The Beat Box

It’s time for me to get my application in for the 2016 San Mateo Maker Faire. I’ve participated in a few previous Faires and this year I thought I’d add something to my usual offering of cookie tin ukuleles and other instruments. If all goes as planned (and they like my proposal) I’ll be at the Faire in May with a peddler’s cart that will transport several instruments and provide a little treadle powered down beat.

The Beat Box from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

In the video I demonstrate my first two crude cam sets that play a waltz and a shuffle. I hope to fit up four sets to knock out a variety of beats. So far this is like playing along with a bad drummer, but I’m getting better at it. The cart rolls nicely on the two wheels like a garden wheel barrow, and when it is tipped up on end (as seen in the video) it will display my instruments and offer its wonky rhythm. The wheels, bearings, and sprockets were scavenged from a kids bike a neighbor was about to chuck in the trash. Some of the wood box is left over molding from a frame shop and the shafts are from my lifetime collection of dumpster gold.

There are many improvements and tweaks in the works; including fitting up the inside of the cart to secure the instruments for travel, painting the exterior, improving the cam sets, and adding more mass to the fly wheel. Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

blue flake lap steel

Indeed, here it is, in all its chunky squared off glory and all its slinky-slidey twang! It’s my first go at building a baritone scale lap steel ukulele, and I am having too much fun. Now I just need to learn to play the dern thing. Yes, I know that’s a mouth full. Learning to play a lap steel – and doing it well – is no small task.

lap steel blue flake 2

lap steel blue flake 1

lap steel blue flake 3

As I mentioned in my previous post, this instrument is the direct descendant of a big kid-safe lap steel I knocked out just before the San Mateo Maker Faire. Regardless of my questionable skills playing this wingnut I’m sure it won’t be that last one I build.

  • tin: 230 x 76 mm, 9 x 3 in.
  • scale length: 520 mm, 20 1/2 in.
  • head to tail: 760 mm, 30 in.
  • G .024, C .018, E .015, g .013 plain steel loop end
  • squarish profile maple neck
  • teak fret board
  • stainless fork string anchor

While I’ll be sad to see it go if this one is snapped up, you should certainly contact me if you are interested in sliding on the blue flake on your own back porch. I don’t have a price on this one as it is till a work in progress. I have been fooling around with adding a carbon mic and a piezo pickup. Someday soon I’ll update the photos and demo to show off the wacky electronics.

Blue Flake Lap Steel from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

big pink lap steel

Just a week before the big to-do in San Mateo this year I whipped up a big lap steel instrument to have something for the kids to whomp on.

big pink lap steel 2 string
With fat solid steel strings, a neck cut out of a 2×4, and pegs that require a wrench to tune, I knew it would keep the kids busy with nothing to break. The original, above, had only two strings and the tin was flat so it barked quite a bit when the strings were plucked. There is a bit of me fiddling with the beastie at the beginning of the video from the Faire.

I had so much fun with it at the Maker Faire I decided to make some improvements when I got home.

big pink lap steel 1

The revamped instrument has a shaped tin body for better resonance and no bark, an 80cm scale, and four strings for more snaky slidey fun.

big pink lap steel from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

Naturally this led right into building a baritone ukulele scale lap steel! That bit of fun will be in the next post.


And now for my second soprano ukulele with nylon strings and a supercalifragilistic coordinated theme!gondola3Yes folks, it’s all gondolas all the time.gondola1 gondola2gondlolas on the back gondola backa fero da prorà on the head stock gondola headgondolas bobbing along the sides gondola sideand gondolas on the silk neck tie strap! Expialidocious or what? gondola strapHold on to your socks! Jeannie may just puff out of that bottle on the strap and whisk you off to Venice in a hula skirt.

  • tin: 210 x 50 mm, 6 1/4 x 2 in.
  • scale length: 330 mm, 13 in.
  • head to tail: 550 mm, 21 3/4 in.
  • G .025, C .036, E .032, A .021 nylon
  • maple neck
  • padauk fret board
  • silver plate fork string anchor and arm rest
  • silk neck tie strap

Gondola-la is a one of a kind ensemble. The stars will never line up like this again. She’s all yours for $360. Get on board or send a message in a bottle if you are interested.

gondola-la from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

San Mateo Maker Faire 2015

Tinkers Damn spent two and a half days at the San Mateo Maker Faire this May. It was quite a hubbub once again.


go go canjoFor next year I will have to come up with some way to close up shop and take an hour break in the middle of the day.

the crowdThe crowd can be overwhelming, but I still had a ball.

obstreperousYes, the young’uns were indeed obstreperous…

canjo kids but many of them had a grand time picking out a tune.

playerThe adults had a fine time as well. Here’s a short clip of me plucking the lap steel (more about that below) and playing “Freight Train” on old electric blue.

San Mateo MF 2015 from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

There’s a slew more photos on Flickr if you just can’t get enough. As usual, many thanks to mrs. a-go-go for being the shutter bug. See you next year, San Mateo! Thanks for having us.

Regarding the lap steel, I whipped that monster up just a few days before the show. It is far from perfect but it gave me another durable instrument to put in front of the kids. It’s not much to play but I had fun with it and I swear I am going to revamp it soon. Stay tuned for a post on the lap steel’s rebirth! Maybe I can get some of the distortion out of it and put enough strings on to get some real steel fun out of it.

big red baritone



bigred3Big red, and a baritone, no less! My first go at a baritone scale ukulele used a 10 inch snowflake tin with the same art design as big green, a concert ukulele from some time ago. The similarities end there. Big red has a 520 mm scale length and a voice that is an octave lower. For my own convenience big red is strung and tuned in a typical ukulele GCEA so I can play it without fussing to learn the chords for the standard baritone ukulele tuning of DGBE. If there is anyone out there interested in big red and would prefer DGBE I would certainly be amenable to swap in a set of strings for that tuning. Meanwhile, I am getting a kick out of the deeper voice and I am sure I’ll be using the big ten inch tins for more baritones to come.

  • tin: 250 x 90 mm, 9 7/8 x 3 1/2 in.
  • scale length: 520 mm, 20 1/2 in.
  • head to tail: 780 mm, 30 1/2 in.
  • G .022 wound, C .032 wound, E .026 wound, A .018 plain steel loop
  • or for a standard baritone tuning: D .030 wound, G .022 wound, B .017 plain, E .012 plain steel loop
  • maple neck
  • teak fret board
  • stainless fork string anchor
  • silk neck tie strap

Get this low down ukulele all for just $320! It’s all about the bass so drop me a depth charge if you are interested.

big red from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

5 hours of work in 1 minute 15 seconds

5 hours of work in 1 minute 15 seconds from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

I started a new tin yesterday and had the thought that I should film the process just after I started working on the center bulge. The work took about 5 hours and I shot a total of about 10 minutes of video. That was edited and sped up to make 1 and a quarter minutes. Whee!

Notes for the curious: There are lots of bits missing. I did not film much of the time I spent looking for soft spots and fixing them up. Why am I tapping on the tin along the way? To make it ring and show how the sound changes. By the end the tin rings with something closer to one note, kind of like a gong, rather than clunking like a can. At the very end you can see me press down on the dimples to test the stiffness of the center and the flex of the perimeter. If you want to know more, have a look at part one and part two of the how it’s made posts.

This was fun to edit. I may have caught the bug to make a film like this for the other parts of the process.

fitting the neck, cutting the tin

In the last episode of how it’s made, I finished shaping a maple neck. Now it’s time to fit that neck to the cookie tin. neck fit 1 Here you can see the maple neck, blank fret board (in lovely red padauk), and the tin with its shaped belly. Note the long tail end of the neck. This will fit all the way through the tin body and will support the string anchor at the butt end. The neck angle relative to the tin body has already been set by the angle of the maple shoulder where the neck will meet the tin. neck fit 2The neck will fit across inside the tin something like what you see above. Note that the butt end has some excess length. This excess will be trimmed to fit later.

neck fit 3To get the neck through the tin I need a rectangular hole in the side that will line up with the guide marks I made way back when I was shaping the tin. With a ruler and a carpenter’s square I will extend that fading horizontal sharpie line down the side of the tin.

neck fit 4The tin above is resting on a handy scrap of 2×4 (indicated by the big arrow). I clamp that scrap 2×4 in a vise with enough sticking out fit inside the tin to support this part of the work. Above you can see the sharpie guide marks I have laid out for cutting a rectangular hole with tabs in the side of the tin. These marks may not yet make sense, but bear with me. The small arrow points to the outline of what will become one of the tabs that will be bent inward to form the edge of the rectangular hole.

neck fit 5I use a standard box cutter knife with a fixed blade to push through the sheet metal into the supporting 2×4 scrap. I work through the metal with an old school can-opener-like motion and lots of downward pressure. I do not try to draw the blade along as though cutting paper. Yes, the bade is immediately dull. Yes, the razor tip will break. Yes, I wear eye protection. Like Norm, I ALWAYS wear eye protection. If you don’t have yours on right now while just reading about forcing a box cutter through sheet metal you should put on a pair of goggles without further fuss.

Ahem… In the image above, I have cut through the T shape at the top of the opening. I will continue cutting (or can opening) along the red dots.

neck fitThe three tabs, two at the sides and one at the short end, disappear into shadow but you get the idea. I will finish up bending the tabs to form a nice rectangular opening using some duck bill pliers.

That’s all for now. Next time I’ll get into trimming the butt end of the neck and getting the shoulder to fit snug to the tin. Buon metallo.

Gene-Gene the Dancing Machine!

Go For It!

Eugene Patton, the Dancing Machine, April 25, 1932-March 9, 2015.

Gene was infectious! Gene was on fire! Gene was the best ever!

He’s gone now, and another light has gone out. He had not been dancing (on his feet at least) in a while, and had not been on television since I was kid (unless you’re a game show network junky), but whenever I hear Count Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” I am compelled to get up and do a shuffle.

You doubt what I say? Why, when Gene hit the stage women would fling their shirts off in glee! People would throw things! And Chuck would pee his pants!

Ah, it was the best of times. We miss you Gene. Ask Gabriel to learn a Basie tune or two.