Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life.

Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life. Sunset at Telegraph Point.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Building a Ukulele - Part 2 - Cutting The Timber For The Back and Sides

I have a single board of sassafras that I want to use for the back and sides.  This means that it will need to be ripped across its width to create a bookmatched pair for the back, and another pair for the sides.
So - four pieces needed.
Ripping veneer sized sheets on a bandsaw takes a little care.

Here I have just finished the first cut, and the second is under way.
I have designed a shaped pushstick that also holds the timber against the fence.  This is vital for the last few inches of the cut, to protect one's fingers.

Normally I would dress the new side surface before cutting, but I had so little spare timber to work with, that I widened the cut just a little more and crossed my fingers.

For the last cut, I reversed the board and used the other dressed side against the fence.

Here are the first two straight off the saw.
This was very, very slow work - one millimetre at a time, but I was pleased with the result.
Plenty of extra work ahead to remove the saw marks and bring down to finished thickness.

OK - preliminary smoothing has given me enough timber to choose from.  The thought occurred to me that there might be enough for a sassafras soundboard as well.  I'll check that out next time.

Laminating The Neck

While the bandsaw is still humming, I'll cut the laminations for the neck, and get those glued up and put aside while I address the next stage of the body.

Here, I have drawn a rough outline of the neck on the side in chalk.  A piece of rosewood separates the other two pieces of the neck and these will be glue-laminated together.

The rosewood needed straightening.  My good old Stanley number 7 jointer made short work of that.  It has a Sargent blade - a little bit thicker than the equivalent Stanley, and excellent steel.

This is a neck blank freshly glued.  I use old scrap melamine for cauls here, as the plastic surface resists the glue very well.  The neck blank looks too wide at this stage because it is the width of the head. The headstock is integral to the neck, and not scarf jointed onto it as is sometimes the case.  The whole neck will be shaped when it dries.

The fretboard will glue to the top and cover the laminations, but they will be visible from the back.  I intend to make more than one ukulele, so I have glued up a few laminated necks.  Quicker to do as a batch lot.

Things are going to slow down a bit now as I have to build a mould and work out a method of bending the sides as well.

It has been fun so far ..............

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Building a Ukulele - Part 1 - Timber Selection & Layout

My first Ukulele - here goes ..................

I've been ruminating on this for weeks now, and it's time to make a start.  After much research, and not a little searching for appropriate timber, I'm actually in the starting blocks and ready to go.

Since this is my first Uke, I am going to treat the whole build as a learning experience.  Join with me and watch the progress and the mistakes as we travel this luthiered road together.

Timber Selection

I have acquired some very nice timber for the project(s) but have decided to keep the better pieces for later builds, in case I stuff up badly on the first attempt. 
Some tonewoods that I have acquired for the tops and the body includes:
  • Huon Pine
  • King Billy Pine
  • Tasmanian Myrtle
  • Tasmanian Blackwood
  • Black Heart Sassafras
Here's what I'm going to be using this time around:

The soundboard will be western red cedar.  These pieces have been ripped down from some ship-lap boards from my brother in law's kitchen - left over after his recent renovation.  They are very old and nicely quarter sawn.

The fretboard, headstock and bridge will be made of Australian rosewood.  As this is my first ukulele, I am bound to make some mistakes in the build.  Better to do that with less exotic timbers, and save the good stuff for later ukeuleles.

Just to refresh your memory on uke nomenclature here is a quick revision:

The back and sides will be ripped from some figured sassafras, and the neck will be made up of some laminated straight grained sassafras as well.

The linings will be made from paulonia - because I found a piece in the woodpile - and it is light and should prove quite satisfactory.

Making The Linings

Linings are the curved strips that adhere to the sides and assist the gluing of the soundboard and the back of the ukulele.  These can be purchased from music suppliers, but I decided to make my own.

I'll use the table saw, and this is what I will end up with before cutting into strips:

To get to this point, I made up a little jig which is screwed to the mitre gauge.  It is simply a pin hammered into the face of the mitre gauge - 5mm from the cut line.

The cuts are made in the surface of the piece of paulonia so that they leave about 1/8 of the thickness remaining.  These multiple kerfs allow the linings to be bent, to follow the curves of the sides of the ukulele.

After each cut, the kerf that has just been made is placed over the pin, and the cut repeated 5mm away.  This continues until the board is mostly kerfed.  There will be a small amount at the end that won't be done, as it is too small to be supported by the mitre gauge - and too dangerous to attempt without it.

Once the kerfing is complete, I cut this kerfed board into thin strips on my bandsaw.

Here are the finished linings:

The linings are easy to bend, and will be put aside until the body assembly stage of construction.

Next step will be to rip the pieces of sassafras for the sides and back.  That will have to wait until next time.

This is going to be fun ...... can't wait ........

...... and happy woodworking to all ....................

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cheap Chinese Chisels - Good Value - Or Just Plain Junk?

A Small Review

They are multi-branded and ubiquitous - racked on shelves in discount stores, bundled in hundreds at Sunday Markets, sold on the internet by the thousands, and packaged in boxes at every hardware store in the country.

I have seldom even given them time of day - let alone taken them seriously.  Funny how end of financial year sales can trigger a person's consciousness to think in a completely different way.

I was in our local big green hardware store last week (because it has a toilet and ........ never mind!) and I had to pass the GOING CHEAP sales trolley.  There it was - a box of Trojan bevelled edge bench chisels for $15.

How bad could they be?

Now, a set of five Veritas bench chisels sells for $295 plus freight, and a set of five Lie Nielsens is $340.  A set of six Ultimax Harold and Saxons will set you back $750.

For less than $4 each, these seemed insanely priced - even if they were junk.  If that turns out to be the case, I could always use them to open paint tins.

To say that my expectations of these chisels were low, is almost akin to the hopes that supporters have for the success of the Parramatta Eels and the Western Sydney Giants this year.

So, off to the checkout to part with some small change. 
You know that these have a lifetime warranty quipped the checkout chap.
Yeah, sure, as soon as they break, their lifetime is over - thought I as I walked out the door.

Here's what was in the box - four bevelled edge chisels sized 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and 1 inch.  On the front - precision ground for easy cutting ......!   Hmmm, the grinding might be precise, but it was done with a fairly coarse grinder - look at those striations on the back of the blade.

So, first task will be to flatten the backs of all four chisels.

Here was the first surprise - the backs were all quite flat and didn't need much to remove the grind marks. Only the area closest to the edge of the blade needs immediate attention, the rest will get flattened over the course of the chisels' sharpening lives.

The bevels that create the cutting edge were indeed precision ground, and merely needed a touch up on the fine oilstone, followed by a honing on a hard white arkansas stone.  In both cases I use a kerosene/oil mix of 3/1 for lubrication.

The handles are made from red polycarbonate, and can take a beating.  There is a black rubberised material on both sides to aid hand use and provide grip.  The blade has a type of socketted tang connection to the handle, which is moulded onto it.

The handle flares just before the blade, and also has a built in hollow for the thumb.  This works equally well with the left or the right hand.  I am right handed, and when I used the chisels for paring, they felt very comfortable - the design obviously works.

Sadly, I discovered the hard way that the side edges of the back of the blade were quite sharp - a by product of the precision grinding no doubt.  Nevertheless, while paring, it is my custom to support the blade in my left hand and slide it forwards into the cut with my right.  My left index finger sported a band-aid for the rest of the day.

All of the blades need the edges relieved on the oilstone to prevent this occuring again.

So - how good are they?

An easy test that anyone can perform on a sharpened chisel - is to see how well it handles the paring of end grain.  I tried paring blackbutt, rose gum, spongy pine, and even western red cedar.  These latter two are likely to simply fold under dull chisels.  No trouble at all.  Above is a sample series of cuts in black wattle - like a hot knife through butter.

They even come with plastic blade guards to keep them sharp and protect one's fingers.

Will these chisels slice through jarrah and gidgee all day - don't know - probably not, but what chisels will.  I usually don't use those timbers, and neither do the majority of woodworkers, I'd venture to suggest.  For the kinds of woodworking that most of us do, most of the time, these chisels will not only be fine, they will perform very well.

Clearly they aren't junk - if anything they are an absolute bargain - even at full retail price.  On sale, they are a steal, and they would not be out of place in any workshop, or as a set in a mobile tool chest.

...... and happy woodworking to all ........

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Woodwork in Southern China - Old and New Part 3

It is hard to be a woodworker on holiday, and not notice aspects of woodworking wherever one looks.  Not so much a case of can't see the wood for the trees, more like missing the bigger picture because of the details.

But I simply couldn't help myself.

Traditional pinned through-tenon construction.

Here is an excellent example.

There are dozens of woodwork features in this Miao dwelling and the wall is a wooden wonder, but for some reason, all I saw were the pinned through-tenons.  And they kept popping up as a tried and true method of joinery.

Here they are again featured in the granary buildings that store the village rice.  Because a high percentage of the village is made of timber, fire is a major worry.

The granaries are protected somewhat by being situated above water, and this is also meant to deter rodents.

Even the granary doors are held locked by a combination of through tenon joinery, and a wedge.

More through tenons here. The corn is from last year's harvest and has been dried under the wide eaves.  It is used to feed the animals.

Here the lads are assembling a window frame.  Yep - you guessed it - double through tenons.  This was taking place in the late afternoon.  By early next morning, the masonary wall had been partly demolished and the window was in place.

Even in the cities, the older buildings  have a well worn charm about them.
This is something that newer constructions have tried to emulate.  Often, though, there seems to  be an underlying principle of enhancing new construction so that .........too much is barely enough ...

Southern China is such a fabulous place, with so much ethnic diversity.  This is reflected in all aspects of the cultures of the region - only one of which is the woodwork.
But what a feast for the senses of everyone who loves wood ......

Love life .... and live........

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Woodwork in Southern China - Old and New Part 2

On the Tibetan Plateau, summers are short and the winters are very cold, with deep snow.
The wet season is late this year.
Note the trees!

 I was surprised to find that wood is a most common material for building houses.  A traditional house has two floors and a loft.  The ground floor is for housing the animals - essential in winter - while the second floor is living space.  Most commonly, this is two large rooms separated by a foyer cum store room, which houses the steps up to the loft.

One room is the kitchen - dining - lounge, while the other is a multi-purpose room which also acts as a bedroom. Bedding is stacked away against the walls during the day, leaving lots of floor space.

The loft is bedded  with earth for insulation, and is used for storage of fodder for the winter. It is open at one end and is also used for drying materials including clothing.

The houses often have a front walled courtyard and gate - like this one being built by the owners.  Up to three generations will share the one home.  We found the people to be engaging and wonderfully hospitable.

Rammed earthen walls - much like Australian pise, or Mexican adobe - frame the courtyard.  These need a small roof to prevent erosion.  The lads are building this in the left of the picture.  Below is a view from the outside.

Note the extra wide eaves on the house roof to protect the walls.
This end also has the opening to the loft.

Of course, with the rise of tourism in all areas of China, changes are happening to traditional building.  The tourists are ninety nine percent Chinese who are travelling within their own country.  Westerners, like us, make up a very small proportion of visitors.

And so some of the new houses are fancier, and the ground floor rooms are for guests. There are also many more windows. Cop an optic on those pillars.  Brought from the deep forests far away.

Here is some sub floor detail showing the carpentry involved.  Timbers are almost exclusively native pine or fir.  There are spruce forests, but I did not recognise spruce timber used in construction.  That is not to say that it isn't used, just that I didn't see any.

We were lucky enough to walk in the spruce forests - way up high.  They are stunningly beautiful.

 I cannot get over the genuine beauty and warmth of the people that we encountered in Southern China.  They are gentle, hard working folk with a fabulous sense of humour.  We made many friends here.

Love life ..... and live ...............

Friday, June 8, 2012

Woodwork in Southern China - Old and New - Part 1

The love of my life (LOML) and I have had the good fortune to have spent some weeks of holiday in Southern China.  What a remarkable country, with beautiful people and stunning scenery.  Among the thousands of memories that we brought home with us are some images showing a glimpse of traditional and modern woodworking in its many forms - Chinese style.

 Southern China is not on the mainstream western tourist trail, and includes numerous groups of people from China's ethnic minorities.  In this sense it may not be totally representative of Chinese culture as a whole, but it is all the more interesting because of that.

So - just to be clear - we did not see any of the following:
  • Great Wall of China
  • Terra-cotta Warriors of Xian
  • Yangtse River Cruise
  • Bejing
  • Shanghai
What we did see and experience, was the warmth and hospitality of  beautiful people, who love their families, friends and their country - and love life above all.

Everywhere we went, there was a hive of construction activity ranging from national infrastructure - roads, highways, high speed train lines etc, down to house building and restorations of existing buildings.  Here is a snapshot.

Freedom of religious expression in China has led to the re-building of those temples and churches damaged during the Cultural Revolution - and the attention to detail is breathtaking.

Anyone who is a woodworker will appreciate, the skill and dedication needed to re-produce fine work on such a large scale.

In every town and city,  old buildings are being restored and preserved. Here are two on opposite corners in the city of Kunming.

On the left, a restored building - while on the right an original doctor's surgery and pharmacy first established in 1857.  Inside, there are consulting rooms and an on-the-spot herbal pharmacy.  Note the wall of herb cupboards and drawers in the background.

Out in the countryside, there are many combinations of traditional design and contemporary practice - with very pleasing results.

The tools and techniques would be very much at home in any woodworkers workshop.  The quick fix fence on the jointer is held in place with two nails.

I saw no evidence of A2 or M2 steels in the tools used, no cryo-treated blades, no high end big name manufacturers' tool labels, and spartan toolkits that make those of western home hobbyists, look palatial by comparison.  Yet the results speak for themselves.

 Look carefully at this picture and you will see three tools from everyday use - chain saw, tape measure and bow saw.  Somewhere out of shot there is a bandsaw, which slabs the timbers for lumber, and the evidence of volumes of work lies on the ground around about.

For simpler buildings these are all that seem to be needed.

Here is an animal shelter - completely weatherproof, with a bark roof held in place with tree-nails - we might call them wooden dowels.

I have so much more to share from this trip, but this will do for the moment.  Woodworking is so universal, that it can be found wherever we look. Southern China is no exception.

 It is great to be back sharing my own peculiar outlook on all that is wood - and other perspectives .....
.........and happy woodworking to all ................