Saturday, December 17, 2011

Happy Christmas

Amanda and I would like to wish all of our friends, clients, blog followers, YouTube subscribers and all of those who have offered encouragement and support over the past year, a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous 2012! Cheers!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Brendan’s Mandolin Part VIII

The last piece of woodwork that I do is to shape the neck. I like leaving the neck square until the end as it makes fretting easier- the flat back of the neck blank can supported to stop it bouncing and the instrument can be held in a vice to work on the frets. Also with the fingerboard finished, you can get a better feel of what the neck will be like.

Spokeshaves and rasps are the tools that I prefer for this.

Whilst the mandolin can be held in the vice, I rough shape the heel and nut area, and then I work on the middle section.

On my more recent necks I tend to keep the depth of the neck constant from the nut towards the heel and take more material away from the heel area. To my mind this gives easier access to the higher frets. Compare my finished heel with this plan for a Gibson style mandolin.

I think that many luthiers feel that by removing too much wood in the heel area the neck will be weakened. However, consider the length of a bolt on electric guitar neck and how thin, long and strong they are. This is one the reason I’ve enjoyed making a variety of fretted instruments over the years- everything feeds back into your pool of experience.
As the neck is the last phase of construction I keep working on it until it’s ready for polishing and then clean-up and prepare the rest of the instrument.
When you’re using a cork sanding block this size and 500 silicon carbide paper you know that you’re nearing the end....

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Brendan’s Mandolin Part VII

After it's been glued on, the fingerboard has to be levelled and once it’s perfectly flat, I put a camber on it. Most of this work is done by sanding as you can’t afford to tear the grain of the fingerboard.

Once the surface of the fingerboard has been prepared, the inlays go in.Drilling holes within the inlayed area makes the initial stages of chiselling out the recess much easier as the chisel has some where to go.
The inlays are glued in, cleaned up and we’re ready to fret.

You can buy specialist tools for fret work but I use a ball-pein hammer for inserting the fret, as you can see the face has been polished so that the frets don’t get damaged or marked. Also I use these cutters for the fret wire: this is one of my favourite tools, made by Starrett in 1889! The double lever action means that you can cut through any fret wire with the minimum of effort.

At Brendan’s request I’m using wide gold evo wire here. One secret of successfully hammering frets in is to make sure that the neck is supported and can’t bounce.

Before I level the frets, I go over them with a red crayon. Once you start levelling them any red spots mean that the fret is low in that area. For all my fingerboard/fret levelling I use a piece of high-quality square section aluminium tube, with a different grade of abrasive paper on each surface.
Then comes a good couple of hours of dressing and polishing the frets...........

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Brendan’s Mandolin Part VI

Once the body is complete it can, at last, be united with its neck. Into the body I route a large socket to take the neck- as you’ve seen before I use a large tenon to join the neck to the body. This type of joint gives masses of surface area for the glue to bond.

The neck’s tenon is then roughly cut on the band-saw and then comes the fine work of fitting the neck. My rule is don’t touch the body- just work on the neck. The neck has to be aligned lengthways and tilt backwards at the correct angle and just to complicate things further; you want a clean line between the heel and the body.

Once that’s achieved- glue it on, no shims, no clamps! Gravity and friction!
Because the neck leans backwards a wedge has to go under the fingerboard. Wooden pins help with the alignment and I shape the underside of the wedge to make it look less bulky.
Once the wedge has been glued on and cleaned up the fingerboard goes on. At this stage I remembered that I didn’t take any pictures for you, of the fingerboard being prepared, doh!

Standard mandolin III is also coming along nicely. I’m really pleased with the three piece back and the way that it lines up with the neck.

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

Chris’s Hare

You can see that I’ve finally completed Chris’s Hare steel-string and he came over today it collect it. An exciting moment for both of us! Since we moved up to the Norfolk Fens I’ve had more commissions from relatively local musicians, which is great as it’s always good to finally meet the client face to face rather than just giving up the instrument to a courier!

The next steel string on the bench will be John’s Koa wood guitar. That will be started as soon as the first coat of polish goes on to Brendan’s mandolin.


Here’s a great picture that Alan (Red Mandolin) sent me of himself and his son Kevin (Koa Standard II). Two Nava mandolins together- would have liked to have been a fly on the wall to hear them.

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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Brendan’s Mandolin Part V

With the body together, the next stage is the purflings and bindings. Rebates have to be routed around the edge of the mandolin to take them.

The purfling is decorative, which is why I can leave them off my “Standard” mandolins but the bindings are essential to protect the edge of the instrument (and therefore the joint between the sides and either the soundboard or back) from any accidental damage.

The purflings are held in place with tape whilst the glue dries- it’s a good idea to put a thin coat of shellac on the soundboard, that way the tape doesn’t pull up the grain as you take it off.

One of the trickiest bits of this process is cutting the mitres at the points, there is no room for mistakes; you can spend a ridiculous amount of time working on these and if you get it wrong................

Once the purfling is in place the bindings go on. I’m using ebony here (nearly always do). If you use good quality ebony it is quite remarkable how tight you can bend it and how easy it is to bend- these bindings are just over 2.5mm thick.

With all the purfling and binding done around the front, we flip her over and start again on the back! In total there are 31 separate pieces to be fitted; takes a time! The last job is to use the trusty cabinet scraper to clean everything up.

As you can appreciate the complexity of Brendan’s took a fair bit of time and in between gluing on various pieces of purfling, I got on with “Standard III”. Only 4 pieces of binding used here- you can see how the time is saved and the cost kept down.

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