How I build banjos, step by step

I spend a fair amount of time on the forums at BanjoHangout.org and have enjoyed reading some journals of other people’s banjo builds there.  I figured I would put together one of my own in the hope that it might be interesting or helpful to someone.  I’m posting it both on BHO and hoytbanjos.com.  BHO has a lot more visitors, but once posts there reach a certain age they are archived and the pictures are not retained, so I will have a link to hoytbanjos on the BHO thread so that if someone is reading the thread in the future they’ll still be able to see the pictures.  The banjo I am building is my 44th, and it will be a 12″ cherry open back 5 string with brass hardware.  I’ll do my best to show each step I go through without making it too long.  I do most of my work in the evenings and will try to post each evening’s work by the next day.

January 19, 8:15 PM or so: I started by going out to the loft and finding a suitable piece of cherry from the wood cart.  I got a large lot of mixed quality cherry at an estate auction in the summer of 2014 and have been using the better pieces for instruments since then.

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Then I ran it through the little planer to clean up the surfaces and make it uniformly thick.  Sometimes in the winter I have to wait till it is warm enough to use the planer out there where there’s no heat, but temperatures were in the 30s so everything was fine.

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Then I brought the board into the shop and laid the neck template on the wood and traced it.  I was thinking of putting a maple stripe down the middle of the neck but decided not to in the end because the cherry board was thick enough to make a 2 piece neck, so the maple in the photo didn’t get used.

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Then I cut the board off at the end of the neck outline and took it to the bandsaw to cut out the neck and cut the waste into strips to make into blocks for the rim.  The next photo shows the strips after the neck halves were cut out.

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The strips from the neck piece made 27 of the required 54 blocks and I cut a few more strips from around some knots in the board to make the rest.  I’ll have enough wood in the board to make two more banjos from it later.  This is my dedicated block cutting saw.  It’s a 7-1/4″ miter saw.  I used to use the 12″ miter saw but it was overkill for cutting blocks out of 1-1/8″ square strips.  I use the board in my hand to hold down the cut off block so it doesn’t get caught by the blade and ruined as the head comes up.  There’s a notch cut in the end of the board so it holds the block down and against the fence at the same time.

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The last thing I did before quitting for the night at about 9:50 was to glue the two neck halves together and clamp them securely.  I use more glue than is entirely needed, so it squeezes out when the clamps are applied.  It’s a bit of a waste but I don’t want to risk not having enough glue to fully saturate the joint, so I err on the side of too much.

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2 thoughts on “How I build banjos, step by step

  1. Chas Salmon says:

    Hi- Great pics of your build! Are you near Pulaski? I go there in the spring to fish, and would love to check out your banjos.
    Best- Chas

    Like

    • hoytbanjos says:

      Chas, thank you very much. We’re about 6 miles east of Pulaski on Wart Rd. in Orwell. Trout Brook runs through the back of the farm and people come here to fish when the water is high enough. I’ll be hoping to seeing you in the spring, just let me know when you’d like to come by and see the banjos.
      Zach

      Like

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