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Thread: What tools do I need ?

  1. #1

    Default What tools do I need ?

    I've done a lot of "joinery" in the past, doors, windows, benches, etc. but never anything "fine".

    I want to make a one piece bridge for a couple of Mandolins I have instead of the adjustable ones they have, which are warped. I'd also like to try a bone saddle.

    I have no idea how to cut, shape and finish a nice piece of Ebony or Rosewood into a bridge.

    I'll think of other projects once I get going so I don't mind investing. In fact I'm hoping to learn some new skills.

    Where do I start ? A bandsaw ?

  2. #2

    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    A small benchtop belt sander is what gets the most use on bridges for me. The exposed end roller gives you a nice 1" radius drum to us for curving the sides and ends of the bridge. I also make a variety of wooden blocks with recesses milled in to hold small pieces of wood and bone while thicknessing on the top of the belt. I end up using 150 and 220 grit belts the most.

    A bandsaw is a wonderful tool and 10x safer than a table saw, especially for small pieces. Again, a small benchtop one would meet your needs for this particular job. For small stuff, you want a very fine tooth blade to cut smoothly. I found an 18tpi blade for my 10" saw on Amazon.

    re: bone on the bridge. You see this done occasionally, usually inlet into a slot in the top of the bridge. Bone will lend a very sharp and bright tone to the instrument, character traits most mandolins already have in abundance with a hardwood bridge. Also, you lose the intonation adjustment that mandolins need, thus the stepped bridges that you see on mandolin bridges.

    Enjoy your adventure and watch those fingers carefully!

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  4. #3
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    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    I have made a bone top for an adjustable mandolin bridge with all the steps for intonation, it would be the same for a non-adjustable one. It's more work, but worth it than simply using a straight piece of bone. A block plane, fine tooth hand saw, a sharp chisel, and some files and sandpaper will be enough for you to make a bridge as long as you aren't making them for a job. A band saw would be convenient to make the blank, but can be done by hand with a saw.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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  6. #4

    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    Small pieces are often easier to deal with if they’re still attached to a larger piece, since they can be difficult to hold otherwise. With something like a bridge, where you may want an accurate angle on the base, eyeballing a small piece by itself on a sander can be tricky. As Rob suggests, a holder, or caul is good too.
    You may have a Dremel or a Foredom, in which case those inexpensive diamond drums are handy on hard materials. For lots of other things, I use a ‘big’ diamond disk in a Dremel; maybe 1 1/4” diameter. A closed-end slot for, say, bone, is more of a challenge than a simple sawcut, maybe not worth the effort.
    There are some threads on this forum about how to fit a bridge to a curved surface, which is also easier with a holding jig of some sort because otherwise the bridge will get rounded if just handheld.
    To this outsider, there isn’t much in the way of acoustic sophistication to a mandolin bridge in terms of mass or shape, so success is guaranteed.

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  8. #5
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    If we were to poll a bunch of luthiers on what tools they use we would get nearly as many answers as luthiers; especially when we consider shop space, amount of production and many other factors. Some will use hand tools, some power tools, various combinations and various methods.
    The building of our tool collections takes a while as we settle on our methods, so it is a very difficult thing for a beginner to choose tools; the beginner doesn't have the experience that it takes to develop tool preferences and methods of work.
    Do you have access to power tools? Space for power tools? Bridges can be made using hand tools, but most of us use large power tools for making them. Depending on the size and shape of the wood at the starting point, I'd probably end up using bandsaw, belt sander, spindle sander and files mostly, but probably grab a knife and/or chisel once or twice.

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  10. #6
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    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    I operated in my shop for quite a few years with no power tools at all except for a Dremel with a home-made router base, an electric hand drill and a hand held jig saw. The jig saw does not get used often. My workbench was my kitchen counter.

    When I moved into a house with enough space for a real shop area, I bought a bench sander and a drill press. They both get a fair amount of use. I can set up my drill press with a fence and chuck up a router bit to cut saddle slots in flat-top guitar bridges. I can use the fence and rotary sanding drums to work material to a desired thickness and for squaring curved surfaces. I also use the Micro-plane rotary cutter for thicknessing material. I do not own a bandsaw.

    I have made replica 1910's style one-piece bridges with only hand tools. The drill press and bench sander make the job quicker and easier.

    A hint: If you carefully study an original mid to late 1910's Gibson style "one piece" bridge, you will find that these bridges were actually made in two pieces and then laminated together-- a base with a flat top, and a compensated saddle section. These bridges can be made with a coping saw, a few good files, and sandpaper blocks of various sizes and shapes. The old Lyon & Healy, Martin, and Vega one-piece bridges were indeed made in one piece, and are a little trickier to make.

    A hacksaw is perfectly good to rough cut bone. The only thing you have to remember is that if you saw all the way through, the saw often slips, strikes the bone, and breaks it. To avoid this, stop before you finish the cut, turn the piece over, and finish the cut from the other side with a small file or razor saw blade, or simply break off the waste piece.

    If I really need to use a bandsaw, which is only once or twice every year or two, I visit my friendly cabinet maker. While I sometimes wish that I had more extensive tooling, my workspace, wiring, and budget are limited, and I just remind myself that "Strad didn't have no belt sander."

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  12. #7
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    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    Addendum:

    I've spent the last several days glueing and cleating cracks and glueing loose braces in an F-5G and a 20 year old J-45 guitar that have had a hard life.

    I have nice 20th century tooling, such as machine made clamps, files, a couple of good coping saws, an electric crock pot for hide glue, store-bought sandpaper in multiple grits, a bench sander, masking tape, and a house and shop with modern heat and running water. It's been a lot of work, some of it pretty difficult.

    How Strad built 1100+ instruments to a high level of perfection and repaired many others with a handful of 18th century tools, homemade varnish, and beach sand is beyond my comprehension.

    And yes, his sons and Carlo Bergonzi helped out in the shop, and he lived in a warm climate in a latitude where the daylight hours were long, but still . . .
    Last edited by rcc56; Jan-15-2021 at 4:30pm.

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  14. #8

    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    Yes, Antonio could turn out a decent instrument couldn't he ? I had a good look at his "Messiah" Violin and a Guitar of his in Oxford a few years ago, through a sheet of glass unfortunately. The Guitar looked like you could just pick it up and play a tune. My other half asked the attendant whether anyone ever played the violin & got a frosty reply.

  15. #9

    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    Thanks for the replies, folks. I have a nice brick Garage with power and light, some decent power tools, cordless drill, orbital sander, circular saw. Also some good chisels, mallet; all the things you need for hanging doors etc.

    So, I'll start with a good handsaw, a block plane, some clamps & a permanent workbench & see how I go on.

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  17. #10
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    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    Once you sharpen your chisels to be sharp enough to do this work you can never use them on a door again, or strike them with anything. May want to keep one or two for the doors, haha
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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  19. #11
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    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    Many years ago, I visited Fred Oster's Vintage Instruments shop in Philadelphia.
    He routinely carries many very fine violin family instruments, and he happened to have an early Stradivari violin in stock.
    I had never seen one, and asked him if I could see it.
    He set it out on the countertop. Everything about the instrument was gorgeous. Although I had seen many very fine instruments over the years, I had never seen that quality of craftsmanship before. I immediately understood what all the fuss is about.
    He said, go ahead and play it if you want. I declined. I'm not much of a violinist, and I didn't want to insult the instrument.
    Now, of course, I wish I had played it. Oh well.
    Last edited by rcc56; Jan-15-2021 at 7:17pm.

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  21. #12

    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    IMHO, 97% of instrument repair can be accomplished with hand tools....small Japanese saw, miniature files, sandpaper (sometimes wrapped around a dowel stick for shaping), small C clamps, screwdrivers, wood glue, etc. Probably stuff you already have, I'm guessing.

    Making a bridge is mostly about cutting out the rough size, then shaping it into a bridge with files and sandpaper. Not hard, just time consuming. A lot of trial and error.

    Two "power" tools I use often are a Dremel set (as previously mentioned) and a small hand held belt sander -- the key is to look for one with a flat top that is designed to be flipped over and used as a small table sander (this is how I use it.)

    Good luck!

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  23. #13
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    I've always loved Darryl Wolfe's bridge top machine.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...l=1#post292585
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  25. #14

    Default Re: What tools do I need ?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    I've always loved Darryl Wolfe's bridge top machine.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...l=1#post292585
    Good reference, Mike.
    Also, something that finish carpenters might not have, but is useful, is a dial or digital 6” caliper. Here in my exile from the shop, I’m reminded daily about calipers but at least I have some mandolins and international alternatiives.

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