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.


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.

faded blue

faded blue 1 faded blue 2 faded blue 3It’s been a while coming, but the blue was already faded when I started. After tinkering with a chassis punch on the flying iris I thought I’d put it to use on a bigger tin. This uke projects its hoot and holler right out front thanks to the six sound holes in the belly. She’s bound to keep the blues away.

  • tin: 255 x 100  mm, 10 x 3 7/8 in.
  • scale length: 380 mm, 15 in.
  • head to tail: 645 mm, 25 1/2 in.
  • G .010, C .015, E .011, A .008 steel loop
  • maple neck
  • paduak fret board
  • stainless fork string anchor
  • neck tie strap

Faded blue will punch right through those clouds and let the big brass sun right in, all for just $320! Drop me a line if you are interested.

faded blue from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

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 .032, E .030, 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 $260. Drop me a line if you are interested.

flying iris from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.

shaping the neck

Last episode, I finished shaping the tin. 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 $320. Contact me if you are interested.

big texas blue #2 from The Tinkers Damn on Vimeo.