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Thread: Kit or do-it-from scratch ?

  1. #1

    Default Kit or do-it-from scratch ? -> will be from scratch.


    Yesterday, I started to build speak about glueing a ukulele kit in the woodworkers club I recently joined.

    The retired pro woodworkers will never like the idea of buying a "glue it youself" kit of course, and they started to say that :

    -I can buy a 2"x12"x12' quarter sawn mahogany blank piece of wood for about $100 (I don't know if it's available in this size, given price is based on volume for this thickness)
    -We have all the tools needed to make everything, including a CNC which can handle 15"Lx12"Wx4"H pieces of wood

    So, if for the price of one kit, I can have enough wood to spoil the 10 first ukes and make an acceptable one from all scavenged pieces from them, I think I can give it a try. Of course I know I'll have to buy fret wire, tuners, nut and saddle, plus some rosewood for fretboard, and maybe other wood for bracing, and strings, ... But even $200 is acceptable to learn that much. I would also buy one grizzly kit, and start by replacing the soundboard and back with mahogny to learn a little bit befor I start the real one.

    So, the questions :
    -Do you think it's possible to just order quarter sawn mahogany and make a ukulele that will sound acceptable on first try (with help of experienced woodworkers, forums, and plans), or are there to many things to know about choosing the precise board ?
    -Is it possible to make 3/16" thick soundboards from the "2 bare piece of wood ? of course we have planers, but I hope it's possible to get more than 1 soundboard from 2" piece of wood, or do I have to order the thinner available piece of mahogany and spoil half of it on planner / sander ? (I'm afraid that they won't have anything under 41mm, and I'll need 4mm, that's 90% garbage)
    -What is the english name for "bare piece of wood" (see picture)

    Last edited by jaunedeau; 04-20-2009 at 11:08 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Stockton on Tees..North East UK.


    When I made my first was because I wanted a Martin, but couldn't aford one..So I decided to make one..I bought a drawing on E-Bay of a Martin Style 1 (By Scott Antese) I had a look around for something to start with and someone gave me a mahogany kitchen door, the type with 15 panes of hammered I dismantled it and cut some slices out of it.
    These became the sides and neck/Tail blocks...any way it was great fun and I put pic's and what it was made of on the Cosmos Forum... Since then I've made about 30 and the quality has greatly improved ...but that first one is the one I like best even tho it looks a bit rough at the side of my latest efforts...You can see it here

  3. #3


    timbuck : ok, so basically I can take any thickness piece of quarter sawn mahogany, cut it to about wide, then cut proper thicknness with a scoll saw and plan, that's good to know

    Based on this, I made estimations, and in the 60-100 pieces of wood, I have enough to make 4 to 8 ukuleles, depending on the precise dimensions and shape. So it's worth a try. I'll ask next week confirmation about available stock


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Big Island, Hawaii


    If you only ever plan to build one uke and money is an immediate consideration then I suggest buying a kit. If, as you mentioned, you have pro woodworkers supporting you and the necessary tools and plan to build a few ukes, then buy all means build from scratch. It is so much more rewarding having completed an instrument build from a board than one from a kit. A board of Honduran mahogany of the size you mentioned would cost me about $275 locally. African mahogany about $150. I'm sure there are better prices around. Not only will you have material for lots of work but you'll be less afraid of making mistakes and you may even want to experiment down the road a bit.
    I resaw my wood to about 1/4" to start with then thickness sand it with 36 grit on the drum sander until I get close to my final thickness. I try to get eight cuts from a 8/4 or 9/4 board. Don't resaw all your wood at once though, maybe enough for two or three sets at a time. That way you'll have plenty of 8/4 stock for necks, blocks, bracing, kerfing, etc.
    There are a lot of inexpensive plans available on the Internet, some even free.
    If your wood is pretty defect free and is all quarter sawn, you should be able to get a minimum of eight tenor ukuleles from the dimensions you gave us. That includes necks, blocks, etc.
    Have fun.
    Chuck Moore
    Moore Bettah Ukuleles

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    West Midlands GB


    I started by making ukes from the bare wood (five of 'em). When I no longer had access to a workshop, I built seven Stew Mac kits at home in my kitchen. Kits are great for a lone beginner, but with the support and the facilities you have got, I'd definitely advise you to build from scratch.

    I envy you - you're gonna enjoy!


  6. #6


    Thank you for your advices, it confirms me that it is not so stupid to follow the "from scratch" path. I'll just buy a $40 makala to learn to play during the 6 months it'll take me to build one. I may also buy the $25 grizzly, just to see how it's made inside (yep, dismantle and glue a mahogany top and back, add biding, ...)

    Moore : I live in europe, so africa is closer from here, so price difference is even greater in my case. I don't think that it would really matter for my first ukulele anyway, and I will feel more confident if I know I can spoil half of the wood (the guys at the club said to make every piece twice, because it take only 20% longer, and you are sure to spoil at least one !)

    Do I need other wood than the mahogany ? Ebony for the freatboard I think. Do I need different wood for the bracing or do they just use other wood for bracing because it's cheaper ? Should the bridge be different too ?

    Can someone point me to a recommandable soprano plan that can be trusted and without "weird" things so I can do it as a first project and I can understand how things are usually done ?

    Ukantor : what is your experience with stewmac kits ? Do you think they are same level of quality than something you can do as a beginner (with some help and tools), or is there one of solution which would lead to better result ? (I only speak about quality of the final result, of course this is not the leading thing in my choice, I think that I no longer can help trying to make one from scratch anyway !)


  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    So California


    Sounds like a fun project. Best of luck to you.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Wales, UK


    Where in Europe are you getting your Mahogany from? The price here in the UK for African grown swietenia machrophylla is 198 not including VAT - cheaper than Chuck has to pay (which for some unhealthy reason makes me breath a sigh of relief - I thought you guys had it made over there ). Also, although building from scratch is a good way to start, unless you have skills already, it's also a great way to get discouraged.

    I may be out of line here but I think it is important to 'test' your ability with a kit or even better, working with a luthier. When I built my first guitar it was under supervision at college. However I had already qualifications in engineering metalwork, silversmithingand wrought iron work, cabinet making and working with plastics. You could say I was 'handy'... I am more than ever convinced that the precise work I did in these disciplines schooled me for my adventures into instrument building - and the fact that I had to wait 3 years before I could get my hands on a piece of quartersawn Brazilian rosewood which I messed up first time! Now, after 15 years of building ukulele I am beginning to have the confidence to pick up a piece of wood and 'know' how it is going to turn out, what makes for a good soprano or tenor and when to start and stop with the bling.

    I am totally confident in my pricing and advising clients. That hasn't come from building but from my years of competative swimming. I use this technology managing my own website, accounts, graphic designs because I taught IT in high school - I guess what I am trying to say is that building is more than a set of specific hand skills; with those, you can put something together resembling an instrument. The magic comes when your heart is in it and you bring to bear your life experienece to what you are doing. And IMHO it is why you know when a piece is good or not - and piece is the right word because there will be a little piece of you in it and if you have the right attitude...

    OK enough of the Zen thing. My advice for what it is worth - do a kit, a Grizzly one just to see if your confidence on paper matches that at the bench. For $40 (that includes the shipping to Europe I believe - that is if you can get Grizzley to do it.; I just had a client in the west coast have Grizzly ship a rolling pin sander to him so he could ship it to me...) you will avoid a lot of disappointment and heartache. When I messed up, I just went to the wood store at college and got out a fabulous piece of splash figure makore and with a better and less arrogant attitude, made my first guitar; it sounded mediocre BTW - back in 1976 we had no video here in the UK, no support and no-one to tell us how it is done. It's why I do my videos... I want anyone starting out to have a better experience than I did 33 years ago.

    Last word - the builders who post here are a great bunch but don't be fooled... we have all paid our dues and I well remember a conversation with Bob Gleason I had 10 years ago went something like this:

    "How's it going Bob?"

    "Oh you know...."

    "No I don't. Tell me?"

    "I just had to scrap a D45 treatment on a soprano (that's the pearl around the top and sides - $2000 worth of work) because it didn't look right..."

    Bob is the grandaddy hand builder who has stayed the course in Hawaii. Interesting that after all his building knowledge there were still (like us all) days when it just wasn't going right. I then began to understand that this really is a very sophisticated business after all and not to be treated as a 'full-time hobby'. Oh no, this is very serious stuff isn't it Chuck, Paul and everyone else?

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    West Midlands GB


    Well Jaunedeau, as a kit the Stew Mac is an excellent product. When well made, the finished uke can sound as good as a MUCH more expensive instrument. As I said, I've made seven, and I know of another five made by friends, and they were all of a consistently high quality.

    Having said that, I believe you should be able to make something at least as good, if not better, with the facilities and advice and support that you have. I warn you though, you will look at your first one and think, "I'm pleased with it, but I'm sure the next one will be even better". And the next - and the next - and the next! There are worse things to become obsessed with.

    The Scott Antes "Martin" plan (mentioned by Timbuck) is very useful. It is not intended to be a "how to build a uke" plan. It is a detailed, and very accurate, set of drawings of the classic soprano. It might be all you need. Your woodworking buddies will probably look at it and say, "Yep. Let's get started!"


    ps. I've just read Pete's comment. I agree that making ukes professionally is a very serious business, but building is also a very worthwhile and fulfilling hobby. Don't be discouraged by unrealistic expectations, and remember that even mistakes have their value, if you learn from them.
    Last edited by ukantor; 03-29-2009 at 01:26 PM. Reason: Additional comment

  10. #10


    >Where in Europe are you getting your Mahogany from?

    It's in France. The price (1500€ per cubic meter) has been given to me by the president of the club, and they have "pro" prices. But I also found about the same price in this pricelist (last line in the table in first page is "acajou", though they d'ont say where this one is from). First column is thickness, second is price without VAT for less than 0.1 cubic meter. I need 0,06 cubic meter, and I will get best price because I order with the club which orders tones of wood every year, so if I get exactly the size dimension I mentionned, it would be 80€ including VAT and free shipping (ordered with tens of other boards). If the order is ok (the provider only has high quality when it come to local woods, and the club already has ordered ipe and ayous with good results, but never tryed mahogany), I can try to help people getting some or I may have some spares to sell (8 tenir is way too much for me )

    >And IMHO it is why you know when a piece is good or not - and piece is the right word because there will be a little piece of you in it and if you have the right attitude...

    Haha, I also want to spend more time woodworking because I now spend less time training kung fu, so I completely understand what you mean. Anyway, for now this is not the good question, which is : Is there any Heart into the stewmac kits ?

    > For $40 (that includes the shipping to Europe I believe

    $25 and free shipping to USA on amazon, some friend will bring it back here

    >I want anyone starting out to have a better experience than I did 33 years ago.

    I hope I won't forget to thank you in a few months

    >this really is a very sophisticated business after all and not to be treated as a 'full-time hobby'.

    I already turned my main hobby into a job, and gladely it brings me enough money (but not enough time !) for my hobbies. I then can accept to spoil a few parts, and my goal is not to build a D45 (I prefer my D41 ), and is really not to have a certain quantity done in a certaine timeframe. I'd be really happy to have built something that can match a $50 KA-S by christmas.

    I think I'm going to have a look at all the video you posted that I've not seen yet.

    Thanks you,

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