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Thread: First Time Binding Questions

  1. #1

    Default First Time Binding Questions

    Hi. First time builder here, following Crystal Forest plans for an A-style. I jumped right in with highly figured maple which is adding somewhat to the challenge, but I'm now ready to bind the body. I've watched various videos and read a number of articles, but I'm left with some basic questions.

    I bought a Stewmac rabbet cutter to fit my Dremel. I've been practicing on figured maple, and I'm having trouble getting a smooth cut. The cutter wants to follow the waves in the maple in terms of depth of cut. Am I cutting too much at a time? Maybe running the cutter too slowly? Just need practice? Or is the Stewmac tool not the best approach? I really didn't want to have to set up a special router table for this relatively small job.

    In order to get a reasonable (i.e. forgiving) thickness of plastic binding (.090") I end up with .250" width, when I'd prefer something closer to .150" like my Mid-Mo mandolin. I can't find this in stock widths, so do I need to make a trimmer of some sort? Is there a better binding source than Stewmac?

    Is there a better approach for a first time builder? I'm afraid of ending up with a shoddy binding job when everything else has gone really well to this point.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    There are people who can apparently get good results using the Siminoff/Stewmac Dremel attachment to cut binding slots, but I am not one of them. I think I have about two of those tools somewhere out in the barn, and I don't really care where they are. Even when I could get half-way-decent results using the thing, I had to follow up by hand with a violin purfling cutter, chisels, files and so forth to get clean, smooth, even depth binding slots. Add to that the necessity of using hand tools for F-style scroll bindings, and I just decided I might as well cut the binding channels completely by hand. Not an easy approach for a first time builder, nor for an experienced builder for that matter, but it is a slow enough process that mistakes happen slowly and can be stopped before they become catastrophic, as is possible with power tools.
    There are various sources for binding material. Stewmac doesn't carry celluloid, which I prefer when I'm not using wood bindings, so my plastic (celluloid) bindings usually come from Axiom while my wood bindings are made in shop or come from Stewmac.

  3. #3
    Registered User Walt's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    Iím a hobbyist, so I donít have a vast amount of experience or wisdom to impart. But I have used the Stewmac dremel attachment on 5 or 6 instruments and gotten awful results every time. On the last two mandolins, I used all of the care and patience that I could muster and the channels were still bad. Iím cutting the binding channels by hand on my next mando, even if it takes a month to do it.

  4. #4

    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    Well, bummer. So many of the Stewmac reviews looked good for that gizmo. Cutting my hand? That's really going to take some practice! I'll start reading up on it....any tips would be very helpful. It sounds like it's time to sharpen my chisels.

    Would it be worth getting a larger cutter (with guide bearing) and using a router table? That would entail making a sled to keep the sides vertical, of course. Or would I still have a lot of hand work to do?

    It also sounds like I should be looking for a different binding source rather than get into trying to split the 1/4" plastic material into something smaller.

    Thanks, guys.

  5. #5
    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    Unless your goal is to play authentic Django, throw that Stew mac thing in the trash! Having you fingers 1/2 inch from the live cutterhead is just waiting for an accident. I'm amazed they have not been sued over that....


    No matter what tool you use to make the initial channel- dremel, router, purfling cutter, grammil, or other, that is just the first step in the process. For an A style, I spend about an hour afterwords with small files, sandpaper, and the like to get rid of all the imperfections and smooth the channel perfect. If the channel and fit is not perfect, no matter what type of binding or adhesive or attachment process will wind up with a good gap free binding.

  6. #6
    Mandolin & Mandola maker
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    I use the original Siminoff style of Dremel attachment. Have used it for 25 years and don't intend to change because it works and I don't get chipout. It takes a few passes to cut the channel, and just like James a bit of hand work to finish the channel and get to the parts that the Dremel bit can't reach. The current Stew Mac attachment is hopeless. I bought one some time ago and tried to use it once and failed. I think I still have it just to remind me never to buy another one. So I agree with James, chuck it in the bin.
    Peter Coombe - mandolins, mandolas and guitars
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  7. #7
    Fingertips of leather
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    I don't think Dremels have enough power to do a good job, especially if you're hogging the full cut in one pass. You also need to be careful of grain orientation to prevent chip out.

    Austin Clark has a nice video on cutting the binding channel. His work is quite impeccable.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYS4VK44S8c
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  9. #8

    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    Austin Clark has a nice video on cutting the binding channel. His work is quite impeccable.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYS4VK44S8c
    I watched the video and am also impressed with his work and such a great rig. That's not in my immediate future, however. The Clark video led me to one from O'brien's Guitars about using a router or laminate trimmer. Again, great methods but more than I want to develop at this point in my building adventure. That led to another O'brien video; this one about using a gramil. THAT seems like my best option without making a significant leap in equipment investment.

    Again, comments welcome. I'm not seeing a better way forward at this point, short of dropping the binding idea in the interest of getting my first build complete. I'd rather take the time now to learn how to install the binding in a safe and controllable way.

  10. #9
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    Are we talking about this?
    https://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tool...ter_Guide.html

    I used similar rotary tool for my first few mandolins and got decent results but you have to go in small increments. I think I cut the binding ledge in four passes or even five (slowly increasing both width and height of cut plus one final smoothing pass to get it all even). Trying to do it in one or even two is insane. You have to heave more than one bit prepared as you need sharp bit to cut well without scorching especially for the final pass. Also you need some practice and steady hand. It's easy to make solid router table by bolting ordinary router (even simple cheap laminate trimmer will work and perhaps cost less than Dremel with the attachment) underneath a thick MDF or plywood and add shaped block of wood as a guide.
    For the latest two mandolins I made this (see pic) cutter from pieces of wood, bone and old piece of broken bread knife blade I had within reach, and it worked quite well, though it used much more muscle than routing on a table.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    Adrian

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  12. #10
    Mandolin & Mandola maker
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    I don't think Dremels have enough power to do a good job, especially if you're hogging the full cut in one pass. You also need to be careful of grain orientation to prevent chip out.
    Heard that one many times before, over and over again. Hogging out the full cut in one pass is madness, and repeat - I don't get chip out, even when routing against the grain. The lack of chip out is precisely why I persisted with the Dremel. I used a Dremel for 20 years until it died, but the latest Dremels are quite a bit more powerful than the old ones so I should have ditched it much earlier. It takes 3 or 4 or more passes, and after 240 instruments still using a Dremel, but not that piece of crap from Stew Mac. They could have improved it, but they didn't. If you want to use a router and have one pass, go ahead, good for you, but I hate them.
    Peter Coombe - mandolins, mandolas and guitars
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  13. #11
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by peter.coombe View Post
    Heard that one many times before, over and over again. Hogging out the full cut in one pass is madness, and repeat - I don't get chip out, even when routing against the grain. The lack of chip out is precisely why I persisted with the Dremel. I used a Dremel for 20 years until it died, but the latest Dremels are quite a bit more powerful than the old ones so I should have ditched it much earlier. It takes 3 or 4 or more passes, and after 240 instruments still using a Dremel, but not that piece of crap from Stew Mac. They could have improved it, but they didn't. If you want to use a router and have one pass, go ahead, good for you, but I hate them.
    I used to use powerful (4-5HP?) Makita router mounted underneath table and never went with one pass anyway. Always at least 3-4 passes. first just halfway in both directions then increase depth to almost final, ten increase width to almost final and last cut is full to final size done in one continuous pass around. As you see in the Clark video he is likely doing the final pass, most of the channel is areade cut. Disadvantage of lerger router bits is that they can chip the corners badly if you don't watch the grain direction and direction of cut for the first cuts.
    Adrian

  14. #12
    Registered User fscotte's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    You may be interested in giving the Siminoff Dremel attachment a try. Unfortunately Siminoff no longer sells tools and such, but you could contact him via his site, he may have one laying around. It’s what I use and much easier than Stewmacs version. I also use the router bit sold by Stewmac, which makes very nice clean cuts.

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    This Dremel attachment is essentially the same thing that table mounted binding jigs are, just the mobile version.

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    Registered User tree's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    Hogo's homemade cutting gauge is one of the coolest I've seen; love the bone fence and how it is oriented - brilliant!
    Clark Beavans

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  18. #14

    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    Yes. I may return it to Stewmac since I only recently ordered it, or I may try to modify it to be more stable. There is just not much there to hold on to, and I don't like having my hand that close to the cutter.

  19. #15
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    One thing that was not mentioned is that the smoothenss of the ledge depends on smoothenss of rim surfaces. If there is ripple in the sides it will copy into the cut.
    Adrian

  20. #16

    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by fscotte View Post
    You may be interested in giving the Siminoff Dremel attachment a try. Unfortunately Siminoff no longer sells tools and such, but you could contact him via his site, he may have one laying around.
    I just sent a message through his old website, so we'll see what happens. Thanks.

  21. #17

    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    One thing that was not mentioned is that the smoothenss of the ledge depends on smoothenss of rim surfaces. If there is ripple in the sides it will copy into the cut.
    Good point. I was practicing with a piece of figured maple, same as my mandolin body. I was probably cutting too much at a time, but I was getting a lot of waves in the cut just from the tool not being very stable. Likely poor technique on my first attempt. There is still a little waviness in the mando body that I was going to leave until final sanding, but I'd better get that smoothed out before starting to cut anything.

    I still need to find a better binding source, so I'll be working on tooling and technique in the interim. Maybe I need to glue up something from purfling stock. This is all very new for me.

  22. #18

    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    As suggested, I contacted the Siminoff folks through their old website. They no longer sell the Dremel attachment, but they directed me to Grizzly, where they happen to be on sale. Here's a link.

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  24. #19

    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    I've only done one, with the StewMac tool. Did it in one pass, what did I know? Cut parts too wide, then had to glue thin binding like wood strips in and recut that section. Masterful job too. Just one of the many lessons learned. I finished the top clear and the body light Amber. I love looking at it, flaws and all. Another thing I wish I knew. First F style should be single ply binding.
    Silverangel A
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  25. #20

    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    On a related note, anybody know what Gibson used to cut binding channels 100 years ago?

  26. #21
    Registered User Steve Sorensen's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    The traditional Gramil --



    The variations on the Dremel attachment are too dangerous IMHO. Tried it several times. Don't like my fingertips being so close to a future flying spinning blade.

    The StewMac binding channel cutter is fantastic --
    https://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tool...outer_Jig.html

    Steve
    Last edited by Steve Sorensen; Feb-28-2019 at 5:04pm.

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  28. #22

    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Parker135 View Post
    Yes. I may return it to Stewmac since I only recently ordered it, or I may try to modify it to be more stable. There is just not much there to hold on to, and I don't like having my hand that close to the cutter.
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...67#post1526567
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  29. #23

    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    Clever! It looks like any additional handle would be helpful.

  30. #24
    Mandolin & Mandola maker
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    The StewMac binding channel cutter is fantastic --
    It might be fantastic, but comes at a price and takes up room I don't have. I have seen all sorts of fancy binding cutting setups for guitars, but the KISS principle has a lot going for it.
    Peter Coombe - mandolins, mandolas and guitars
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  32. #25
    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Time Binding Questions

    'Agreed Peter.

    A steady hand and a bit of patience allows me to cut excellent binding channels freehand with a $3 exacto knife, an old popsicle stick, and some sandpaper, including complicated F5s with wooden binding....BUT...... you can't sell a steady hand and a old popsicle stick for $275 in the tool catalogs.....!!!

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