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Old 05-06-2014, 07:24 PM
joeguam joeguam is offline
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Default Build Thread: Mahogany Tenor Ukulele

Hello AGF,

I've decided to tackle my first build and starting out small with the StewMac Tenor Ukulele Kit, but converting it to a bolt on neck with a couple of customizations. Eventually, my dream is to build a solid uke from scratch/raw materials, but this is just as exciting! The best part of this build is that my newlywed wife of 9 months has decided to build this with me!

My sole intention with taking the time to document my experience in this thread is in hopes that it will help anyone who decides to take on this challenge as well. At anytime along the way, I would greatly appreciate any advice/suggestions from those who have more experience. Because I'm very new to this, at any point in this build for which I have learned from a mistake, I will highlight and describe it using this notation:
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #0!
This is the notation used to describe a lesson learned. At the end of the build, I will compile all of these entries as a final summary.
I'm a project manager by profession, so I forced myself to go through the Plan/Define/Design stages before I started building. Here are the steps I've laid out for myself, pretty much in the order I will go about this. I would appreciate if anyone has any recommendations to improve this strategy!

I'll be updating this post with dates as I complete each step:

Material Preparation
-Mark Center Lines...DONE: 05/09!
-Cutout Template...DONE: 05/10!

Build Jig
-Cut Plywood & Dowels...DONE: 05/11!
-Assemble Jig...DONE: 05/11!

Headblock & Tailblock
-Dry Fit Headblock & Tailblock...DONE: 05/12!
-Square-Sand Side Ends...DONE: 05/12!
-2nd Dry Fit Headblock & Tailblock...DONE: 05/12!
-Glue Headblock & Tailblock...DONE: 05/12!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/12!

Non-Kerfed Lining
-Size & Trim Back Lining...DONE: 05/12!
-Dry Fit Lining...DONE: 05/12!
-Glue Back Lining...DONE: 05/12!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/12!
-Size & Trim Top Lining...DONE: 05/13!
-Dry Fit Lining...DONE: 05/13!
-Glue Top Lining...DONE: 05/13!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/13!

Back Bracing
-Trace Template...DONE: 05/13!
-Dry Fit Back Braces...DONE: 05/13!
-Glue Back Braces...DONE: 05/14!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/15!
-Rough Sand Back...DONE: 05/16!
-Chalk Sides & Lining: Back...DONE: 05/16!
-Level Sand Back...DONE: 05/16!
-Trim Back Braces for Lining...DONE: 05/17!
-Scallop Back Braces...DONE: 05/24!

Rosette
-Design Rosette...DONE: 05/17!
-Trim Rosette...DONE: 05/17!
-Dry Fit Rosette...DONE: 05/18!
-Glue Rosette...DONE: 05/18!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/19!
-Level-Sand Rosette...DONE: 05/19!
-CA Glue Seal Rosette...DONE: 05/19!
-Final-Sand Rosette...DONE: 05/19!

Top Bracing
-Trace Template...DONE: 05/13!
-Dry Fit Top Braces...DONE: 05/24!
-Glue Top Braces...DONE: 05/24!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/24!
-Rough Sand Top...DONE: 05/17!
-Chalk Sides & Lining: Top...DONE: 05/17!
-Level Sand Top...DONE: 05/17!
-Trim Top Braces for Lining...DONE: 05/25!
-Scallop Top Braces...DONE: 05/25!
-Add Signature & Date Stamp...DONE: 05/25!

Assemble Top
-Dry Fit Top...DONE: 05/25!
-Glue Top...DONE: 05/25!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/25!
-Test Flush Trim...DONE: 05/25!
-Flush-Trim Top...DONE: 05/25!

Fretboard
-Fretboard Markers
--Remove plastic markers...DONE: 05/10!
--Seal Cavity Floor w/ CA Glue...DONE: 05/10!
--Fill Cavity w/ Sand and level with CA Glue...DONE: 05/18!
--Level Sand And Polish...DONE: 05/18!
-Side Dots
--Mark Side Dots...DONE: 06/21!
--Drill Side Dots...DONE: 06/21!
--Install & Glue Side Dots...DONE: 06/21!
--Glue Dry Time...DONE: 06/21!
-Frets
--Install Frets...DONE: 05/18!
--File Fret Ends...DONE: 05/18!
--Shape & Smooth Fret Ends
--Level Frets
--Crown Frets
--Dress Frets
--Mask Fret Tang Side Fill
--Fill Fret Tang Side Slots
-Sand Side Dots & Fret Tang Side Fill

Neck
-Sand-Fit Neck Heel...DONE: 05/26!...REDONE: 05/30!
-Dry Fit Neckheel & Body...DONE: 05/26!...REDONE: 05/30!
-Clamp Neckheel & Body...DONE: 05/26!
-Drill Bolt Hole from Body to Neckheel...DONE: 05/26!
-Install & Epoxy Threaded Inserts...DONE: 05/26!...REDONE: 05/30!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/26!...REDONE: 05/30!
-Install Finishing Nail/Dowel Locator Pin...DONE: 05/30!
-Clamp Neck & Tighten Body w/ Bolt...DONE: 05/30!
-Drill Dowel Hole: Neckheel & Body...DONE: 05/30!
-Dry Fit Fretboard to Neck...DONE: 06/01!
-Glue Fretboard to Neck...DONE: 06/01!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 06/01!
-Sand Neck Width to Fretboard...DONE: 06/01!

Assemble Back
-Dry Fit Back...DONE: 05/26!
-Glue Back...DONE: 05/26!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/26!
-Flush-Trim Back...DONE: 05/26!

Binding
-Measure Binding: Top, Back & End Graft...DONE: 05/26!
-IF ENOUGH MATERIAL: End Graft...DONE: 05/30!
--Measure End Graft & Scribe Outline...DONE: 05/30!
--Test End Graft Routing...DONE: 05/30!
---Measure Router Bit Depth...DONE: 05/30!
---Measure & Clamp Fences...CANCELED!
---Test Route End Graft...DONE: 05/30!
---Test Fit w/ End Graft...DONE: 05/30!
--Clamp Fences...CANCELED!
--Route End Graft...DONE: 05/30!
--Dry Fit End Graft...DONE: 05/30!
--Glue End Graft...DONE: 05/30!
--Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/30!
-Test Binding Channel Route...DONE: 05/26!
-Route Binding Channel: Top...DONE: 05/26!
-Dry Fit Top Binding...DONE: 05/26!
-Glue Top Binding...DONE: 05/26!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/26!
-Route Binding Channel: Back...DONE: 05/26!
-Dry Fit Back Binding...DONE: 05/26!
-Glue Back Binding...DONE: 05/26!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 05/26!
-Round-over/Smooth Binding...DONE: 07/22!

Assemble Neck
-Bolt-On & Dowel Neck to Body...DONE: 06/01!

Assemble Fretboard
-Fit, Mark & Mask Fretboard...DONE: 06/01!
-Dry Fit Fretboard...DONE: 06/01!
-Glue Fretboard...DONE: 06/01!
-Glue Dry Time...DONE: 06/01!

Finishing
-Rough Sand: 80/120/220...DONE: 06/03!
-Mask Fretboard & Nut...CANCELED!
-Locate, Mark & Mask Bridge...DONE: 06/01!...CANCELED!
-Pore Filling
--Z-Poxy: 1st Coat...DONE: 07/20!
--Z-Poxy: Dry Time...DONE: 07/20!
--Z-Poxy: Level Sand...DONE: 07/21!
--Z-Poxy: 2nd Coat...DONE: 07/21!
--Z-Poxy: Dry Time...DONE: 07/21!
--Z-Poxy: Level Sand...DONE: 07/22!
--Z-Poxy: 3rd Coat...CANCELED!
--Z-Poxy: Dry Time...CANCELED!
--Z-Poxy: Final Hand-Sand to 400...DONE: 07/22!
-Top Coats
--TruOil: 1st Coat...DONE: 07/22!
--TruOil: Dry Time...DONE: 07/22!
--TruOil: Scuff...DONE: 07/23!
--TruOil: 2nd Coat...DONE: 07/23!
--TruOil: Dry Time...DONE: 07/23!
--TruOil: Scuff...DONE: 07/23!
--TruOil: 3rd Coat...DONE: 07/23!
--TruOil: Dry Time...DONE: 07/23!
--TruOil: Scuff...DONE: 07/24!
--TruOil: 4th Coat...DONE: 07/24!
--TruOil: Dry Time...DONE: 07/24!
--TruOil: Scuff...CANCELED!
--TruOil: 5th Coat...DONE: 07/24!
--TruOil: Dry Time...DONE: 07/24!
--TruOil: Scuff...CANCELED!
--TruOil: 6th Coat...DONE: 07/24!
--TruOil: Dry Time...DONE: 07/25!
--TruOil: Scuff...CANCELED!
--TruOil: 7th Coat...ADDED 7/24...DONE: 07/25!
--TruOil: Dry Time...ADDED 7/24...DONE: 07/25!
--TruOil: 8th Coat...ADDED 7/24...
--TruOil: Dry Time...ADDED 7/24...
--TruOil: Polishing/Buffing...DONE: 7/25!

Bridge (Added on 06/03)
- Design Bridge and Print out...DONE: 06/03!
- Trace Design to RW...DONE: 06/03!
- Route Saddle Slot...DONE: 06/03!
- Cutout Shape...DONE: 06/03!
- Reduce Thickness to 6mm...DONE: 06/08!
- Carve Design...DONE: 06/08!
- Drill & Chamfer Bridge Pin Holes...DONE: 06/08!
- Final Smoothing and Polishing...DONE: 06/08!

Final Assembly: Bridge, Tuners, Nut & Saddle
-Bridge
--Dry Fit Bridge...DONE: 7/26!
--Glue Bridge
--Glue Dry Time
-Tuners
--Ream Holes to Clean From Finish...DONE: 7/26!
--Align & Drill Fastening Screw Hole...DONE: 7/26!
--Install Tuners...DONE: 7/26!
-Nut
--Rough Sand Nut...DONE: 7/26!
--Mark & Cut String Slots...DONE: 7/26!
--Final Nut Polishing...DONE: 7/26!
-Saddle
--Rough Sand Saddle...DONE: 7/26!
--Shape Saddle...DONE: 7/26!
-Strings
--Install Strings

Final Setup: Nut Height, Action, Intonation
-Nut Height...DONE: 7/26!
--File Slots to Depth...DONE: 7/26!
--Reshape Nut if Necessary...DONE: 7/26!
-Action
--Lower Saddle Height...DONE: 7/26!
-Intonation
--File Saddle for Intonation


Thanks again for viewing, I hope you all enjoy the journey!

...
Joe...along with my wife, Jackie!

Last edited by joeguam; 07-26-2014 at 03:01 AM.
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  #2  
Old 05-06-2014, 09:19 PM
Luke_ Luke_ is offline
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I've thought about it, so I'm watching.... See how many expensive tools you need?
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  #3  
Old 05-06-2014, 10:04 PM
joeguam joeguam is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Luke_ View Post
I've thought about it, so I'm watching.... See how many expensive tools you need?
I will not sugar-coat it, I had spent an additional $500 just on tools alone to prepare for this kit. However, I have 10+ guitars and ukes so these are tools that:
1. I've been needing for a long time to properly do the setup and repair work on all my instruments
2. These are tools that I will have for many years to come, especially for the repairs that are in the near future (e.g. refretting & bridge resets)

I justified it to myself by saying that the tools are an investment and not an expense. In addition, I hope to build several kits of tenor ukuleles and acoustic guitars in the future. These builds will either be sold, or will replace a current instrument that I will sell.

In the end, lutherie is very much the same as my woodworking projects (20+ furniture builds), the tooling is worth every penny as the enjoyment is priceless. Thanks for watching!

BTW, if you're interested in what tools I acquired, I basically purchased a customized version of the StewMac Guitar Shop Starter Kit, but I pieced together my own kit removing the things I had and adding the pieces I needed.

Last edited by joeguam; 05-06-2014 at 11:14 PM.
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  #4  
Old 05-08-2014, 11:10 PM
joeguam joeguam is offline
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The kit arrived today, I'm so excited to start this journey!



The package contained the tenor uke kit and the extra tools I ordered:


I'm hoping to get started this weekend!
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  #5  
Old 05-09-2014, 06:47 AM
Luke_ Luke_ is offline
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Cool! I'd have my fingers all glued together by the end
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  #6  
Old 05-10-2014, 11:43 PM
joeguam joeguam is offline
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I quickly got to work on the kit this weekend, doing what I could without the jig. I need to trek over to my dad's house to use his table saw to make the jig. Because it's Mother's Day weekend, I didn't have much time. Here's what I was able to do.

Cutting out the template, this was painfully tedious. I had to scrape every bit of patience I had in me to make sure I didn't mess up this cutout.


Marked all the centerlines:




You can see that the pre-marked center lines that shipped with the kit were a bit off:


Traced the outline on the top and back:




Marked the centerlines on the head and end blocks, made sure their radiuses matched the outlines:




Dry fitted the bracing:


Then marked the centerlines on all the other parts:


...and that was where I called it a night.
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Old 05-10-2014, 11:57 PM
joeguam joeguam is offline
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The next day my wife and I removed the plastic fretboard markers, we will be upgrading this inlay with sand from our family's private beach here in Guam. This inlay is an inspiration from our good friends Joe & Kristen Souza from Kanile'a Ukulele who use sand from Kailua beach in a lot of their inlays.

We followed this video showing how to remove the plastic dot markers:


We used an awl and a 3/32" bit to drill the initial hole:


Then we flipped the drill bit over and wiggled it around until the glue released. In some cases, I used a small flat head screw driver to scrape out some of the material:


Repeated the same steps for each dot, then use the flat screw driver to try and level out the floor of the cavity:


Here's my wife laying in #10 thin stewmac CA glue to seal the bottom of the cavity, she's got a much steadier hand than I. Then, she used #20 medium viscosity to build it up a bit and level it more.


Quote:
Originally Posted by joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #1!
You can see in the picture below that I pressed/damaged the edge of the inlay cavity while I was prying the plastic out of the hole with the back of the drill bit. I recognized this on the second hole, so I was sure not to do this again. When I add the sand to be inlaid, the CA glue will fill the pressed area and I'll level it flat, but it will still show a bit.


That's it so far, I'm hoping to get the jig built by today.

Last edited by joeguam; 05-11-2014 at 05:58 PM.
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Old 05-11-2014, 05:26 PM
joeguam joeguam is offline
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I don't have a workshop but my wife, Jackie, allowed me to rearrange our guest bedroom for this build. I basically stacked everything on top of the bed and covered it all with painter's drop-plastic from home depot.

I've completed a bunch of furniture builds in the past using recycled materials, so to make it easier, I made this quick workbench yesterday out of some pallet wood that had been sitting in our yard for about 8 months. I love the color of the patina that it acquired.



Because we'll need a very flat surface for a most of the build process, my dad let me use a scrap piece of granite counter top that he had laying around (something tells me this piece won't be going back to his house...heehee).



So this is my very modest workshop/workbench for this build, I might add some plywood to the leg braces to make a shelf if I can find some scrap somewhere.
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Old 05-11-2014, 05:37 PM
joeguam joeguam is offline
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I borrowed my dad's table saw and cut the pieces for the jig and Jackie helped me assemble it.



Jackie then marked the center lines and traced the template. I've said it before, her hands are much more steady than mine.



I just 2" pieces of a 1" dowel to use as the cauls for the side shaping. Instead of screwing these into the jig, we just glued it using titebond (TB) glue.



I wanted to do a rough fit of the sides while the glue was still wet to see if all looked good.



Everything looked good so we let the cauls dry overnight.
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Old 05-11-2014, 05:56 PM
joeguam joeguam is offline
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I could not wait to get up the next morning and get back to working on the build. The cauls glued up real nice and solid, so I moved on to the next step which was to dry fit the sides/endblock/neckblock.

Quote:
Originally Posted by joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #2!
Thankfully this lesson-learned entry was not as a result of a mistake, instead it was a result of following instructions and recommendations. I've read numerous times that center lines are crucial for referencing. I found the task of measuring and marking center lines to be very tedious and annoying. But, while dry fitting the sides/endblock/neckblock, I reaped all the critical benefits of the centerlines and it made it SO EASY to line everything up to ensure they're square and fitted properly. Centerlines...do it.


While clamping the pieces for the dry fit, something didn't look and feel right. It seemed that the butt joint of the sides that meet at the neck block weren't seating properly.

Quote:
Originally Posted by joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #3!
Check all ends for squareness prior to dry fitting. It only takes a few seconds but can save a ton of time.


So I disassembled everything and checked the ends of the sides against a square for squareness. You can see in this picture that there's some slight correction needed. This should be simple enough to square out with a sanding block and 120-grit.



Thankfully the other end of the sides was actually pretty square.


Quote:
Originally Posted by joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #4!
The instructions continuously caution to dry fit everything before you apply glue. I'm so glad that this lesson learned also did not come as a result of a catastrophe. Dry fit first!
Hopefully Jackie and I can square the ends of the sides and get the end/neck blocks glued in tonight.
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Old 05-11-2014, 05:57 PM
Luke_ Luke_ is offline
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Very nice joe I appreciate the details. Lookin good!
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  #12  
Old 05-11-2014, 06:00 PM
joeguam joeguam is offline
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Thanks Luke, we're having a blast already and we haven't even got anything glued together yet. Haha.
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Old 05-11-2014, 08:21 PM
Luke_ Luke_ is offline
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Glue can't be undone so easy... Make sure she fits perfect first, lol
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Seagull Maritime Mahogany
Alvarez Rd8c
Dean EABC5
Gretsch 9121
Lag TN100 Nylon
Recording King RO-10
Recording King RP-06

https://soundcloud.com/search?q=Smokerblacker
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Old 05-11-2014, 08:48 PM
joeguam joeguam is offline
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To square up the edge of the sides, I used a tip that I found from a woodworking article months ago, double-sided tape with 120-grit on a hand plane.



Keeping both flat against the granite, I used slow and short motions to sand down to the pencil line.



I was able to get it real close to square.



I didn't get it perfect, so I kept working at it.



After a couple of tries, I accepted that I won't be able to get it perfect using a hand plane. There's just too much variance in my motion. These are the times I wish I had a disc sander. I got it very close and I'll accept this bit of imperfection.



So after a 2nd dry fit (LESSON LEARNED #4), Jackie and I glued in the end and neck blocks.



This is Jackie cleaning up the squeeze out with a chisel.



Glued up the neck block and cleaned up the squeeze out.



Here he is all clamped up, next step will be to glue in the lining.
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Old 05-12-2014, 03:19 PM
joeguam joeguam is offline
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We dodged a huge bullet last night and recovered from a major disaster...I forgot to put wax paper between the jig and the neckblock.

Quote:
Originally Posted by joeguam as LESSON LEARNED #5
Unfortunately this lesson was learned the hard way. The instructions say to place wax paper between the jig and the neck/end blocks when gluing, but I forgot. Be sure to always use wax paper to ensure you don't glue your pieces to your work surface!
The end block only glued a bit to the jig from squeeze out, so I was able to massage it loose, however, the neck block was stuck. As you can see in this picture, I also cracked a bit of the side overhanging the neck block. Thankfully this piece will be sanded off anyway, but cracks are never a good thing.


I was able to carefully work a small chisel in between the jig and the sides and thankfully get it loose, but there was a bit of damage done.




I glued the cracked piece back together using TB glue and sanded off most of the glue residue from the affected area. This area will be pore-filled and final sanded and, more specifically covered by the neck heel.


Phew! Glad it wasn't a disaster, just took about an hour extra of time to correct.
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