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

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 15

My week off has come to an end. I had a great time playing with my son all day, every day as well as getting some around the house jobs done as well (with a little "helper"). When the little tyke was napping, I took the opportunity to get some work done on the Stew Mac project.

I was doing some shopping at a all-in-one store the other day and took my usual swing through the harware department. As luck would have it, I saw the perfect fret hammer out of the corner of my eye. It was the last one (only one?) in stock, so I grabbed it from the shelf and tossed it in my shopping basket (gently tossed it...I didn't want to harm the pinot!). The hammer has the ubiquitous translucent yellow "soft" head and a black rubber "double soft" head. I had the chance to test it out this afternoon.

I cut the fret wire into the appropriate length- 1/4" longer than the fretboard and started by gently tapping each side into place before working from end to end on each fret to seat it in place. I started out quite gently because I didn't want to crack the fretboard but soon found that it took quite some oomph to seat the frets firmly.

Once the frets were seated, I filed down the overhang and added a bevel to the edge of each fret using some 600 grit sandpaper. The instructions call for 150 grit, but I thought that 600 grit silicone carbide would be more appropriate. The 600 grit sandpaper made a smooth bevel in no time flat.

Here is a picture of the fretboard. Keep in mind that the frets have yet to be leveled and polished.

See you next time,

Kanagawa G

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 14

I spent the day recovering at home yesterday by shaping the body of the uke. I planed the excess wood down to a hair's breadth of the body and sanded the rest off with 80 grit sandpaper. I found that sandpaper wrapped around a thick wooden dowel (3/4 to 1 inch) works the best. Unfortunately, my wooden dowel was attached to a laundry rack. I'll have to do some explaining later on...

Here is a full body shot. The label is actually centered below the soundhole, I just took this picture from slightly off vertical to try to avoid glare from the flash.
Keep in mind that these are of the rough, unfinished wood.

This should give you some idea of the bowed back. The ukulele is laying on its face in this picture.

This picture shows the body taper. The tail is slightly thicker than the neck (about 7mm).

Next up, the fretboard!

See you next time,
Kanagawa G

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 13

Well it has been a crazy week or so since my last entry.

This coming week is the "O-bon" holiday in Japan where people return to their ancestral homeland to visit family graves and welcome the spirits of the dead back among the living for a week. There are all kinds of festivals with fireworks, dancing, barbecues, you name it. This alsom means that every possible means of transportation is twice as expensive and four times as crowded. Needless to say, the Kanagawa G family will be staying put.

I woke up this morning to find that I am covered in some strange kind of itchy, watery blister. At first I thought it was a few bug bites, but was surprised (and shocked) to find myself covered in them. BOY DOES IT ITCH! What a way to start a week off! Seeing as it is Sunday, the skeleton crew at the local hospital wasn't much help and I will visit a dermatologist tomorrow if they are open (it's a holiday- remember?). Not fun. Not fun at all.

I took my mind off my itchy red bumpy friends this afternoon by trimming the back braces, applying the label and gluing the body together. If all goes well, I'll be trimming the body and working on the fretboard tomorrow.

See you next time (scratch, scratch)

Kanagawa G

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 12

My label design is complete! This is the first of hopefully many "Maun" ukuleles.

I wanted to use the following elements in the label to reflect different elements of my life:

1) The moon- "Moon viewing" is a popular late summer/autumn event in Japan.

- We live in a place that is named for its view of the moon ("Field where the moon is viewed" in Japanese)

- My son is entralled with the moon, but he pronounces it "maun" (he is 1 year 9 mos old)

- I'm pretty much building this at night, so the moon seemed apropos.

2) Mountains

- I enjoy the mountains. I like hiking, camping, looking at the scenery, you name it.

- The mountain in the label represents Mt. Fuji, which both the symbol of Japan as well as a play on my Japanese nickname "Fujiyama Takashi" (guy who's as tall as Mt. Fuji).

3) I wanted to convey the feeling of a summer-evening.

- Purple sky
- Green lettering (bamboo-ish)

- I thought about adding some fireworks, but that seemed too cheesy.

I poked around on the internet and found that there is a frontier town in Botswana named "Maun" that is a famous launching point for safaris. Perhaps I'll write a letter to the mayor and send him a ukulele out of good will. Heck, how about I become the ukulele ambassador to Africa? That would be fun.

Looking at the big image above, I just noticed that the letters are a bit off center. I'll ahve to go back and fix that.

See you next time,

Kanagawa G

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 11

It has been a day or two (or three?) since my last post. I have been keeping quite busy, but the uke project is moving along at a steady pace.

I purchased the materials for the label and am working on finishing up the design. I decided to incorporate a few new elements into the design to really round it out. Hopefully I will have something visual to post here soon.

See you next time,

Kanagawa G

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 10

I was quite busy over the weekend with work and several important around the house fix-it jobs such as taking care of clogged drains, sticky doorknobs, etc. As Red-Green always said, "If they don't find ya handsome, at least they'll find ya handy!"

I glued the face on my ukulele and glued the supports to the back. The supports look crooked in the photo, but they really aren't. I took this picture from a funny angle to minimize the glare from the flash bouncing off of the wooden table.
I hope to shape and insert the soundboard supports and bridge back in the next day or two. I also need to get cracking on the label for the inside. I hope to swing by the store to pick up some high quality paper and acid-free glue so I can print the label and stick it to the back.
I can't wait to do the final shaping of the body!
See you next time,
Kanagawa G

Friday, July 27, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 9

I have finished shaping the body taper. It is hard to tell from this picture, but there is an ever-so-slight taper from the tail to the neck. I also sanded the purfling around the soundhole and have started to roughly shape the face to glue it to the body.

The tail block has a taper on one end which I believe points toward the face. I want to double check this before gluing the face to the body.

I have been getting encouragement from ukulele enthusiasts from the world over. Thank you for your encouragement and advice! The translation industry is quite competitive, so it is a nice change to hear the kind natured advice of luthiers and players alike. Best wishes, brothers and sisters!
See you next time,
Kanagawa G

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 8

Last night I cut the soundhole purfling and glued it in place. While I was waiting for the glue to dry, I started planing around the body to create a tail to neck taper. I got a feel for the wood early on and had no trouble planing down to a hair's breadth above the linings. Follow the instructions on planing (arrows) as it will keep you from cutting too deep and splitting off chunks of wood. I left just a little wood above the lining because I don't trust my planing skills and wanted a little margin of safety just in case. This extra bit will be removed when I sand the sides to create a good edge for the glue.

The grain of the soundboard is ever so slightly off parallel. I tried to line up the grain with the body shape so it would be running straight up and down, but found that doing so would create a gap as the rough cut panel included with the kit is just a few centimeters too narrow in that direction. I have given in to the fact that the gain will be slightly off kilter. I just hope that people don't see the finished product and think, "Wow, that almost looks really good."

Things are really starting to take shape! (bad pun, I know)

See you next time,

Kanagawa G

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 7

This evening I cut and glued the first two pieces of the lining. I was sure to carefully create a gradual taper before clamping it down with the clothespins. I am planning on waking up a little earlier than normal tomorrow morning to flip the whole thing over and do the other side.

Here is a picture of the sides drying with the first two lining pieces fit.

Until then,

Kanagawa G

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 6

The titebond arrived this evening. I was expecting it later in the week, so it was a welcome surprise.

I lined the jig with wax paper and found that masking tape wouldn't stick to hold it in place. I needed something that had a little more oomph, so I opted for the grey alternative.

Freshly duck taped, I tried dry clamping the neck and tail supports into place before applying the glue.

Here is a picture of my current progress.

Here you can see the supports clamped to the sides. The jig is placed well out of the reach of sticky little fingers powered by the inquiring little mind of a one-year-old.

See you next time!

Kanagawa G

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 5

I'd like to thank everyone for sending me warnings and advice about the glue!

Like I said, I was wary of the "advice" given to me by the guy at the hardware store seeing as he had no instrument building experience.

I have placed an order to import a bottle of "Titebond" and uke construction will continue when it arrives.

That being said, I will probably go ahead and dry clamp the body and neck and tail blocks to see how they fit while I am waiting for the glue to show up.

Thanks again,

Kanagawa G

Stew Mac Diaries 4

I made it to the hardware store today! I took my time walking around finding the proper materials and managed to pick up a new drill while I was at it (funny how that works!).

One thing I always notice when I am shopping for lumber in Japan is that the wood quality is exceptionally good. Since 99.9% of everything is imported, I guess they don't want to waste time shipping over a bunch of warped 2x4 econo studs. Of course, the prices match the lumber (and then some).

I am a little wary about the glue. The instructions mention "Titebond" or weld-on binding cement. The "Titebond" brand isn't available here in Japan, but the description sounds like a chemical based rubber glue. I was talking with one of the old timers in the hardware store (who seemed to think that I was a bit off my rocker) and he recommended a strong glue that maintains a bit of flexibility after it has completely bonded. I'm a bit wary, but I tested out the glue on my jig and it is pretty strong. By pretty strong, I mean really darn strong!

I went ahead and built the jig using my newly purchased materials and shiny new drill. The jig went together without a problem, however, I was in for a surprise when I cut out the body shape and found that nothing matched the measurements given in the instructions.

After a bit of headscratching, I put my printed instructions aside and pulled out the originals that were included with the kit. Then it dawned on printed instructions were on A4 sized paper, while the originals were on US standard size paper. Adobe Acrobat had resized the plans to fit on the paper which led to the size discrepency.

When printing instructions on A4 size paper, check the printer settings in the printer dialog to make sure that the plans are printed at 100% size. DO NOT select "fit to paper size".

Life was much better when I had the original plans and found that the body pattern fit the jig perfectly. Here is a picture of my completed jig.

Now, there's nothing to it but to do it!

See you next time!

Kanagawa G

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 3

The kit has arrived!

I was doing some work in my home office when lo and behold, the doorbell rang announcing the arrival of the long-awaited (three days, to be exact) Stew Mac uke kit.

Wanting to savor the moment, I put it aside until I finished with my work for the morning and opened it when I had some time to enjoy it to the fullest.

The outer box seemed none the worse for the wear and the inner box (shown on the left) was in pristine condition. The friendly folks at Stewart MacDonald included a catalog as well.

Here you can see the contents of the kit. I was expecting to open the box and be greeted by the aromatic smell of freshly cut wood, but was instead greeted by the smell of rubber from the two rubber bands used to hold the body together while the glue dries (perhaps they could include these in a plastic bag?). The body, neck and head, soundboard, back, etc are all in good shape and ready for building.

Unfortunately, I haven't made it to the hardware store yet to pick up the necessary supplies. I have scheduled a morning marathon translation session so I can take the afternoon off to make a supply run.

On that note, I have found a helpful imperial to metric lumber size reference table for any of you metric builders out there.

See you the next time!

Kanagawa G

Friday, July 20, 2007

Stew Mac Diaries 2

I just checked the DHL website and my kit seems to have not only arrived in Japan, but it is sitting in the Yokohama warehouse awaiting delivery! I figure that it will be delivered sometime today. I am amazed at how fast it made it all the way over here. Perhaps I could DHL myself and family back to the US for our next trip seeing as it would take a lot less time than commercial air travel (joke!).

Continuing in my long tradition of putting the cart before the horse, I passed the time on the train yesterday by starting to design the label to put inside (and listening to UkeCast #221).

The UkeCast can be found here:

I have come up with a neat design that blends several aspects of my life here in Japan into one simple design. I did a few sketches and am happy with the outcome. I can't quite decide on what style of lettering to use, but hopefully that will become apparant when I'm making the color version. I'd like to make a data version for future use as well.
Hopefully I can find some time to make a run to the hardware store to get my supplies together.
Pics to come!

See you next time!

Kanagawa G

Stew Mac Diaries 1

Welcome to the first of hopefully many (but not too many) installments of the "Stew Mac Diaries" as I document my first attempt at hand crafting a ukulele using the world-reknowned Stew Mac Kit.
Detials of the kit can be found here:

I have always been into DIY and past projects include computers, roll film driers to speed up the film development process, miscellaneous technical gadgetry as well as all kinds of other MacGuyver-esque doohickies to make life more interesting (notice I avoid using the word "simple"). As a lifelong musician and ukulele enthusiast since 2001, I figure that building my own ukulele is only natural! A little cheering on by my better half sealed the deal.

I placed my order on July 18 and hopefully the kind folks at DHL will have my kit to me in 3-7 days. In the meantime, I will try to make a few trips to the hardware store to pick up the essential supplies needed for the jig and any other tools that I may be lacking.

I did some background internet research on building the kit and watched a few short videos on Youtube to get in the right mindset. The youtube "documentary" series only goes to episode 2, so I am left wondering if the intreprid builder's use of bent tongs ever managed to do the trick of gluing in the forgotten cross braces. I have also downloaded the pdf instructions from the stew mac website and I am converting everything to metric. I have both Imperial and Metric tools, however, since I live in Japan it would be easier to do everything in metric. I have learned that it is better to plan and build using only one standard instead of constantly converting on the fly.
The guys at the hardware store also do a lot less headscratching that way.

I'll try to keep this blog updated as I work through the various steps and look forward to comments and suggestions by all you ukesters out there. That being said, my consulting schedule is booked pretty solid, but I will try to get in as much uke time as possible.

See you next time!

Kanagawa G