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Thread: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

  1. #1

    Default First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Hello! I'm building my first mandolin from this kit, and wanted to ask a few questions, if that's all right.

    I have some limited woodworking experience (hand dovetailing, table building, etc.) but very little knowledge of fitment and the type of finishing that goes into an instrument. So, first question:

    By hand, the neck/body fitting is tight enough that I can't get it any tighter than 1/8" gap remaining. I wanted to ask before I start sanding/shaving or hitting it with a mallet: How tight should a dry fit of the neck/body be before going at it with glue? All the way to flush with a mallet, or short of that, or less force than that to flush?

    Second question:

    I have Tru-Oil and spray shellac (rattle can from Home Depot) and I've only really worked with Poly and Linseed oil in the past. I'd like to do it properly with no concern for elbow grease, should I be looking at some other method, or would 6-10 applications of either with 0000 scuffing and smoothing in between be sufficient? Also, what's a good final coat/treatment? Polishing wax?

    I'm reading other threads as fast as I can, so sorry for questions I'm sure have already been answered.

    Here's the gap, even with light whacking it won't move past this:

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    Also, there's a definite difference in height of the gap from the front of the overlap vs. the back, is this something that will straighten out with pressure when I fully install the neck, or should I even it out?

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Hi,
    I'm in the middle of the same build but have fitted the neck (but not glued yet). I wouldn't force the neck joint together as you will risk cracking the neck block. I had about the same initial fit as you have and needed to relieve the dovetail in the block (with chisel and sanding block) and also trim a bit under the fingerboard extension. I hope to use hot hide glue to make the joint (and also attach the back) in case I need to pull it apart later. This is also my first instrument build so, like you, I'm learning a lot. I also haven't decided what finish to go for so will be interested in people's comments.

  3. #3

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Thanks for the response. About the neck, I'm wondering if physical fit is necessary, or am I just going for a perfect surface to surface fit so the glue takes maximum hold? I would assume I want the neck ever so slightly proud so I can sand it perfectly smooth after fitting (or the reverse, I suppose.)

  4. #4
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    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    The dovetail needs to fit very perfectly, hide glue does NOT fill gaps, nor does most woodworking glues.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  5. #5
    Registered User bennyb's Avatar
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    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Howdy Houngan,
    I built a couple of IV kits 10 years ago. It's likely the same kit, although ten years - you never know. They both had the "Siminoff style" dowel joint shown in your pic. They both resisted going all the way down for a tight fit to the top. I did a better job on the second one. At least to some degree, that fit will determine the string height above the top at the bridge, and consequently the downward pressure on the top from the strings. The goldilocks number at the time(in my somewhat casual reading) was 3/4" or just slightly over(strings above top). So, just be aware of that. To improve the fit, I recommend choosing either the tenon OR the mortise, and work both sides so as to keep the neck centered to the body. If you screw up and go too far(I did), you have to shim to get back to a close fit. Both mandos worked out fine, I play one or the other almost every day. They're also great when you want to try something out - like: I wonder if it really would sound better if I sanded the back thinner? or maybe I should take the back off and carve those tone bars down?

    My original finish was aniline dye(alcohol), couple thin coats of shellac, then 6 or 8 coats of tru-oil. I thought they both looked pretty good at the time, however, both instruments have been remodeled more than once and are currently "awaiting refinishing."

  6. #6

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Quote Originally Posted by bennyb View Post
    Howdy Houngan,
    I built a couple of IV kits 10 years ago. It's likely the same kit, although ten years - you never know. They both had the "Siminoff style" dowel joint shown in your pic. They both resisted going all the way down for a tight fit to the top. I did a better job on the second one. At least to some degree, that fit will determine the string height above the top at the bridge, and consequently the downward pressure on the top from the strings. The goldilocks number at the time(in my somewhat casual reading) was 3/4" or just slightly over(strings above top). So, just be aware of that. To improve the fit, I recommend choosing either the tenon OR the mortise, and work both sides so as to keep the neck centered to the body. If you screw up and go too far(I did), you have to shim to get back to a close fit. Both mandos worked out fine, I play one or the other almost every day. They're also great when you want to try something out - like: I wonder if it really would sound better if I sanded the back thinner? or maybe I should take the back off and carve those tone bars down?

    My original finish was aniline dye(alcohol), couple thin coats of shellac, then 6 or 8 coats of tru-oil. I thought they both looked pretty good at the time, however, both instruments have been remodeled more than once and are currently "awaiting refinishing."
    Thanks for the information. I would think I would work on the neck and leave the head alone, the neck seems more solid. Just lay a straight edge from nut to bridge to check string height? Maybe dial the bridge to the middle and make that 3/4, to give maximum correction?

  7. #7
    Registered User bennyb's Avatar
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    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Well we may be talking the same language. Here's an example: your strings will be .010" above the first fret and .075" above the 12th fret, that's a diff of .065" which doubles at the bridge - so (.010"(1st fret) - .075"(12th fret) - .140"(bridge)). So, in this example, lay your straightedge across the frets and add .140" to get to 3/4"(.750") at the bridge location for the string height, measured from top of plate to bottom of string. By the way, I'm using thousandths of an inch just because I'm comfortable thinking that way, not because I really try to nail it down to thousandths in real life. Unless it's valve clearance or spark plug gaps.

    benny

  8. #8

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Quote Originally Posted by bennyb View Post
    Well we may be talking the same language. Here's an example: your strings will be .010" above the first fret and .075" above the 12th fret, that's a diff of .065" which doubles at the bridge - so (.010"(1st fret) - .075"(12th fret) - .140"(bridge)). So, in this example, lay your straightedge across the frets and add .140" to get to 3/4"(.750") at the bridge location for the string height, measured from top of plate to bottom of string. By the way, I'm using thousandths of an inch just because I'm comfortable thinking that way, not because I really try to nail it down to thousandths in real life. Unless it's valve clearance or spark plug gaps.

    benny
    My caliper does both, and I tend to think in thousandths of an inch as well (from gunsmithing.) Sounds like I need to have the bridge handy while fitting the neck so I can check what I'm doing.

  9. #9
    Registered User Walt's Avatar
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    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    For setting the neck, check out page 13 of Sunburst's mandocellos build thread. https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/s...-thread/page13

    He talks about adjusting for roll, pitch, and yaw.
    There was another good thread recently (I can't find it) that discussed how to tell where you need to remove material from the dovetail. If you push the neck into place and remove it, you will notice shiny areas on the neck, where it is making contact with the block. You then sand or scrape away those shiny areas and repeat the process over and over again. All the while you have to watch to make sure that your angle(s) are not getting off.

  10. #10
    Registered User bennyb's Avatar
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    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    I think the design and work already done largely determine the end result. I got a string height of 7/8" on the first one and 3/4" on the second roughly using the parameters in my example. I made bridges for both so no problem, but 7/8" might be getting into tall boy territory. Couple other things I recall, the neck heel projected below the block when the neck was well seated and had to be cut off in place. Also, the back opened up slightly at the center line at the tailblock end. I patched both of mine and there's been no problem in the years since.

    By the way, in my example above, the math is slightly misleading, just meant to get the concept across. You really want the string height above the imaginary fret at the nut location(that is, the bottom of the string slot in the nut, which is probably closer to .003? in order to get to .010 at the first fret. So: .003(nut) - .075(12th) - .147"(at bridge). A picture or diagram is called for, but I'm probably not going to produce it.

  11. #11

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Quote Originally Posted by bennyb View Post
    I think the design and work already done largely determine the end result. I got a string height of 7/8" on the first one and 3/4" on the second roughly using the parameters in my example. I made bridges for both so no problem, but 7/8" might be getting into tall boy territory. Couple other things I recall, the neck heel projected below the block when the neck was well seated and had to be cut off in place. Also, the back opened up slightly at the center line at the tailblock end. I patched both of mine and there's been no problem in the years since.

    By the way, in my example above, the math is slightly misleading, just meant to get the concept across. You really want the string height above the imaginary fret at the nut location(that is, the bottom of the string slot in the nut, which is probably closer to .003? in order to get to .010 at the first fret. So: .003(nut) - .075(12th) - .147"(at bridge). A picture or diagram is called for, but I'm probably not going to produce it.
    Ha, understood, I appreciate the information. I just need some time to sit down with the mandolin and eyeball it before I can digest what you've said.

  12. #12

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Starting on the graduation now, but a question: the back is already quite thin in places, less than .2", and there is still a considerable amount of sanding to do to smooth the back. Do I want a perfectly smooth back, with all marks removed, or do I rely on the finishing technique to smooth things out in the end? As you can see, there is quite a lot to do:

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  13. #13
    Registered User fscotte's Avatar
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    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Any surface scratches or defects will be quite noticeable after finishing.

  14. #14
    Registered User bennyb's Avatar
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    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    ("Do I want a perfectly smooth back, with all marks removed,") Yes. Is the inside similarly rough? If you have recourse with the seller, now would be the time to bring it up. It's possible there's enough wood in the right places to make it work, but can't tell from here. As a rough estimate, if you can get a finished .180" at the highest point in the arching and .120" in the "recurve area, you can probably make it work. I think? it's considerably rougher than the ones I got from IV.

    benny

  15. #15

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Quote Originally Posted by bennyb View Post
    ("Do I want a perfectly smooth back, with all marks removed,") Yes. Is the inside similarly rough? If you have recourse with the seller, now would be the time to bring it up. It's possible there's enough wood in the right places to make it work, but can't tell from here. As a rough estimate, if you can get a finished .180" at the highest point in the arching and .120" in the "recurve area, you can probably make it work. I think? it's considerably rougher than the ones I got from IV.

    benny
    Yes, equally rough on the inside. I suppose I might have been measuring in the valleys rather than on the ridges, I'll do another set of measurements tonight and see if I'm boned.

  16. #16

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Update: Did some testing, I think I can get it down to flat and only take off .03 or so, which at worst will get me around .7 at one point that is midway through the side. I'll be in 2.x MM land but might get away with it. Provided, that is, I don't try to get the inside perfectly smooth as well.

  17. #17

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    I'm at the moment of truth, about to fit the neck and glue the body. My concerns right now are:

    1. The top is rather thick at the perimeter compared to graduation maps I see on the web. .16 or so outside the f-holes. The interior more or less maps correctly. Should I bring the perimeter down?

    2. The back is thicker on one side than the other, how important is it that they match? One side is about .11-.12, the other is .15.

    As an aside, I've been working on a scrap piece of maple with Tru Oil, man what a great finish. I'm still a little fuzzy on the final buff/polish, but the coats go on looking great and needing very little leveling.

  18. #18
    Registered User bernabe's Avatar
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    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Houngan View Post
    Starting on the graduation now, but a question: the back is already quite thin in places, less than .2", and there is still a considerable amount of sanding to do to smooth the back........ I can get it down to flat and only take off .03 or so, which at worst will get me around .7 at one point that is midway through the side. I'll be in 2.x MM
    Im trying to understand the #s. .2" is not thin and removing .03" will get you to .17" which is not too thin even in the thickest area of the back [you state .7"']. You should smooth the inside too. Not sure what midway through the side means. What are the actual thicknesses and the specific areas of these thicknesses and someone will be able to help you better. Then, if there's not enough wood to smooth the surfaces to a usable thickness, then send it back before you smooth it.

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    Registered User bernabe's Avatar
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    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Houngan View Post
    I'm at the moment of truth, about to fit the neck and glue the body. My concerns right now are:

    1. The top is rather thick at the perimeter compared to graduation maps I see on the web. .16 or so outside the f-holes. The interior more or less maps correctly. Should I bring the perimeter down?

    2. The back is thicker on one side than the other, how important is it that they match? One side is about .11-.12, the other is .15.

    As an aside, I've been working on a scrap piece of maple with Tru Oil, man what a great finish. I'm still a little fuzzy on the final buff/polish, but the coats go on looking great and needing very little leveling.
    Stick to the numbers from reputable plans but be a little on the conservative side [particularly the top] being the stiffness of the wood is unknown. That should guide you and where to thin or not to thin.

  20. #20

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Strung it up and it didn't implode! Sounds pretty good to me, sustains well, but I'm not a mandolin guy so I don't know. String height seems to have come out well, too. Now on to finishing.

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  22. #21

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Congrats!

  23. #22

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Hi PMFJI... I used to believe that also... until I had to pull part someone else's Titebond mess. .. applied dry heat with an iron- and the joint came right apart (Guitar not mando - I'm just starting down the mando learning curve myself...) Since then I've opened up backs, removed fingerboards - even pulled part solidbody guitars with set necks that were glued with Titebond or similar. Nothing wrong with using hide glue- but don't feel like you absolutely have to for disassembly later. It does take a little more heat and a little more patience - but I do think modern glues are more stable and *maybe* more reliable. I can't speak to the arguments about hide glue "sounding" better - that may be true, or it might be that those instruments sound better because they're older, more played-in...I don't know.

  24. #23

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    FWIW - I'm just learning about mandos but I've worked on guitars for years, and if anything mandos are fussier. In my experience things need to *fit* and fit pretty much perfectly dry. If you said you had a gap of a few thousands, that might be one thing... but 1/8" is a lot to force together on a bookcase or trestle table... on an instrument it's the grand canyon. Even if you can force it with clamps and make it look OK now , bad things will happen down the road. In my experience your parts need to be dry and stable, with every joint fitting perfectly dry- and you'll have a good outcome. If you're having fit problems - you need to figure out what is not fitting. There are all kinds of tricks luthier use... carbon paper... chalk... anything that will transfer a tight spot from one piece to the other can help. Good luck!

  25. #24

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Quote Originally Posted by moucon View Post
    FWIW - I'm just learning about mandos but I've worked on guitars for years, and if anything mandos are fussier. In my experience things need to *fit* and fit pretty much perfectly dry. If you said you had a gap of a few thousands, that might be one thing... but 1/8" is a lot to force together on a bookcase or trestle table... on an instrument it's the grand canyon. Even if you can force it with clamps and make it look OK now , bad things will happen down the road. In my experience your parts need to be dry and stable, with every joint fitting perfectly dry- and you'll have a good outcome. If you're having fit problems - you need to figure out what is not fitting. There are all kinds of tricks luthier use... carbon paper... chalk... anything that will transfer a tight spot from one piece to the other can help. Good luck!
    Oh yeah, no way I was going to clamp that through, I worked it down to a gap somewhere past 1/64 before I glued and clamped, I can barely rub a bit of dust into the remaining spots. It came together really nicely.

    HOWEVER, I NEED HELP ON FINISHING THE FINISH!

    Tru-oil looks great, but can I get some 101 on the final steps? I think I need to let the final coat harden for a couple of weeks, then very, very lightly knock that coat down a touch, add Renaissance wax and buff, buff, buff that wax coat, and then I'm done? Here's where I'm at now:

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  26. #25

    Default Re: First-timer with the Saga kit has questions

    Done! Far from perfect but I'm happy. The sunburst looks harsh on camera but is much subtler to the eye.

    https://i.imgur.com/KhTEmtP.jpg

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