View Full Version : Basic tools for mandolin construction
I'm looking to build my first mando, but I don't have many tools. What are some important tools that I should focus on first?
You can't have too many. Lot's of other tools can be improvised, but you need clamps in various sizes and configurations.
You'll need saws, drills, chissels, gouges, knives, scrapers, sandpaper, etc.. A look through the Siminoff book will give you a pretty good idea what you'll have to have.
Stay tuned, I'm sure lots of suggestions will follow.
Finger planes and small spokeshaves are useful for carving the plates,
especially if you roughed out the shape with a router. I find they
are much easier to control than gouges (although those are needed
for scroll work). Best, most useful present my mother-in-law gave me
was a set of fingerplanes and spokeshaves.
Also, the bandsaw is a big help. I built my first mando without one,
and now that I have one, I can't see doing without. It cuts sides, linings,
plates, etc., but a big help is cutting the corner, neck, and tail blocks
with perfect 90 degree angles. Trying to fit blocks that are just a bit
off, as if you cut them with a coping saw (unless your really good at it),
are hard to restore to 90 degrees for a good fit.
I keep harping on this. #Before anything else, you need measurement and layout tools, i.e., rulers, squares, calipers, dividers,...,. #Next, you need edge tools, i.e., chisels, gouges, knives, planes. #Then and only then should you begin aquiring machines.
I am no purist. #I have a shop full of machines, and I use them extensively and gratefully every day (well, most days). #But the machines won't make an instrument for you. #They will only save you labor after you have carefully layed everything out.
I keep a poster on the wall of my shop as a joke. #It is Norm Abram's dream workshop. #He first lists stationary machines, all reasonable choices. #He then lists what he calls "hand tools", only they are all portable motorized tools, i.e., drills, routers, etc. #They are also reasonable choices, except that nowhere does he include any squares, rulers, etc., or even a block plane!
Luthery is woodworking. #As such, you have to learn how to decide where to make cuts in your precious pieces of wood. #No machine will do that for you. #Machines will only cut through a lot of wood very quickly. #Hopefully, you have made a good decision about where to cut before cutting.
I almost forgot something that John Hamlett and I are in fierce agreement about. #You have to understand wood - how it moves, how it cuts in the various directions, how it responds to its environment, etc. #A wonderful aid to that end is the book "Understanding Wood" by Leonard Hoadley (Taunton Press), now out in a nicely colored 2nd edition.[U]
I'm VERY green at this -- still working on #1. I'm far enough into it that I can see that if you had several power tools and jigs laid out and set up, you could build multiple mandolins faster. They didn't have as many power tools 100 years ago as we do today, but they still built instruments. If you're just starting and don't intend to go into mass production, you'll likely get just as much done in the same (or even less) amount of time using good old-fashioned hand tools....with the exceptions being:
a good band saw, a good belt sander, a drill press (with a spindle sander drum too), and maybe a scroll saw if you're like me and don't have a 14" band saw. A narrower band saw won't allow the last bit of cutting in the scroll very well. A router and a Dremel or other rotary tool will help too.
Amen on the clamps! Pipe clamps, bar clamps, C-clamps, you name it. So far, I havn't run into anything that a clamp (or 8) weren't needed.
I don't have a set of finger planes. I have one - an 18mm Sloan. I have a 3/4" #8 gouge that I get along with very well, and I made a palm plane that has a 1 1/2" blade that I ground a radius onto and resharpened. I bought a couple of scrapers. I've now carved 3 tops (yeah, I did say I'm working on #1 still), and those tools are plenty. Get whatever sharpening tools, jigs, stones, strops, etc. that you think will work for you and learn how to get all your carving tools shaving sharp with them. Don't pass go until you have everything SHARP. Your work will be lightyears easier and better if you don't settle for "close enough" here.
I had many of the tools already, but I got a slight case of TAS (tool aquisition syndrome) and bought a couple of bigger/better ones along with the finger plane, gouge, sharpening stuff, sanding drums, and a few more clamps. Oh yeah, get a good dial caliper guage and build or buy a sturdy deep C to mount it on to measure thicknesses of the plates.
Necessity is the mother of TAS. Dig in...you'll figure out what you need next. Don't expect to save any $ building one yourself. I could have bought a VERY nice used or even new American F-style for what I've spent on tools, wood, and hardware so far....but where's the fun in that? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif
I think it is important to do some building with just hand tools. There is a lot that can be learned while doing so. John
Just wanted to add that when I thought I had enough clamps I didn't. Jointer plane, Finger planes and scrapers are what I'm using the most. Also think hard about your layout tools. One size ruler doesn't fit all and a good straight edge and accurate square are a must. I have a 9 inch square that is adjustable for accuracy currently tuned in to better than .0005 in of tolerance over the entire length. It would have been nice to have a smaller one also but I need to save for that these squares are expensive. I received it as a gift. It was made by bridge city tools. I use a record jointer plane but you should really upgrade the blade and frog(?) they make all the difference in the world. John
......he pulls the soap box out... Stands upon it and says,"I agree with Dave and John. Try and get some basic skills under your belt. Learn about the wood, what it does, how it works....and let me know where I can go to teach woodworking in the public schools again so we don't end up having everything made over seas"........he puts the soap box back....
Assuming an understanding of wood (otherwise it's like buying a car but not knowing how to drive), I agree that measurement and layout tools are the first major investment. Don't go cheap! Get the best you can afford knowing they might be a lifetime investment. Standard tape measures fail at the end but can be great for general measurement. Get rulers, squares, calipers, paper, plexi for templates, and good quality pencils.
Clamps, yup. Good cutting hand tools and a way of keeping the cutting edges sharp.
The first thing you need electricity for is light, and lots of it. Good general lighting and good localized lamps, one with a magnifier is handy too.
Don't forget that mankind made a lot of instruments before electric power...don't become its slave.
I'm still looking for a brain http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif
,,,,#They didn't have as many power tools 100 years ago as we do today, but they still built instruments.,,,,, #
Actually they had more powerful power tools then and just as accurate as today's tools. Even the Amish are great purchasers of power tools. The Amish do bring them home and strip the electric motors out, they use a lot of powerbelt energy from wind and waterways or steam as most people did in the 1800's.
I kick myself for not buying a mint Milwalkie air router that was offered to me for $25.
I agree with Dave - the layout tools come first and then start with your edged tools. Your planes and chisels require precise sharpening or they will be useless. Your high end chisels were sold not long ago with out final honing. I took a two year class on knife making and the first six months were dedicated just to sharpening. Dull tools will injure you or even kill you.
A good solid straight edge is invaluable, something solid enough you can use clamps on without damaging it or the wood.
I'm speaking from the perspective of a certified tool junkie, and someone that hasn't started mando #1 yet but has done quite a bit of woodworking. I'll go light on the tool list other than to say buy what you need, not every gimmicky thing that Norm shows you, and buy good quality. I still have my first handplane, '80s Stanley junk... nearly turned me off to handplaning altogether. Luckily I started buying decent planes (mostly antique) and now I love using hand tools whenever they make sense (which is often).
You don't say if you have woodworking experience. Take Dave's advice and get Understanding Wood (although it's R. Bruce Hoadley) from Taunton Press... I'd like to check out the color edition. Learn how to "4 square" stock... or surface all four sides parallel and square to each other. I know there aren't square parts on a mando, but from being a woodworker I don't know how you would lay out something like a neck without starting with known square and parallel surfaces.
From there layout and measuring tools are critical. I have 25' and 30' tape measures for carpentry, but the lines are over 1/32" wide... you can't possibly get an accurate measurement with them. Good flexible steel rules are nice, as is a center-finding ruler (0 is in the middle rather than on the end). Buy accurate squares... you'll drive yourself to drink if your square is off slightly.
Consider making tools. I don't have finger planes, and when I get ready to build I'll decide whether to make them or buy them. Get good quality irons that are not too hard to sharpen but hard enough to hold an edge... Ron Hock (http://www.hocktools.com/) is a good source and has some sharpening tips on his site. Speaking of sharpening... you don't need to spend a fortune on sharpening (http://www.shavings.net/SCARY.HTM) equipment. I have some rosewood and maple marking gauges that were made from scrap wood and an old knife... they've served me well for 15 years and it's nice to have several so that you don't have to reset them for different dimensions while working a project.
Clamps are too cool, and variety is important. You can make some of them too... cam clamps are documented in books by Irving Sloan and others, and spool clamps (http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Clamps,_support_tools/Spool_Clamps.html) would be easy to make but they're also cheap to buy. Don't overlook getting a bag of big rubber bands... they're great clamps for oddball surfaces. The ones I keep on hand are about 2.5" in diameter and 3/4" wide.
Okay... I've probably chewed up enough bandwidth so I'll quit now.
Dave, that Norm poster sounds cool... I wish I had a copy. I guess I could just pin Porter Cable and Delta catalogs on the wall... it's probably about the same! My shop "inspirational" poster is the H.O. Studley (http://www.taunton.com/finewoodworking/pages/w00088.asp) tool chest... amazing piece of work!
Have fun making shavings!
Paul Doubek http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif
Sorry about the Hoadley misnomer, though the book should be easy to find, even in spite of my misnomer. Iirc, I saw a Studley tool chest or two on the back cover of Fine Woodworking. Impressive!
The Ron Hock lead is a good one; they have aftermarket irons for readily available planes which are a vast improvement over the original irons. I put a Hock iron in a Stanley low-angle block plane, and it was a vast improvement over the original. Also, look in back issues of Fine Woodworking for articles on tuning planes and chisels, etc.
I didn't figure the Hoadley name was a big deal... and that book is a great recommendation. I've had my copy for around 20 years. They Studley tool chest poster in a reprint of the back cover of FWW. They had so many requests after that issue came out that they printed it up as poster.
I put Hock irons in my low-angle block plane and one of my Stanley #4s. It's a great upgrade! Taunton Press also prints collections of old FWW articles in the form of books so you can target your topic. I have most of the FWWs dating back to the late '70s, so I don't have many of those books... they would take up a lot less space!
how about a step further...er, backward. what would be needed to put together one of those mando kits. Say, the Stew-Mac kits.
I guess I need to proof-read more gooder http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif .... "They Studley tool chest poster in a reprint..." translates to "The Studley tool chest poster is a reprint..." OOPS! I really hate it when I do that! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
Most important tool to me is my workbench. Built it 16 years ago with all hand tools and it was a steep learning curve on all the woodwork basics. I have since tried to refine and apply these basics to instrument building. I make a lot of shavings, loads of dust, many mistakes and not many instruments...........but I'm still trying ! Look at Scott Landis' "The Workbench Book" for loads of ideas...........John
PaulD is right the best way to learn to use the hand plane is to square up a board only do all six sides. John http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
One simple tool which I use a lot is a Gouge! Real handy for scroll carving and diging out wood.
Patience, is a tool one can never have enough of in luthiery, learning when to step back and consider options and planning ahead is a lesson best learned before you ruin a perfectly god piece of flamed and celebrate by throwing it through a window and denting the fender on your mother in law's new bmw convertible, now she won't even speak to me .... yeah patience is good http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
Where did you get that gouge....or do you have any recommendation. Thanks.
I agree with Mandoman15...patience...I'll add one more..time.
If you don't have the time or patience and try to rush it, you're not going to be happy with the end result.
An old boss I had told me that J.W. Marriott gave him the best piece of advice he ever got...
"If you don't have time to do it right, you most certainly don't have time to do it twice."
Where did you get that gouge....or do you have any recommendation. #Thanks.
I'm not Yonkle, but that's a Flexcut gouge you can get them HERE (http://www.woodcraft.com/family.aspx?DeptID=1053&FamilyID=1994)