All the great inventions of the world are combination items – the car boat, the shopping bag raincoat, the Swiss army knife and my personal favourite – the peanut butter and honey sandwich. So here is my effort – the Ukulele and paddle or uke'n'paddle for short. Ideal for a musical instrument, a Canoe paddle, and hefty enough to be a useful adjunct in case of a zombie invasion or to discipline small children. OK maybe not for disciplining small children.
The inspiration for this was the number of times I have seen people who have home made paddles strumming at them like some mad air guitar king. Then when I was in Vanuatu I saw the locals playing their home made local variant of the tahitian ukulele. A little bit of experimentation and not a large amount of money later I was the proud owner of a large number of ukuleles made with my own hand. The collective noun for ukuleles is of course a happiness of ukuleles. (I just made that up).
Step 1: Draw a Paddle Like Shape on a Piece of Knot Freeish 19 by 140 Pine
Step 2: Cut the Front Pieces and Hollow Out the Front
I have made this one with a 4mm top and a rounded oblong hollow. I used a router to excavated out the back of the front piece and a sander to smooth off the rough bits. You can choose your own method of excavation, from rasps, chisels and razor blades to angle grinders and flame throwers. Maybe not the flame throwers.
Step 3: Make a Back and Shape It a Bit
The back was not the full length of the blade so that the action end of the paddle could be made thinner.
After glueing the parts of the back together the paddle was given a bit of external shape. I went fairly close to the final shape I was after in the blade but, as you may see later, it was mainly so I had a fair clue on how much to hollow out of the centre and then so I could know how much I could take off when doing the final shaping. I really should clean the sole of that plane a bit better.
Step 4: Hollow the Back Out
Step 5: Seal the Insides and Glue Together
Step 6: Form the Handle
I rebate planed out some of the original wood so I could laminate in some wood in with the grain in the strong direction. Note the potato peeler that I was using as a finishing spoke shave on the shaft and the Victorinox shaping knife I bought at a kitchenware store.
One of the tips I picked up about shaping is that guide lines are useful to have when trying to make things rounder – start of making them octagonaller using the guide lines and then try for rounder and smoother and you get a more regular result. Some people go for hexadocagonaller (a 16 sided polygon) after they have made it octoganaller but I am not aiming for total perfection here. If you are that way inclined google spar gauges and whittle away at accuracies of a few thousandths of an inch to your heart's content.
Step 7: Make a Spot for the Tuning Pegs to Go
I reused the off cut wedges but this is no reason a different method might not work better.
Step 8: Add a Nut and Frets
Type"fret calculator" into the search engine of your choice to find the lengths you need. An accurate measure is a definite must here. The tenor length Uke (450 mm scale length) I have used here is forgiving but I used a vernier calliper anyway. A small tip is to mark the sides a little as well as the top so you can see how the frets align with the marks after the fret is on top of the marks on the face of the fretboard. I made my frets by splitting bamboo toothpicks, and scraping the back flat/ off further with a sharp Stanley knife. Then I clamp them in place and put a drop of superglue or two on them. The superglue wicks under the fret very effectively and also hardens them.
It will be helpful if your frets are all the same thickness and cut to length before you put them on.
Sand everything and do a “dry fit” before you varnish it to ensure everything is going to go together nicely. I did a test string up with 20 lb fishing line, giving it Tahitian style tuning to try out the sound and make sure I had not got the fret spacing wrong. This was probably a mistake as I spent the next week or so playing it rather than finishing it off.
Step 9: Finish It Off and Adjust
Rasp and plane and sand and sand and sand. Now might be a good time to add fret markers – usually to the 3rd, 5th and 7th frets. At the moment I have some light pen marks. Next time I go down the beach I will have to look for some nice abalone shell. The white shells I had in my collection just would not have stood out against the pine very well.
Add the manufacturer's recommended coats of the varnish of your choice (3 coats external 'marine' polyurethane for me).
Put the machine heads (tuning pegs) back in and string it up – I used 40, 80, 60 and 40 lb fishing line for standard GCEA ukulele tuning. Make a small plug of pool noodle foam to plug the back when needed.the bridge is a floating style, just held in place by the pressure of the strings, it can be played with for optimisation without bothering much else. This one is a simple 10mm pine triangle with notches 12mm apart. When you are happy with how it plays and sounds make a couple of marks where the bridge is so you know where to put it back when someone knocks it out of place.
Strings held in place by simple loop knots over a small piece of bamboo.
Step 10: In Conclusion
More fine tuning could have gone into the shaping of the tuning peg holding wings on this one (or the placement of the nut) as it can get a little bit in the way when playing the top fret.
Now if you plan on cruising for more than the occasional hour using your paddle, or want to go fast then this concept is useful only as a backup paddle here are some links to some proper and not so proper paddle making
For a ukulele you could try one of the ukes I documented on instructables or something else:
Special mention to the dude who made the Bass paddle.
In a surprise development as I was recording and posting my vid but this guy posted his?