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 Post subject: Pair of harp ukuleles
PostPosted: Mon Nov 11, 2013 10:08 pm 
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After running into humidity trouble working on my harp guitar last spring, I took the summer off of building. The humidity is getting low enough to finish it up now, but in the meantime over the past few weeks, I've been planning and doing some work on a couple new builds for this year.

Originally I'd planned on doing one harp ukulele, using these materials:
Attachment:
Woods.jpg

Last spring at the Gateway Area Luthiers Gathering, Ken Jeffs lost a chunk of that mahogany back during the hand plane thicknessing demonstration, in part due to a rickety table. I suggested he use it on a harp ukulele, and instead he handed it to me and told me to do it... thus it shall be done. Thanks Ken!

I also bought that Honduran rosewood set while I was there. A back from the reject pile, which has a big crack in one half, leaving it perfectly shaped for a harp uke. The side down at the bottom is sort of between the two colors, but unfortunately turned out to be a few inches short for what I'd planned... but I have a new plan.

My initial thought was that the mahogany and rosewood should go together, using the mahogany as the soundboard. But it turns out the mahogany is just a hair short for a harp uke soundboard, and precisely long enough for a back. After digging through the wood pile and plotting inlay themes, I ended up deciding to do two harp ukes instead of just one.

First will be called the Bear Cave. When I bought some stuff from DannyV a while back, he tossed in some odd size bearclaw sitka pieces. What better wood to pair it with than the gift mahogany? And I had some flawed curly walnut sides that my sister says look bear-ish, which completes the fully figured wood set.

Second is the Timberwolf. Redwood/Honduran rosewood is my favorite combo, and I had a redwood harp uke top from the harp guitar's offcuts, so that's perfect too. Unfortunately, the light HRW side doesn't really match anything there... but that neck is half sapwood. So I'll use back offcuts for the sides on the harp arm, meeting the dark half of the neck on the bass side, and the light side going around from a bit above the waist on the bass side, to the cutaway, and meeting on the light colored treble side of the neck. Perfect :)

I think that's enough of an intro for now. I'll write more about the inlay schemes next time.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 11, 2013 10:20 pm 
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Cool Dennis,
I look forward to seeing your build process and progress.
Regards,
Dan

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 12, 2013 12:32 pm 
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Ok, so first is the Bear Cave. This will be pretty simple, just a chunky shaped ring of bocote around the soundhole to simulate a dirt cave entrance, a little walnut bear perched between the soundhole and fingerboard, a couple sprigs of green abalone grass, and then a painting of the mother and other cubs sleeping inside the box. Harp arm soundhole will have a few gold MOP triangles around it, making it the sun for the image. So far I've only done the ground ring:
Attachment:
RosetteGround.jpg

Here's the neck blank for it, which is a hunk of walnut with a bit of curl on one side. I dug this up from the pile of walnut shorts at the local hardwood store, so only a couple bucks :D Kind of a shame to use it on this since I could have weedled a 12 fret guitar neck out of it by using an unmatched piece for the headstock, but it fit the theme, and the layout worked nicely. Just that one stick left over, which I can use for the back braces.
Attachment:
NeckBlank.jpg

After sawing the headstock scarf, the shaft piece was enough over thickness that I decided to take a slice off of it to use as a center wedge for a 3 piece ukulele back in the future.
Attachment:
NeckSlice.jpg

Not the most skillful of resawing, but it'll do.
Attachment:
NeckSlice2.jpg

Plane it smooth (the curl on this stuff is surprisingly plane-friendly), and glue 'er up. Unfortunately I didn't have quite enough length to cut it where the curl would remain on the same side as the shaft. Oh well.
Attachment:
ScarfGlued.jpg

Then start carving on the harp headstock. It's kind of lumpy shaped, and will have some carving to make it look sort of like a bear paw. No headplate, as it would be cut through in places and look wrong.

After refining the outline some, and drilling the pilot holes, I start thinning it down from the back. Easier to do before gluing the heel piece on, because I can just dig in with my chisel and split big chunks off.
Attachment:
HarpHeadstockThinning.jpg

Then ream out the peg holes. I'm using little 3/4 size Pegheds this time, rather than the full size violin Perfection Pegs I used on the first harp uke. For one thing, these are cheaper. They also add to the cute factor, and are less crowded.
Attachment:
HarpHeadstockReaming.jpg

After I get the heel glued on, I can finish up the carving. Then cut the remaining inlay pieces.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 15, 2013 12:42 am 
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On to the Timberwolf. My initial idea was that I wanted to try putting a side port in the harp arm, and most likely remove the front soundhole up there so as not to change the total hole area. So then I thought, what's round to put in place of the front harp arm soundhole? The moon! And wolves howl at the moon, so that takes care of the main rosette too.

Then the next dilemma was that the half sapwood neck blank that made the two tone side wood work, turned out to have a couple of pin knots that I couldn't avoid completely. Either there'd be one in the heel area, or one right at the transition from shaft to headstock. I decided the headstock one would always look like a flaw, but the heel one could be made to work. I could give the whole instrument a "natural wood" theme... thus, the Wolf became the Timberwolf.

I remembered this beautiful piece of work http://www.luthiersforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=10101&t=41722, and that I wanted to do something using split wood surfaces. So I'm going to attempt to do split walnut headplates. Unfortunately I don't have an axe, so I'm going to have to saw a starter slot and then wedge it apart... hopefully it will split straight, and then hopefully I can get the pieces thinned down from the back side without damaging the split face.

Originally I'd planned on using a plain old abalone ring as the rosette, with the wolf perched on it. But now with this idea of natural wood surfaces, I had a better idea: Make the rosette out of sticks from the back yard :mrgreen: So I went out and collected a few, and planed them open:
Attachment:
Sticks.jpg

Lots of nice pieces to pick from. I decided on these:
Attachment:
RosettePlan.jpg

Shingle oak, sycamore, black walnut, sycamore. Then inlay them one by one. The ends are cracked off rather than cut, to give natural edges there too. The walnut stick ended up revealing some nice pith:
Attachment:
RosettePiece4.jpg

Also glued up the neck blank. Going with a stacked heel on this one, rather than my usual vertically laminated style, to keep the sapwood/heartwood line intact.
Attachment:
StackedHeel.jpg

Unfortunately, I was thinking the headstock would be shorter than it was, so the original piece I cut for it was too small, and I had to pop it off (surprisingly difficult, even while the glue was only 10-20 minutes dry, and rub jointed without clamps). The blank was too short to have gotten it long enough anyway, so no great loss. I just cut a new headstock piece from a different hunk of walnut. No sapwood half, but that's kind of a good thing if the split face headplate works, since there won't be as much visual discrepancy between the headstock and headplate now.


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These users thanked the author DennisK for the post: Hastings Guitars (Fri Nov 15, 2013 3:35 am)
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 12, 2013 8:08 am 
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I love seeing your work, Dennis, it always inspires me.
Please keep on with the thread.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 12, 2015 12:27 am 
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I'm really impressed with your artistic ideas. You've got a good eye for new takes on things that have been done over and over. The stick idea is genius.

Always a pleasure to read about your work. Inspiring. You've got me planning future builds.

-j


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 15, 2015 9:01 pm 
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Jimmyjames wrote:
I'm really impressed with your artistic ideas. You've got a good eye for new takes on things that have been done over and over. The stick idea is genius.

Always a pleasure to read about your work. Inspiring. You've got me planning future builds.

-j

Make me happy to hear that :) The guitar world needs a bit more artistic flair, IMO.

I'm gonna do one more update on Timberwolf here, and then it will be all Bear Cave for a while since it's much farther along.

Here's the completed rosette. I actually had to purposely indent the seams between the walnut pieces, because they were so tight they weren't visible enough :lol:
Attachment:
RosetteWolf.jpg

Attachment:
RosetteMoon.jpg


Here's the piece of walnut I picked out for the headplates. It has some nice curvature in the grain due to a knot, which gives it just the kind of natural look I'm going for. Split beautifully by sawing a starter slot and hammering a wedge.
Attachment:
WalnutSplit.jpg


Thinning each piece was done by using the other as a perfectly fitted cradle to avoid damaging the split surfaces. Working on the headstock after gluing the headplate on also requires great care, since mistakes can't simply be sanded out. But it all went well. This surface is quite lumpy, and I may actually have to cut a notch into it for the second highest string to reach the nut with enough angle...
Attachment:
Headstock.jpg


And the harp headstock. Also lumpy, but in the opposite direction. It's feather thin in the middle, and thick at the edges, and will require some careful carving to blend it smoothly into the soundboard, and the soundboard into it.
Attachment:
HarpHeadstockFront.jpg


Heel carving in progress with knife and chisel. Not looking too elegant yet :P
Attachment:
HeelCarving.jpg


After finishing it up with gouge and scraper, I slopped on some shellac, and the sapwood in the heel darkened significantly. Should have given it a coat of hide glue first [headinwall] I suppose I could scrape it off and try again, but I doubt it would be that much better anyway. I'll probably just leave it alone.
Attachment:
HeelColor.jpg


Side marker dots are slices of small sycamore sticks:
Attachment:
SideDots.jpg


Next steps on this one are gluing the neck and harp headstock to the soundboard, bracing the soundboard, and making the bridge. Bracing is going to be a very minimal falcate pattern, basically just strengthening the area around the soundhole, and leaving the plate to fend for itself in the bridge area. This redwood is super light and stiff, and I left it pretty thick. Since the soundhole is slightly below the waist, I don't want to put a big cross brace below the hole like a typical nylon string pattern. Too much reduction of the active area. Alternatively could use an X brace carved down to basically nothing below the intersection, but falcate is the hip new thing, and curves are more naturey anyway :P


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2015 3:16 am 
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Actually, there's not going to be all that much Bear Cave, because it turns out I didn't take a lot of pictures while working on it :oops:
But picking up from where the last update on it left off, here's the completed harp headstock. Doesn't really look like a paw, but I suppose it's more interesting than a plain smooth shape at least.
Attachment:
HarpHeadstockDone.jpg

One step that I didn't get pictures of was the cutting of that ledge, and the soundboard end that meets with it. First I positioned the harp headstock on the soundboard at the proper position and angle, and traced around it. Then marked the curve I wanted on the soundboard and cut it. Then used the soundboard to trace the curve onto the harp headstock for a perfect match, and dremel router to actually cut the ledge. Pretty roundabout way to do it, but necessary because it doesn't have a separate headplate. On Timberwolf, I just cut the curve on the headplate, traced it onto the soundboard, and cut the soundboard end.

Moving on to the inlays, I had a curly walnut back that was poorly resawn (not by me; I don't even have a bandsaw to try) and had an overhanging bit thick enough to use. So I just stuck the inlay patterns on it and cut them out by dremel router instead of jeweler's saw. The bear's muzzle is on the same piece as the Timberwolf head, and the headstock tree trunk pieces are also included in this shot. The existing cuts in those pieces are from the inlays on my first harp ukulele, the Marmoset, thus giving all 3 of these instruments even more of a connection :)
Attachment:
InlayPatterns.jpg

Attachment:
BearPiecesRouted.jpg


Then another missing step, adding the noses to both the bear and wolf, both of which were made by cutting a small piece of African blackwood, gluing it to the curly maple piece, and then sanding it to shape. I wouldn't be able to directly work with pieces that small, so this is a good way to get fine detail in inlays.

Then glue all the pieces together, stick it to the soundboard, and score around it:
Attachment:
BearScored.jpg


When scoring softwoods, it's best to take an x-acto knife and push down on each dark grain line to cut through it. Otherwise the router is hard to control as it moves through the hard and soft spots. Also makes a more consistent indented line around the piece, though that doesn't really matter if you fill and level everything under a perfectly flat finish.

Here's the bear itself, and the routed pocket.
Attachment:
BearRouted.jpg


Then for the eye, drill a 1/16" hole, and again use a technique for working with tiny objects. Carve the end of a scrap of blackwood to a 1/16" circle, and then saw a couple of notches to make a weak point, glue it in, and break it off. Level with a chisel afterward.
Attachment:
BearEye.jpg


After adding the grass sprigs, it's all done:
Attachment:
RosetteBear.jpg

Except that I ended up adding a third sprig to the lower right of the soundhole, after a mishap when cutting it out :P But it looks right at home, so you'd never guess it was put there to cover anything.

And here's the harp arm rosette:
Attachment:
RosetteSun.jpg


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2015 6:47 am 
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Dennis, I really enjoy seeing your creativity especially since I tend to be terribly left-brained ;)

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 27, 2015 10:37 am 
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SteveSmith wrote:
Dennis, I really enjoy seeing your creativity especially since I tend to be terribly left-brained ;)

Thanks :) I figure since my brain has two halves, I might as well use 'em both duh

Moving on to the neck, here's the tree inlay fitted together, ready to score and route the pocket. It has a few tiny gaps, but should be adequately filled with glue. Not fully level, but leaving shallow indentations that I think look nice. Cutting was pretty standard. Draw on paper, cut out the pattern pieces with a knife, stick them to the wood/shell, saw to the line, then fiddle with needle files until it all fits.
Attachment:
TreeInlayGaps.jpg


Then cut out the headplate from a big maple burl slice I have, glue it on, thin it down, score and route the pocket, and glue the tree.
Attachment:
HeadstockTree.jpg


Then add my logo inlay, which is pretty nerve wracking to route the pockets for at this tiny size, in maple where gaps really stand out. Came out great. Just one tiny gap by the curl, where it doesn't draw attention.
Attachment:
HeadstockDone.jpg


Lots of missing photos for the rest of the neck making process. Made the fingerboard (Indian rosewood, with curly mahogany binding cut from the back, and turquoise side dots), drilled position pin holes for it on the neck, used it as a template to mark the neck taper, cut the slots for the sides to fit into, cut out the headstock, carved the neck, carved the heel, routed the ledge on the headblock portion of the neck.

I also made the bridge, from the offcut of the fingerboard. No photos of routing the saddle slot, cutting out the shape or carving the leaves, but here's the finished product. It ended up rather thin, though. Possible that I'll have to make a new one, depending on how much thinner it gets after fitting it to the soundboard, and whether or not I decide to go with a lower string-height-at-bridge than on my previous harp uke. Note, this saddle is only fitted to the slot... it won't be sticking up that high.
Attachment:
Bridge.jpg


Once I get the neck glued to the soundboard, I can pin the fingerboard on, position the bridge at its final location, and drill the bridge pin holes through the soundboard. Normally I do this before bracing so I can position fan braces between the holes, but I ended up doing a more standard diagonal tone bar below the bridge rather than the fan pattern. I left the soundboard fairly thick in the middle so it has plenty of natural long grain stiffness, but it's riftsawn so the cross grain stiffness is low, so the tone bar seemed appropriate. Having the holes drilled does still make positioning the X and bridge plate easier. More missing photos here.

Then on to side bending and assembly. Here are the sides all cut out. Got a bunch of bindings out of them too, and have some pieces left over to cut inlays from on future instruments.
Attachment:
SidesCut.jpg


Also made the tail block and cutaway corner block, a bunch of dentellones (just a bunch of repetitive sawing, splitting and sanding), glued on the harp headstock, and cut notches in it for the sides to fit into. Then bend the sides, and let them sit overnight to work out their anger over being forced into a new shape.

The next day is a testament to my slowness, because the task list looks pretty short, and yet it usually takes me all day :P And it does all need done in one day, because the sides might warp if I leave them sitting loose overnight again after the final touch up.

So here's the task list: Touch up bending on the sides, scrape them smooth on the inner surface, use a square to mark vertical lines for trimming to length, do the cutaway miter (I just drag them on sandpaper, holding at the appropriate angle), glue to the tail block and cutaway corner block. At this point, there's one side piece for the inner harp arm, and the rest is all one big piece. Once those are glued to the soundboard/neck slots/harp headstock notches, it's time for dentellones. Only really need to stick a few here and there, and it should all remain stable for the night. Here it is after adding the rest, with spaces left for side braces:
Attachment:
DentellonesDone.jpg


Up next is finishing this first assembly stage, and then making the back.


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PostPosted: Fri May 01, 2015 10:00 pm 
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Hi Dennis, That's pretty awesome inlay. Regarding the bear, did you enhance the shading in any way? Or is that just perfect grain placement for all the bear's appendages?


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PostPosted: Sat May 02, 2015 2:15 pm 
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rtpipkin wrote:
Hi Dennis, That's pretty awesome inlay. Regarding the bear, did you enhance the shading in any way? Or is that just perfect grain placement for all the bear's appendages?

All natural colors. You can see in the pattern layout photo, the pieces are all spaced out because I was specifically positioning them to use the dark grain lines as shading. One of the joys of working with natural materials is that you can often find what you need already done in finer detail than you could do it yourself :) This walnut was particularly easy, because it's perfectly quartersawn so the colors remain unchanged when thinning it down. Flatsawn woods and abalone shell change drastically as you thin them, so you have to get the piece how you want it and then inlay it perfectly level. The headstock tree on this is a good example of that.

Continuing on, the next step is to level the sides. Done by a variety of tools. Saw, chisel, finger plane, block plane. Then add side braces. Always a pain to glue, since I can only do two at a time with cam clamp bars sticking off everywhere and getting in eachother's way. I need to find some better clamps for this.
Attachment:
GluingSideBraces.jpg

Then add linings (pretty straightforward to make from soundboard offcuts, and glue between side braces with little spring clamps), plane those level, and then do final leveling on sandpaper. For guitars I use a sanding block, but ukes it's easier to just rub the whole thing on a sheet of sandpaper. The rim is pretty stiff at this point.

Then trace the shape onto the back, cut it out, and thin it down. I decided to try French polishing before bracing this time. I don't think there's really much advantage either way, but I wanted to make a video of oil-less polishing for a thread a few weeks ago, and this was a convenient thing to demonstrate on :) Unfortunately I had quite a lot of trouble with it, so no good videos.

I tried a new pore filling method, using 220 grit wet/dry sandpaper with alcohol to grind up a lot of wood quickly and work it into the pores. It sort of worked, but not as well as I'd hoped. I think it is a good first step to get a head start on deep pores, but pumice seems to work better when it comes to actually getting it level. Curly mahogany seems to be exceptionally difficult to fill. Or at least, exceptionally ugly when not filled. Took several attempts to get the last few stubborn pores. I also had a lot of trouble with nibs forming. But eventually I got it all nice and shiny.

Then make the back braces, and fit them to the lining pockets:
Attachment:
FittingBackBraces.jpg

Stick 3 pieces of tape on each one, rolled over to be sticky on both sides. Press the back onto them, lift it off, and they're all stuck in place :) Mark in pencil around the ends so I can position them when gluing, and get 'em all clamped up:
Attachment:
GluingBackBraces.jpg

Add center seam reinforcements, chisel them down nice and thin, and do the label painting, which will combine with the rosette:
Attachment:
LabelPainting.jpg


Time to close up the box, you say? Nah, I'm gonna do binding now :P Score with gramil:
Attachment:
BindingScore.jpg

Chisel off the soundboard material down to the score depth, score again, chisel some more, until I'm through the plate. Then chisel away the side material, and into the linings a bit, and get it all squared up. The harp arm required some careful scoring freehand with a knife and chiseling to feather out the binding as it approaches the headstock. And I use the dremel router freehand to do the last little bits into the neck, since it's hard to chisel in such a tight space without damaging surrounding wood.

Then bend the bindings... one of my most hated tasks. I was originally planning on purpleheart, but my piece was just a hair thin in a couple places, and decided it didn't have enough contrast with the sides anyway, and movingui would look good with the sun inlay. But that doesn't have enough contrast with the top, so I added a walnut purfling line. I'd already cut the channel for no purfling, so the actual binding will be pretty thin, but that's fine.
The piece I was cutting strips from had a knot shadow in it though, and I broke two of them on what should have been a really easy bend gaah So I got fed up and just scarf jointed it. Here's gluing the first piece, and the inner harp arm. These pieces also have careful shaping at the ends for the feathering out.
Attachment:
BindingGlue.jpg

Unfortunately, the knot caused a runout change, and after cutting out its area, the change is abrupt and visible due to the high chatoyance of this wood. Should have paid more attention gaah gaah Oh well.
Attachment:
BindingScarf.jpg

But before that picture, I chiseled the bindings level to the soundboard and sides, used a rasp and file to round them over, scraped/sanded smooth, and shellacked. And here's the harp headstock transition, which came out perfect:
Attachment:
BindingHarpHeadstock.jpg


That's it for this update. Next up is French polishing the top, gluing the bridge, and finalizing the bracing.


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PostPosted: Sun May 03, 2015 10:10 am 
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Very inspiring work. I appreciate what an excellent Artist you are.

-j


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PostPosted: Sun May 03, 2015 2:38 pm 
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It also looks like a very good time project and not just another stinkin repeat of a million other instruments. Very cool Dennis and very well done too!

What's the dog/wolf's name? Perhaps he/she will scare off wolf notes too.... :)


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PostPosted: Sun May 03, 2015 11:21 pm 
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Great job with the binding Dennis. My hands still haven't forgiven me for my attempts. :D I was thinking that maybe your pains in bending have something to do with considering using purpleheart for binding! I used bloodwood to bind my soundhole and sound port and it took half-a-dozen attempts before it bent without breaking to the final radius. The curly maple feels supple in comparison.

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PostPosted: Tue May 05, 2015 11:32 pm 
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Hesh wrote:
What's the dog/wolf's name? Perhaps he/she will scare off wolf notes too.... :)

The instrument name is Timberwolf. The wolf itself is open to interpretation :)

eigenwood wrote:
Great job with the binding Dennis. My hands still haven't forgiven me for my attempts. :D I was thinking that maybe your pains in bending have something to do with considering using purpleheart for binding! I used bloodwood to bind my soundhole and sound port and it took half-a-dozen attempts before it bent without breaking to the final radius. The curly maple feels supple in comparison.

Congrats on getting the bloodwood bent at all! I've never tried it myself, but I've heard it's stubborn, and that looks like a pretty tight radius. The purpleheart I was going to use on this actually bends quite easily once it hits the right temperature. Not even very picky about moisture level. But it is one of the stiffest of all woods, so the bend would have to be perfect, and that's what takes a long time. Movingui isn't too stiff, and especially being thin like this, it didn't have to be perfect at all. Just that one weak spot ensured that my bending pains continued :lol: Curly maple is indeed quite flexible, but sometimes prefers to scorch and split rather than bend. A wet paper towel over the pipe helps a lot.


Continuing on with the build, I had to steam out a few dents in the top, followed by some scraping for one that still showed up under shellac. Also a spot on the harp arm where a piece of binding tape pulled some fibers. Guess I should have gone to the trouble of heating it or wicking alcohol to release the adhesive...

Then lots of polishing. I was actually patient this time and did it over the course of a few days. Various bodying (rubbing in circles to build the shellac layer), dragging around to fill the grain without building up too much shellac elsewhere, one time of scraping and sanding level to fix the drag marks, and then some more bodying and glazing (rubbing quickly along the grain with the pad fairly wet with alcohol, which levels out swirl marks and shines it up). I was also very careful to remove every speck of dust from the surface each time before touching it with the pad, and never got any nibs, so that pretty much confirms that they are caused by dust. FP is definitely a night time activity. Can't see dust or accurately judge progress in sunlight.

It turned out great. Shiny, but still with the corduroy scraper texture. Some places are more textured than others, but all looks good. Here's a closeup:
Attachment:
SoundboardFinish.jpg

Time to glue the bridge. I decided to use the one I made, even though it is quite thin. My last harp uke is fairly deformed now at 3 years old, but sounds great, so I think I'll go for a just little bit higher total stiffness on this one, but lower string-height-at-bridge to reduce torque. Also, the spruce braces should be more creep-resistant than redwood on the other.

After sanding the bridge to fit the soundboard, score around it, make a paper finish protector, and route away the finish. Basically inlaying it in an extremely shallow pocket.
Attachment:
BridgeRouting.jpg

I bought some friendly plastic to see if I could use it for making one-time-use cauls easily. It works, but I messed it up a bit when peeling it off of the bridge before it had fully hardened. Fortunately it's reusable, so I tried again, and messed it up less that time, but still not quite a perfect fit, so I decided to use a good old fashioned rub joint, which I normally don't do if I have to route a pocket. This one was so shallow at the wings, I thought I could get away with it. It felt right when it grabbed, but after I got it all cleaned up, this was revealed:
Attachment:
BridgeOff.jpg

Which I think (and very much hope) means that just the treble wing is overlapping a bit of finish at the front edge, and not that the whole bridge is bumped up onto the more ledge-like portion of the pocket toward the middle. I could pull it and reglue, but I'd probably mess up the soundboard finish, and I think it will stay on anyway. It wouldn't be any less work now than it would later, unless I sell it, but I'd like to hold onto it for at least a year anyway to judge the tone, humidity tolerance, and long term stability of it. And if the bridge is going to fail, it will probably happen by then.

Then ream and slot the holes:
Attachment:
BridgeSlotted.jpg

And glue the fingerboard on (actually it looks like I did this before the bridge slotting...). I thinned it a bit from the bottom for the reduced string-height-at-bridge.
Attachment:
FingerboardGlued.jpg

And thinned it some more from the top. Then sanded the radius. Nasty dusty work. I wish I was good enough with a plane to do it freehand.
Attachment:
FingerboardRadiused.jpg

And now that almost everything is done aside from fretting and box closing, it's time to do final voicing. I carved a lot more off the top braces, and just a touch off the back. This back doesn't seem to have much interest in vibrating, so I'll leave it stiff.
Attachment:
TopBracing.jpg

Attachment:
BackBracing.jpg

After each round of carving, I spool clamp the back on so I can get an idea of the closed box tap. The weight of the clamps makes it lower pitched than it will ultimately be, but otherwise similar. It's surprising how much difference the mass of the bridge pins and saddle makes. Or having the bridge pin holes open, versus sticking a piece of tape over them.

And finally this thread is caught up to the actual current state of things :) It will be a week or so before I can close, due to rainy weather and resultingly high humidity. But in the meantime I can pound in the frets.


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PostPosted: Wed May 20, 2015 10:29 am 
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Almost done!

I did the frets while waiting for the rain to let up. Unfortunately I don't have a fretwire bender, and ukulele wire always seems to come in straight pieces rather than coils, so I had to radius it by hand. I wanted to use evo gold on this one, but that stuff is ridiculously springy and very difficult to bend accurately, so I went with plain old nickel silver. I probably should level them... the installation went smoothly thanks to proper tang sizing (i.e. grinding the barbs down to practically nothing), but I don't think my bending was quite perfect enough to skip it like I usually do. But that can be done any time later.

I also carved more on the soundboard braces. between times of spool clamping the back on in preparation for closing.
Attachment:
BracingFinal.jpg

Finally when the humidity was low enough, I tossed the back in the oven to dry even further, and glued it on. I bought some Old Brown glue to try for this, since my old method of removing a few spools at a time and squeezing HHG into the gap allowed too much cooling time and produced weak joints. The glue worked great, so I'll be using it for this operation from now on.
Attachment:
BoxClosed.jpg

The box tap is quite a bit higher pitched than my previous harp uke, but hopefully that means it won't implode like the previous one. It's a nice tap, anyway. I can't wait to get strings on it and see what it really sounds like, but I know the minute I do is the last minute I do any real work on it :P

So then, after trimming the back overhang, I scuffed the finish in a couple places while rounding it over. Apparently French polishing plates prior to bracing isn't such a wise choice after all...

There's also the matter of polishing the sides. I tried my experimental method of sanding with wet/dry paper and alcohol to get a head start on pore filling, and it worked again. Still takes some time with pumice to get the pores topped off, but I think it's less time overall than working with pumice alone. I no longer feel a sense of dread when I think about pore filling, in any case :P Here are the sides after filling. Kind of splotchy, shiny in spots but mostly dull:
Attachment:
PoreFilling.jpg

It may be better to sand it back a bit at this point. I think the shiny areas have a thin layer of pumice/wood/shellac mixture on them, which could possibly be visible under finish. But it's so much nicer if I never have to do any dusty dry sanding, so I just left it.

Then getting on to polishing proper, my troubles began. Mistake after mistake. Forgetting to brush dust away, touching the back with slightly alcohol contaminated fingers, touching the inner harp arm side with the back of my left hand (which I use to check the pad moisture level, so it's always sticky), two scratches on the soundboard that had to be steamed out and re-polished (and I don't even know where they came from since I'm working on a padded surface), touched the soundboard on the tip of my shellac bottle, which was a major pain to fix...

But eventually I managed to avoid disaster long enough to get it to a decent level and quit. I'm pretty happy with it. Shiny, but not perfect to the point of looking unnatural.
Attachment:
SidePolish.jpg

Attachment:
BackPolish.jpg

Attachment:
Frets.jpg

All that remains is fret leveling, final shaping of the saddle, and making the nut. And I could skip the fret leveling for now if I want to be impatient...


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PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2015 12:25 pm 
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Strings are on bliss Still need to lower the nut and saddle and tweak intonation, and perhaps plug the slots in the pins rather than just turning them around, but otherwise it's all done.

It most certainly did need fret leveling... and I most certainly do hate recrowning frets. Even with the fancy Stewmac offset diamond file, it takes a long time to do it properly, hitting each side of the fret individually rather than just running the file on the center of the fret, which makes a schoolbus profile. Then all the sanding and polishing, and still having small scratches visible here and there :x But the tops are smooth, and that's what matters.

Then I had to do a lot of scraping between frets because I was too lazy to tape off the board, and all that fine metal dust didn't brush off like I hoped it would. The board still has a slight blue cast to it, but I don't think there's really anything I can do about it now. Next time I'll do the tape.

Anyway, I think it's a winner. Sounds great already, and appears to be plenty stiff. I haven't done an actual bridge rotation measurement, but just checking with a ruler it doesn't seem to be deflecting excessively under tension. My first real success with spruce, and it's a freebie riftsawn set with plenty of runout :P As long as the bridge stays put, this will probably be my first instrument to go up for sale :D

Here's a recording of its first playing. Not the best quality... microphone laying on a blanket, too close, and to the side of the instrument rather than in front. I'll do more in a day or two after it settles in some and I finish the setup.
http://deku.rydia.net/music/bearcave_2015may22.mp3

And pictures!
Attachment:
Front.jpg

Attachment:
Back.jpg

Attachment:
BackAngle2.jpg

Attachment:
Rosette.jpg

Attachment:
Headstocks.jpg

Attachment:
HeadstocksBack.jpg

Attachment:
HarpArmAndFingerboard.jpg

Attachment:
Tail.jpg


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PostPosted: Sat May 23, 2015 4:37 am 
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Wow that looks and sounds incredible! Is it a steel string?

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 02, 2015 1:00 am 
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PeterF wrote:
Wow that looks and sounds incredible! Is it a steel string?

Yep. Sorry for the ridiculously delayed response :lol: I was hoping to record a masterpiece on this thing to show off, but never did get anything all that great. But here are a couple:

http://deku.rydia.net/music/bearcave_2015may24.mp3 (tuned down to A)
http://deku.rydia.net/music/bearcave_2015may30.mp3

I haven't been getting around to recording often enough this past month, but have been playing it plenty. Still awesome :) More people should build these. Such fun to play. Easy like ukulele, but with enough bass that it's satisfying as a solo instrument.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 02, 2015 2:53 pm 
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Wow!!! You have some serious creative juices my friend. You said that top came from me? That's cool because it was given to me by a friend of mine who builds unusual instruments. I'll make sure he sees your uke. He will like it a lot and will be happy to see the outstanding home the top has found. I'll dig you out some walnut today.

Cheers,
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 02, 2015 2:56 pm 
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Very artistic!
Awesome!

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