Up to my neck

With the English walnut uke having gotten its first coat of finish…
it’s time to get busy shaping the neck. The black lines in English walnut are called “marblecake”, in case you want to work that into your conversations.
The key to good shaping for me is raking light, as the following photos show. Good or bad, the shape jumps out, and even a single stroke of a fine file makes a clear change.

It makes for cool textures too:

For complex locations like the heel, I often hold the light in one hand and the tool in the other, moving the light back and forth to examine every bit of the surface.

In this photo I’ve just cut in the facet on the right with a carving chisel–which takes two hands, so the light is on a stand nearby.

The wide net of J. R. R. Tolkien

I’ve been thinking about this wood for a long time:

One thing keeps coming to mind–Mordor. Anyone else feel it? The volcano palisander in previous posts does too. 
Yes? Mt Doom perhaps? 
And this: 
Orcs painted for battle (…work with me here).
Admittedly, I re-read the Lord of the Rings this year, but I don’t see Sauron’s eye in the clouds or orcs in the grills of cars (think Target commercials). Nonetheless, these bring to mind Mt. Doom, Barad-Dur, the Misty Mountains, Cirith Ungol, Frodo’s troubled dreams. Orthanc too, so I guess it’s not just Mordor. 
It’s an odd association for ukuleles, but one that’s been calling. Running with the idea, though at the risk of trauma to LOTR fans, I freely adapt Tolkien’s ring inscription to my own sensibilities about life and music: 
One love to rule them all,
One love to find them,
One love to bring them all,
and in the music bind them. 

I feel that love is the core “energy” of life in all its fantastic diversity. Music (also amazingly diverse) springs out of love as a powerful force to join (bind) us; to catalyze connections, community, gratitude, and, in a great circle–or ring, if I may–love.

No doubt this is ripe for psychoanalysis, as well as accusations of extreme sappiness and fuzzy-headed thinking; but sappiness seems quite fitting for a woodworker, while fuzzy-headed is merely accurate;-).

Eugene UKEtoberfest – the auction

I will be bringing an ukulele stand to the UKEtoberfest auction; it’s time to start thinking about it. My design process usually starts with the wood, and while winding through the thickets of planks around the shop these jumped out as candidates:

(Those who compulsively check the backgrounds of photos will notice that the humidity was 43% in the shop today–just right.)
From the left: curly and colorful Oregon black walnut; a tall plank of extra curly bigleaf maple with a few burl patches and unusually fine texture; a narrow plank of curly eastern black walnut, and finally a chunk of Cuban mahogany on the bench top. 
Cuban gets the nod for rarity and historical lineage–it was the glory wood of the Chippendale furniture era, and has been commercially “extinct” for over 200 years. This piece is from Florida, where folks with special permits can harvest trees that have blown down in storms. It carves like a dream, and the orange-brown tones and deep luster are yummy. 
Walnuts are rich–for many, walnut is the color wood ought to be. The Oregon walnut is so…Eugene;-) – colorful, expressive, free-spirited next to the eastern walnut, which seems by comparison reserved, even thoughtful. Here’s some western walnut: 
Finally, the bigleaf maple. Another highly lustrous wood, the curl on this tree looks positively 3-D once it has finish on it. The back side has some burled texture, which could be interesting, though I’m not sure how to work it in. “Reserved” is not a term that leaps to mind for figured maple like this, here combined with koa in jewelry box: 
Decisions, decisions. If you have opinions feel free to drop me a note. 

UKEtoberfest – under the hood

A few behind the scenes images as UKEtoberfest draws closer.

Record keeping. These notes satisfy the curious, but also help a luthier in the future should the instrument be damaged.

The silking on this Carpathian spruce top is lovely. “Silking” refers to the hazy gently waving lines that are roughly right angles to the growth rings, going up/down in this pic. They are the trees ray cells, and their prominence indicates nice quartersawn wood.

Next, a shout out to the good friend who ordered me back to lutherie. I resisted, but Tom was right.
Those small holes will index on pin in the neck block to align the top perfectly, and will be covered by the fingerboard. The centerline is marked in pencil because the joint is virtually invisible, a combination of preparation with an ultra sharp hand plane and the use of hide glue, which shrinks and pulls together as it dries.
This view shows how the end block is beveled to provide a bit more free vibrating surface on the all important top plate. The block itself is baltic birch plywood, a very high quality material that will prevent splitting if someone bangs the end of the instrument on the strap pin or pickup jack.
The red clamps below are mashing together (laminating) pau ferro and curly european maple, which will become bindings after I slice them with my sushi knife. Or bandsaw. It took an inordinate amount of time to find a plank that would yield bindings to compliment the English walnut and Scottish beech that establish the dominant colors of this uke. You can see in the foreground where I spot-applied finish to the plank in order to preview the color.
Coming together nicely. I love this spalted beech! Spalting (the black lines and mottled colors) comes from fungi setting up shop in the wood; as competing colonies grow and meet each other they secrete melanin “battle lines” (zone lines–see Dr. Sara Robinson’s northernspalting.com for lots on the subject). Don’t worry, the fungi are gone.
The first of the volcano ukes!
And what is this potato chip? A test bend (the tightest bend on the sides) to see whether one of the “Holy Grail” woods of the classical guitar world will scale to the more compactly curved uke.
I’m interested in this species partly because of its remarkable sustain and resonance (even this little scrap!), and partly to scratch a Lord of the Rings itch. It will be difficult to finish it by UKEtoberfest, but we shall see.