Finished mandolin

February 20, 2011

Here is the finished mandolin.  I ended up using Wipe-on Poly and then buffing it out using the Stewmac foam polishing pad.  I guess I would give the finish about 6/10, but it is reasonably OK…  I’m not going to put comments against all the photos.

Applying the sunburst

January 9, 2011

OK, here begins the scary part.  Finishing seems to me to be the most difficult step, and yet it seems to have fewer learning materials available compared to other steps.  In this case, there is a very good description in Roger Siminoff’s mandolin construction book showing how to do a hand-rubbed sunburst.  The first step is to make sure the stain doesn’t get onto the rosette and the fingerboard.  I have painted a couple of coats of shellac on the rosette and then covered it with masking tape.  It turns out that wasn’t quite enough, as you will see later…

Here is the whole thing taped up and ready for staining.

I don’t have intermediate photos really of the sunburst staining process.  Overall it was OK, though I had a couple of specific problems.  First, I don’t think I sealed the rosette properly, and the stain wicked into the spruce next to the rosette.  I think I should have sealed it better, and maybe done a sealer coat of the whole mandolin.

I also had a lot of trouble in the areas where I had used superglue to seal cracks and gaps.  The stain would not stick to those areas as well as the others, and therefore showed them up very clearly.  If I had done a spray sunburst, or sealed the whole thing first (or not needed to do so many corrections with *%&$ superglue), I guess this problem might not have arisen.

I didn’t really try any of the methods to try to enhance the figure of the maple.

…though you can see a bit of figure here…

Now, the oldest mistake in the book – I forgot to seal up the sound hole before staining!

I started with the idea of finishing the mandolin with french polish.  It seemed to be working alright, but I did have some trouble in which the alcohol-based shellac was picking up the stain again, especially in areas where superglue had been used.

Here is the back after a couple of coats of french polish.  I couldn’t resist putting on the hardware and stringing it up to have a listen.

Final Sanding

January 5, 2011

I took a series of pictures after the final sanding and filling, but before staining and finishing.  I am not going to comment separately on each picture.  Clearly there were some things I just couldn’t hide at this stage, and of course the finishing stage usually enhances blemishes rather than covering them up…

Fretboard extender

December 30, 2010


There is a little fretboard extender which has to be fitted by carving a slot into the top.  Once again, I did this with Xacto knife and micro-chisels.

I guess the extender is there just to provide a bit of extra support for the fretboard.


Binding the fretboard

December 28, 2010

I used a combination of information from Roger Siminoff’s book and Don MacRostie’s video to get tips on the fretboard binding.  This just shows the clamping jig, which is really pretty simple.

I had to re-glue and clamp one of the corners, but overall this part of the process was pretty straightforward.

Here is the fretted fretboard.  I ground away the fret tangs over the binding using a grinder on a Dremel tool, with a jig based on the one in the Siminoff book.

Just a closer look at the frets over the binding.

Attaching the fretboard

December 28, 2010

I made a couple of simple clamping cauls to help glue on the fretboard.

These were helped by c-clamps around the soundhole.

Just a view of the attached fretboard.

and another…

Peghead binding

December 27, 2010

In his video, Don MacRostie uses a piloted router bit for doing the peg head binding.  You also have to set up the router such that the base is at an angle rather than perpendicular to the bit, as the binding is meant to follow the angle of the peg head sides, which are not perpendicular to the front.  I didn’t have the right bit, so I did it all by hand with an Xacto knife and micro chisels.  I have one now.  I saw in another post that Lynn Dudenbostel does this stage freehand with a dremel tool on a router base with a spiral carbide bit, cleaned up with a chisel. Cutting the channel by hand took quite a while and quite a bit of care.

Once again, the binding has to be done in a series of steps, in which the individual segments are joined with bevels that are sealed with acetone.

The clip is to keep the binding held down against the bottom of the channel.

Here is the peghead after the binding is stuck on, but before it is all scraped flush and gap-filled

Binding the top

December 26, 2010

Here the back binding has already been attached and the binding channels have been cut for the top.  Most of the top was done with the Stewmac binding router guide, combined with Xacto knife and micro chisels in the areas where the router guide couldn’t reach.  This approach worked pretty well overall, and I think it would work well for any arched instrument, like an arch top guitar.

Just a series of photos now showing attachment of the binding with a mixture of shims, elastic bands and tape.

The binding was bent with a heat gun.

I made a little extender out of scrap wood to allow better access to the entire body while the binding was being attached.

You really have to be careful removing the tape from the spruce top, as it will pull away fibres of wood if you don’t heat it up first.  I had this happen even though I did heat up the tape first.

Just about done now, but of course then comes the process of filling all the tiny little gaps with super glue.  Yet another reminder that the better you fit the binding at this stage, the less hassle you have later doing the gap-filling…

Back binding

December 23, 2010

Don MacRostie’s excellent video on mandolin construction has a very good section on binding, from cutting the binding channels to gluing the binding.  Here you can probably see the part of the binding channel that was cut with the dremel binding router attachment and the part that was cut by hand with Xacto knife and chisels.

The mandolin is set and and ready for the binding.

The binding is bent into shape with a heat gun and then held in place with rubber bands and shims where required.  Step one – the short bits on either side of the heel and the short bit of the point.

I had to poke and prod a lot with dowels in order to get the binding snug on the inside of the scroll.

Step two – the outside of the scroll and the bit connecting the two points.  It took ages to get the most seamless join at the inner part of the scroll.  I used weld-on cement to stick the binding on and acetone to attempt to make the bevelled joints invisible.  Stewmac can’t ship weld-on cement to Australia, so I bought it from Allstar plastics in Southport.

This is the spot that separates the pros from the amateurs.  Looks pretty amateur to me…

Soundhole binding

December 12, 2010

I must have tried a thousand different ways to get a good snug fit on the sound hole binding.  I think this would be a good place to make a purpose-built jig of some sort.

I did my best to get the binding on using a whole range of dowels I had lying around in the shop.  It came out early gap-free.