Category Archives: Musical Instruments

Mandolins for WinterGrass 2014

I'm finishing up 4 of this batch, trying to get them finished and played a bit before the WinterGrass festival in Bellevue, Washington at the end of February. Two with sitka spruce tops and two with redwood. The redwood tops are from one piece of wood, one with "f" holes and the other with an oval hole. These two instruments are matched pretty closely so we can compare these two styles of mandolin. Of course the oval has a different bracing, with an X brace. We'll see how they sound. 

X-Brace on Redwood, ready to trim down to size

X-Brace on Redwood, ready to trim

Update: We are having a great time at Wintergrass 2014. At the last minute, John Bear showed up and he and Ren helped me get three mandolins ready for the weekend. I brought one with a sitka top and two redwood topped mandolins. One with "f" holes and one with an oval hole, both redwood tops cut from the same piece of wood. The last one was strung up right in the booth on Thursday night and all are settling in nicely. It's has been so dramatic how much they change in those first few hours of playing. I love being able to sit back and listen to my instruments being played by all these very different players. I can really hear how each instrument and wood type projects out into the room.  

New Batch 2014

I'm working on 5 new mandolins right now. Wintergrass is coming up at the end of next month so I've got to stay on task. The Redwood topped mando that I made last year sold, and there have been several requests for others like it and an oval hole model. A woodworking/art school friend, Chris Schambacker gave me some beautiful very wide planks of old redwood he has been hauling around for many years. I ripped them down on my 18" bandsaw and got two tops out of each piece. Nice! I'm making two closely matched instruments out of those pieces. One with my standard "F" holes and one with an oval hole design. Can't wait to get these completed and hear what they sound like. Finally

Gluing solid kerfling

Gluing solid kerfling



Paduk, Ebony and Zeracote Fretboards



5 necks and neck joints ready to go.

the dreary winter cloud cover has settled in, although we really need some snow up in the Cascades to store up our water supply for next summer. 

Carving the Top

I'm working on a new oval hole, two point mandolin prototype and I want everyone to see the process I go through. So I'm shooting video on my iPhone showing my mandolin construction process and sharing it with you as I move along. I don't think of these videos as instructional just a look into my process. There are many techniques that woodworkers and instrument makers use and my why of doing something is by no  means the only way. 

The first installment shows carving an arched mandolin top plate out of a single piece of sitka spruce. I've had this piece for a couple years and I'm finally getting around to using it. I rough out the shape with a good, sharp chisel and then use various power sanders to get the basic curves. A flexible scraper helps finalize the curves with hand sanding along the way. Sorry I didn't get shots of carving the inside and establishing the thicknesses of the top... maybe next time.  

 In the next video I'll glue the top to the ribs.  

Later, Sam

Fan the Flame

Many years ago, when I was young and in art school, sprewing up our waxes, burning out the molds, melting bronze in the furnace and pouring the glowing molten bronze was a highlight of the college quarter. When we knocked off the "ludo" to reveal the solid casting inside, it felt like Christmas. I'm not making large sculptures anymore, but my mandolins need tailpieces so I'm trying to remember all the details of casting bronze. 


I made a little furnace from fire-brick and looked online for burner designs. That was fun, the flame kept back burning into the burner until I got the air intake right. A little hair drier blower really got the thing going and the bronze was over 2000 degrees in 25 minutes.




The casting went OK, but didn't get up into the vents all the way so the tailpiece will get melted back down and the bronze used again. After I get the bugs worked out of the design I'll cast several at a time. Here I'm just cleaning off the investment from the rough piece. There is something ancient and magic about melting metal and turning it into something unique and beautiful.  



Fresh Shellac

I mixed up three different colors of shellac last night, pale blonde an orange amber and a dark ruby red. This is a great old school finish for all types of woodwork. I even put it on tweed Instrument cases to give them a little patina. What did Bruce call it? Moonshine and bug spit, what could be better than that.