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Thread: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

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    Registered User J Chris's Avatar
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    Question Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Does anyone know of any methods that have been used in the carving of the mandolin sound board? Something other than by using the finger planes? I was wondering if there might be any potential in using a Dremel with the extension cable for carving, or if that would just be "wiring around the meter" and very ineffective.

    Thanks!

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    ArtDecoMandos Marty Jacobson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Some oddball ways I have carved plates:

    Lancelot carving tool on angle grinder
    http://www.katools.com/shop/carving-...s-c-21_30.html
    Pros: Very fast. Very messy (yes, that's a pro - this thing is fun to use! But use a face mask, not just glasses.) Pretty clean cuts
    Cons: Easy to learn, difficult to master. Good for roughing, that's about it.

    Wecheer flex-shaft carving tool with reciprocating tool
    Picked this up for a steal from Woodcraft. Like a Foredom for under $200. Very useful tool. Even takes Foredom handpieces.
    Make sure you get Flexcut chisels for it.
    Pros: Fatigue-free carving with extremely high precision. Less prone to splitting out excessive amounts of spruce when taking really heavy cuts. Fun to use.
    Cons: Costs $200 + chisels. Probably $350 all told.

    Steelex bowl carving tool
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/STEELEX-BOWL...-/370620382526
    Pros: Fast if you sharpen it. Easy to control, works great, nice planed surface is left
    Cons: Getting harder to find since Grizzly discontinued them.

    Don't forget random orbit sanders and the New Wave sanding system, both are useful at times.
    martinjacobson.com - Jacobson mandolins

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    Registered User the padma's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    I keep a beaver in a tub of water under my work bench....took a while to train him, but he does a pretty good job of carving out the tops...especially the lutz spruce...he likes them.

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    duh Padma
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    I may be old but I'm ugly billhay4's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    90% of the carving is done with a gouge. On the inside a drill press is a great way to rough out the coutours. Lee Valley has a tool here that is a pullshave and it quite good for carving the inside of a top.
    There are dozens of alternatives, but a good plane (it doesn't have to be a luthier's plane) is best for finishing cuts.
    Bill

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    Registered User bernabe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    A 40 or 60 grit sanding disk attached to your drill press will remove top wood pretty quick. Maple a little slower. I use some made by Gator, I think, and they are real stiff. You can remove excess wood from the outside of a top within 10 minutes if you start with only the drill press. I go slower and take my time. Ive used the same one for the last 4 or 5 instruments-tops and backs. The bolt on type attachment is better than the adhesive type [stick on sanding disks] as they will not stay on. The thin paper-like discs tear. The Gator disks are tough and, iirc, dont have a hole in the middle for the bolt-on backing attachment so you may have to make a hole yourself. Ive been using my router lately to make rough topographical steps, drill press/sanding disk to smooth out the topo step's transition leaving plenty of room for for finger planing, then scrapers, then hand sanding. Then, once the outside is completely smooth [done], do the inside the same way skipping the router step. With any power tool method of removal where youre either holding the tool in your hands or holding the piece youre working on, be careful as one slip or mis-judgement can ruin the piece by digging in too deep in a given area, ruining the top or back. I also wouldnt attempt to get into the recurve with this or other similar methods. You have to leave plenty of wood for hand work or your asking for trouble. I have a dust collection system so mess and dust is not an issue. Without one your looking at alot of dust flying.

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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Lawrence Smart's article in American Lutherie #56 (Winter, 1998) described a homemade sliding sled jig for roughing a "topo map" carved plate. You can find some description of the drillpress method in Benedetto's book on archtop guitars. The underside of a plate is quite easy with the drillpress; make a wooden finger to stick up from the drillpress table and support your plate at a single small area directly under the drill bit. Then set the depth stop and just drill many holes to mark your plate for roughing to constant thickness. Carve using a finger plane or gouge to just eliminate the drill marks.

    For a more advanced article on plate shapes, see my article in American Lutherie #96 (Winter, 2008), on curtate cycloid arching. If you read all of the references I have just given, you will be well prepared to carve plates.

    http://www.Cohenmando.com

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    Registered User J Chris's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    There has been a lot of good discussion outlining ideas that I had never thought about before. Thanks everyone!

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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    I made this sled out of Unistrut with teflon runners and maple guides that ran down in the slots. It was enough of a PITA to make me buy the Marlin.
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    One thing to remember about carving plates, is to make sure that the plates are a minimum dimension BEFORE you cut them into the shape of the mandolin. Don't get excited and cut your shape out of a big slab, because it's much harder to clamp in this form, and you'll spend a lot of time chipping away. So, start with wedges if you can, about 20mm thick, or if it's a 1 pc top or back, do some dimensioning before cutting the outline. Even if you're making just one instrument, it may be worth making a cradle that can hold the plates, but wooden dogs in a workbench, and a towel underneath can work just fine. I often use my Lie-Nielsen scrub plane for the first passes once the plate is rough-profiled, especially at the ends where it tends to be thickest. Then I use a shop built wooden-bodied Krenov style plane with a curved sole, following that with a long-handled Japanese gouge, and follow that with the biggest finger plane, and on down.

    It takes me about 30 minutes to rough carve an A or 2pt top or back, before moving on to edge thickness. In general, use the biggest tool you can get away with, carving as close as possible to the tolerances for that tool, and then graduate to the smaller ones. Don't start chipping away with the finger planes too early, or you'll spend days carving. The topo/router method works, but is a little awkward, in terms of developing a natural looking arch from an early stage--you spend a lot of time blending the steps and THEN modeling the arch. If possible carve as if you were peeling an onion, taking an even thickness from the whole arch, before moving deeper. Also, you'll eventually discover all of the nuance of grain direction, so if it chips, change direction until it cuts smoothly, and keep your tools SHARP--use a water cooled grinder! On spruce, carve end to end, on maple, across the grain, but go whichever direction gives the results you need. Also, after you carve the re-curve, you need to reverse direction outside the re-curve, since you've exposed a different plane of grain.

    In addition, light is super important. If possible carve in a dark part of the shop, lighting the work with low raking light from the sides--use two lamps, one on each side, and turn them on and off as you work around the piece. If your light is from above, the contours wash out, but the low light will pick up every cut. Whatever tool you are using, each cut should pick up the ridge from the last one, and they should lay in a together in a line that has it's own aesthetic. Cut as if you were pushing through the work, getting the tool moving before it engages the work, and push through, and for GOD's SAKE, keep your left hand out of the way, especially with the gouge. The last time I cut myself, I was away from the work, and just wasn't paying attention as I moved my left hand past the tool to adjust the vise.
    Last bit of advice, once you've put in your 10,000 hours, you're just getting started
    Have fun and carve safely!
    Joe
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    Campanella Stringed Instruments

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    ArtDecoMandos Marty Jacobson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Great point about the light, Joe.
    martinjacobson.com - Jacobson mandolins

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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by J Chris View Post
    Does anyone know of any methods that have been used in the carving of the mandolin sound board? Something other than by using the finger planes? I was wondering if there might be any potential in using a Dremel with the extension cable for carving, or if that would just be "wiring around the meter" and very ineffective.

    Thanks!
    There are many alternatives to this, including those that have been mentioned, but when I read something like this my only thought is,"Why????".

    Of all the things I do as a working luthier, probably my favorite is hand carving a nice spruce top with a set of well tuned planes. On the days I get to carve spruce, I don't need to run a half marathon or do yoga or take up fly fishing or anything else. That one aspect of building a mandolin makes time and all of the pent up things in my head disappear and suddenly several hours have passed and I'm ankle deep in spruce curls, very relaxed, at peace, and for very little output I've just learned a tremendous amount about that individual board.

    On the other end of the spectrum, working with some of the maples can be a challenge. Carving a maple double bass back by hand makes me cuss like a mental patient and dream of getting a cnc machine...

    j.
    www.condino.com
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by grandcanyonminstrel View Post
    when I read something like this my only thought is,"Why????". www.condino.com
    Hand pain. And if you hadnt just sold that Terrco I called you about a few weeks back, I could probably pick a little better right now.

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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by grandcanyonminstrel View Post
    There are many alternatives to this, including those that have been mentioned, but when I read something like this my only thought is,"Why????".

    Of all the things I do as a working luthier, probably my favorite is hand carving a nice spruce top with a set of well tuned planes. On the days I get to carve spruce, I don't need to run a half marathon or do yoga or take up fly fishing or anything else. That one aspect of building a mandolin makes time and all of the pent up things in my head disappear and suddenly several hours have passed and I'm ankle deep in spruce curls, very relaxed, at peace, and for very little output I've just learned a tremendous amount about that individual board.

    On the other end of the spectrum, working with some of the maples can be a challenge. Carving a maple double bass back by hand makes me cuss like a mental patient and dream of getting a cnc machine...

    j.
    www.condino.com

    The advice you give is 100% valid, there is nothing I can think of that is more relaxing than woodworking, unless it is in fact, fly fishing! As you have probably figured out, I am new at this hobby and until I received the newest version of Siminoffs' book yesterday, the only methods I was aware of were in his book, so being a researcher by trade, I just had to see what other methods were out there. I am really looking forward to this project, and I can assure that I will have more questions in the future. Thanks everyone!

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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    I built an A model from scratch, but I can't exactly remember how I did it. There was a drill press involved, and this planer thingy, and Mowry's maps and some disc sanders. There were also some finger planes in there too. Whatever. I have a nice mandolin that I made and like a lot.

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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Hon. Padma: You are (1) a smarta** s.o.b. and (2) you must be my long lost twin brother.

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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by belbein View Post
    Hon. Padma: You are (1) a smarta** s.o.b. and (2) you must be my long lost twin brother.
    Actually, Padma reminds me strongly of a Miccosukee Creek shaman that I've known for all these many years.

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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by bernabe View Post
    Hand pain. And if you hadnt just sold that Terrco I called you about a few weeks back, I could probably pick a little better right now.
    I can understand that carving maple. If you're getting hand pain carving spruce, it is probably more of a technique issue than anything else. Have you made handles for all your fingerplanes so that the force comes from your shoulders and the fingers just glide things around for direction? That will take care of 95% of your hand issues. I never understood why the Ibex style without any handle is so popular- you'd have a difficult time designing a tool that was more hard on your hands.

    Take a look at my box of smaller planes. Don't get distracted by the set of handmade Chris Laarman planes with the fancy turned handles- (no you can't buy them as they are not commercially available)- you can see the how I made a wooden handle for my 11mm Ibex at the top and just superglued it on. That is the one I use 90%of the time. Veritas also makes a new set that have handles.

    j.
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    If you can get a topo map of your plate then a palm router really makes short work of roughing the outside. It's also really messy. Round-bottomed spokeshaves can smooth out most of the steps pretty fast.

    On the inside like several people said, the drill press gives you a good map and an angle grinder with sandpaper can hog out the inside amazingly fast. It could also grind it to pieces if you use too coarse a grit and don't pay attention.

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    ArtDecoMandos Marty Jacobson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    James, you're right. The IBEX planes cut great but are ergonomic train wrecks. The new Veritas planes you mentioned look great. At $59 I think it's time I got some.

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    In The Van Ben Milne's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    I think James's handles are an elegant solution for making finger planes comfortable.


    Anyone tried a Stanley no.20 plane?
    Perhaps with a custom curved blade?
    Would like to hear opinions if this might be viable?..
    Hereby & forthwith, any instrument with an odd number of strings shall be considered broken. With regard to mix levels, usually the best approach is treating the mandolin the same as a cowbell.

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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    It is too big.
    Bill Snyder
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by grandcanyonminstrel View Post
    I can understand that carving maple. If you're getting hand pain carving spruce, it is probably more of a technique issue than anything else. Have you made handles for all your fingerplanes so that the force comes from your shoulders and the fingers just glide things around for direction? That will take care of 95% of your hand issues. I never understood why the Ibex style without any handle is so popular- you'd have a difficult time designing a tool that was more hard on your hands.

    Take a look at my box of smaller planes. Don't get distracted by the set of handmade Chris Laarman planes with the fancy turned handles- (no you can't buy them as they are not commercially available)- you can see the how I made a wooden handle for my 11mm Ibex at the top and just superglued it on. That is the one I use 90%of the time. Veritas also makes a new set that have handles.

    j.
    www.condino.com
    I agree with you totally about the joy of carving spruce by hand and the handles. However, one day you wake up and things hurt that didnt hurt before including wrists, elbows. Its not just the plane, its the whole process, planing, scraping, sanding, tops, backs, all of it. Some of us develop arthritic pain later in life and some dont. Unfortunately, I did. You keep going, ya know. I will try looking into the handles because I still leave alot of wood for planing and in the mean time will continue to look for a used Marlin at a good price.

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    In The Van Ben Milne's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Snyder View Post
    It is too big.

    Hi could you please elaborate a little?
    Is the curve too big, the width of the sole?
    I was thinking it may suit to rough out plates before moving onto finger planes using a blade with a curved cutting edge on the blade
    Hereby & forthwith, any instrument with an odd number of strings shall be considered broken. With regard to mix levels, usually the best approach is treating the mandolin the same as a cowbell.

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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    I saw this relatively cheap tool at Granger and wondered if it might be a good one for backs or soundboards. What do you think?
    http://www.grainger.com/Grainger/STA...004?Pid=search

  30. #25
    ArtDecoMandos Marty Jacobson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Sound Board Carving Methods for the Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by StuartGold View Post
    I saw this relatively cheap tool at Granger and wondered if it might be a good one for backs or soundboards. What do you think?
    http://www.grainger.com/Grainger/STA...004?Pid=search
    Stuart, that's from the venerable Stanley Sur-Form family of tools. I have the plane-like version for which I have made a nice mahogany handle to replace the crappy yellow plastic tote it came with.

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    They are great tools. But not for carving plates. That spoon one, in particular, isn't that useful, except maybe in a few places on the neck. Think of them as old-school Microplanes. I actually like them better than microplanes, since I don't actually expect a rasp to give me a final surface, and Microplanes tend to warp over time and are kind of pricey to replace. Sur-Form blades, on the other hand, are about $2.00 from Highland Woodworking.
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