Making an armrest for banjo #44

In January I did a series of posts detailing the construction of banjo #44, which is to be the prize in a free drawing on BanjoHangout coming soon.  I got to thinking that I should make an armrest for it, so I did a little bit ago but didn’t get it posted till now.  Step 1 was to find a suitable piece of wood, at least 1.5″ thick to make the side of the armrest and draw the outer curve on it using the handy template for 12″ banjos.

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Once I cut the outside I drew a line about 1/4″ inside it, using my finger as a depth gauge to make a relatively uniform thickness.

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Then I cut it off and sanded the inside smooth on the spindle sander, since it is less accessible once the top goes on.

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Then I used the template again to draw the shape of the top on another piece of cherry.

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I cut it out, sliced it to about 1/4″ thick and glued it onto the side.  When I came back the next day I sanded the outside of the assembly smooth, and then used the tomato paste can to draw the curves.  I then used a 1/4″ roundover bit in the router table to radius the edge where the top and side come together.  This makes me nervous so I do it very carefully.

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Then I took it back to the bandsaw and cut off the bulk of the waste at the corners, using a block of wood to support the armrest.

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Then I used the spindle sander to clean up the inside curves on the sides and the inner edge of the top and the disc sander to smooth out everything else.  I did a bit with a random orbit sander and then some hand sanding at the end to get everything smooth.  Then I drilled a hole 3/8″ up from the bottom edge and used a countersink to make it match the screw.  I took it out to the loft and applied the Tru Oil in 5 coats over the next 2 days.

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Once the finishing was done I brought it back to the shop and made the bracket from 1/8″x1/2″ brass left over from making tension hoops.  I bent it to match the curve of the rim, made a notch in each end to fit over each hook with the belt sander, drilled a hole in the middle and tapped it for an 8-32 screw.  I cut the extra length off the screw and sanded the end smooth.

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Then I mounted it on the banjo.  It takes an hour or so to do the work of making an armrest, spread out over a few days.

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An experimental 6 string banjo

I made this banjo after thinking about a number of ideas that I wanted to try.  Over the course of a few weeks I came up with an idea in my head and when I had time and all of the materials I went ahead and put it together.  The first idea I had was that I wanted to try making a 5+1 banjo tuned gGDGBD, also sometimes called a lojo.  I was started down this rabbit hole by a custom neck request from someone who seemed interested and then disappeared after asking if I could make him one.  I was not familiar with the idea but it seemed interesting.  Then I thought it would be nice if it could be made to be also played as a guitar banjo.  This would enable me to use a set of 3 on plate right angle tuners from Stew-Mac that I had on hand, and would also make the banjo more versatile.  I thought about using a .008 string for the drone but decided I would rather try a tunneled string design instead, and I ordered some stainless steel micro-tubing from China on eBay which took about a month to arrive but was fairly economical.  I made the neck with a 12″ radius since it is so wide, and of course a bridge to match the curve.

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While waiting for the tubing I got started on the pot, which uses a piece of 6061 3/8″ aluminum rod as a flange.  The rod was cheap and easy enough to bend, but also easy to mar in the vise so I had to be careful.  I found out that I couldn’t use silver solder on aluminum so I began thinking about how to join the ends.  I don’t have welding skills so I thought about some mechanical options.  I ended up with the idea of cutting a slot in each end with the bandsaw and putting in a piece of 1/8″ x 1/2″ aluminum bar.  It then occurred to me that I would have an extra 1/8″ of bar sticking out that I would have to cut off, and I had a notion that I could perhaps make it into a tailpiece of sorts.  I have been thinking for a couple of years about making a banjo mandolin but the tailpiece was always the sticking point, and now I think I have a design that will work and can offer 8 separate nubs for the 8 strings.  I got most of the holes lined up when drilling the flange to match the tension hoop, but a few of them are slightly off kilter as you can see in the second photo.  I also had to put a slight bend in the hooks to make the nuts parallel with the rim.  Another time I will make a slightly wider ledge for the flange to rest on, which will move the hooks and nuts out slightly away from the sides of the pot till they’re parallel.  I made the bottom of the rim round to visually match the shape of the flange.

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I also wanted to try making my own dowel stick yoke out of aluminum, and I had a big enough piece of 6061 on hand to try it.  I got some advice about that as well as about the flange on BanjoHangout.  I thought it might be hard to cut the heel of the neck to fit over the flange but it wasn’t too bad. I used a 1/2″ forstner bit coming in from each side, and then cut out the rest by hand with knives and chisels.

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Here are a few pictures of when I first set it up, as a guitar banjo tuned EADGBE.  I used a set of medium banjo strings minus the 5th, with a .036″ for the A and a .046″ for the low E.  I got the odd loop end strings from Elderly for around $1.20 a piece as I recall, and they were nice and long.

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The assembled banjo weighs 4 pounds 15 ounces, which is a bit lighter than I had expected.   I guess the aluminum must be the main reason for that.  I like the sound pretty well and I’ll have to get used to how to use the low string effectively.  To see a couple of video demonstrations please follow the links below:

Building banjo #44, part 8

I spent a couple of hours or so on getting this banjo assembled and set up.  My first step was to use a single edge razor blade like a scraper and run it around on all of the finished surfaces where it will work.  Then I used 400 grit sandpaper or #0000 steel wool on the other areas to make the finish feel smooth to the touch.  The razor blade is faster and does a nicer job but it only works on flat or convex surfaces.

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I used a very small amount of mineral oil to rub down the surfaces with a bit of paper towel and went to the cabinet to find the hardware.

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I have found that I am most efficient when I don’t keep picking up a tool and putting it down, so first I put all of the washers on the bolts, then I put all of the bolts in the holes, then I screwed all of the shoes on by hand and then used my ad hoc 5/16 nut driver to tighten them all.  I went over the whole tension hoop with 400 grit to makes sure it was smooth and ready to go, and began putting in hooks.  One down side of the Van Eps style hoop, at least the way I make it, is that all of the hooks have to go on at once before the tension hoop is finally positioned.  I put each hook in at about the angle shown in the picture and then rotate it down to point towards its shoe.  Getting all of the hooks through the holes in their shoes is a little fidgety but very feasible with practice.

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Once they’re all in their shoes it’s very easy to put the nuts on the hooks and tighten the head.

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Here’s a close up of how the hooks fit in the hoop.  I could make larger holes which would make it easier to insert the hooks but I like the close fit,  it looks neater to my eye when assembled.

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Once the pot was all put together I got started on the neck.  First I used the cello pin reamer to ream the holes out slightly for the Gotoh tuners.  It would be cheaper to buy a 10mm drill bit, but I already have a good 3/8″ bit and the reamer so they’re what I use.

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Then I took the button and washer off the shaft of the 5th string tuner and put a small socket over the shaft.  I put a piece of paperboard in the vise to protect the finish on the neck and pressed the tuner into the 3/8″ hole.  It is very fast and easy.

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Then I made the nut out of a piece of Corian.  I buy it in small slabs and cut strips off them to make into nuts. I cut it on the bandsaw, or put it in the vise and cut with a hacksaw for very small cuts.  I shape it on the 1″ belt sander, make the slots with a triangular file and finish by coloring it black with a Sharpie marker.  The blackest Corian I could find is sort of speckled so I color it to match the tuner knobs.

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Then I took my test bridge and the 3rd string and put them on to see what it looked like.

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Then I popped the test bridge out and traced it onto a scrap of hard maple with suitable grain orientation.  I made the new bridge taller and cut it out and sanded it to shape.

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Once I had the new bridge in hand I trimmed it a little at a time till the height looked good and then made new slots and put the strings all on.

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Then I marked where I wanted the 5th string nut to be positioned to make the 5th string spacing from the 4th the same as the other string spacings at that point on the neck, drilled the hole, cut the nut from a small Corian dowel I made last winter as an experiment, shaped, slotted and colored the top and put it in the hole, and then put the string on it.

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Today I took the banjo out in the loft by the big window after lunch when there is good light and took some pictures to show the whole thing now that it’s done.

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Here’s an odd thing I have noticed about this jatoba I have been using lately.  If I look at it from one end of a piece it looks medium reddish in color:

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but if I look at it from the other end it looks more blackish in some areas.  I think there is a word for this but I don’t know what it is.

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Here’s a link to a quick video clip of what it sounds like as of 12:45 today:

Early in January I was in touch with Brent from BHO about including this banjo in the BHO free drawing program, and he agreed to the idea.  I had been thinking of posting a banjo building thread for a while, and this seemed like the best banjo about which to do it.  I have not heard back yet from Eric about when it will be scheduled to appear, but I imagine it may be sometime in the not too distant future.

Building banjo #44, part 7

Yesterday I put the finish on Banjo #44, as well as  a ukulele and a refinish job on a used banjo which is going back up for resale soon.  I took a couple of pictures after the second of 5 coats of Tru Oil.  P1290023.JPG

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I can’t use the camera while I have my gloves on both hands and am applying oil, so there isn’t a lot to see today.  I took another picture after the last coat of oil.

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At 7 when I had finished with the Tru Oil I put some Danish oil on a pseudo-morris chair which I built in December.  I would have finished it sooner but I was trying to find a good plug cutter that made the size I needed to cover the screws.  I realized this fall that I had not sat on a chair that really fit me since I was in my early teens, probably, so I used some of the cherry from the cart in the loft that was not good enough to use for instruments.

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Tonight I’ll be assembling and setting up #44 and I’ll have a lot more to show in tomorrow’s post.

 

Building banjo #44, part 6

This will be a much shorter post than my recent ones.  I only spent about half an hour working on the banjo tonight, and now it will have to wait till Sunday when I will have time to apply the finish.  In the winter, or whenever it’s too cold to finish in an unheated space I do all of my finishing on Sundays since that is my day off.  I light a fire in the woodstove in the house (which we don’t use during the winter and has the pipes drained).   around 7 or 8 AM, and by 11 it’s warm enough to start applying Tru Oil unless it’s extra cold outside.  Then I apply a coat at 1, 3,5, and 7 PM, and I have 9 as a fallback time in case I miss an earlier one.  This way I can get the finishing done in one day and minimize the amount of time I have to run the stove.  Tonight I started by trimming the heel cap flush with the heel, using the disc and RO sanders and some hand carving with the little knife.  I find it’s harder to carve burl wood because the grain is totally random, so I never know how hard to push or which way the knife will want to pull, but it’s a very small job so it didn’t take long.

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The heel cap is much more symmetrical than it looks in the picture, I think it is something about the angle that makes it look rather grotesque.  I didn’t notice when I was taking the picture.  Then I put some #30 CA from Stew-Mac in the pockets in the burl wood on the peghead and rubbed some sanding dust into them.  The pockets were very small, about the size of a pencil lead or less, and the burl is so random that the odd colored spots won’t stand out like they would on plain wood.  Then I sanded the neck and rim and dowel stick, first with 120 where it was needed, then with 220, and finally 400, all by hand.  I sanded off the extra filler on the peghead and put the banjo away in the cabinet where nothing should be able to fall on it to wait till Sunday.

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Building banjo #44, part 5

On the evening of the 24th I spent most of my time marking and drilling holes, and sanding.  My first task was to fit the neck to the pot.  I began by marking the position of the square hole where the dowel stick passes through and drilling most of the way through with a spade bit in a regular handheld drill.  I stopped about 1/8″ short of the inside of the rim.  I have found that no matter how well I try to fit a block behind the hole to prevent damage as the bit emerges I still get tearout more often than I like, so a couple of banjos ago I started this new method.

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Then I set the rim down again and inserted the pilot(?) of the spade bit back into the hole from the inside, coming down from the top at an angle.  The resulting hole would not be satisfactory for something like inserting a dowel, but since I will be carving it out to a square shape anyway it is more important to protect the surrounding wood than to maintain a straight hole.  I have wondered if a regular twist drill bit would not tear out as much, but I don’t have a 3/4″ one on  hand to try it out.

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Then I used a jigsaw to cut up and down from the side of the hole, across the grain, to begin to approach the final square shape, and used a chip carving knife to finish the job.  I don’t usually sand inside the hole, I just carve it till it’s big enough and leave it at that.  I really like this knife. the company that made it seems to be called Two Cherries, and it takes a good edge and holds it better than other knives I have used.

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Then I measured from one side of the hole around the rim to the other side, divided than number by 2 and marked the vertical line where the endbolt hole would go.  I put the dowel stick in the hole and eyeballed the length it should be cut to and made a mark that was my best guess.  P1240005.JPG

I trimmed the end off the dowel stick by degrees and kept re-checking the fit. I also had to chip off a bit of glue that had dried around where the dowel stick goes into the neck.  I should have checked for that when I glued it in but I was too fixated on the alignment to remember it.  Once the dowel stick was cut to the right length I took a look at where the dowel stick came to on the rim and drilled a hole, and then drilled the hole in the end of the dowel stick to match and screwed in the hanger bolt.  Then I put the neck back in the rim and put the endbolt ball on to see if everything looked right.

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Then I put the dowel stick yoke in and marked the spot to drill for the pin, and then drilled the hole with the dowel stick sitting on a hardwood backer block to prevent tearout around the hole.  I drilled all of these holes with the handheld drill.  In the picture the screw is not tightened to bear on the shim, it’s just sitting there.

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Next I put a sanding drum in the drill press and trimmed the end of the fretboard so it was more even.  I may have to do this again during final setup but at least it’s close now.

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Then I drilled the previously marked holes in the peghead, and eyeballed the position of the hole for the 5th string tuner, all with a 3/8″ drill.  The peghead holes should be 10mm, but it’s easy enough to ream them out to fit.  I will show how I install the 5th tuner in the assembly and setup post.

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Then I put the head and tension hoop back on the rim and marked the locations for the bracket shoe bolt holes.  I used the speed square, though a machinist’s square would be handier, I think, but I don’t have one yet.  The masking tape is to hold the tension hoop in place so it doesn’t slide around as I’m marking.

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Then I took the rim to the Shopsmith and drilled the holes.  I like to set the table to a 1 degree tilt away from the headstock when drilling these holes because the bolts are .210″ and the nearest bit I have is .214″, and I think that tilting the holes slightly helps keep the bottom of the shoes from pulling away from the rim under tension, but I don’t know if it really helps or not.  I only started doing it recently.

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The last thing I did was to cut out and glue on a heel cap on the neck.  Because the rim is fairly deep there’s room for one, so I got a scrap piece of cherry burl to match the peghead.

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Building banjo #44, part 4

On  the evening of the 24th I had a bit over 2 hours of time to spend in the shop.  My first priority was to make the dowel stick and glue it into the neck mortise.  I found a piece of leftover cherry that was about 1 inch square and had minimal grain runout.  I ripped it down to just over 3/4″ square on the bandsaw and marked an X from corner to corner on both ends.  I have a handy plastic doodad for this that was in a box lot I got at an auction, but I forgot to take a picture of it.  I used to do it with a ruler too.  Then I cut about 1/8″ into the tenon end of the X on both arms, using the bandsaw.  I stand behind the saw to do this so I can see exactly where I’m cutting.  Then I drill a hole to accommodate the spike on the drive spur.  I lined up the X on the tailpiece end with the dead center in the tailstock on the Shopsmith and tapped it in a little way with a mallet, and then scooted the headstock up to the X with the cuts and lined it up so each arm of the spur was in its slot.  I thumped the headstock toward the tailstock briskly and tightened the clamp so it would stay in place.

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The pencil mark on the side shows where the shoulder of the tenon should be, approximately.  I began to turn the tenon down, aiming for 5/8″

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The caliper is hard to read but it says .624, which is about ideal for me.  I like the dowel stick to require both hands and some force to install dry, but not to be so tight that is has to be tapped into place as that could crack the heel.  I have found that anywhere between .615 and .625″ will work fine, though the lower end of that is a little less than ideal.  The next step was to take the dowel stick off the Shopsmith and cut the square end off the tenon.  Then I cut a very small channel with a knife to allow glue to escape when I put tenon into the mortise.  I hope it will show up in the picture.

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Then I put glue in the mortise, all around the edge in a thick bead.  I want to make sure that as I push the tenon in it will be pushing glue ahead of it all the way around, and this should make a good joint.  I put the channel on the bottom of the neck and with the neck in my left hand and the dowel stick in my right I pushed it in and a small stream of glue came out of the channel and fell on the floor.  I adjusted the rotation of the stick till it looked parallel to the fretboard from both ends, to my eye.  I set the neck on the treble side to dry so that if any drooping happened it would be to the treble side, since when I had dry fitted the dowel stick it had looked like if it was not perfectly lined up it might have been angled to the bass side a bit.  I have not developed a jig to ensure perfect centering, but I think it might be a good idea.  I get pretty close by sighting from both ends but it could be better, I’m sure.

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I left the neck to dry and moved on to working on the tension hoop.  It is made from a piece of 360 brass, 1/2″x 1/8″ in cross section and long enough to go around.  My first dozen were made with what was described as soft 360 brass from Speedy Metals, which was easier to bend and came in 4 foot lengths.  I later found that I could get a better price from Online Metals and their 360 brass is described as ‘half hard’.  I am not up enough on metals to understand that, but it is stiffer to bend for sure.  I bought 10 of their 7 foot pre-cut pieces and each on will make two 12″ hoops with 6 or 7 inches left over.  The first picture shows the brass with one end held in the vise.  This is the second hoop from this 7 foot piece so it is extra long.

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Next I bent the brass by hand into a sort of spiral shape.  In the picture I show it being about 1-3/4 turns, but in order to get it to end up near where I want it I have to make about 2-1/4.  I was afraid I would not be able to hold that with one hand while I took the picture.

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The next picture shows how far it sprang back when I gradually released the tension.

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Once I had bent it tightly enough to spring back close to where I wanted it I began to tweak it in or out as needed here and there.  I use the rim as a reference point to see what it needs.  In the next picture I am ready to cut it to length.

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The next picture is cutting it to length with the hacksaw.  I also cut brass on the bandsaw sometimes but I had just put a nice new blade in last week and didn’t want to accelerate the wear on it, and it takes less time to make a cut with the hacksaw than to put a different blade in the bandsaw.  If I was making a bunch of cuts I would use the band saw.

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Then I sanded the ends square and clean on the little belt sander, fluxed the ends and clamped the hoop to the bandsaw table with the ends butted up tight to each other.  I think there must be a better way to do this, as it can be hard to get the end to stay perfectly aligned as I tighten the clamps.  Some sort of fixture seems called for and I have a couple of ideas but have not tried to make them yet.  I used Harris Stay-Silv flux and 15% silver solder, and a regular Bernzomatic torch with MAPP gas.

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After it cooled I cleaned up the soldered are with the belt and spindle sanders and some hand sanding.

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Then I did some more tweaking of the roundness of the hoop and test fit it with a head.

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It still is not perfectly round but it’s pretty close.  Then I used a sewing tape measure to mark 1-1/8″ on each side of the brazed joint and then used some clothespins to hold the tape on the hoop so I could make 9 markson each side,  spaced at 2-1/8″ apart, starting at  the marks by the joint.  This leaves the space between the marks at the neck at 2-3/4″

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Then I put the table back on the Shopsmith and put a short 11/64 drill bit in the chuck.  I clamped a stop block to the table and set the height so that the holes are just slightly higher than centered.  I had a hard time at first with regular drill bits bending as I tried to drill brass, but I got a 10 pack each of 11/64 and 9/64″ short drills on eBay (I think they’re called “screw machine length” or something like that) and they drill so easily through the brass that it’s become a fun job.  I am still on the first one of each size, so I think a 10 pack will last me for many years to come.

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Then I used a Dremel tool with one of those little carving bits to cut a crescent away on the inside of each hole, on the bottom side.  This is to accommodate the end of the hook.  I am still using this same carving bit that I got with my first Dremel tool when I was 14 or so, but one of these days I will buy a new one.  The brass carves pretty easily.

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Then I sanded the hoop with 220 paper to remove the pencil marks, burrs, and bits of brass that stuck out where the drill bit came through on the inside.  The last photo is a close-up of a hole to try to show the shape.

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Then I did a little vacuuming and putting away of things and quit for the night.

 

Building banjo #44, part 3

On the 21st I got to the shop about 6 PM and worked for about three hours.  My first task was to remove the clamps from the peghead and sand it flat on the disk sander.  Then I traced the template onto it, ready to cut out.  The template and the fret position sheet shown later in this post both came from the former Bluestemstrings.com and have been very helpful to me.  I believe they are still available online but I don’t know the current address.

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Next while the neck was still squarish I put it on the Shopsmith and drilled a 5/8″ hole with a Forstner bit.  I set the table of the Shopsmith to a 3 degree tilt toward the headstock.  This should make the dowel stick come out very close to parallel to the head since the neck heel is cut to 3 degrees.

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Then I took the neck back to the bandsaw and cut the corners off to save time sanding the neck profile.  I don’t tilt the table for this job, I just carefully hold the neck at an angle. It’s pretty rough, but there’s no need for precision as long as I don’t cut too deeply into the neck.

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Then I took the neck back to the disk sander and used it to round it into a comfortable shape.  I aim for a continuous curve but I don’t use profile templates so each neck is a bit different.  I used a 1″ belt sander to shape the bass side of the neck along the first 5 frets.  Then I went back to the spindle sander and used the 2″ drum to shape the heel and peghead transitions.

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The next step was to put a dowel in the vise to hold the neck up vertically and sand it further with the random orbit sander.  I use the lamp to show any defects in the surface, and with the heel end of the neck held in place by the dowel in the mortise I can hold the peghead in my left hand and the sander in my right and rotate the neck as I sand.  I’m not trying to get the final surface here, just to remove the scratches from the sanding disk and any irregularities that remain.

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While all this was going on I was also waiting for the hot glue gun to get up to temperature.  I like to leave it plugged in for at least 20 minutes to assure that the glue is good and hot.  I ran a bead of hot glue around the edge of the particle board faceplate and stuck it to the back of the rim blank.  I’m thinking about making an aluminum faceplate instead since the particle board flakes away a bit when I pop the rim off after turning, so I have to keep replacing the faceplate after every 20 rims or so.

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Once the rim is mounted I start turning the outside down to size, and then I turn the top down till it’s flat all the way around.  Then I can check with a framing square to see if the rim walls are perpendicular and what the diameter is.  I turned it down to 12″ and then held a strip or 120 grit sandpaper against the rim while it was still spinning.

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Then I returned to the top of the rim and made a tone ring profile, and turned the inside of the rim, aiming for 5/8″ thick walls.  P1210040.JPG

Then I popped the rim off the faceplate with a chisel and took it to the spindle sander to clean up the interior.  I don’t do well at sanding the inside while it’s still on the lathe and the spindle sander makes the inside of the rim stay parallel to the outside while it’s being sanded.

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The next step was to get started on the fretboard.  I had a piece of jatoba in my box of fretboard wood that was already cut and planed to size, so I didn’t have to do that step.  I often cut and plane them in batches to save time.  I put the truss rod into the neck at this point too, just so I wouldn’t forget to put it in before gluing the fretboard on (I did that once).

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I used the helpful fret position template to lay out the fret locations on the board for a 25.5″ scale length with 17 frets.

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Then I clamped the fretboard down to the workbench and used a speed square and a fret slot saw to cut the frets.  I had cut the first 5 or so when I took the picture.  I am working on a cheap power saw setup for slotting but it is not ready for the big time yet.  I hold the speed square in my left hand and the saw in my right to cut each slot, and the square keeps the fret slots all parallel if I do it right.

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Once all the slots were cut I used my ever-faithful tomato paste can to draw the scoop.  I use it a lot when laying out necks and such too.

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Then I got out my ‘good’ router which is variable speed, and routed the scoop with a tray bit on a fairly low speed.  I have found that it burns less when I am moving the router slowly if the RPM is low.  I can’t move the router fast or I miss the line, but maybe someday I’ll get better at it.

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Then I laid the neck on the back of the fretboard and got it lined up carefully and drew around it, then I cut it out on the bandsaw.  I used a ruler to lay out the position of the 5 dots, making an x from corner to corner for the centered ones and measuring to accurately place the double dots at the 12th fret position.  I used a 1/4″ Forstner bit in the drill press to make the holes.

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I make my dots from cut off pieces of 1/4″ brass rod which are scraps from when I buy a 4′ piece and only need 39 inches or so to make a tone hoop.  I cut 50 or so at a time and keep them in a little bag, and then I can compare each hole to the assortment of dots and find ones that will be proud of the fretboard surface by a little bit but not too much.  I use #30 Stew-Mac super glue in each hole and tap the dots in with a hammer.  Then I roughly sand them down close to the surface on the disk sander with its usual 80 grit, then with the random orbit sander and a 120 grit disk, and then with a sanding block and 180 grit, working back and forth.  I give the fretboard surface a final going-over with 400 grit sandpaper to remove the scratches from the 180 and it’s ready to fret.

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I use EVO Gold fret wire on banjos with brass hardware because it sort of matches the color and also it’s supposed to wear a little better than regular nickel-silver like I use on everything else.  It comes in a coil and I find that I don’t get as good results with the arbor press with it as when I’m using straight wire, so I hammer the frets in and that way they seem to be more uniform.  I cut them off as close as I can with end cutters, always cutting in from the sides.  I find that if I cut them from top to bottom the tang gets mashed out of shape so I don’t do that.  With regular fret wire I use a pair of cutters from Stew-Mac that cut closer to the surface but they can be damaged by the EVO from what I have read.

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The next task was to dress the fret ends flush.  First I lay the board flat on the sander table and sand off the ends, and then I roll the ends against the disk to dress the fret ends to an angle so they won’t feel sharp or rough.  I try to take off just a tiny corner of the fretboard when I do this and then cut the fret tops back at about 45 degrees, and that seems to me to be the most comfortable to my hand.  P1210052.JPG

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My last activity for the night was to put masking tape over the truss rod cavity so that it runs out to about 1/16″ on either side and then glue the fretboard to the neck.  I have an ash caul that I always use for fretboards because it is hard and quite straight, and I use any pine scraps for the back of the neck cauls.  This is to keep the clamps from digging into the wood and so that if any wood gets crushed by the pressure and mis-matched shapes it will be the softer pine and not the cherry at the back of the neck.  I use the knife to hold the nut end of the fretboard down by wedging it between the top of the fretboard and the bottom of the caul.P1210054.JPG

Building Banjo #44, part 2

Since I hadn’t glued the blocks into rings the night before I did it after lunch on the 20th.  I have found that it saves time to apply glue to 6 blocks at a time.

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Then I stand them all on their non-gluey ends and start sticking them down on the piece of masking tape that I have unrolled sticky side up on the table.  This must be done fairly rapidly so that the glue doesn’t have time to run down off the ends of the blocks onto the table.

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Then I tear the tape off at the 18th block, grab the two end blocks and bring them together at the top of the circle.  This bit of the job is an illustration of the maxim “He who hesitates is lost” because if I don’t keep moving upward with the end blocks other ones will start to fall off the tape and the whole thing falls apart.  As long as it’s done quickly it’s quite easy.  Then I lay the ring on its side on the old stone slab and put the band clamp around it.  I keep each band clamp in its own container with a little piece of scrap wood from when I used to make 12 sided rims which I put under the clamp shoe so that the clamp doesn’t push the block under the ratchet out of line.  I tighten the clamp and then hit each joint with a mallet to drive them all flat against the stone and make the ring as even as possible.

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Once the ring is as flat as possible I hang it up to dry, with the tail end of the band clamp out of the way so glue doesn’t drip on it.  This process is takes longer to describe than to perform, with each ring taking about 5 minutes or a bit less to assemble.

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In the evening I worked for about two hours, mostly on the neck.  First I took it out to the loft and ran it over the jointer a few times to make a nice flat surface on the fretboard plane.

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Then I brought it back inside and sanded the fretboard surface flat on the 12″ disk sander on the end of the Shopsmith.  I don’t usually have this pile of wood between the Shopsmith and the rolling table, but it’s acclimating for a few weeks prior to being made into a dining able and a countertop.  The rest of the mess in the shop is typical for me.

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Then I made some measurements and cut off about an extra 1/8″ from the back of the neck on the bandsaw.  I like to have a little extra wood so that if I have to take more off on the jointer than I had planned it doesn’t come out too thin.  Sometimes wood will move a bit as tension releases when a board is cut, but this wood seemed very stable.

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Then I got out the big ruler which I mainly keep for necks and other jobs where I need a really straight line, and laid out the neck shape on the fretboard surface.  I usually build necks so that the center line of the blank is the 3rd string path, unless I am using a contrasting stripe.  The line to the treble side of the neck from the 3rd string path is the truss rod line.  The rest of it is just the outline of what is to be cut.

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The next stop is the bench with the woodworkers vise.  I put a straight board in the vise to act as a fence and then clamp the neck to the bench so that the truss rod line is 3″ from the fence.

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Then I plunge the router bit into the neck at the nut and make a single full-depth pass to the heel.  I have to cut from right to left when the fence is on my side of the workpiece because that way the rotation of the bit pulls the router to the fence.  If I started the cut at the heel it would pull the router away and the cut would be wavy.

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Then I tilted the bandsaw table and made a cut on each side of the heel and along the neck, removing a bit of the corner.  I just eyeball this, there are no marks needed.

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Then I drilled a 5/16″ hole for the adjustment barrel on the end of the truss rod and put the neck into the fixture for cutting the heel on the spindle sander.  It’s a pretty self-explanatory design, the cams are adjustable for different neck widths.  I got the idea from Rudy on BHO, whose website bluestemstrings.com was a big help to me.

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Then I took the neck back to the woodworker’s vise and used the router to cut the tension hoop ledge.  I followed the curve I had just made on the spindle sander.  P1200026.JPG

Then I glued the peghead ear onto the neck.  I only need one, and I got it from the piece of the neck that I cut away from the area where the 5th string isn’t, just below the peghead.  That way the color will at least match.

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I went away for an hour and when I came back I got the rings of blocks down and took the clamps and tape off them and sanded them flat on both sides.  I use a regular 4×36 belt sander with a 50 grit sanding belt and revolve the rings hand over hand on top of the sander.  Once I can see that the whole surface has been sanded I do the other side. The dust collector is hooked up so the end of the hose is near the sander and most of the dust gets picked up.

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Once all of the rings were sanded on both sides I put glue on the top of the two bottom layers, then stacked them and put them in the vise lightly so I could adjust them against each other so that they were pretty well lined up.  Then I put handscrews on and tightened the vise and left it overnight.

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Then I went back to the bandsaw and cut a slice off a piece of cherry burl and found a part of without too many voids that was big enough to make the peghead overlay.

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I cut off the excess on three sides and sanded the nut end of the overlay to an angle so that it is perpendicular to the fretboard plane.  This will help hold the nut in place.

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Then I glued the overlay onto the peghead.  The glue comes through the voids, so instead of using a caul to clamp it I just used a lot of small clamps so I could clean up some of the glue as it came through.

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Then I did some minor vacuuming and putting away of things, and quit for the night.

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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