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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Resawing cherry

Well this weekend I was going to resaw a load of walnut, to make a load of resonators clad with... well walnut. But my plank wasn't where I thought it would be, due to a car getting some repairs and another car being unceremoniously unloaded. 

Lucky then I had a HUGE plank of cherry and I really like cherry better than walnut so expect to see a load of cherry resos. 

I don't know if you can see it but there are pencil marks at the end of the plank. The leftmost 12 centimeters have the growth rings parallel to the faces of the plank, so that'll be ripped off and sliced to sides. Then the growth rings dive down and the 19 cm to the right are more or less quarter sawn. This matters less in my resos of course, but I wouldn't want the flat sawn look on the bodies. 

In the pic I'm cross cutting at 90 cm, a piece long enough for one piece rims and three smaller slabs to be ripped to one piece tops and backs. 

Then I ripped those 12 cm destined for sides. The daylight was disappearing fast. And my rip saw needs sharpening!

Remember the kerfing plane? Well of course you do. It gives me a kerf on all four sides of the slab, to guide the frame saw. I decided to make several kerfs at the same time. 

And that was hard work. The vise is heavy and grips securely, but it's mounted too high for this. I have a sore elbow now. 

But why the hand tools? Am I amish? No, my bandsaw is too tiny innit. See here. It can handle one piece soundboards for piccolos and acoustic sopranos, but the resos are too wide. 

So out came the frame saw. This was the morning after, I snuck off to the workshop before my family woke up. 

I will finish those handles before I use the saw next time, I promise myself.

One and a half hour later, knackered but pleased. The wood was kiln dried and had some case hardening so the pieces bowed a bit as they came off the slab. It'll cause no problems, but it's interesting to see the tensions inherent in a piece you perceive as totally inert and stable. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fitting tuners and stringing up

This is the cherry piccolo I started in December. I finished the French polish before nipping off to Buenos Aires, so this morning it was ready to rub out. I made the bone nut and here are the steps of fitting the violin peg tuners. 

All the tools are at the ready. 

First I shape the pegs in the shaper. It's a lot more than the pencil sharpener that popped up in your head. I sharpened the blade on a few waterstones and it's razor sharp. This gives a circular section in the entire length, and the correct taper to match my reamer. Both came from Metropolitan Music, a fine webshop. 

Here's the grim reamer. I check for square by eye. 

I shoot for something like this, where the topmost pegs sit deeper. It goes well with the taper of the body. 

All pegs protrude to the same height fanx to my depth stop. Before I put the leather guard on there was a lot of thumb blood to wipe off. 

I round off the ends with a file, and drill the string holes with a mini drill that some folks call a pin vise. All tuners must be set in the same direction. 

The holes are countersunk with a tiny ball router bit that I turn by hand. 

Here are the strings I currently use - fluorocarbon fishing leader off of ebay. 

I feed the string through the bridge, fish it out of the soundhole, put on a magic bead and tie a knot. 

Done, and sounding reet nice!

And the headstock stamp, for those of you keeping count. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The vise soprano

Thanks for all the kind words I got for the post before this one. Warms my heart it does. Today's offering is shorter and less burdened with nostalgia but it's a uke going to an important person, my friend Chris. As you remember, Chris gave me the vise. And the bike bag. 

No video was shot so we'll have to rely on the pics. 

The vise in the ebony fretboard. I will avoid ebony for a while, this one really fought back when I was fretting. 

The rosewood bridge goes very well with the koa. I picked a piece with some sap wood for it to match. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tenor guitar restoration

This post has taken me several years to write. 

A couple of, or three maybe, years ago my wonderful friend Brian read a comment I made about them ultra cool Gibson SG tenor guitars. He emailed me at once asking "why have you never told me you like tenor guitars, I'll send you mine". And he promptly did, in a totally shit package which left it to luck whether or not the guitar would arrive in one piece. From Arizona to Stockholm. 

And what was it? It was only a Dobro resonator tenor from 1937 wasn't it. Now old Dobros were made by different factories as far as I understand, some of them under different brand names. But this one has the Dobro lyre on the headstock and it was marvellous. 

But it had neck issues. The neck was bowed and had a twist too, making it very hard to play with my poet hands. And the frets were shot, some of them grooved so they looked like nuts. So I thought, hey, I'll fix this. And if I still can't play it when it's perfect I'll send it back to Brian.

I had a couple of other clunker guitars with bowed necks and someone told me they could be set straight with heat and clamps alone, so I tried that. One of them went straight but suffered some lacquer damage, the other one got a bit straighter but it felt very unpredictable. And I didn't want to risk the lacquer on the Dobro. 

So I posed some questions at a luthier's forum about those fretwires with fatter tangs, as I'd heard they could be used to straighten necks. The tang is the part of the fret that goes into the slot in the fretboard, and a fatter tang can push that slot out, lengthening the surface and bending the neck backwards. I've read about restorations were a set of frets with tangs of different thicknesses fixed bowed necks, but I had trouble sourcing the special fretwire. 

At the forum some guys said it might work but the legendary luthier Rick Turner chimed in saying "that's the most back asswards way of doing it! The only way is to pop off the fretboard, plane the neck straight, route a channel in it and glue in a carbon fibre rod."

That sent the whole idea of fixing the guitar to the back burner. I felt very poorly equipped to pull an operation like that off. 

Then my friend Brian died. 

I was devastated. And so were all of his many friends. The Dobro was in its case (a case I bought in a thrift store for it since it came only in that ratty box) and the case got covered in dust. I would show the guitar to friends sometimes but I couldn't play it unless I used a slide. 

But things happen. I was shopping for fretwire for a friend's guitar and found fretwire with fatter tangs. So I bought some, thinking it might be worth a shot at least. I was still reluctant to pop, plane and route as mr. Turner so kindly had advised me to do. 

And then this weekend I had a couple of hours and examined the old frets in their slots. I realized right away that not even magic super tangs from the fourth dimension would do anything to that old and weird fretboard, it was stained birch or something soft like that and when I pried an old fret up it brought enough crumbling wood with it to make the slot wide and uneven. I went into fight mode. 

I ran a scalpel along the edge of the fretboard (because I've seen Dan Erlewine do that) and put a clothes iron on the fretboard at the nut end. When it smelled bad enough I put a wooden wedge and the nut end and pushed it in. 

And off it popped. Or started to pop anyway, I had to move the iron down the neck a bit so it was a suspended pop lasting a few minutes. (Not poop though as I'm sure many of you already read into the above description.)

Sighting down the neck (which was a soft stained birch) I saw the bow and the twist but it was easily fixed with a couple of different hand planes. Good thing I have a few of those. Then I looked for a carbon fibre rod, and did find one of the exact required length. I tell you, this was meant to happen, as mr. Turner no doubt knew. I needed a two mm wide slot, no problem, and also a way of guiding the router. Could be a problem. I tried a few ideas for building some rails to guide a sled in which the router would be mounted, but saw it would be unwieldy and overly complex. 

Then I looked at the router bit and it has a three mm shaft. Hm. There is useful information in that fact. Let's continue this with pictures, shall we. 

Two slats of scrap wood, but with smooth and completely straight edges three mm from each other. Screwed onto the neck, which is held steady by clamps and struts. 

Me routing with my Proxxon router. I let the shaft of the bit ride between the guides, and went deeper with each successive pass. I made three or four passes for a ten mm deep channel. 

The rod in a very snug dry fit. The width of the channel was perfect despite the several passes. 

I drilled some holes in the rod and roughed up the surface a bit, then put epoxy glue on it and in the channel. 

And let it sit for 24 hours. I actually planed down the excess, a fun experience that sent the plane iron to the sharpening queue. 

Then I pulled all the old frets out, sanded the fretboard and replaced a broken position marker. 

The fat tang frets was a perfect choice. Notice also I re-stained the fretboard. I took my time and filed the ends of each fret before glueing them into the slots. Who wouldn't want PSFE:s on their own guitar?

And then I glued the fretboard back. I managed to put it exactly right, a bit of a challenge since the width was the same as the neck. When I build ukes I usually keep the neck a bit wide and scrape it down to the fretboard edges after glueing. 

Yesterday I put strings on and it came alive. Growly and coarse but with a unique warmth and a truly loveable voice. 

Just like Brian. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Cutting fret slots

With the saw guide as a go / no-go gauge I planed and whittled the neck to final width and taper. The neck on this one is unusually beautiful, with rays and specks and a deep lustre. After a couple of wash coats of shellac I drill the holes for the styrene rod that will become fret markers, after doing some service as guide pins for the saw guide. 

Like so. Sometimes I clamp the guide but the fit was good enough without it this time. 

I set the depth stop on the fretting saw for the depth of the tang plus four mm for the acrylic in the guide. 

And away we go. I had to sharpen the saw a while back and it's still good since then. So it only takes a few minutes. 

Checking the depth with a pricey gauge from stewmac. I love their stuff but they do sell a separate tool for every single step and task. 

The last cut defines the nut location and I pare off the wood behind it, blending the surface from square ledge into the slope of the headstock. 

But why the saw guide and the back asswards way of slotting the neck in this manner? Because I don't have a separate fretboard on these ukes, and I can't determine the slot positions before fitting the neck since that involves so much faffing about, effectively shortening the neck. And I really want the 12th fret to be exactly at the joint between neck and body. 

Is there a better or smarter way to do it? I don't think so but you might have ideas. Answers on a postcard, address is 

The Argapanator
The dungeön

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Fitting the back braces

It's about time to close the box. I have a triangular brace blank of old spruce that's cut to keep the growth rings standing. The shorter ones I plane down from the wider edge so they're the right height. 

I don't glue the to the back, that's for other builders. I fit them to the linings like the ribs on a boat. With my small modeller's saw I cut notches in the lining strips. 

The notches are cleaned up and refined. When the braces fit just a wee bit proud I seat them by planing or carving the braces' ends, on side that won't be seen from the soundhole. 

Here they are, ready for glueing. I like them to be a fraction short rather than too long. I imagine the shape of the completed body benefits from pulling the sides in with the clamps as it keeps the top taut (in my imagination anyway).

And here it is, with the lovely Japanese bar clamps. Or was, as the back went on yesterday. I set the neck angle with a shim under the neck at the nut end and the back keeps everything in place. And despite using a bolt on neck connection my backs always cover the heel. 

Oh, happy new year.