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Thread: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

  1. #1

    Default Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    I'm tooling up to make my first ever mandolin. I've been doing a lot of research and I've bought the Ultimate Bluegrass Mandolin Construction Manual by Roger Siminoff (with associated patterns). I have some wood on order from Bruce at Orcas Island Tonewoods (He's been great btw, Very nice and helpful). I've always been the type to jump right into the deep end, so I'm planning to go right for an F-5 style. I've been cutting some of the patterns out of plexyglass and making a few jigs out of some scrap plywood I have. I have also been making a few tools that i figure might help out in the process. I've made 4 finger planes and a gramil out of some scrap wood and 1/16 inch O1 steel.

    Does anyone have any suggestions on anything else I can make to help get me set up for this project? I have some of the more basic woodowrking tools. I've mostly been a hand tool woodworker up till now, although I bought a cheap used 9" bandsaw in preparation for this project.

    Any advice or suggestions are more than welcome

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  2. #2
    Registered User Drew Streip's Avatar
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    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Good call on the bandsaw; that’s my most-used power tool! I’d recommend a moderate sweep gouge to help deal with the hard maple — finger planes will just wear you out if you try to use them for 100% of material removal.

    I also use a lot of needle files, scrapers, and my Dremel for binding and inlay (with a stewmac base). Although, if you’re making your own finger planes, I’m sure you’re more than handy enough to tackle the F5.

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  4. #3

    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    I'd really like to get a good gouge... I have been keeping an eye out trying to find a decent one for cheap. Haven't had any luck on that yet. I've been thinking of trying to make one actually. I might be able to manage it if I could get a nice piece of steel. I have a bit of 1/16 inch O1 left but I think that might be a bit thin for a gouge. I think I have a piece of 3/16 O1 that I hid from myself somewhere but that might be too thick. Do you know how thick the steel is on a typical gouge?

    I have a set of needle files and scrapers. I couldn't bring myself to buy a stewmac router base. The price just seems too high for what it is. I might try to make a dremel base as well but I'm not really sure how that would turn out..

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    I've made a couple of gouges from old files. The steel is quite good & takes an excellent edge. One I heated & hammered into a curved profile, gouge shape. The other I made from a half-round file using only a bench grinder. Of course you have to make handles, but that's the easy part. Judging from the tools you've already made, gouges should be simple for you. Best of luck!

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  7. #5
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    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Antique stores and flea markets have old tools fairly cheap. They will need sharpening, but the steel is good.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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  9. #6

    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    I'll keep looking. I've been able to find chisels and hand planes pretty regularly at antique shops and flea markets but for some reason no gouges.

  10. #7

    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    If money is tight, buy a Collings or Ellis right now and save yourself several thousands of dollars.

    That being said, this is a very useful tool for the price: https://www.japanwoodworker.com/prod...-carving-gouge

    Also a Surform tool with the half moon blade is very useful for shaping necks.

    Adrian (Hogo) is probably the king of low/no budget tooling.. and his work is as good as anyone's.
    He's smarter than the average feller, and probably more patient. But just goes to show that a little patience and a lot of planning will go a long way, whatever tools you use.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    If money is tight, buy a Collings or Ellis right now and save yourself several thousands of dollars....
    +1000!!!

    Remember that Antonio Stradivarius built some of the finest instruments ever made with what many would call homemade folk tools...

  13. #9
    Registered User Drew Streip's Avatar
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    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    My Pfeil 5-sweep is 1/8” and gets thicker toward the tang/shaft — more like 1/4” there. I have only made one or two flat blade tools, so I can’t really advise you on which metal would be best! But I do know it slices through spruce like a hot knife through butter.

  14. #10

    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    Also a Surform tool with the half moon blade is very useful for shaping necks.
    +1 on the Surform line of tools. I've been a fan since they first came out -- back then I was doing a lot of autobody/bondo work and they literally changed the industry overnight for quick shaping -- especially when the bondo has just gelled solid, but not completely hardened yet -- a real time saver! My boss would say, "bondo and a surform turns an average bodyman into an artist!"

  15. #11

    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    If money is tight, buy a Collings or Ellis right now and save yourself several thousands of dollars.

    That being said, this is a very useful tool for the price: https://www.japanwoodworker.com/prod...-carving-gouge

    Also a Surform tool with the half moon blade is very useful for shaping necks.

    Adrian (Hogo) is probably the king of low/no budget tooling.. and his work is as good as anyone's.
    He's smarter than the average feller, and probably more patient. But just goes to show that a little patience and a lot of planning will go a long way, whatever tools you use.
    I'm a bit confused how I would be saving thousands by buying Collings or Ellis... I've roughly priced out my build and I'm getting in the ballpark of $500 to $700 on materials depending on what tuners I go for.

    That surform tool looks like it would be very useful on the neck though. Fits my price range too.

  16. #12

    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Streip View Post
    My Pfeil 5-sweep is 1/8” and gets thicker toward the tang/shaft — more like 1/4” there. I have only made one or two flat blade tools, so I can’t really advise you on which metal would be best! But I do know it slices through spruce like a hot knife through butter.
    Thanks! That's just the info I need. I'll probably end up using a piece of 3/16 then and thinning it out a bit towards the business end. I'll probably just use O1 since that's what I have and I've had good luck so far.

  17. #13
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    You don't have to buy all tools at once. Just proceed slowly with your build and get only the tools that you really need to get the job done. And don't forget to research how can you do the task - there are always complicated ways with lots of tools and simple ways requiring more skill but less budget.
    Here is my tool set that I used for my first dozen instruments or so. Some common items like handdrill are missing and the old rusty Sheffield chisel I dug out of the dirt in the garden just few years ago. The nicer gramil was added just recently as well. For some jobs I used to visit my friend who has small bandsaw. You can see the gouges are all handmade, but I use the one on the right all the time as the wider one doesn't hold the edge too well (needs proper quenching) and the other (grinded out of butchers knife edge burnisher) is so darned hard that it takes forever to sharpen (but you can carve aluminum all day without dulling it - I mostly use it for rough shaping bone blanks - chopping away the porous parts of bone and such). ALso notice the finger plane (cast of epoxy resin as experiment but it holds well) - I had to add bone cap to bottom as it wears too fast. I also made some of wood and the mouth did wear too fast as well. The blades are made of scrap pieces of old kitchen knives or whatever was laying around.
    Virtually all my jigs, moulds and fixtures were made using these tools.
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  18. #14
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    I'll just add that those old black hard rubber Narex chisel handles have served me as fretting hammer for hundred or more fret jobs I've done. They are just about the right weight and you cannot hit the fret bad when you hold the handle in your fingers (I don't hold it by the steel, but at the center of the handle with fingers and hammer frets with the "mallet end"). Scrapers are made of old fret saw.
    edit: I mentioned new gramil in previous post, but that one is not in the picture.
    Adrian

  19. #15

    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    You will need about thirty spool clamps. Steel rod, nuts, wing nuts, a closet hanger dowel cut in 3/4 to 1" lengths, some spray adhesive, and cork sheets. Hacksaw needed to cut the rod.

    A machinest's depth gauge can be fixed to a C shaped piece of ply for a thickness gauge. A bunch of clothes pins for gluing the kerfing too.

    If you have a good old and short level, check the edge with a straightedge (machinest's). If it is flat you can use that to level frets.
    Silverangel A
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  21. #16

    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    You don't have to buy all tools at once. Just proceed slowly with your build and get only the tools that you really need to get the job done. And don't forget to research how can you do the task - there are always complicated ways with lots of tools and simple ways requiring more skill but less budget.
    Here is my tool set that I used for my first dozen instruments or so. Some common items like handdrill are missing and the old rusty Sheffield chisel I dug out of the dirt in the garden just few years ago. The nicer gramil was added just recently as well. For some jobs I used to visit my friend who has small bandsaw. You can see the gouges are all handmade, but I use the one on the right all the time as the wider one doesn't hold the edge too well (needs proper quenching) and the other (grinded out of butchers knife edge burnisher) is so darned hard that it takes forever to sharpen (but you can carve aluminum all day without dulling it - I mostly use it for rough shaping bone blanks - chopping away the porous parts of bone and such). ALso notice the finger plane (cast of epoxy resin as experiment but it holds well) - I had to add bone cap to bottom as it wears too fast. I also made some of wood and the mouth did wear too fast as well. The blades are made of scrap pieces of old kitchen knives or whatever was laying around.
    Virtually all my jigs, moulds and fixtures were made using these tools.
    Wow that's really inspiring! I'm very much about enjoying the process as well as the outcome so slow and cheap is perfect for me.
    That epoxy cast finger plane is really interesting I've been thinking about trying to 3D print a small plane but I didn't think it would be strong enough. after seeing that maybe with a metal or bone sole it might be able to hold up. I might even be able to 3d print some kind of mold to cast epoxy in. That project might have to wait a while though.

    I've just finished up the rough (Very rough!) forging of a gouge. I'm no blacksmith... I didn't see your picture until just now. Maybe the gouge could use more of a curve if you use the one on the right more. What do you think?

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  23. #17
    Registered User Steve Sorensen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    A lot of what this old guy does seems to be a good starting place for thinking of the basics --



    Steve

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  25. #18

    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Sorensen View Post
    A lot of what this old guy does seems to be a good starting place for thinking of the basics --
    That is absolutely ridiculous. He isn't using much more than a machete and an awesome hat.

  26. #19

    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandolin_newbie View Post
    I'm a bit confused how I would be saving thousands by buying Collings or Ellis... .
    10 years and $100,000 from now you're going to look back on this and laaaaaaugh.... ;-)

    By money, I'm not just talking about cash, or money out of hand. I'm talking about time, and opportunity cost.

    Lutherie is probably the second least effective way to make money (the first being the gourmet restaurant business). My second build, I had $400 and 400 hours into it. Ok, assuming that's still tuition, my time as a 2nd-year student in college still has to be at least $8 an hour. So effectively, in that one instrument, I was in $3500 to an instrument which was never actually playable.

    That doesn't count the amount of money I could have made during that 400 hours ($3200 at least). Or what I could have made in the past 15 years if I had invested that money ($4500 in low-yield bank savings account).

    I learned a lot, and I don't regret it. Just don't pretend for a second that what you're doing is a good value. It's not. A $12,000 Ellis is a good value. A $3500 Pava is an absurd value.

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  28. #20

    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    10 years and $100,000 from now you're going to look back on this and laaaaaaugh.... ;-)

    By money, I'm not just talking about cash, or money out of hand. I'm talking about time, and opportunity cost.

    Lutherie is probably the second least effective way to make money (the first being the gourmet restaurant business). My second build, I had $400 and 400 hours into it. Ok, assuming that's still tuition, my time as a 2nd-year student in college still has to be at least $8 an hour. So effectively, in that one instrument, I was in $3500 to an instrument which was never actually playable.

    That doesn't count the amount of money I could have made during that 400 hours ($3200 at least). Or what I could have made in the past 15 years if I had invested that money ($4500 in low-yield bank savings account).

    I learned a lot, and I don't regret it. Just don't pretend for a second that what you're doing is a good value. It's not. A $12,000 Ellis is a good value. A $3500 Pava is an absurd value.
    oh yeah that makes a lot of sense. This isn't exactly a get rich quick plan for me but I get your point. I'm sure I'll find out the hard way just how much of a good deal the Ellis or Pava mandolins are. Until I can find someone willing to pay me to hang out in my garage and work on projects that may or may not turn out with no deadline or obligations I'm still going to call it a win.

  29. #21
    Registered User Steve Sorensen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandolin_newbie View Post
    He isn't using much more than a machete and an awesome hat.
    My point . . . exactly. The skill trumps the tools every time.

    Steve

    PS - Skill over Trump Tool -- Not a mistake.

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  31. #22
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    10 years and $100,000 from now you're going to look back on this and laaaaaaugh.... ;-)

    By money, I'm not just talking about cash, or money out of hand. I'm talking about time, and opportunity cost.

    Lutherie is probably the second least effective way to make money (the first being the gourmet restaurant business). My second build, I had $400 and 400 hours into it. Ok, assuming that's still tuition, my time as a 2nd-year student in college still has to be at least $8 an hour. So effectively, in that one instrument, I was in $3500 to an instrument which was never actually playable.

    That doesn't count the amount of money I could have made during that 400 hours ($3200 at least). Or what I could have made in the past 15 years if I had invested that money ($4500 in low-yield bank savings account).

    I learned a lot, and I don't regret it. Just don't pretend for a second that what you're doing is a good value. It's not. A $12,000 Ellis is a good value. A $3500 Pava is an absurd value.
    Marty, the time spent working on own tooling is not lost. The experience is PRICELESS and you cannot buy it for any amount of money, that's the VALUE.
    Perhaps I've been lucky but I haven't spent more than 10-15EUR (<$20) for any tool for building my first 10 mandolins. Actually I considered the small bottle of Tru-oil insanely expensive. I had some basic home tooling like hand drill and those narex chisels from my father that I didn't have to buy. I bought some dirt cheap basic C clamps and made body closing clamps out of scrap pieces of flooring and wignnuts and bolts (three clamps shaped to fit around body, similar to violin clamps, instead of zillion of spool clamps). I saved a lot on materials as well - you can find lot of plywood pieces good for forms and jigs thrown away. My sanding board is old cabinet door (checked for flatness with straightedge). I made my go bar clamping table (much later) out of two identical thrown away kitchen sink cut-outs and four threaded rods and tubes. Soooo many possibilities...
    Adrian

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  33. #23
    Registered User fscotte's Avatar
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    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Most any tool you want or need can be found very cheap at antique shops.

    I get the make your own tool bit, but if your goal is saving money, you'll find some of the best steel from old hand tools. Sharpen them up and you'll have the best without the time needed to diy.

  34. #24

    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    Marty, the time spent working on own tooling is not lost. The experience is PRICELESS and you cannot buy it for any amount of money, that's the VALUE.
    Absolutely agree. It's just not monetary value. That was my point, do it for the experience, and as long as you aren't going into debt, you're a winner.
    No matter how much or little you spend on tools, it will be eclipsed by the time you spend.

    I just set up a "free" linux-based motion control system for my CNC machine. All it cost me was a $200 connector card and 80 or so hours learning how to configure it.
    Did I do it "on the cheap", and was it a good value? No, not really. But I did it, and I didn't go into debt.

    There was a $400 commercial solution that I didn't buy because I thought it was too expensive. Probably could have had that running in 5 hours.

  35. #25
    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Low/No budget DIY mandolin making tools

    You'll need a bandsaw ...
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