Monday, April 23. 2007
Traditionally, luthiers used a handheld cutter called a gramil to cut binding and purfling ledges, and some builders continue to use them, especially builders of instruments in the violin family. After an initial cut with a gramil, a sharp knife and chisel would be used to complete the cut. Here are pictures of 3 different gramils sold by The International Violin Company.
Some builder's use dedicated setups for cutting the binding and purfling ledges. Below on the left is a photo of an Universal Binding Machine sold by Luthier's Mercantile International. You can buy plans, parts or complete machines from LMI.
On the right is a photo of a TrueChannel Binding Router Jig sold by Stewart McDonald. It works similiarly to the LMI machine. I haven't used either of these but they look handy. The router/trimmer floats in a sliding vertical track while the instrument is maneuvered around it secured to a sled.
Purfling is the decorative detail let into the top, back and sides of a stringed instrument just inside the binding. I usually purfle and bind the tops of my ukuleles and bind the backs. On a classical guitar the top, back and sides are traditionally all purfled and bound. In the first photo you can see the purfling and binding ledges that have been routed into the top of Jimmy's Indian rosewood and Swiss spruce tenor ukulele.
Builder's like myself who follow the traditional Spanish method of building must cut the ledges for the binding and purfling ends by hand because in the Spanish method the instrument is built around the neck and it isn't possible to reach this area with a router. After the purfling and binding is glued into place and levelled, the fingerboard will cover this detail. You can see the recesses for the top purfling and binding ends in the second photo, taken under waning late afternoon light.
I just cut, sanded and bent the curly koa binding strips and they are sitting on the bending form cooling as i write. They'll be glued in with hot hyde glue so they may be removed for repair if necessary at some future date.
Sunday, April 22. 2007
Hawaiian player Charlie Wong recently contributed a new tune. You can hear him play California Dreaming on his King custom koa and cedar tenor. There were a couple of recording issues that Charlie is working on but his sweet Island style comes through strong and clear !
Binding is the decorative narrow strip of wood let into the top and back edges of a stringed musical instrument to protect the corners. Here is a photo of a 1.8mm x 4.5mm ledge being routed in the back of Jimmy's Indian rosewood and Swiss spruce tenor ukulele using a palm sized router/trimmer made by Rigid. It is equipped with an adjustable roller guide and fitted with a solid carbide 1/4" spiral downcut bit. The Rigid roller guide is solid and easily adjustable.
Binding and purfling ledge routing is a task that is best approached with full attention, a steady hand and a relaxed attitude ! The slightest slip at this stage can easily ruin all our hard work. On woods like rosewood, it is best to route the binding ledge counter clockwise around the instrument to avoid any tearout of grain at the bottom of the ledge. But be especially careful when routing in this direction because the motion of the bit will make the router want to take off and run !
When routing the purfling ledge, it is always best to move the router in such a way as to minimize the possibility of tearing in woods like spruce and western red cedar. Generally, this means routing from the widest parts of the upper and lower bouts into the waist area, and around to the tailblock and neck area.
Always use safety glasses when using routers.
I'll glue the curly koa binding on this tenor tomorrow.
Friday, April 20. 2007
Michael has a new webpage at UkeLand and has posted a couple of new tunes. He's playing a rosewood and spruce tenor i made last year and exhibited at the Ukulele Guild of Hawaii annual show.
I had a call the other day from a good samaritan who keeps an eye out for nice Honduras mahogany for me. I've been looking for some 10/4 old growth wood and he spotted a plank. I fetched it this morning and am cutting it now into lengths suitable for neck blanks. The head on my ukuleles is approx. 60mm at the widest. 10/4 (2 1/2") rough sawn wood is about 65mm thick so if it is rift or slab sawn, as is most common, i can cut one piece neck blanks with the grain running in the preferred direction, more or less vertically thru the neck.
This board is straight grained, nice and dry, is of good density, has a great deep brown mahogany color, rings nicely when tapped and its rift sawn. Here is a photo of the board getting cut into lengths suitable for ukulele necks. These will later be ripped to appropriate size on the bandsaw and stacked for later use.
You can see my 390mm ryoba (Japanese double edged carpenters saw) part way thru the board. A ryoba has one edge designed for cross cutting and the other edge designed for rip sawing. This saw is a pleasure to use and makes short work of all hardwoods.
Woods like Honduras mahogany, Spanish cedar and less frequently maple, walnut and koa are traditionally used for necks on instruments in the guitar and ukulele family because they are very stable when dried correctly, have a good stiffness to weight ratio, good hardness and are beautiful and easy to work. However, within each of these species there is great variation due to the variety of growing conditions encountered and not all boards are suitable for necks.
Tuesday, April 17. 2007
I have 3 very pretty tenors almost ready to enter the finishing stage and hope to publish some nice photos and descriptions next week. Joel's 14 fret koa and Mediterranean cypress tenor with curly maple details has a rich looking alure. Jimmy's 14 fret tenor looks very classical with a wood mosaic rosette against a snowy white Swiss spruce top and dark rosewood sides. And Minoru's 14 fret Honduras rosewood and Adirondack spruce tenor looks very precious !
By nature, as a builder, i like to spend as much as possible of the finite time budget i am able to alot to each instrument i build on tone and playability.
And, by nature, i prefer the quiet and contemplative aspects of working by hand in the traditional ways of lutherie and, by nature, avoid mechanization of processes when they detract from this pleasure or result in a decrease in the mysterious process of transfer of essence from builder to instrument which characterizes things handmade.
Since i started publishing this builder's journal, demand for my work has gradually increased to the point where my delivery schedules are starting to stretch out. So i've been taking a closer look at how i do things and where i can apply simple changes that will improve productivity without compromising product quality or lifestyle.
Ultimately, this will mean instroducing CNC on a small workshop scale, but to start with it means applying some basic principles of /gasp/ modern manufacturing /gasp/ ! Standardization of parts like bridges, nuts, struts and braces, neck blanks and the use of templates and jigs to build parts that are interchangable. And it means reorganizing the process flow so that an instrument moves through a series of workstations dedicated to specific processes, with all material, tools and documentation needed for that stage ready to hand and precalibrated.
For a builder who is accustomed to sitting at a bench and getting up a hundred times a day to go get whatever he needs at the moment, and moving stuff around here and there to make room for this and that and adjusting a tool to do first one operation then another, it'll be a bit of a change and adventure. And i'm going to work it in gradually as i complete the custom orders in hand.
Here are a few photos of a vacuum jig i made yesterday while building. It is designed to hold a top or back securely while its outline is cut with a palm router. After joining, the top or back is drilled with a registration hole at the rosette center. It is then placed on the template so that the registration pin goes thru the registration hole and the center line is aligned with the center line of the template. A shopvac is attached to the template and applies a vacuum thru the template to hold down the top and a palm router with a template following bit is used to trim the top to final shape. I've made a small heel shaped button that i can attach with double sided tape for use when i profile backs with an extended heel cap.
Thursday, April 12. 2007
I've started using a Porter Cable 7424 variable speed dual action 6" polisher with a special 3M finishing compound on my lacquer finishes directly after final leveling with 1200 wet and dry sandpaper. Its producing a nice gloss finish much more quickly than doing it by hand. I've got a special 4" backing pad and foam covers arriving soon for the 7424 which will give more control, but even with a 6" pad on the lowest speed setting its very manageable.
Its best if laquer finishes can dry for several days or more before final polishing.
Its been a bit like living inside a sliding block puzzle around here during the last couple of days ! A week of grey rainy weather followed by a couple of picture perfect breezy warm and blue days threw me straight into a spring cleaning/re-org of my one room home workshop and it was very much a case of move this here so i can put that there so i can move those over there !
I've been examining my build procedures the last few months, looking at work flow and productivity. This re-org is an attempt to improve my ability to deliver fine handmade custom ukuleles, classical and flamenco guitars more quickly by adopting better organized building practices
Friday, April 6. 2007
Monday, April 2. 2007
I had an email problem earlier today and lost an enquiry from someone regarding the availability of one of the two tenors i had in stock. Unfortunately, i can not reply to you individually but both of these tenors have been sold in the last few days and i have nothing presently available from stock. Please check back as i do from time to time build instruments as part of my ongoing R&D activities and offer them for sale via my inventory page.
Sunday, April 1. 2007
Here are some photos of Michael's 14 fret long scale tenor. It features a Honduras mahogany neck, a slotted headstock, Waverly openback geared tuners, ebony fingerboard, binding and tie style bridge, bone nut and saddle, a lacquer finish and a Mi-Si Acoustic Trio battery free preamp and under saddle pickup. It's set up in dGBE tuning with Savarez Alliance strings. The longer scale helps ensure that this low tuning doesn't feel too slack. I've been using the Savarez Corum 504RH polished wound bass string in low G and dGBE tunings with excellent success. The 504RH has great tone and is much quieter than a regular wound string.
This tenor has a dark, warm and woody sound. It's headed to Hawaii soon !
[ builder's note: that's me taking the picture in the bottom left photo! ]
Here are some photos of Murchie's 14 fret long scale Vintage Series koa concert ukulele. It features AAA grade koa and extensive use of boxwood accents, including body binding, headstock binding, fingerboard binding and fingerboard markers. It has a Honduras mahogany neck, an ebony fingerboard and tie style bridge, bone nut and saddle, a wood mosaic rosette and peghed geared tuning pegs. It sounds better than it looks !
All content is copyright 2005 .. 2011 William King. All rights are reserved. Some music clips are copyright by others and are used with permission.
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