flying iris

flying iris 3What? A soprano ukulele? Yes, and with nylon strings no less!

flying iris 2

flying iris 1

flying iris 4Time to branch out a bit from exclusively steel strings on concert scale ukuleles. tindeco This little Tindeco oval was aching to be an instrument but it’s size kept me away. After the requests and suggestions that I use nylon strings for a more familiar feel, I figured a li’l sorpano uke with nylon strings would fit this tin nicely. Some day soon I’ll turn out a baritone ukulele too. Meanwhile, some specs for flying iris…

  • tin: 215 x 145 x 45 mm, 8 1/2 x 5 5/8 x 1 3/4 in.
  • scale length: 330 mm, 12 3/4 in.
  • head to tail: 510 mm, 20 in.
  • G .020, C .030, E .032, A .022 Nylon
  • maple neck
  • teak fret board
  • sterling fork string anchor
  • silk neck tie strap

Flying iris is a swell little gal with a nice voice and easy on the fingers to boot! All for $300. Drop me a line if you are interested. 10% Holiday sale! Now through December 15th, just $270. Zow!

shaping the neck

For part three of how it’s made I’ll give some details of cutting and shaping the maple neck and its extension through the tin. This won’t include the fret board. That will have to wait for another episode. Even without the fret board this may be a bit long, so hold on to yer hats’n glasses! After the initial work on the band saw, table saw, and drill press this is all hand work with rasps, chisels, and sand paper. Apologies for the sharp focus on the backgrounds. One day I’ll learn to force a digital camera to focus where I want it.

neck shape 2Following the measured drawing I made way back when I planned the instrument around a particular tin, I transfer all the measurements to a plank of maple. This picture shows a neck after a rough cut on the band saw, holes drilled for tuning machines and the strap, some lengthwise cuts to narrow the head and tail, and some initial profile smoothing with the rasps. Those holes were drilled before the lengthwise trim cuts were made. The drill press makes them nice and square and tear-out is eliminated when the waste pieces are removed. Some center lines in pencil are visible here. After squaring up the neck blank and all this early work I replace any guide marks that have been cut away.

neck shape 3This is looking at the butt end of the neck where it will someday meet the tin. The brighter part in the foreground is the extension of the neck that passes all the way through the center of the tin to the string anchor at the tail. This one piece neck and extension take all the string tension. You can see the pencil line marking the intended taper where the neck will join the tin. I like to get this taper set up before shaping the middle of the neck. This sets a limit on the curve of the middle section.

neck shape 4Above is one side tapered to meet my guide marks. I’ll flip the piece over and do the other side right away. I like to take small bites on each side while checking the symmetry at every step.

Now to get my head straight. This work will help set limits on the curve of the center part of the neck too.

neck shape 5I have already trimmed the waste piece off the other side of the head. The table saw cut is set a bit wider than the finished head. I’ll have to do quite a bit of work to smooth and clean up what the table saw leaves behind.

neck shape 7Time to clean the gum off the saw blade. It got a bit hot and left some burn marks.

neck shape 8after grinding with the rat tail rasp.

neck shape 9after some chisel work to make one flush surface…

neck shape 10and several grades of sandpaper later, the head and the curve leading to the middle section of the neck are well roughed out.

neck shape 11The center section is still a tapered block itching for some relief, but first lets freshen up those guide marks.

neck shape 16If you’re not familiar with the tool pictured above, you’re missing out. It’s one of the best tools ever, a carpenter’s scribe, and I depend on it for making guide lines that are parallel to this or that edge. The tiny black rod at the Left end is a piece of graphite pencil “lead” set so it can be inched down as it wears out. That’s a thumbscrew sticking out of the block. It locks the block in any position along the roughly graduated stick.

neck shape 14Scribe in action!… marking a center line…

neck shape 15and marking a pair of “don’t cut anymore!” warning lines along the edge where the fret board will join. When the uppermost of these lines gets faint or disappears I know my curve is getting close to removing wood that I want to keep on the edge.

neck shape 17Next, I check that center line with a short straight edge and back-light. I want the center line to fit nice and tight on that straight edge. The light getting under the straight edge indicates low spots and the dark shows high spots. Hmm… needs work. I will rasp and sand carefully until I see very little light getting through, and finish by redrawing my center line.

OK, last part of this post, I swear.

neck shape 18For this bit, I like to clamp the neck to a beam that sticks out from my bench. This makes it easy to work both sides of the middle section for a uniform result.

neck shape 20This is the first of MANY cuts to make nice even facets roughing out the curved cross section of the center of the neck. Each added facet gets narrower and closer to a smooth curve as I work. Note that everything must cope with the taper from head to tail…. lots of standing back with chin scratching is in order here.

neck shape 21After making all these swell, even spaced, symmetrical facets now I must destroy them. Back in the bench vise, with raking light from my faithful swivel lamp, I look carefully for the edges of those facets, and eliminate them one by one with many grades of sand paper. Blue lines in the inset image highlight the edges of several facets visible in the photo. All these have gotta go. In addition, if you look close at the inset (you can click on the image for a closer look) there are two green arrows indicating that my “don’t cut anymore” lines are indeed still there.

neck shape 22This is getting close to a smooth curve. The raking light still shows some work to be done. I find that taking the neck out into sunlight and watching as I roll the piece in and out of shadow will point out the flaws. Curves, man… they’re finicky!

Next time, joining neck to tin. Buon legno!

big texas blue #2

big tex blue 2.3big tex blue 2.4 big tex blue 2.2I had a small windfall of Texas Bluebonnet tins from the Collin Street Bakery so I followed up the wee texas blue with a new big texas blue. It is very similar to the first one of these big tins I hammered out in June of 2013. This is the fifth ukulele I’ve built with these pretty tins and it would make a swell duet pair with the wee texas blue while she is still available (hint, hint). The history of the state of Texas plays out on the sides of this whopper and just like on the wee one, the state flower and a rudimentary map grace the lid. Big texas blue has a big ol’ voice to match a big ol’ state

  • tin: 255 x 90 mm, 10 x 3 1/4 in.
  • scale length: 380 mm, 15 in.
  • head to tail: 650 mm, 25 1/2 in.
  • G .010, C .015, E .011, A .008
  • maple neck
  • cocobolo fret board
  • sterling fork and rest
  • silk neck tie strap

She’s all yours for just $400. Contact me if you are interested. 10% Holiday sale! Now through December 15th, just $360. Zow!

completing the belly of the tin

Last episode of how it’s made I showed a bit about hammering out the bulging belly of a big cookie tin. Now I’m going to add the dimples for the bridge location and adjust the bulge so that it holds up to the string pressure.tin shape 1Here’s that big texas fruit cake tin again, now with a round belly and a concave curve all around the edge. You can still see my guide circles marked out and the little circle marking where I want the dimples for the bridge.

tin shape 3To make the dimples I set up the big vise with my plastic dimple anvil. This ABS rod works well and it was very easy to machine the dimple shape. The reverse end has a smaller pit for smaller dimples. I rest the tin over the rod, feel where the pit lines up with my guide marks, and go to work with the ball end of a small ball-peen hammer.

tin shape 5Here you can see the dimples formed nicely. Several times during this process I will rest the tin flat on the bench and look carefully at the dimples while holding a straight edge across the tin. The dimples should match in depth and be parallel to the tin edge. Creating the dimples will always change the strength of the belly arch creating weak spots that need adjusting.

This video demonstrates what I am looking to correct in this finicky part of the process. By carefully feeling around the belly surface (fingers are more sensitive to this than eyes) I can find slightly flattish spots that are weak and will pop (as heard in the video) functioning as a two position or bistable spring. These spots are trouble. I find they will have their own distinct natural frequency adding too much can noise (bark, rattle, and buzz) to the completed instrument. I do my best to eliminate these spots. In addition, I need to reinforce the area around the dimples to resist the string pressure on the bridge. Ideally the whole center of the tin belly will be rigid enough to vibrate with the string frequency while most of the flexing will occur in the concave curve around the edge of the tin.

tin shape 6
To make these fine adjustments I switch to a steel rod anvil with a rounded end. This allows me to carefully stretch small areas of the steel belly with the flat face of a medium sized ball-peen hammer. It is difficult to describe this process beyond saying it is a few hours of trial and error. I will stretch one bit then go looking for more weak spots and stretch some more. Little by little I will get to a well adjusted belly curve that rings nicely when struck with a small drum stick, has no flat spots that pop, and can take the string pressure without deforming.

tin shape 7
To test that last bit I press about as hard as I can with two fingers on the dimples and watch carefully for any crippling in the belly. The pressure should only deform the tin in the concave curve around the edge.

That completes the tin until it’s time to fit the completed neck. Next episode I will show a bit about shaping a neck.

wee texas blue

wee tex blue 3 wee tex blue1 wee tex blue2At last I am back to work and making some new instruments! I have not completed a new one since February, too many other projects and distractions. This little Texas Bluebonnet tin from the Collin Street Bakery was a fine choice for getting back to the rasps and hammers. This is the fourth ukulele I’ve built with these pretty tins. I’ve used the big ones and the medium ones, but this is my first go with a wee one. The history of the state of Texas plays out on the sides while the state flower and a rudimentary map grace the lid. She’s a big winner in a diminutive size!

  • tin: 170 x 77 mm, 6 3/4 x 3 in.
  • scale length: 380 mm, 15 in.
  • head to tail: 620 mm, 24 1/2 in.
  • G .010, C .015, E .011, A .008
  • maple neck
  • teak fret board
  • stainless fork and rest
  • silk neck tie strap

She’s all yours for just $350. Contact me if you are interested. 10% Holiday sale! Now through December 15th, just $315. Zow!

San Mateo Maker Faire 2014

I got my hands on some photos from the San Mateo Maker Faire 2014 after all. These are from May 17th.

MF2014.1

Tools! fret cutting jig, bench clamp and carpenter’s plane, fret press, ball-peen hammer, curved anvil, and sample tins in the process of shaping.

I was not presenting as a commercial maker this time so I did not bring instruments to sell. Instead, I focused on providing sample instruments, encouraging people to try strumming a uke or sliding on a canjo, and I laid out some of my tools to help answer the universal question, “How do you make these?”
MF2014.2Lots of people went away smiling after hearing tuna cans and cookie tins make marvelous twangy music, and a few may have been inspired to try their hand at making a hillbilly instrument of their own.

MF2014.3If you have never been to the Maker Faire or have never heard of it, you are sure to have more opportunities. The San Mateo event happens every May and there are more and more Maker Faire events around the world every year. Interested in seeing what your crazy creative neighbors are cooking up? Then have look at what’s been happening and what’s coming up. There are events in New York, Detroit, and Kansas City just to name a few in the U.S. Yes, the bug has spread internationally too. Paris, Trondheim, Tokyo, Istanbul, São Paulo, and Oaxaca have all had Maker Faires so look for one near you.

SLO Mini Maker Faire 2014

SLO MMF 2014.1 The second annual San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Faire has come and gone and a couple of instruments left the “available for sale” category. There were lots of impromptu ukulele lessons and canjo sessions.
SLO MMF 2014.2 There were paper sculptures, a frisbee chucking bot, and shrinky-dinks among the many activities and demonstrations.
SLO MMF 2014.3 The following weekend I traveled to San Mateo for the big Maker Faire. It was two whole days of surprising people with the sound that can come out of a hillbilly instrument. I am happy to say that lots of folks left the Tinkers Damn booth smiling. My special lady friend did not come along for the big show so I am short on photos, folks. Here’s a video that gives a drone’s view of some of the Faire. If you’ve never attended it will give a little taste of how big the event is.
SLO MMF 2014.4If you want to see more of the SLO event, have a look at the iFixit SLO Maker Faire video (and though it makes me writhe in pain to see myself on tape, it includes a short clip of me and the cans.) A couple of the Faire volunteers jumped right in to ukulele lessons and did so much to spread the magic to more of the Faire visitors than I could have ever done on my own. Sorry for all the cut off heads here and above (I prefer to avoid showing faces of people who have not given the go to use their likeness on the interwebs).

It’s Official!

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I’ll be sharing my instruments, tools, and methods at the San Mateo Maker Faire May 17th and 18th. Tinkers Damn is exhibit #20264. In addition, I’ll be at the San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Faire May 10th. I’ll have a very limited number of instruments available for sale at the San Luis Obispo event, but I will not be selling instruments in San Mateo. I’ll be far too busy demonstrating how to make your own instrument and giving beginning lessons on the ukulele and canjo.

If you live on the central coast, I can’t encourage you enough to join us for the San Luis Obispo Mini Maker Faire. Last year was a swell time, the event isn’t nearly as overwhelming as the big show in San Mateo, and it’s free!

If you are a tinker, maker, or thinker, the Maker Faire in San Mateo is two whole days of creativity overload and probably worth the trip from just about anywhere in North America. I’m just about to pee myself with excitement that I get to participate this year. Get your tickets before you get to the gate! Don’t miss it!

black rose

black rose 1 black rose 2 black rose 3Boy, I tell ya, I am starting to really like these medium size tins for concert scale ukuleles. They work like a charm. I suppose I will have to start working the big 10 inch tins into baritone ukuleles instead. Don’t miss the wild colors of the polka-dot liner inside this silk neck-tie strap. You can just see the pattern peeking out of the right side of the top photo. The mottled patina in the steel of the cookie tin bottom gives black rose a world-wise personality, and the fleurs-de-lis on the tin and arm rest give her a mild, regal bearing. She’s a special gal!

  • tin: 185 x 65 mm, 7 1/4 x 2 1/2 in.
  • scale length: 380 mm, 15 in.
  • head to tail: 620 mm, 24 1/2 in.
  • G .010, C .015, E .011, A .008
  • maple neck
  • cocobolo fret board
  • stainless fork and rest
  • silk neck tie strap

Sorry folks, Black Rose was sold at the San Luis Obispo Maker Faire, May 10, 2014. We had a really swell volunteer for the day who picked up a uke for the first time at the Faire. She learned a few chords from me and many more plus a few songs from other uke players who happened by. By the time she had to go for the day she was ready to make this uke her own. If our volunteer is reading this… thank you so much for all the help and enthusiasm getting other people to try out an instrument and I hope your new instrument brings years of strumming.