Friday, October 23, 2020

Workbench Rebuild/Upgrade

Not much instrument work this week, been working on my workbench!

I built my bench about 15 years ago. The top is solid teak, recycled from a school science lab and the frame from pine. Lately, I’ve noticed that it seems a bit rickety- the frame seems to twist; this has really only become apparent with all the archtop carving and bizarrely, I’ve noticed it more when editing the videos of myself working. So, time for some TLC.



I guess the fundamental flaw in the bench’s design was to assume that the top would give the bench all the stiffness it needed. The first part of the upgrade is to add four chunky cross rails to tie the leg frames together more securely and to help eliminate twisting in the frame.

Also, I’ve been looking at different methods of clamping to the surface of the bench and after a bit of research, I've gone for various bits and bobs made by Kreg. Although not used in anger yet, I can see that these are going to be a worthwhile investment.


Ready for action!


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Chambered body, electric mandolin

With archtop #4 being polished and Allan’s emando completed, it’s time to start the next instrument! As this will be one of this year’s speculative builds (it will eventually be for sale via my website), I’ve decided to a make a new incarnation of my electric mandolin, this time with a chambered body. I like to feel that my instruments continually evolve and the idea of building an emando with more resonant body appeals, so here we go!

The preferred way of building a chambered body is, start with a solid body blank and remove large volumes of the wood with a forstner bit and router. This approach doesn’t appeal to me, as whenever I make anything, I prefer, where possible, to form it by fabrication i.e. bringing pieces together rather than wasting i.e. the removal of material. Hence this…….(made from Southern Yellow Pine)

And here’s a video to show you how I got this far. There is a lot of work in the construction of this inner core and you’ll appreciate the planning that went in to it. Of course, all of that work will never be seen, but hopefully the difference will be heard; I kinda like that!


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Wednesday, October 07, 2020

More on French polishing.

Here’s the next video in the series. You’ll see how I’ve started to use oil to keep the pad lubricated and stop it from sticking to the tacky polish. I only advise using oil once there is a good build-up of shellac, so that there’s no chance of the oil coming into contact with the bare wood and contaminating it. I like to use sunflower oil, but of course that’s s personal preference.


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Friday, October 02, 2020

E-mando complete

Here are a few photos of Allan’s electric mandolin which is now complete and happily residing in Scotland!

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Thursday, October 01, 2020

French polishing (slight return)

You may recall that about 10 years ago I did a series of videos on building a parlour guitar. Part of that series was a couple of videos on French polishing. Over the last 10 years I’ve polished quite a few instruments and obviously my technique has changed (hopefully for the better!) and those old videos have had about 25k views. So, as I’m polishing Archtop #4, it seems appropriate to delve in to the mystic art once again and update them. Here’s the first two-


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Saturday, September 12, 2020

Archtop #4- In the white.


This week, I completed setting up archtop #4 and got it playing “in the white”. In case you’re wondering, “in the white” is a phrase pinched from violin makers. They get their instruments playing before applying the finish, which of course transforms them from white (i.e. natural colour of spruce and maple) to that orangey brown that they like. Funny though, I thought that if the back and sides of this mandolin had been made from, say quilted maple, some makers would stain it, to get the same colour as the sapele.

In case you’re wondering, the blue tape is to stop any oil from the new tuners seeping into the unfinished wood and contaminating it.

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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Just getting on..........

 I’m in the middle of applying the finish to Allan’s e-mando. It’s had a number of thin coats of Tru-oil applied and you can see how the grain is already greatly enhanced. A few more and we’ll be there!

Tip of the week! - I just made up this thingamajig, inspired by a fret-rocker, from scrap acrylic.

When carving a neck (archtop #4 in this case) you need to use a straight edge to ensure that there are no bumps or dips along the neck’s length. No problem on a guitar, but on a mandolin the distance between where the neck starts to curve into the heel and the angle for the head is comparatively short, so 150mm rulers etc don’t work; they’re too long to rest only on the neck, hence the thingamajig. Super handy!

And below is the finished neck- some lovely flamed maple, laminated with black veneer and sapele to complement the body.

So that’s the construction of #4 done- on to the setting-up etc.


As an aside, my favourite tool for shaping necks is a Japanese Shinto rasp and one that I’d unreservedly recommend. I noticed that my one hasn’t been cutting as efficiently lately, losing its sharpness, so I just bought a new one- and there’s quite a difference. 


Shan’t complain as the old one lasted 77 necks! Yep, I record that sort of stuff.

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