-Moe" series. He had to use extra lining and do it over, but in this kit, you don't have extra material. Because of this, I took my time and trimmed off very little with each test fit.
8B440677-92C0-4179-B8B5-FDFAEA528608_zpsjlysxjjw.jpg


Following lesson learned #4, we made sure to dry fit and clamp. This showed us the areas that really needed a lot more clamping than others.
BA0DB0CD-08AE-4DAF-9852-7417C5F44978_zpsd7fl2ryd.jpg


You can see slightly at the waist that there's a pencil mark that I used for reference when I first fitted the lining. Our method was to situate the waist together (because this can't be moved), mark a reference line, then cut the ends to fit.
8F89BBCC-3EB3-4572-A297-9C223333A300_zpsjtly7klz.jpg


All looked good, so this is Jackie slapping on the glue. I found an "artist glue bottle" with a very fine point at the craft store for about $2.00, this really helps keep things from becoming messy.
AA88D10A-4493-4BC5-95E1-3986B5319631_zpsnpr9az2c.jpg
 

joeguam

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So we did a rinse/repeat for the other side and glued him up to sleep for the night.
joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #7! said:
The instructions say to use clothespins to clamp, however, we found that clothespins do not provide sufficient clamping pressure. This is why we used the bigger black clamps and then filled in any remaining areas with clothespins. My recommendation would be to use the black office supply binder clamps which are much stronger (got this trick from a Kanile'a Ukulele Factory Tour YouTube video), or the small mini clamps Mya-Moe uses in their "Birth of a Mya-Moe" series.
BC451DC7-38AB-4766-8B53-841532ECE0B9_zpsfujpiioz.jpg
 

joeguam

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Once again, could not wait to wake up and get back to working on this uke! I'm loving this!

Removed all the clamps and checked out the lining we glued for the back, looks real good.
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So I flipped him over and did the same process for the top lining. Here's the dry fit...always have to dry fit first.
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Here he his all glued up. I remembered that I had 4 bar clamps sitting around so I used them to get better clamping pressure than the clothespins.
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The next step will be to start gluing the back bracing.