Saturday Morning Luthier's Corner

The goal of "Saturday Morning Luthier's Corner" is to ease the learning curve for novice builders, and to motivate those who have been mulling the idea over (I mulled for about 3 years before taking the plunge; warning: it is rather addictive).
Ed Ashley (Appointee of the Czar)

Start with kit?
Basic tools
Cutting f-holes with hand tools
Cutting binding ledge
Loar A5
Business questions
Tap tuning
Neck angles
Care and feeding of mandos
Neck joints
Basic tools, Will Parsons comments
Alternatives to truss rods
Choice of finish
Stain wood and/or tint finish?
Stain before finish?
Size/position of f-holes

Start with kit?
QUESTION: I basically know the correct end of a chisel (the sharp pointy metal end, right?). In that circumstance, is the best first step (most bang for buck, least investment if screwed up) to build from a kit?

Answer from Jamie Wiens:
I've never built from a kit, though my first successful electric guitar was built when I was 15 had a pre-fab glue-in neck I got from Carvin . I think that it probably is a good idea to build your first instrument from a kit . It will be far less daunting than building from scratch ..and I believe that a rewarding first experience will encourage you to continue on in lutherie.

Basic tools
QUESTION: What is a base kit of tools for the budding mando-luthier?

Answer from Jamie Wiens:
Here's what I think are the most important , most basic tools you need to start building instruments in the modern manner:

  1. Get a good dial caliper, machinists square and a long straight edge . ....along with a sharp pencil, I believe these are absolutely the most important tools.
  2. Get some basic fretting tools from stew-mac... Slotting saw, Files, pliers, mini staightedges, hammer etc.
  3. A stationary belt sander is next has always been one of my sharpest tools . I built a fence for my 4" by 36" Craftsman belt/disc sander that increases it's usefulness tenfold. You'll be able to shape nuts, saddles, bridges, neck blanks name it.
  4. A bandsaw is a must have.
  5. A dremel with some kind of router base allow you to cut binding rabbets and inlay cavities
  6. A collection of clamps ...F-clamps ,spring clamps ,cam clamps.
  7. A hand drill and if possible a drill press...some sanding drums on the drill press can be very useful
  8. A router with a table.....this will open up template routing possibilities, allow you to cut truss rod slots , carve plates and about a million other things

I could go on , but you asked what is a basic set of tools..and you can do a lot of damage with what I've mentioned here.

Note from Moderator:
StewMac has a tool list as a part of their kit instructions see, but I would caution you that they are in the business of selling tools . There have also been tool threads over on Mandolin Cafe discussion board, a recent one is on bandsaws.

Answer from Fletcher Brock:
"What tools do I need" is a wide open topic, but here we go:

Because I'm building instruments for a living and want to be as efficient as possible, I have a ton of tools and jigs. I think that I'm somewhere in the middle as far as shops go. There are folks out there with lots more tools and some with lots less (check out Ted Megas, the fine archtop guitar builders shop tour at his web site, if you want to see some tooling). I've made a lot of tools for specific tasks with the idea that it will save me time down the road. However, I did build my first instruments with simple carpentry tools, and although it takes longer, if you have a good set, you can do an excellent job. Learn how to get a good sharp edge on your tools. Can't the great old school classical guitar builders build a world class guitar with a knife and a piece of rope? Anyhow, with that thought in mind, on to the Stew Mac required tool list...

The Stew Mac list is very thorough and one would certainly be happy with such a good stash. I don't have all the tools but I've versions of many. Some I've bought from Stew Mac or other suppliers, and some I've made. I've deleted the items from the Stew Mac list that I don't have, and added a little commentary here and there...

Required tools
-Chisel (invest in a high quality tool) I agree with this. I haven't bought a new chisel in 15 or 20 years. I bought boutique chisels way back when, and groused about the price at the time, but I have used them EVERY DAY for 25 years, including ten years as a boat builder which beats tools to a pulp, and they are still going strong.

The ones I use the most for instrument building are from 1/8 inch to 3/4" in 1/8th " increments. The 1/2" and 3/4" are crane necks.

-Small bent gouge (FlexCut) (I have a few of these, used for top and back carving).

-Wooden cam clamps (3 large, 3 small) #3721, 3723 (I have lots more and use them often. Also metal C-clamps in many sizes)

-Spring clamps, large #3144 (12-18 required) I like these things and use the smaller ones to glue in the kerfing and the big ones when gluing on the top and back. The big ones fit over my building forms for plate to rim glue-ups, are faster than spool clamps for this task, and have a uniform pressure. If you use hide glue, which I do, time is a big factor. I've used spool clamps in the past and find that I spend most of my time fumbling with them.

-Coping saw. I hardly ever use this. I use the jewelers saw size for cutting inlay though

-Fret saw or dovetail saw (I don't use them for cutting fret slots but find I use them for lots of other things. For anything but a mandolin, I have fretting jigs for my table saw which cut several different scale lengths. I buy pre-slotted fingerboards from Stew Mac for mandolins. Much easier and affordable)

-Electric drill, 3/8" (lots of uses)

-Dremel tool #0399 (or equivalent) (mostly used for inlay but sometimes I use it to cut the binding ledge)

-Binding router bit #4562 (for F5) or #4561 (A5) ( I use 1/4" high speed steel down cut bits in a laminate trimmer, and small Dremel bits that Dremel sells in the Dremel)

-Heat gun (a hair dryer might work) (These are essential for binding F models and I'm not sure a hair dryer will get hot enough)

-Fret-end dressing file #1175 (I have a concave file that I think is great. I don't know why more people don't use these to dress fret ends. I first use a fine toothed bastard file and I eyeball the angle when flushing the fret ends to the fingerboard. I cut a little past the frets putting a slight chamfer on the fretboard as well. Then I use a concave fret crowning file to round the fret ends, one at a time cutting down at about 40% or so. After checking to see if there are any sharp edges that I missed, I sand all the ends with 280 grit.)

-Nut slotting files #0823, 0827, 0830, 0833 (.013",.016", .028", .040") (you can also measure other cutting blades and use them to cut nut slots. For instance, a hack saw blade will give you a fine .032 slot)

-File assortment (we recommend our #0842) ( I have a bunch of these that I've collected over the years. Mostly used for inlay)

-Titebond wood glue #0620 (or use the traditional ground hide glue #0669 and glue pot #0668) (I use an industrial grade of white, slightly more viscus Titebond. Drys clear and has a little more working time. I do as many steps as I can with hide glue. There is a learning curve with hide, and it helps to heat up you pieces to be glued, but I love the stuff!)

Additional tools
-Radius gauges #0244 (made my own out of Formica)

-Scraper blades #0628, 0654, 0655 (You gotta have scraper blades. I re-grind them in to the shapes that I need. There is a knack to sharpening them.)

-Precision straightedge (Made my own. It's a 20" ebony fingerboard blank, thinned to 1/8 inch, then joined on my joiner)

-Adjustable binding router guide #5248 (made my own out of wood, C-clamps to the router or Dremel base)

-Fret cutters #0619 (made my own. Bought some nippers, ground the front bevel flat, heated the tip up red hot and doused in water to re-temper a little harder)

-Awl (Lots of uses)

-Luthier's digital caliper #5212 or equivalent (made one with a piece of 5/8 inch aluminum cut out on the band saw and fit an inexpensive but very accurate dial indicator in the end. It has a deep enough throat to measure a big archtop guitar. The whole mess cost me around $18 cash and several hours of time. You can cut aluminum that thick on your band saw with a hook tooth quite easily. I've cut up to 1 1/2 inch aluminum. The smaller toothed metal cutting blades don't work as well as the teeth clog.)

-Vise #1813 or equivalent (Hardware store, $15)

I think a band saw is pretty handy. I also have a pile of dedicated routers, a table saw, a drill press, a joiner, a planer, a spindle sander, several side bending machines (including one for F-5s), a pantograph, stationary sander, all the stuff for spray finishing and buffing, three walls full of jigs, and piles of other tools from Allen wrenches to whatever. I have lots of sanding blocks in all kinds of shapes and sizes and I do use all of these tools. Seems wacky.

To get back to the original question of basic tooling, I'd say you can get by with some good chisels and a gouge or two, a router and some bits, a hand held drill, a pile of sanding blocks, a thickness gauge, a piece of wood cut to a radius with a channel cut in it to accept the fret tang to bend fret wire around, some spring clamps, wood clamps, and c-clamps, a coping saw, some files, some sort of knife, a rasp, sand paper, a dovetail saw, a straight metal ruler, a scraper, glue and a plane. I have a couple of sizes of spoke shaves that I ground rounded bases and blades for that I use a lot for plate carving. Oh... and a piece of rope.

Cautionary note from Moderator:
these are my personal comments on the StewMac tool list. No disrespect is intended for StewMac or its people, they offer great service. I wish they would lighten up on their shipping charges, but they are the closest thing to one stop shopping we have IMHO. DISCLAIMER: I am a novice hobby builder with only four instruments made, and no extensive background in woodworking. My comments simply reflect my personal experiences/judgments to date, a work in progress. So don’t book it as gospel, YMMV. Over the years I have accumulated a pretty good stash of household tools, and many of these are useful. Alternate sources of supply for me have included International Violin, LMI, MicroMark, Woodworkers Supply, Woodworkers Warehouse, Home Depot, Japan Woodworkers, Garrett Wade, Highland Hardware and the local hardware store and lumberyard.

>Chisel (invest in a high quality tool)
Japan Woodworkers has some of the smallest chisels you will find, great for cleaning up binding ledges, etc. Expensive, but high quality. Fine Woodworking had a comparative article a few years back, testing about a dozen brands.

>Razor knife (X-Acto™ style)
Yes, but I also have a left hand, right hand pair of single bevel knives, which I use in cutting/trimming f-holes and trimming dovetails, you can get them scarey sharp. I got mine on sale from Garrett Wade. Ebony handles, good carbon steel, nice balance and heft. Japan Woodworkers has nice assortments,no handles, good steel. LMI has some Ron Hock high carbon instrument makers knives which look good. I like single bevels for a better shearing cut, and less likely to start a check when trimming out f-holes. If you use a pin router and template, the latter is a non-issue.

>Sloane finger plane #0697
this is the 10mm size, on the small side.
>(#0331 optional
I agree with Jamie, this is more useful, the 18mm size. If you are carving a deep recurve, the 10mm can really get down in there, but at the risk of troughing, and leaving some difficult edge cuts. I have heard some people favor the 12mm size as a good switch-hitter.

>Small bent gouge (FlexCut)
Just getting into gouges, will reserve comment. The kit gives you machine-carved top and back plates; when you start carving from scratch, you will need a tool to remove a lot of stock in a relative hurry, and an assortment of gouges is one way to go.

>Hand plane, small
My wife gave me a low angle block plane from Lie-Nielsen a couple of years ago, it is wonderful. But pricey.

>Wooden cam clamps (3 large, 3 small) #3721, 3723
I don’t know why you would need the large ones on a mandolin, I have 16 of the small ones, and when gluing plates on, need all 16. I also have some Jorgenson bar clamps, which are a bit heavy for this application.

>Spool clamps, small #0683 (12-18 required)
I don’t agree on this, I use these only for holding a completed body level while working with the bandsaw or spindle sander. I like the fast action of a cam clamp.

>Spring clamps, large #3144 (12-18 required)
I have a couple from the hardware store, prefer cam clamps. I don’t even see this item in the catalog anymore.

>Coping saw
I prefer my bandsaw, but you could do OK with a coping saw IMO.

>Fret saw or dovetail saw
I have an Xacto saw (kind of coarse) and a Zona saw (much better, finer cut and stiffer back). I prefer to buy fretboards pre-slotted.

>Electric drill, 3/8"
Sure. But for many applications, I have an old fashioned hand drill, the egg beater crank type with the double pinon; you can get them from Garrett Wade. This offers a lot of control. Drilling for dot markers comes to mind, also drilling starter holes for f-hole cutouts, and endpin hole. I also have pin vises, crossover tools from other hobbies, these can be useful for drilling starter holes for teeny woodscrews on truss-rod covers, tailpieces, etc..

>Feeler gauge set #1811
Your local auto supply store will have inexpensive feeler guage sets. Handy for string slotting and setup.

>Dremel tool #0399 (or equivalent)
Yes. You will want the router base attachment if you are going to do inlay. Sanding drums are sometimes handy. Plus this is your binding ledge router, unless and until you get a real router.

>Binding router bit #4562 (for F5) or #4561 (A5)
I only have the #4032 plain 5/16” bit, for use with adjustable router guide. Have to think about this, seems like it is doubling up if you have the adjustable guide.

>Fret slot cleaner #4851
I don’t know why, unless you are doing re-fret jobs. My old dental probe gets in there fine (ask your dentist).

>Heat gun (a hair dryer might work)
I haven’t bound my F5 yet, so will reserve comment. Didn't really need it for a top bound A body. Seems to be a widely recommended device.

>Fretting hammer #4895
I already had an old Sears plastic headed hammer, but this looks OK. Also have a small brass modeler's hammer. Don't use steel, too hard, dent your frets.

>Fret-end dressing file #1175
I use this and like it. A nice loose hand, a few curving swipes, let the tool do the work, and voila!

>Nut slotting files #0823, 0827, 0830, 0833 (.013", .016", .028", .040")
I use these. At first I had an .010 for E strings, bad idea, too small, strings will pinch, even if they are .010’s.

>File assortment (we recommend our #0842)
I have a set of needle files and a 10” mill file, hardware store stuff. (Actually, the household tool assortment includes lots of files, mini-rifflers and rasps, I just sort thru and pick up what looks like it might work. Be sure to check the mill file with your straight edge to see if it is straight and level, not all are. I use mine for the first takedown on fret-leveling, and for taking off fret ends.


>Titebond wood glue #0620 (or use the traditional ground hide glue #0669 and glue pot #0668)
So far I have used Titebond, but am thinking about trying hide glue.

>Rubber bands, small ------- ???

>Rubber binding bands #1274 (40" long)
I don’t use these, I use cam clamps for gluing top and back plates on, and I use nylon strapping tape for gluing binding on.

>Clothespins, spring-type
Not strong enough without modification. I ran across some micro mini spring clamps at the local Woodworkers Warehouse, $10 for a box of 24, got two boxes, enough to clamp all the kerfing for one plate on an F5. StewMac now has a new kerfing clamp with padded swiveling jaws, if you order 50+ it gets down to $.45 each (plus shipping), mine worked out to about $.42 each, plus sales tax. Probably a wash. I like mine, good firm grip, vinyl pad on tips, quick and easy.

>> Reference material

>How to Build a Carved-Top Mandolin video with Don MacRostie #5278
I hear that this is good, but judging from his website, Don has his own way of doing things (e.g., inside body mold, rather than outside enclosing mold), and he is in a production mode, with all sorts of jigs and fixtures.

>Constructing A Bluegrass Mandolin by Roger Siminoff #0528
You should have it, but take it with a grain of salt. Don’t use the plans. I supplemented this with Bob Benedetto’s book on building archtop guitars, which has good stuff on techniques.

>Fret Work Step-By-Step from Stewart-MacDonald #1371 Don’t have, no comment.

>Guitar Finishing Step-By-Step from Stewart-MacDonald #5111 Don't have, no comment.

The Lynn Dudenbostel and Bill Bussmann shop photos are an excellent source of information. Also the A.L. Smart article in GAL from 1998. I also consult my copy of Steve Gilchrist’s catalog, and maintain a 3 ring binder of CoMando posts on various subjects. Frank Ford’s site has tons of info. And now we have luthiers on CGOW, and the upcoming Luthiers Roundtable, sure to be some good stuff there. LMI used to sell a 3 ring binder of their catalog (no pricing), with articles, this has good stuff in it, I think it cost $20. Already mentioned the Benedetto book, and the Guitar Player Repair Guide by Dan Erlewine has good info, especially on fretting and set-up, also some on finishing if you are into lacquer. I like varnish.

>>>Additional tools

>Thickness caliper #0327 (or make your own)
I got mine from LMI. I use it a whole lot in graduating. A whole lot. Pencil in the measurements on the inside, for a topographical map, time and time again. In fact, sometimes it gets a little old.

>Radius gauges #0244 ------???

>Scraper blades #0628, 0654, 0655
OK, but you can also get a set of much smaller and thinner (like .016") scrapers from LMI, in various shapes, which are really good for fine scraping.

>Precision straightedge
Yes; a good quality combination square can do the trick here. Also a small machinist's square, which can also be used to check for high frets.

>Adjustable binding router guide #5248
Yes, until you get to the point of using a table mounted router. See Bill Bussmann’s and Lynn Dudenbostel’s photos.

>Carbide-tip binding router bit #4032 (5/16" dia.) ----Yes.

>Micro chisels #1628
I don't have these, but they look OK. Dogleg feature is probably good.

>Fret cutters #0619
Yes. I use model railroad rail cutters, same difference.

>Brad-point drill bit, 1/4" (see #0339)
An assortment would be good. I also have standard HSS drill set, and wire size drills for pin vises. Also a hardware store countersink bit for hand-twirling a chamfer on the ebony headstock tuner post holes.

>Awl ------Yes, a good marking and starter-hole tool.

>Luthier’s digital caliper #5212 or equivalent
I finally broke down and got a 6” machinist’s caliper, for nut and saddle slotting.

>Binding laminating jig #4197
You can get pre-laminated binding.

>Fret tang nipper #1626 ------Maybe for bound fretboards; I don’t have one.

>Fret press system #4483 ---------A luxury IMHO, but then I 've never tried one.

>Fret leveler #0862 (6") --------You can buy a pretty nice mill file for a lot less.

>Nut seating file #5055 (1/8")
I have one, but I don’t know why. Be more useful for repair work perhaps.

>Violin reamer, small #0344
Yes, I have this, good for reaming tuner post holes to accept Loar style bushings, and for endpin, altho I have used a rat-tail file for this as well.

>Archtop bridge-fitting jig #5046
This is handy, but you can make your own device, with a tee shaped piece of plywood (the bridge base is fixed to the head of the tee, with the stem running back towards the tailpiece), and a one inch dowel laid across the body (notched for body edges) back by the tailpiece. You don’t want the bridge rocking as you go back and forth over the sandpaper. If you use the jig, be careful to not let the wheel dent the soft spruce of the top; I tape a tongue depressor on the top as a ramp for the wheel.

>Vise #1813 or equivalent
This is really nice to have, I really like mine. The whole thing swivels around to any angle, and the wood faced jaws independently swivel, so you can hold an irregular object, like a neck. I got it from Woodworkers Supply for $95, called a pattern-makers vise, but the same thing. At the time StewMac wanted about $135 for it (their’s does include urethane jaw linings), but they have dropped to $99.90, so maybe it’s a wash.

They don’t mention a bench for all this good stuff. You really need a bench for the luthiers vise, it is heavy. I picked up a small woodworking bench, with an end vise and bench dogs running along the front and back edges. This lets me clamp in my jig for holding down plates for carving, or the body mold. The luthiers vise mounting screw fits right into one of the bench dog holes. My clamps hang on the cross-stretchers, close to hand. The rally type mechanics toolboxes, with 3 drawers, a top compartment and disappearing tray are very handy for holding most of the above. Or you can go whole hog, and pick out a nice Gerstner wooden machinists tool chest; bring check book. A folding arm draftsman’s lamp is very handy; light and shadow help a lot on carving. I also have a folding arm lamp with a built-in magnifying glass, good for slotting nuts and saddles (my eyes are getting weaker with age).

This list also assumes that you are getting a StewMac kit, so it doesn’t mention side bending, pearl cutting, inlay work, or stationary power tools, like bandsaw, belt sander, spindle sander, shop vac, router, etc. It also doesn't get into finishing, which is a whole other thing. I am somewhat surprised that it does not mention sharpening tools, which are essential. for the scrapers, LMI and StewMac sell a nice scraper burnisher with some very detailed (and instructive) instructions.

I have a couple of pieces of plate glass to which I affix adhesive backed 320 grit paper for knives, chisels, plane irons, and surfacing plane soles. The 320 has enough tooth that I can lay pieces of coarser paper if needed, or the black wet/dry in grits running from 400, 600, 800 and 1,000. Then I have two diamond sharpening "stones", really aluminum plates, with superfine grit. These plates are very flat, and I also use them for leveling frets after a couple of passes with the file. LMI has them. If you are not building the kit, you need to cut, thickness and trim sides, and join plates. If you don't have access to a power jointer, an old fashioned jointer plane in a vise with a homemade wooden fence will do the job. I think Bill Bussmann is still doing it this way.

Cutting f-holes with hand tools
QUESTION: I do not have a pin router, or plexiglass template. I use a paper template from the StewMac plan, trace the outline (on the small side) onto the wood with pencil, then drill a few starter holes with bradpoint bits and rounded wood backing to prevent tearout. I have a pair of single bevel knives (left hand and right hand), and cutting against the grain (switching knives , depending on how the grain is running) and slowly cut away wood up to the pencil line. Then I use some home-made rounded sanding sticks (concave and convex surfaces) and emery boards to finish the edges. Using hand tools, is there a better way?

Answer from Fletcher Brock:
I don't think that there is a better way, but you could try cutting the shape with a coping saw, again watching for tear, then fairing the shapes with your knives and sanding sticks. It might be a little faster but that's about it. Cuts typically are either perpendicular to the plane formed by the top surface of the sides (the rim of the mandolin), or square to the surface that you are cutting through. The former is my preference. Sanding sticks are great tools and I use them for a zillion different tasks. It's easy to change grits or refresh your cutting surface, either using self stick sandpaper or a can of spray adhesive applied to your regular stash of paper. I cut my F-holes with a router but finish the job as you describe with sanding.

Answer from Jamie Wiens:
Before I got my pin router setup, I used to cut f-holes with a standard coping saw .The technique I describe assumes that you are using gauze F-hole re-enforcement.

I use a thin plastic F-hole "inside template" that has two 1/16" holes in the center of either circular area .First, I locate my F-hole template on the outside of the top , trace it's outline on with a pencil and press a pin through the two holes .Then I drill a 1/16" pilot hole in either pin-hole. Now , using the holes I can use the same template to trace the F-hole onto the inside of the top too. This allow you to see the exact location of the F-holes from the inside of the soundboard and helps in locating the re-enforcing gauze . I always mask off the soundboard with painters tape before I glue the gauze to avoid a mess, Remove the masking immediately after you get the gauze positioned to your satisfaction , then let the glued gauze dry thoroughly before you make any cuts ..... the gauze will eliminate any tear-out or chipping during the sawing .

Now using a 3/16" drill I open up the two pilot holes so I can pass my coping saw blade through .I use a standard coping saw with a fine blade in conjunction with a cork padded "birds beak" support... just like you'd use for cutting MOP inlay pieces , and carefuly saw it out topside up. You will still need to use chisels and sanding sticks to smooth everything out , Pens and markers of different diameters wrapped with sandpaper make good tools for reaming the circular areas. I find the dremel 1/2" sanding drum also works nicely for quickly rounding the larger circular area of the F-hole.

Cutting binding ledge
QUESTION: The first time I cut a binding ledge on a top, I used the now discontinued StewMac Dremel attachment that looks like a bell housing with a flat tab on the bottom, the type pictured in Roger Siminoff's book. I was nervously moving along, got to the 9 o'clock position, and WHACK, a big splinter went flying off. Luckily, it was no thicker than the intended ledge. I was taking the full cut in one pass, and I forget which direction I was moving in.

QUESTION: Should you keep adjusting the depth of cut so that you need multiple passes, and if so, how deep for each?

What direction should you move the tool in, to avoid tear-out?

What tools do you use to cut the ledge in the tight areas around the scroll where the Dremel tool will not reach?

Is a table mounted router a better tool for the job?

Answer from Fletcher Brock:
Remember to fair the rim before starting to cut your ledges as any lumps or hollows will telegraph to your binding. A little time scrutinizing your shape will be worth it for the overall appearance of your axe. I cut my binding ledge in at least two passes, usually three. The purfling is maybe cut in one pass, but most often two. I leave the last 32nd or so, in and down, for my last pass. It's less likely to burn, because you can cut at a decent pace, and the bit is less likely to chatter or skip or plunge or whatever, resulting in a smoother line.

The splintering you mentioned is common on the widest part of the instrument and the outside of the scroll where you are cutting into the grain whose runout runs off the side of the instrument . I climb cut these areas that look like they might cause trouble, and go slowly, often not taking full depth cuts. If you hear the wood beginning to split, stop, and glue it back together, resuming your cut after the glue has dried. To cut the rest of the scroll, I first drawn my shapes with pencil, making sure the lines are fair, then cut the lines with an Exacto knife around patterns made from Formica (you could use a French curve).The bulk of the wood is then removed with a variety of chisels, some straight, some curved, then faired with files and sanding sticks. It takes a while. Remember that this is challenging woodworking, kit or no kit, and much much harder to do than that picnic table we built last weekend. It takes time.

Lately, I've been cutting the binding and purfling ledges with an overhead router. I have tried lots of different configurations over the years, both hand held and fixed cutters. Overheads work well on instruments with parallel sides. I've built a base out of angle iron cantilevering a laminate trimmer over a flat and smooth section of my bench top so the instrument can be manipulated around the router easily. I cut and bind the top first, before the back is glued on, using the routers adjustable depth guide accessory to adjust the "in and out" and the routers base adjustment for the "up and down". I use down cut 1/4 inch high speed steel bits and change them every mandolin or two. I found a place to buy them for about $4.50 a piece, well worth it for the clean cut they give and cheap enough that I can change them often.

After cutting binding ledges, they go in to general router bit rotation for any number of other jobs. The back is cut the same way as the top with the exception that I have to cradle the mandolin in one of my building forms and shim it here and there to make sure the binding channel has a uniform depth. This can take a little time. Sometimes I cut the ledges with the hand held tool set up that you described (same idea, just my design). It depends on how I feel at the time. You get the same results either way.

Answer from Jamie Wiens:
I am quite familiar with the attachment you speak of ,and in use it is pretty scary alright. The best way I've found to use it is to take multiple passes. .The tool has two depth of cuts ,depending on which side of the tab bears against the side of the instrument .There's a.060" side and a .090" side .If you're going for the usual .090" depth ,use the .060" side of the tool first. Don't bring the bit all the way down to your final depth either. Make this first pass, then flip the tool to the .090" side. Make another pass. Now lower the bit all the way to your final depth. Make the .060" pass again , flip and follow with the .090" .

I should note that I've always used the stew-mac piloted .090" mini router bit in conjunction with the dremel attachment . I like the added security of the pilot. I have also modified the tab on my attachment ...I've filed it to a radius so that it will go into the waist with out reducing the depth of cut.

Having said all that , I wouldn't use that thing if I had a router table and a good 1/2" up-spiral router bit. Just make up a little riser and feeler out of scrap and clamp it to the table over the router bit. This is definitely the way to go in my view. There's no tear out or other scary tendencies.

As to the scroll area. It's knife and chisel man. The dockyard mini chisels are handy for this , as is a good pillar file ....I also use a violin-makers purfling knife which helps somewhat too. but you can't get it in the tight area of the scroll without grinding the tab down to just about nothing , I haven't had the heart to do that yet.

Loar A5
QUESTION: I would like to know more about the Loar A5. I am interested in knowing how different the Loar A5 is from the F5 and whether specs or plans exist and are available.

Note from Moderator:
Check on the CGOW posts for Tut Taylor, and the archives during that week. I think that Tom I. and Max had comments. The consensus seemed to be that the various Gibson A5-L models have little to do with the one and only original A5, formerly owned by Tut. There were some observations on differences from the F5 of the time, and I recall it being said that the body was derived from the contemporaneous oval hole A models. As to plans, I asked Tut, and here is his response (hey, can't blame a guy for asking):

"There will be no plans of the A5. Mark is in the process of building a replica of the A5. We have a file for those who are interested. We will be sending periodic updates and pertinet info as the project goes on.If you want your name added we will be glad to do so."

Business Questions
QUESTION: How many hours a day do you get to build (as opposed to spending time marketing your products, working the business side, and so on)? Do you have someone who handles those "non-building" aspects of your business, or are you a jack-of-all-trades?

Answer from Jamie Wiens:
Speaking for myself ..I find that I'll work on one thing intensely for hours or even days at a time. I don't take myself away from a job if I've got the right energy flow going. ..So how many hours ? I don't count 'em. ...but I probably go 12 hrs some days .When I find I'm burned-out or my neck is too stiff from building, I'll work on another aspect of my work . Examples : Drafting and designing, answering E-mails , working on my Website , Building a tool or jig , studying books and supply catalogs or chatting on the phone with other builders ........that can be refreshing.

QUESTION: What did you do professionally before you built mandolins (for those who were not building at an early age)?

I started working at Larrivee guitars when I was 19 ..I guess that's an early age. It led to my interest in Bluegrass music and mandolins.

Tap tuning
QUESTION: Do most builders tap tune the top plates and tone bars?

Answer from Fletcher Brock
I don't tune but I keep track of the notes. (well...maybe I do tune) One from the treble side which is usually the strongest and somewhere in the C range, give or take a half step or two. The note reflects the mass of the plate (done after I put in the tone bars and with the particular arching that I use). Removing material from the top or from the tone bars lowers the pitch.

There is a tone when holding the plate on the bass side that is lower than the note on the treble side and is usually somewhere in the G#-A# range. Then there is one when holding the plate on the centerline that is pretty high and kinda hard to hear.

I just want to make the plates ring nicely with some clarity and some sustain in a host of different pitches. Read what Dana Bourgeois has to say about tapping.

Neck angles
QUESTION: Do neck angles vary widely between builders or do they stay pretty much around 6 degrees per the Loar/McRostie plans?

Answer from Fletcher Brock
Bridge height dictates the neck angle. If we're all sort of copying the Loar or McRostie drawings, then the neck angles will be pretty much the same. I set my necks for bridge height. If the arching is a little different or the action is going to be higher or lower, than a different neck angle will result.

Care and feeding of mandos
QUESTION: Please comment on mandolin maintainance for the rest of us (non-builders or collectors). I'm thinking about basic care and feeding (and polishing and cleaning and humidifiying and tweeking and......)

Answer from Fletcher Brock
Most important is to play your mandolin. 45% humidity is a good average. Watch out for extremes in temp and humidity. It's the quick changes that are the worst. Dry is worse than wet. Wipe the fingerprints off now and again with an off the shelf guitar cleaner/polish on a soft cloth. Don't get alcohol on your mandolin if it has a spirit varnish or French polish finish. Keep your eye on neck relief and action.

Neck joints
QUESTION: Can we have some of our pro builders describe the type of neck joint they use? I think it would be great to get some details on how different joints are constructed.

Answer from Fletcher Brock
I use a tapered dovetail. Certainly, for me, the most challenging joint in lutherie. I try to make the shoulder part on the neck side of the joint smaller then in the plans that I've seen, thinking that more wood on the neck side of the joint can't be a bad thing, plus it means for less back cutting of the shoulders when fitting.

The tricky part about these joints is that the slightest alteration in any of your surfaces affects bridge height, snugness of fit and center line of neck projection. Some times all three. It can be a real head scratcher at times. But, you can take them apart if need be. A great time tested joint. I was inspired by Don McRostie to build a router jig to cut the joint, and I love it. Saves a ton of time. There is still a small amount of fine tuning to do but the jigs take me 90% there.

Basic tools, Will Parsons comments
Answer: It really depends on how much of the process you want to do and how much you want to purchase all ready done such as buying a kit or hiring out some of the work. I do all of the work except actually making the metal parts such as the tuners so I have more tools than a hobbiest probably wants to invest in. The tools that I think are the most important are first the non-powerd ones and they are a few good knives, a couple of finger planes, coping saw, jewlers saw, fret or razor saw, binding cutter, small hammer, calipers, flat files, fret file, chisels and gouges. The best power tools include a band saw preferably 12" or better, stationary belt sander, drill press, router, table saw, and a small rotary tool. Also plenty of sand paper and a high tolerance for sore fingers. For those of you who are married, it helps to have a partner who is tolerant of a great deal of sawdust in the bedroom and the laundry. I am sure I have forgotten some important tools but thats all I can think of now.

Alternatives to truss rods
QUESTION: Are any of the established top builders experimenting with new ideas like CF non adjustable truss rods?

Answer from Fletcher Brock
I'm not a fan of adjustable truss rods in mandolins. I think CF is a better way to go. The chunk I use is 3/8" X 1/2" with a rounded bottom set into a round bottom channel. It's light, strong and has wonderful sound transmission qualities. I run the piece from dove tail all the way through the headstock.

Moderator comment: I know that Rolfe Gerhardt has been using CF neck reinforcement in his Phoenix mandolins for some time, and I believe this is true of others. Rolfe also uses CF /wood sandwiched material for bracing. Check the Mandolin Cafe Builders discussion board, I think you will find a thread on this.

Choice of finish
QUESTION: What finishes are selected for their sonic properties and which are selected because of their application process?

Answer from Fletcher Brock
Lacquer is easy to use. Spirit varnish, French polishand alcohol based finishes may be harder to apply. There is a learning curve for sure. Folks like the spirit varnish these days for tone. Although trickier to apply, spirit gets my vote. I think it looks cool and has a nice satiny feel to it too.

Moderator comment: I have been french polishing with shellac because I do not have or want spray equipment, and I don't really care how long it takes me, I am not trying to make a living at this, or even pin money. I enjoy the process, and the fact that the ingredients are edible, in moderation. I don't know enough about it's effect on tone, but folks say there is a difference.

Stain wood and/or tint finish?
QUESTION: Do you stain the wood and then apply the finish and why? Second, do you tint the finish that is applied to the instrument and why? There seems to be a difference in the way the wood looks if it's stained then finished or if the finish is tinted and applied directly to the unstained wood.

Answer from Fletcher Brock
1) Staining directly on to curly maple accentuates the figure as more stain gets sucked into the end grain sections of the figure and less in the flat grain areas.

Spruce doesn't tend to stain very evenly. It often ends up splotching. Areas that aren't sanded well will also translate into inconsistent coloring. Putting stain directly on the wood means that less top coats need to be applied resulting in a thinner finish (you don't have to spray on color coats then worry about sanding through them if you level your finish that way)

2) I do a combination of staining the wood first, then spraying color coats to darken the finish (I find it difficult to get the stain dark enough for my liking with just the stain on wood) as well as make the color gradient more consistent. Often, I will only spray the top and not put any color except the base amber color directly on the wood, as I don't like that splotchy spruce look. I then put build coats on top of that getting the best of both worlds. A consistant gradient with accentuated figure.

Stain before finish?
QUESTION: What builders stain the wood and then apply the finish and why?

Answer from Jamie Wiens:
I always stain the wood and then finish. It's a much richer look than spraying translucent shaders over sealed wood.

Size/position of f-holes
QUESTION: How do the size and location/position of the f-holes affect sound?

Moderator comment:
A.L. Smart, in his GAL article on the Modern Mandolin, stated that making f-holes smaller and/or closer to the edge of the instrument, will enhance bass response. Making them larger and/or closer to the centerline of the body, will enhance treble response. He did not mention a range of size or placement as I recall. Check on John Monteleone's CGOW transcript as well, I believe he spoke to this.