Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pop Quiz

Pop quiz ukesters- here is a sneak peek at my next project.
I was cruising down the street of old shops in my neighborhood the other day and bought a cut of old kimono fabric that measures about 1m x 35cm.

Any ideas?

Monday, October 15, 2007

And Here it is!

At long last, here is the final product!

I used multiple layers of Tru-Oil for the finish on the neck and body and opted for a wax on the headstock and fretboard. I strung it up with a set of clear nylon Martin strings instead of the ones that came with the kit. This was purely personal preference and I'm sure that the strings that are provided with the kit are just fine. In fact, I'll be hanging on to them just in case.

As can be expected, I will be tweaking a few things duringthe "breaking in" phase, mainly lowering the action by filing down the saddle. That being said, I think that I can safely declare this uke finished.

Having strung it up and played a few tunes, I am surprised at the amount of volume this little guy can produce. It has a full, bright sound that offers an interesting contrast to the rich, mellow tone of the pineapple-style ukulele that I am accustomed to.

I learned a lot through the course of this build and will be using the knowledge toward future projects both uke and non-uke related. I am very happy with the final result, but as the builder there are always a few things in the back of my mind that I would have liked to have done differently. I'll chalk this up to the learning process. If everything went perfectly, I wouldn't have learned anything and therefore wouldn't have grown as an individual. I'm happy to say that I have humbly managed to do a little of both.

I have a notebook full of notes, sketches and ideas for upcoming projects and can't wait for the next time I have access to a bandsaw and workshop. I'll have to warn family and friends ahead of time so they don't think (hope?) that I was kidnapped.

I will definately be showing off future projects either here or on the uke boards at and

I would like to thank everyone for their suggestions and comments. Your help was (and still is) greatly appreciated.

As a final note (pun intended), I would like to add that Mrs. Kanagawa G, heretofore a uke fan but non-player, has laid claim to this ukulele and is expressing interest in learning how to play. That alone makes this uke worth its weight in gold.

Until the next time,

Kanagawa G

p.s.- the latest episode of the Ukecast is up. You can give it a listen at If you have a chance, drop Chris and Nipper a line to let them know what a great job they are doing. Keep up the good work, guys!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 20

I installed the bridge and started sanding down the body and neck of the uke. Locating the bridge was easy and installing it was a snap.
I sanded the body down to #240, but there are still a few spots along the curve where I am having trouble removing what appears to be either saw marks or burn marks from the bending process. I have sanded quite a bit and am afraid that I will sand right through to the other side.

Once I have sanded down to #320 I will do some wet sanding before applying layers upon layers of Tru Oil for the final finish.

I managed a quick trip to the hardware store the other day to pick up some supplies as well as poke around at materials for future projects. Well, it wasn't too quick of a trip because I was on foot and it was over a 5-mile trip. It was late afternoon and I figured that I could do for a little walk.

See you next time,

Kanagawa G

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 19

Well the time finally arrived where I glued the neck on to my ukulele. I spent quite a while sanding and marking the high points with carbon paper before sanding again. Believe it or not, it was very enjoyable, but that chapter has drawn to a close. The neck is now securely attached and I am ready to install the bridge and do the final sanding and preparations before finishing the wood.

These last two weeks have been pretty eventful as both weekends are/were three-day weekends due to a national holiday falling on Monday. I managed some time to work on my uke in addition to taking a short family vacation (which was an adventure in itself including a safari and car trouble) and a LOT of at home DIY which included my first forray into plumbing since I earned the plumbing merit badge way back when. Luckily I paid attention.

Here is a picture of the drying neck joint. I used a variety of sandpapers and tools (sanding block, large dowels, my fingers, an off-brand Dremel, etc.) to get the best fit possible.

I will be doing the bridge work soon!

Until then,

Kanagawa G

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 18

I invested a few hours into sanding the neck joint of the ukulele. I have it down to the point where most sane people would consider it good enough, but I am determined to get the joint lined up as tight as humanly possible. I started out as the instructions indicate and put a piece of 80-grit sandpaper between the neck and the body to smooth the neck to the shape of the body. I soon discovered that the cut of the neck was slightly off center so I worked to sort that out.

Next I used a handy sheet of carbon paper to mark the high spots on the neck. Seeing as this is the information age and people don't have carbon paper floating around like in the past, I had to think for a minute as to where I could get some. I ended up using one of the inside pages of a waybill from a recent delivery. How's that for recycling?

The joint is ever so close to being done, but in an effort to square up the corner of the neck and the underside of the fretboard, I went out and picked up a handheld roto-tool and some attachments. I tested it out on a few things around the house (I like the glass etching bit) and I think I am ready to give it a go. I only want to shave off a tiny amount without unnecessarily thinnng the fretboard.

I don't have any pictures of the uke in its current state (as nothing has changed visibly), so I am including a few pics of another DIY project I recently finished.
My old chum "D" is a photo-buff (and audio-buff and movie-buff and BBQ-buff...) and is part of the photography club at the university where he is working as a professor. Last year I built a film roll dryer so his students wouldn't have to wait long for their film to dry during the development process. It was basically a hair dryer on top of a PVC pipe with a rod in the bottom to hold in the film cannisters. It was a surprising success and he asked that I build another one. In the true spirit of DIY, I naturally couldn't resist the urge to MAKE IT BETTER!

I'm proud to say that the second dryer was build at LESS expense than the first one DESPITE having TWICE the capacity. This was built using old junk around the house and two 300 yen fans that I found at an "end of summer" sale (despite the fact that it is still darn hot).
LEFT: The two cylinders at the top are fully enclosed filtered fan mechanisms to prevent any airborne dust from blowing on to the film and resulting in a less-than-desireable outcome. As you can see, it has a pleasing silver and grey color scheme, which is coincidentally is the same color as the "handyman's secret weapon." I also designed a label to continue with the "brand name" that I started with the first one.

RIGHT: This is a detail of the filter. Each filter can be easily removed for cleaning or to perform maintenance on one of the internal two-speed fans.

So there you have it. It might not be the prettiest thing that you have ever seen, but it is guaranteed to work like a charm and was built for under 1000 yen (less than $10). This once again proves that you can build pretty good stuff with whatever you have on hand as long as you have a bit of ingenuity.
I will post more pics of the uke project once I finish the final sanding of the neck joint.
See you next time,
Kanagawa G

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 17

I sat down last evening to shape the neck of the ukulele. My wife was watching a movie and our son was zonked out for the night after a busy day of splashing around in a kiddie pool and running around looking at bugs with some of his friends.

Shaping the neck was a very enjoyable process and it seemed to take no time at all. I sanded down the excess wood to make the neck even with the fretboard and smoothed the curvature of the neck to match appropriately. I also leveled the frets and polished them up a bit. After deciding that I had done enough work for one evening, I glanced at the clock as I started to clean up and saw that I had been at work for close to three hours. I aim to do some final sanding of the neck this week and attach the neck to the body.

I looked over the mighty John Colter's notes about the Stewart MacDonald kit and have to agree about his idea of attaching the neck to the body with a 1/4" dowel. Titebond is a very dependable glue, but I want the extra peace of mind in knowing that there is a solid joint at the neck. You can find his notes on the kit at:

John's notes are #12 in the table of contents. Many of my notes on building the kit closely echo his comments. I couldn't agree more with his closing comment about building for enjoyment. I have been taking my sweet time building this kit so that I can enjoy it as much as possible. I know that I will enjoy playing this uke for a long time once it has been finished, and that I will enjoy building more ukes in the future, but I can only enjoy the process of building this particular ukulele only once.

In other news, episode 223 of the Uke Cast is now available on the Uke Cast website. 223 is a music-filled celebration of the "birth" of the ukulele. For more information, visit the website and give it a listen!

See you next time,
Kanagawa G

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 16

This evening I glued the fretboard to the neck. I practiced winding the rubber band a few times before applying the glue to try to minimize the amount of fretboard slippage. I managed to line up the 12th fret and keep the overall position straight as I wound the rubber band around so everything should work out okay. Still, I have this fear that I will wake up tomorrow morning and find that the fretboard has slipped overnight and is now permanently glued on off kilter.

The glue has been drying for about two hours now, so I think that I am in the clear.

See you next time,

Kanagawa G