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Thread: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin plate?

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    Default Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin plate?

    As I've stated in other posts, I'm working on my first instrument--an F5 style mandolin. I understand that the shaping of the plates--particularly the spruce top plate--is crucial to obtaining the best possible sound. I've created multiple top and back plates out of run-of-the-mill spruce and hard maple; nothing fancy, as I know my first attempts are not going to be perfect. I have a couple of each that I am trying to finish just right and get them as close to perfect as I can.

    In addition to learning the process to get the carving right, I'm interested in adopting a process that leads to repeatable results. I'm fairly certain that when I'm done with this first mandolin I will want to build a second. And so on. So I want to be able to repeat the carving process that leads to the best end product.

    So I've tried multiple approaches. First was entirely by hand using the depth templates from the Siminoff book. Second was a combination of powered and hand tools. And lately I have attempted entirely powered tools (router, drill press, power carver and sander). They all technically "work" but with mixed results.

    So my question to all of you experts is: What method do you use to carve your plates? What is the most common method? What is the most successful method?

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    Quote Originally Posted by putnamm View Post
    ...What method do you use to carve your plates? What is the most common method? What is the most successful method?
    When the plate is done it doesn't know what method was used to carve it. We can't look at it and see what method was used to carve it, we can't listen to it and hear what method was used to carve it... the carving method is not important, the end result is.

    Personally, I use whatever power tool works for me to rough out the plate to "in the ball park" dimensions, then finish with finger planes, scrapers and sandpaper. I enjoy carving by hand, but I don't enjoy wasting wood or "hogging" with hand tools, especially after 30 years of hand work and the associated finger pain, arthritis and such.
    If we want to build many mandolins in our lives, it is wise to consider using efficient methods that do not unduly tax our bodies.

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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    With my first try at shaping plates, I used only hand tools and the hands ached for weeks.. So, next time I used a router to hog out and stair stepped till I got a good ruff shape.. Then used different sanders till I got the shape I wanted.. I still use the router, but now use the drill press with different sanding disks.. Yes it is messy... Start out with a 60 grit and work up to about 200 grit.. After close to thickness, I finish hand sanding with 200 to 320 grit.. It goes pretty fast with tops, but oh you tough maple...…..
    kterry

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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    The best advice in this respect I was given is "start with the tool that can remove most material with least effort" (there may be slightly different versions of this).
    If you look at "old school" folks on YT woodworking vids (or from chinese violin making factories), you can see that they start hogging wood with axes, adzes (spoon shaped axe) then go to gouges and various drawknives, then planes and scrapers. Of course thir requires full understanding and experience with these tools so you can use them as close to final surface as you dare.
    Not every of these tools has it's modern motorized version that is as efficient as original.
    I always cringe when I see someone carve maple back with thumbplanes from start to finish. Or using tiny gouge to carve large areas of plate etc. Same with those sandng discs.
    My first set of plates was handcarved, I had quite poor gouge so it was not best experience so I carved forms and next plates were done on duplicating carver. Quite messy but worked well and was quite efficient (at least on maple). I still carved the inside and details of scroll by hand. Later as I gained more experience with hand tools and got better gouges and made better thumbplanes and scrapers I found that I can carve the plate by hand faster than on the machine (counting the time needed to set up the machine and adjust forms and wood and clean the mess of course) and the noise and vibration on your hands in not good either. I can carve spruce f style plate from glued halves to scraped surface before final fine graduations in less than 1 hour and maple back (from glued wedges to smooth scraped) approx twice as much. All without the mess and noise and vibrations, just smooth motion of my hands. The machine would be more efficient when I was doing four sets at a time but since I'm not making such numbers these days I prefer hand tools for nearly everything I do. (except drilling).
    If I ever go back to machine carving it would be CNC and to be really efficient (considering the money and CAD time added) you need to do more than just roughing plates.
    Here is my old post regarding carving.
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/s...=1#post1472947
    Well sharpened gouge can remove material really fast.


    PS: I found out the old link to my video in my account is dead as our server underwent upgrade few weeks ago, I will try to sort it out with our admin and get acces back to normal.
    Adrian

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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    If I were going to build mandolins for a living, I'd go the CNC route. The kit I bought was roughed out perfectly by CNC. Used a scraper for the rest. Barring that whatever machine that works. I don't see the point doing this with hand tools unless you don't have a choice, or you just want a challenge.
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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    If I were going to build mandolins for a living, I'd go the CNC route. The kit I bought was roughed out perfectly by CNC. Used a scraper for the rest. Barring that whatever machine that works. I don't see the point doing this with hand tools unless you don't have a choice, or you just want a challenge.
    That's a lot easier said than done. It takes extensive knowledge of 3D CAD to be able to draw the correct arches. Then you've got to figure out the tool paths and tooling. There's a number of guys that have figured it out and do it well. It's not something you can just dive into and expect to be churning out useable plates.

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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    I've carved four tops and three backs and came to the conclusion that the most critical part is knowing when you are done. At some point you have to declare the carving is complete and go with what you got. I have not figured out a way to detect this point but there are carvers who have a knack for it. Since every piece of wood is unique there is no thousands of an inch target to strive for.
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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Simonson View Post
    I've carved four tops and three backs and came to the conclusion that the most critical part is knowing when you are done. At some point you have to declare the carving is complete and go with what you got. I have not figured out a way to detect this point but there are carvers who have a knack for it. Since every piece of wood is unique there is no thousands of an inch target to strive for.
    I think these single aspects are grosly overrated. I've seen instruments that loooked like the carving was done by tamed beaver but they sound awesome. I've seen instruments that looked great at first glance (shiny finish and bling etc.) and sounded good but started falling apart or arching collapsed...
    IMO, result is sum of ALL tiny detail that go into instrument.
    Carving outside of plates is pretty straightforward, shapes are well known and you can adjust overall height of arch if you wish. Important is to follow model - if you want to work to "Loar" specs do your best to keep the shape close if you like L&H or classical italian, start with that.... Thicknesses of carved plates can vary depending on wood but if you get stash of wood and measure stiffnesses (e.g. comparing tap tones of equally sized billets) and sort them into let's say three categories (stiffest, medium, least stiff) and graduate finished plates few 1/10's of mm thinner or thicker than known average values you'll get more then decent sounding plates. Even if you carve them all the same precisely to known average you won't be far from "optimal", perhaps some instruments will be more "bassy", some more "penetrating" but I bet they will find player who prefers that type of sound. There's no need to muse too much about thicknesses and tap tuning or spruce species, it's mostly about the level of your general woodworking skills (whatever tools you decide to use).
    But even then there are many more steps left that will affect the result as much... most of that depends on basic woodworking skills and personal standards. Devil is in the details.
    We've seen makers emerging out of nowhere (guitar or violin makers) creating beautiful instruments that (clearly) followed good model thoroughly (drawings or personal great instrument) and using honed woodworking skills the result is there... Some more "modern" guys dived right into CNC an dminimal handwork as for them the learning curve is shorter with CNC than with gouges and planes. It's presonal, but you need to follow good model for best start. (and one problem is being able to evaluate what is good model - soundwise and workmanship-wise as well).
    I would not advice beginners to experiment in ANY department connected to sound until they can confortably and consistently build decent instruments based on good selected model. (10-15 instruments built should do for average guy) Departure from known standards should be done in small steps so you will know what the deviation from known brings.
    Adrian

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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    PS: I found out the old link to my video in my account is dead as our server underwent upgrade few weeks ago, I will try to sort it out with our admin and get acces back to normal.
    Temporarily this link works for my carving video:
    http://old.gjgt.sk/~minarovic/carving.avi
    Adrian

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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    I run into an awful lot of people who are afraid of handcarving and have no idea of what makes a good mandolin, so they spend a lot of $$$ and time with a cnc machine to beautifully create a terrible design.....

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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    And I run into an awful lot of people who have no idea what it takes to make a good mandolin and think that by hand carving they are going to get more spiritual connection to the work.
    Don't be blamin' the tool... If you don't know how to make a good instrument, then you're going to be creating a beautiful mess whatever tool you use, like my #2 which I invested over 400 hours into but couldn't hold string tension. It was 100 percent handmade, 100 percent b.s.

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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    I started out with a large fishtail gouge and finger planes. My finger joints won't tolerate that anymore. For the last few mandos I switched to a Kutzall spiky donut in an angle grinder, fine grade. It's VERY dusty (I do it outside on a workmate) and there's definitely a learning curve, but I can easily rough out a figured maple back plate in under 20 minutes now. A tool I found to be great for the clean up part is the stewmac ultimate scraper. It really is great on figured maple and has just the right contours for scraping in the recurve. Sharpening it looks to be challenging, but after two backs there's no degradation in it's edge (it doesn't use a burr like conventional card scrapers)

  19. #14
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    Quote Originally Posted by StevenS View Post
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    You don't need to wear such scary mask for carving Steve! I'ts scary enough even without...

    Adrian

  20. #15

    Default Re: Another newbie question: How do each of you carve mandolin pl

    Quote Originally Posted by putnamm View Post
    As I've stated in other posts, I'm working on my first instrument--an F5 style mandolin. I understand that the shaping of the plates--particularly the spruce top plate--is crucial to obtaining the best possible sound. I've created multiple top and back plates out of run-of-the-mill spruce and hard maple; nothing fancy, as I know my first attempts are not going to be perfect. I have a couple of each that I am trying to finish just right and get them as close to perfect as I can.

    In addition to learning the process to get the carving right, I'm interested in adopting a process that leads to repeatable results. I'm fairly certain that when I'm done with this first mandolin I will want to build a second. And so on. So I want to be able to repeat the carving process that leads to the best end product.

    So I've tried multiple approaches. First was entirely by hand using the depth templates from the Siminoff book. Second was a combination of powered and hand tools. And lately I have attempted entirely powered tools (router, drill press, power carver and sander). They all technically "work" but with mixed results.

    So my question to all of you experts is: What method do you use to carve your plates? What is the most common method? What is the most successful method?
    First of all I am no expert, amateur/ intermediate. My first mandolin was carved by hand, very labor intensive. So I devised this simple jig.

    Basically a plunge router mounted overhead
    Stair step my graduations down then sand, this gives me a simple rough start. I can do 3-4 plates in a day.

    I’m using the elderly plans, (excuse me hogo if I mess up the spelling) by adrian
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    Last edited by Jacob Hagerty; Oct-15-2018 at 11:32am.
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