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Thread: I want to build a mandolin

  1. #1
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    Default I want to build a mandolin

    Hey all,
    I am looking for advice on building my 2nd mandolin. I built one using one of the IV kits and it turned out okay (tonally and visually) but it was somewhat unsatisfying (cheap parts, most of the work already finished). I am wondering if I should try a StewMac kit or just start with wood and go slow. I actually don't care if it takes me a couple of years to finish it. I really just want to understand and experience the process.
    Thanks in advance!
    Dan

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    Barn Cat Mandolins Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    Given what you've said, I doubt a kit will ultimately satisfy you. I suggest you build from scratch.
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    Registered User urobouros's Avatar
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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    Though I haven’t found the time to start building one myself, I recommend Graham McDonald’s book The Mandolin Project. There’s a lot of detailed info & I like the way it’s laid out.
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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    The pleasure of building from scratch for some is the excuse to buy all sorts of interesting tools. For a single build, the ratio of tool to mandolin cost can be wonderfully high.

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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    I just ordered the Graham McDonald book. I know the tool cost is going to be expensive (and therefore slow!). If I just start making, say, the top and back (or maybe a few tops and backs), should I invest in some good planes? Any thoughts on sizes and brands?
    Thanks!
    Dan

  7. #6

    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard500 View Post
    The pleasure of building from scratch for some is the excuse to buy all sorts of interesting tools. For a single build, the ratio of tool to mandolin cost can be wonderfully high.
    I've been repairing instruments for 35 years and I'm STILL buying tools!

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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    In that we’re really in the 21st century, a CNC mill with enough table capacity, while not a hand tool, enables avoidance of carefully acquired experience. Hand tools, again related to skill, (I could teach an apt student sharpening and hand plane setup in maybe a month), are either few or many. Some people could get by with two or three chisels, a Sloyd knife, a coping saw, one or two curved-sole planes, a rasp, eggbeater drill, sandpaper, spool clamps, and measuring apparatus. Others, whose time actually may be related to income, would have to build or buy a lot more things, including jigs, molds, heated bending tool, specialized saws, more clamps, a band saw, a drill press, more measuring things. And that’s before fancy staining and finishing, and a place to do it. Not surprisingly, most of the individual steps will not succeed on the first try, and materials will get wasted, possibly even nearly complete assemblies.
    The primary tool is having precisely the correct attitude for the job.

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  10. #8
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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    Thanks for the thoughts all. I am doing this for my own personal education. I am more process-focused than end product-focused at this point. And I am not interested in a career in lutherie! I ordered some hunks of wood from Old Standard and hope to have them jointed and planed by the holidays. One question: Is hide glue a pain to work with or should I just use titebond wood glue for gluing wood-wood surfaces?
    Thanks!
    Dan

  11. #9
    Mandolin tragic Graham McDonald's Avatar
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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    I am always happy to clarify stuff if necessary. Feel free to email if you get stuck.

    Cheers

    Quote Originally Posted by danoNC View Post
    I just ordered the Graham McDonald book. I know the tool cost is going to be expensive (and therefore slow!). If I just start making, say, the top and back (or maybe a few tops and backs), should I invest in some good planes? Any thoughts on sizes and brands?
    Thanks!
    Dan

  12. #10

    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    Hide glue has very rapid assembly time, so large surfaces require special techniques; that is, it sets as soon as it cools, which is a few seconds. Titebond will give you longer assembly times, but much fewer arcane details to learn, and doesn’t require a nice, smelly glue pot. I assume you didn’t use hide on your kits. Both apparently can be released with heat, and both relatively creep free, which is necessary for things that are under permanent tension. There may be minor details about adhesive strength, which is sort of adjustable with hide. Old hide glue can be re-softened and re-adhered, which can be useful. People writing in here also use CA (cyanoacrylate) for a few special purposes, like plastics, but not as an overall adhesive. All glues have to be kept clear of surfaces to be finished.

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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    I prefer to work with hide glue, but as Richard says there is a learning curve. If you go with titebond get the original.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    I was fortunate to have friends who let my borrow tools, or borrow the use of large power tools when I was in your position of just wanting to go through the process. I wasn't looking for a career in lutherie either, so... here it is 40 years later and... let that be a warning to you...

    I had a friend who was teaching "wood shop" at the local high school and he let me use such tools as bandsaws, table saws, lathes, hand tools and so forth. I also had the benefit of his experience in wood working to draw upon. I'm not sure how many high schools still have industrial arts classes and what their liability clauses would have to say about a "civilian" using the shop these days, but still, there might be places where you can beg and borrow tools. It's a lot cheaper than buying them.

    Interestingly, I went to a reunion back in the summer for anyone who attended my old high school (now consolidated with others and no longer an entity) and two of the guys who were teachers there when I was hanging around building my first instrument both remembered me and said the topic of that guy who built a banjo still came up, with reference to how much the students learned from observing the process. We just never know what life will bring.
    Last edited by sunburst; Dec-03-2022 at 1:37am.

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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    Patience and practice are the keys. The top of my first mandolin was pine boards from HD, and the back was a repurposed cutting board. I hate to waste any usable tonewood. It was great practice and even made sounds. Graham has been super helpful, and scour the Mandolin Cafe archives on every step. You can fix virtually any mistake you make since it's wood. Frequent estate sales and ebay for tools, and learn to sharpen.

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  17. #14
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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    Thank you all for the thoughts! I will post back here as I progress. This is and has been such a wonderful website with so many amazing folks!
    Dan

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    Dan & I are coordinating schedules for a visit next week. I'll get him on the righteous path to building that new mandolin!

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  20. #16
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    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    Way to go James.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  21. #17

    Default Re: I want to build a mandolin

    I second the notion of skipping a kit since you've done that route and want to experience the processes. You'll need the tooling for carving and truing curves. You'll also need to make or buy a deep throat caliper for tuning the top and back. That carving is crucial to tone, 0.010" in certain parts of the top can make a real difference.

    The one shortcut I would recommend is buying the fretboard pre-slotted. You can get them from Luthier's Merc and they're not that much more. Of course I have old eyes and reading a rule graduated to hundredths is not my idea of a good time.

    Enjoy the journey! Kudos to James for mentoring.

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