December 31, 2009 by Tim
Well here I am ending the year with a built, and by no means finished cigar box ukulele. In all this project took me a few more weeks than I thought it would. Part of it was life and part of it were things that I did not expect while building this crazy thing. Below I will talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Most of it good with the ugly things stemming from my issues)
As I said in my last post I would start with the finish I used on the box and the neck. Just like with the whole build I do not have the tools to do the awesome finishes that you might see on professional grade instruments so I went with the best one I know, Traditional Tung Oil Finish from Formby’s. It is simple, I think it looks great, and it is really hard to mess up.
All I did was hang the body from the pick-up jack that I installed (I think this only works because it is so light) and the neck by some wire strung through one of the screw holes. I used a little painters tape so I would not get it in the top of the fret board (It is not recommended to finish the top of a fret board, I only did the sides). Tore up an old t-shirt to wipe on the Tung oil finish (not actually all oil, I used a modified Tung oil so it has some polyurethane in it)
After a regimen of 6 thin coats of Tung oil, sand with 400 grit sandpaper, another 3 heavy coats of Tung oil, sand with 400 grit sandpaper, followed by 6 thin coats of Tung oil, sand with 400 grit sandpaper , then 600 grit sandpaper. ending with 1 last really really thin coat of Tung oil (Just enough to make it shine and remove sanding marks) I was done. Took about a week to do, but there were issues.
The neck is perfect, no issues, it was with the body that things turned out a little ugly. As you can see in the pictures there are spots. I tried sanding them out but I can only conclude that it is glue from the “plywood” top that seeped through and there was no way to remove it. It is only visible in certain lighting situations. If It was a professionally made instrument it would have been scrapped or thrown away for such defects but I just figured I would soldier on with the build and roll with it and report my issues.
I could bore you with how good I am at following directions, and they are pretty good, I will only touch on what I did and note some interesting things that I encountered.
I will start with attaching the neck to the box. Unlike a normal uke neck that is glued on, the only thing glued to the body is the end of the fret board. The actual neck is held in place with an L bracket and two screws. The beauty of this design, if you follow the templates given, it gives you the ability to adjust the action, kind of acting like a truss rod in a guitar, And I used it to get the best action possible.
The other place of note that I have is with the optional tuning block (I would not do this kit unless I had it). Since the box is a bit shallower that a normal cigar box I had to shorten it about 1/8th of an inch to make it flush with the bottom of the box. With that I also rounded all the edges and did a few coats of the Tung oil. Beyond that I attached it as center as possible, this time I used the extra fret wire to make sure the strings don’t dig into the box.
Beyond that I put the strings on and slipped the bridge into place, and tuned it. From there it is just some minor adjustments of moving the bridge for intonation (If you look it is a little crooked, that is to compensate for the minor differences that are needed between the G and A strings), and tightening the screw that attaches the neck to the body to lower the strings a little bit.
I have a long way until I would say that this ukulele is finished. I want to tweak it until I am absolutely happy with it, don’t get me wrong I could stop here but that is not my style. My plan is to change the strings to either Worth or Aquila, install some strap buttons, and make sure the strings don’t pop out while playing.
The kits from Papa’s Boxes are the best I have seen around. You can go to places like Mainland Ukes and buy a premade neck and then figure out the bridge, or even go and make a neck yourself. Both are just other paths to go. I don’t have the tools and expertise to do those, that is why this kit rocks. The neck is made, the bridge is done and since it is floating it is forgiving on placement.
Please do not get me wrong, this is a serious kit, you can screw it up if you are not detailed oriented. The best rules to live by for this and any other project is:
1. Measure, Measure, and re-measure
2. Dry fit before you commit. Don’t glue, drill, or screw until you are sure.
3. You are never done. You can always go back and correct or at least cover up your mistakes. Sometimes the worst things can turnout good if you put your mind to it.
The next post on this will be next year. Expect it to follow a few others, but it will be on how I made it better or at least how I tried.
Enjoy my video below.
HD Audio Sample