Introduction: Building an Ukulele From Scratch

Hi, this is my first Instructable and it's about how to make your own individual ukulele mainly from ordinary wood, found in an ordinary wood shop.


Step 1: Material List

For building your Uke you need mainly wood, but also some other, mechanical, parts. Here is the full list of things you need.

 The size of the parts vary with your own individual design. And the meassurements are all in millimeters(mm). If you need it in inches, you have to multiply the millimeters with a factor of 0,03937. So 1mm equals 0,03937 inches.

What to buy(more or less):
2 x thin wood lathes (60 x 5 x 100)
1 x thin wood lathe (10 x 20 x 100)
1 x thick wood lathe (60 x 20 x 100)
1 x thin large sheet of chipboard
2 x sticks (diameter = 10mm, length = 1000mm)
4 x strings
4 x machine heads for the strings
14 x frets



If you're not familiar with the metric system, here's a little cheat-list:
1 meter(m) = 100 centimeter(cm)
1 cm = 10 millimeters(mm)

Step 2: Bending the Wood for the Shape, Part 1

The very first step in building an ukulele is bending the wood for shape. You bend the wood very easy by putting it in a steam box. Most probably you won't be a carpenter and thus don't have one. Don't worry, there are a lot of other instructables around here on how to build a steam box for bending wood.

Another way of making the wood soft and flexible is by putting it into a bathtub filled with water and let it in there for several hours(e.g. overnight). Since the wood will swim in the bathtub, put some towels on top of the wood, so the wood will sink and be completely under water.

Step 3: Bending the Wood for the Shape, Part 2

After the wood is soaked with water and thus soft and flexible, you can start to bend it.

For my ukulele I've build a shape holder. It puts pressure on the wood from both the outside and the inside and is hold together with a clamp and some tape(I didn't have a second clamp that was long enough).

The shape holder is made out of two layers of cheap wood. To put pressure onto the whole height of the wood, the layers have to be separate
The layers are hold separate with nuts and bolts.

Step 4: Pieceholder at Work

Next you have to build a piece holder, which holds the wood in shape while you are working on it.
It's very easy to build: First, you outline the shape onto a think sheet of wood with a pencil or something alike. Then you drill holes on the outside of the form you've just drawn. The holes have to be big enough to stick wood-sticks through it. Now put the wood sticks into it, but none of the must be higher than the bended wood itself.

The wood experiences pressure from the outside. Give it some pressure from the inside to by squeezing another wood stick into it.

Now you can begin working on it

Step 5: Closing the Shape

Add another slat to close the shape and make it stable.
You most probably have to saw the slat quite precisely to fit in perfectly.
Now glue it in and again put a lot of pressure onto it from all sides. Additionally get a rectangular piece to hold the slat straight up.

During this step you can simultaneously go on to the next step: Adding support

Step 6: Adding Support

Here I used the Balsa wood to make the support, since Balsa is both stable and very light.
Add Balsa wood where possible, as it will give your Uke more stability when you glue on the back side and the front side.

After you're finished you should be able to take it out without it losing its shape.

Step 7: Adding the Front Cover

In this step you will add the front cover of the Ukulele.
First spread a lot of glue onto the edge and the support you've just added.
Second lay the front wood on top of it and add as much weight as you can, including some clamps

Step 8: Adding the Neck, Part 1

This step is requires some work, since the point between neck and body has to resist a lot of tension from the strings later.

At first you have to add a supporting block of wood, which will later hold the neck. you have to cut the block very precisely. It must touch both, front cover and back cover, so cut it exactly the height so it will fit in the Uke perfectly.

The block has to be in the middle of the uke, right where you want to place the neck

Step 9: Making the Neck Itself, Without Pictures

Frankly, I forgot to document the building of the neck. I hope you will still get how it was made by the final pictures

Step 10: Adding the Neck, Part 2

Now you drill a hole - bigger than a screw - right through the wood block in the direction of the neck. Through this hole you will later insert a screw which will hold the neck. This adds more strength to it.

After the hole is drilled through the block, you have to drill another hole into the neck, but this time it has to be smaller, so that the screw can claw to the wood. Spread some glue onto the area between ukulele and neck.


Finally insert the screw and tighten it, so that the screw can pull the neck firmly to the body.

Step 11: Making the Fretboard, Part 1, and Adding Support Again

You're about to finish your own Ukulele!
But first you have to do some more things.

To make the fretboard you have to glue a long flat wood slat on the front side of the neck, from top all the way down to the prospective soundhole.
Again, clamp it together again until the glue is dry.

While this is in progress, add some support again on the bottom for the cover later.

After you're finished, make a simple bridge and a simple nut and stick on the nut, but not yet the bridge.


The second picture shows the almost finished Ukulele, so don't be surprised when yours does not yet look like this one here.

Step 12: Making the Fretboard, Part 2

Now you have to use some math in order to make the ukulele playable.

Take the distance from fret 0 to the body and note that distance. To know where to put the bridge, go down the same length from the end of the body. Now glue the bridge onto the body.

For the distance between each fret you have to consider two things:

First, the distance from bridge to the end of the body is equal to the distance from the end of the body to the nut.
Second, the distance between each fret has to be calculated, you can either go the hard way and derive a formula given by the facts on wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_temperament) like I did... or you make things easy by using this website: http://liutaiomottola.com/formulae/fret.htm



Now sketch the lines of distances and saw along them, deep and wide enough for the frets you're going to put in later.

Step 13: Making Bridge and Nut

The nut is made very easy, its nothing more than a round wood stick cut in half.

The bridge is a little bit more complicated. It is a rectangular stick, with a gap in it, 4 holes for the strings and a cut on the front side for the 14th fret.

Step 14: Adding Soundhole and Bottom Cover


Although you see the soundhole and the bottom cover on the picture, don't glue on the bottom cover yet.

First make the soundhole, somewhere on the uke like shown on the picture.

After you've cut in the soundhole, stick on the bottom cover.

The only thing wood work that has to be done now is sanding the bottom cover, so that it has no protruding parts anymore.

Step 15: You're Finished With It :-D


Yaay, you're done with the wood work. You can be very proud on yourself now.
Now you can color it the way you want, paint a landscape onto it, make it a spider-man ukulele, use your imagination.

After you're done painting, put in the frets, the machine heads and the strings and you can start impressing people by playing on your self-made uke.

Congratulations!

Comments

author
pmccoyer made it!(author)2015-10-03

Approximate total price for the materials?

author
AntMan232 made it!(author)2012-12-14

I am far from an expert, but I noticed one thing. On the head, the holes for tuning pegs (machine heads? told you I was clueless) are in line. Shouldn't they be arranged such that the pack ones run down the centre, or is there some other way of getting the strings into the right places?

author
LiftAndLove made it!(author)2013-04-18

Well if you make the grooves in the nut go down enough, the nut will hold the strings in place.

author
ValiantToaster made it!(author)2012-06-12

Is it possible if you could include a neck making section as I am undertaking this project but I can't seem to find the measurements for the neck width, length and the position of the frets themselves anywhere on the web, I may just be incompetent at finding templates but it would be a real help if you could include anything on the position of the frets, thankyou :)

author
cwix09 made it!(author)2012-09-20

Nvm, after reading the rest of the way through the ible you'll find these in step 12:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_temperament)
http://liutaiomottola.com/formulae/fret.htm

author
cwix09 made it!(author)2012-09-20

Yes agreed, please add measurements. A picture with measurements would be good.

author
MadBricoleur made it!(author)2011-02-07

Nice uke and tutorial! I'm just curious, though: how does 3/16" wood as the sides (5mm) compare to the recommended 0.08" (2mm) thickness as for sound?

author
jetlund made it!(author)2010-12-09

Wouldn't plywood be better for the body. Also, it seems that your neck is made from one piece of wood (except for the part where it is fixed) to the body. Thus, I am wondering wether your uke is able to stay tuned at all.

author
blkhawk made it!(author)2010-11-30

I always wanted to build a dulcimer, which is a string instrument. After seeing your instructable I am inspired to build it. Thank you for posting it.

author
brassclams made it!(author)2010-11-21

I guess you mean "laths" rather than "lathes", the latter being a tool. Can't help correcting. Sorry!

author
Clayton+H. made it!(author)2010-11-15

It's a very nice project. But I have a few recommendations.
1) Add kerfling the inside edge of the sides on the top and bottom edges to give you more glue strength.
2) Use wood glue instead of hot glue due to the fact that if you enter a hot enough room, the glue will melt and you'll have a pile of ukulele parts on the floor.
3) Rubber bands are a good way to glue on the top and back in one easy step.
4) put a coat of lacquer or Polyurethane on it to protect it (and any artwork) from moisture and dirt.
5) If you want to completely eliminate metal from the uke ( I follow the Wishnevsky method that metal dampers tone) then you could attach the neck using a dovetail.
But those are just my opinions and without them, I bet your uke is great!

author
Phil+B made it!(author)2010-11-14

Very nice. Thank you for posting a nice project.

author
MichiTechnologies made it!(author)2010-11-15

I'm very pleased that you like it :-), thank you

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