September and October banjos and a house

Having failed to post a September report during October I figured I’d better get going somewhat promptly now that it’s November. In late September I bid on a house in the scenic town of Piercefield, NY, population about 300, in an online tax auction. In mid-October the deed was recorded and I was allowed to go onto the property and find out just what I had bought, and start working on it. The house was abandoned abruptly and left empty for 6 years, so it needs a lot of work. I am starting to peck away at it a few days at a time, which keeps me out of the banjo shop more than usual at this time of year. I am aiming to get the house into livable condition so I (and my mother) can move into it sometime next summer.

It’s been a dream for 10 years or more to live in the Adirondacks someday, and since late 2018 I’ve been planning a move in 2022. My goal in planning that far ahead was to allow time for the farm where I have been living and working for the last 20 years to find people to do whatever comes next, but so far that has not happened. If you’d like to read more about the transition here at the farm our last several newsletter address it at some length and can be found on the website at stfrancisfarm.org under Newsletters.

I began work on four stock banjos in September and they are all about half completed. I have not worked on them for the last 6 or 7 weeks but am hoping to find time to get at least some of them done this month. Since mid-September I’ve just about been able to keep up with promised custom builds. I have a couple of banjos and an octave mandolin promised for November and one banjo for December, and after that I am going to a waiting list instead of promising work for a particular month. During the winter I should be able to get a fair amount of time in the shop, but after that I am not sure when I’ll be able to work on instruments, between getting the house ready, building a workshop up there and moving. I hope to be able to return to a monthly schedule by late in 2022.

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I made a lot of parts in September, rims, hoops, armrests and such. The only banjo I actually completed during the month was #227, a walnut banjo mandolin. This was my first banjo mandolin, and I enjoyed getting to make one. It’s been something I’ve thought would be fun but there are so many old ones out there that I thought it might be hard to find someone who would want a new one. This was also my first time using Blackwood Tek, which is a new (or new to me, at least) ebony substitute, made from compressed and altered New Zealand radiata pine. It seemed to work well, and is much cheaper than Rocklite Ebano has become now.

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Another September project was building a neck for a vintage Luscomb pot. The pot is very nicely made and the owner did a great job cleaning it up and making it look new again before he sent it to me. The peghead shape is similar to what the original neck looked like.

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I worked on another custom banjo in September and got it about 3/4 built but then it had to go on hold for about 6 weeks pending delivery of some custom inlay lettering the customer had ordered that got delayed. October consisted of two banjo builds. #228 was a fretless curly maple banjo with a brass plate to the 7th fret and a Dobson tone ring. This banjo also had the deepest pot I have ever made, at 4″. The banjo was shipped unfinished, as the customer wished to stain it, which is something I am not able to do.

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Banjo #229 was another curly maple 12″, but a little more like what I normally make. It has some extra brackets and an abalone star.

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This is a quick picture I took about a half mile from the new house, while I was up there working in October. It’s a beautiful area, and I’m looking forward to when I’ll have time to explore it more fully. In the meantime I’ll try to be more timely with my November shop update.

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