Banjo #66 completed

I put 5 coats of Tru Oil finish on the banjo on Sunday and put it together today.


It has a curly walnut peghead overlay and the fretboard is streaky ebony.  It’s a bit hard to see the streaks in the pictures.  I like scoops better now that I have the power fretting saw set up so I don’t have those annoying little bits of fret slot showing on the partial frets.


The bottom of the tone ring is visible under the flesh hoop of the head.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I recently went to using screws to fasten the brass plates rather than double sided tape, but the screws are so short that I have a hard time holding onto them to get them started.


Now that the finishing is done the bookmatched resonator back is more apparent.




The armrest is of the type pioneered by Jason Romero, though not as nice as his, I am sure.



I made a quick video demonstration of this banjo after I got it set up tonight.  I moved my right hand up and down a bit to try to show some of the range of sounds that this banjo can make.  I hope that perhaps someone will come by before the drawing who can really play and will let me make a video of them playing this banjo, but we don’t get a lot of visitors this time of year.

Building banjo #66, part 5

On Tuesday I sanded the back of the resonator flat on the 12″ disc sander and then used the table router to put a 1/4″ radius on the corners.



On Thursday I drilled a 3/4 hole for the dowel stick using the Shopsmith.


I carved the hole out to a square shape using a 1/2″ chisel and a mallet, but I didn’t get any pictures of that.  On Friday I sanded the outside with the random orbit sander and the inside with the oscillating spindle sander.


I also used the Shopsmith to drill the endbolt hole which can be seen in this picture.  I use extra long 10-24 hanger bolts with a standard endbolt knob, or whatever that round part is properly called.  It’s a lot easier than making a square blind hole into the inside of the tailblock and using a normal length hanger bolt, and the end result is equally good, as far as I can tell.  This morning I hand sanded the rim, neck and armrest to 400 grit and right after lunch I put on the first coat of Tru Oil.


I’ll be getting it all put together on Tuesday or Wednesday if all goes according to plan, and I’ll post some pictures and a quick video of the completed banjo as soon as it’s all ready.

Recent custom banjos

I haven’t been posting any new banjos on the Banjos page lately, but it’s not that I haven’t been making banjos, they’ve just all been custom ones built to order lately.  #60 was a full fretted version of #59 with a Kershner tailpiece.


#61 was my first plectrum banjo, also from walnut and a 12″


#62 is an ash 12″ made with all local woods from here on the farm.  It went up to TAUNY ( in Canton along with my first chicken head fiddle to be part of an exhibit on local instruments, and will be back in late fall.  I didn’t think to take pictures before I sent it off.

#63 is like #60, but with a 29″ scale length so it can be tuned down to E.  Like a longneck, but with the 5th string still at the 5th fret like a regular banjo.


#64 through #68 will all be done by the end of this month, if all goes according to plan.

Building banjo #66, part 4

Tonight I cut the fret slots using an adapted Worx mini saw with a .023″ blade, and a homemade fixture.  I’ve been using this setup for about a year.  It’s faster than slotting by hand and also enables me to make partial slots in the area of the scoop, so that there is no unfilled bit of slot showing after the frets go in.


I had to cut the first slot twice since the first time it wasn’t quite deep enough, so that is why that slot looks slightly wider than the others.


The rest of the fretting process I use is still the same as last year’ journal shows.  I moved on to the resonator back and started by trying to find something that looked right in my walnut boxes.  I found a piece that had a very mild curl and some color streaks and marked out two quarters, by first drawing around the inner and outer rims and then using a framing square to make a 90 degree angle between the ends at 6″ on both sides of the square.


I did some of the cutting out on the bandsaw and used the scroll saw for the inner parts so as not to waste any of the rest of the board.  With a 10 TPI blade it cuts pretty fast, though of course not like the bandsaw.  I cut a bit outside the marks to leave some margin for alignment.  Then I put the rip fence on the bandsaw and sliced each piece in half, so I could bookmatch the two sides of the resonator back.  I really like having the rip fence on this bandsaw, it’s self-aligning and as long as I remember to keep my feed speed down and use a sharp blade I can get quite accurate cuts.


Then I drew a centerline along the pot back, after ensuring it was flat on the 12″ sanding disc on the Shopsmith.  I used the disc sander also to true up the ends of the back pieces and fine tune them till they fit tightly together all the way around.   This required several trips back and forth from the sander to the pot till it all looked right.


I made sure the back overhung the sides all the way around and then began applying glue and clamps.  When I got done it looked like this:




Building banjo #66, part 3

Tonight I didn’t work long on the pot and then I had to let the glue dry.  First I set the outer rim on top of the inner rim and used a mini tape measure to get it as perfectly centered as I could, and then drew around the blocks and laid out the cut line.


Then I took it to the bandsaw and cut away most of the inner rim, leaving just over 1/4″ of wood except where the ears are that join the outer blocks.  When cut the inner rim can be set inside the outer one and rotated into place.  I thought of this method back when I made my first IR rim as a way to get the glue onto the surfaces and not have it be scraped off during assembly.


Bottom view:


I trimmed the edges of the ears the last bit with the bandsaw and then marked the excess height of the ears above the blocks and trimmed it off with a router, carefully.


Then I used the 1″ belt sander to smooth off the outside of the inner rim and put glue on the mating surfaces of the blocks and ears and put the rims together.  I checked them carefully against the aluminum plate and then with a straightedge.


Once the excess glue became rubbery I cleaned it off the joints with a chisel and set the assembly aside overnight.  Tomorrow I will put the back on.

Building banjo #66, part 2

Yesterday I sanded the 7 rings flat and glued them into stacks, and last night I rolled the tone ring parts and the tension hoop.  The ring roller is new to me last fall, prior to that I bent tension hoops by hand.  It’s fun to use, as it takes a job that required a lot of effort and was inexact and makes it effortless and precise.  I buy brass in 7 foot lengths, and each length will do two 11 or 12 inch banjos without too much waste.  The ring roller does the whole bend in one pass, so it is quite fast.  I have a plan to make it so that I know exactly where to set the roller for each type of product, but I haven’t gotten it done yet so for now I eyeball it.  The scalloped truss is made from 3/16×5/8″ brass.P2070011.jpgP2070012 (1).jpg

The top hoop is 1/4″ round brass.


There are little spots in the rollers for the round brass to ride in.


The tension hoop is 1/8×1/2″ brass, and here they all are together


I used the bandsaw to cut the unbent end off each piece and then used my handy list of measurements to find the correct length.  I have a piece of 1/4″ aluminum plate that I use for gluing and soldering and other odd jobs.  The brass turns red when it’s just about ready for the solder.


Today I used a sewing tape on the inside of the scalloped truss to mark the high points, and then used a plastic lid to draw a nice arc between them.


Then I used the bandsaw to roughly cut the scallops.  I wear a welding glove on my left hand since that side can get a little warm as each cut comes off the blade.  That hand is behind the blade so it is relatively less unsafe to wear a glove on that hand.   I am not suggesting that anyone try this at home, as they say.


Then I used the spindle sander first with coarse and then with fine grits to clean up the bandsaw cuts, and used the fine drum on the inside and outside of the ring.


Then I put the rim blank on the aluminum faceplate and turned it, and fitted the tone ring to the rim.


Then I mounted the inner rim on an old particle board faceplate and turned the face and the inside only.  I use the ruler to see when the inside of the rim is straight and parallel with the tubes of the Shopsmith bed.  I have to move my head to see both parts of the yardstick, so the camera can only see part of the job at a time.

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My last step for now was to mark the outer rim at the point where the centerline of the neck and the tailpiece will be, and install blocks in those places.  I used the sander to match the outside of the blocks to the rim and to put a shallow angle on the inside of the blocks. The reason for will become clear tomorrow when the inner rim goes in.



Building an internal resonator banjo, part 1

I am doing another banjo giveaway on BanjoHangout which I have been told is scheduled to start on February 13th.  This time the banjo will be a 12″ walnut internal resonator banjo with one of my shop-made Whyte Laydie type tone rings and brass hardware.  Last January I did a series here and also posted at BHO on the construction of banjo #44, detailing as many of the steps as possible and showing pictures.  This time I am planning to mainly highlight the aspects of this banjo that are different from the last one, rather than duplicating the explanations of the steps that are the same.  I started by taking a piece of walnut and cutting three neck layers out of it.  The walnut is 3/4″ thick.  I paid attention to the grain orientation since I wanted the grain lines to radiate out through the neck roughly equally.  This makes the visible grain lines of the finished neck more consistently spaced.  One thing I like about 3 piece necks is that they enable the use of a square socket for the dowel stick.   As you can see in the picture all I did was to cut a rectangular section out of the heel of the middle piece.  The cutout is angled close to 3 degrees to match the heel cut which is made later.

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I applied glue to both sides of the center piece and glued the three together.  I used a chisel to scrape out the glue that was squeezed into the dowel stick pocket.

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In the background of this picture you can see the strips that will become the rims.  I cut them and glued them as shown last time, and hung them up.  I only have 6 band clamps so the last one had to wait.

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I have 4 layers for the inner rim and 3 for the outer, since the tone ring is tall enough to eliminate a layer of blocks.   I got to work on the neck once it was dry and did all the usual neck things to it, as shown previously.  One great convenience of the square dowe stick mortise is that I can put a skinny clamp into it and use it to hold the neck in place while cutting the truss rod pocket and later the tension hoop ledge.  I’ll post again as soon as there’s more to show.  I’ve got a couple of other custom banjos to build at the same time, so progress may be a bit slow.


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My first chicken-head fiddle

I’ve been thinking of trying this for a couple of years but didn’t get myself together to do it till now.  I am not fond of carving scrolls on fiddles, and the chicken is easier and more fun to carve.  This fiddle and a banjo (#62) are going to be on display at TAUNY (Traditional Arts in Upstate NY) in Canton from February through October of this year.  I’ll be making another chicken head fiddle when time permits, and will plan to sell them for $550 just like a cherry fiddle with a scroll.  Here are a few close-up pictures.  To see a video clip of this fiddle please follow the link below: