How I Made My Ukelele

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Hello everyone, I am very happy to share my last project, recently I considered building my first instrument, a ukulele, and finally I finished it. It's a tenor class and I built it at home with the tools I had. In this Instructable I want to show you the process that I followed, based on the limitations that had to do it at home, I know that in the end I made some mistakes in the construction, so I want you to know that this is not an inalterable guide, but more well a kind of motivation for you to build your own. Doing so will take some time to research, watch video tutorials, etc. but in the end I think it's worth it.

As an extra tip, I recommend you enroll for the woodworking class, because many of the tips that show there, I applied to this project. ;)

Step 1: References, Plans, Measurements,etc

At first I searched online for free ukulele plans, I did not find much variety, and the ones I found I did not like very much. So I looked for some references of the model that I wanted to build and start getting measurements based on what I found on the internet. I will attach the plans that I made of the body of the ukulele, the neck, the bridge and something else ...

Pd: The plans that I made are in centimeters. They are in a pdf format to print in 1: 1 scale, I did not put measures to avoid confusion. You can measure it directly from the paper. Something measurements of these plans are not completely accurate, you will have to check that everything worked according to how you build it ;)

Step 2: Tools...

These are all the tools I have and are the ones I used to build the ukulele from start to finish.

I used three power tools - A drill -A manual router -A rotary tool (Dremel type) And among the other tools are some saws, some files, six clamps, a chisel, a block plane, some rules, and one of the most important ... the caliper.

Step 3: Wood...

Generally for the construction of instruments it is very important the choice of the type of wood for its resonance, etc. In my case I could not get the most suitable wood, however, I had some wooden boards and pieces of laminated MDF, with which I worked. All the wood that I used was:

- A wood board of approx. 700x200x15mm

- A plywood board of 600x300x4mm

- Two strips of MDF (laminated in wood) of 70x1000mm

- A wood plank, aprox 500x70x20mm

- Some 10x10mm pine strips

All this is what I could get for my house and in some places of discarded wood, I did not have to buy anything :)

Step 4: Mold and Template

The first thing we need will be the mold to give the shape to our ukulele and also a template to verify that everything is correct. In my house I had an MDF board that I used to cut out the shape, ideally it would cover the whole width of the ukulele with the mold, but I did not have enough. Also with another thinner board trim the template of the general shape.

Step 5: Bending the Strips

I made the sides of the ukulele with sheets of wood that I obtained from strips of the laminated MDF, I took them out with care and then I sanded them.

Now comes a step a bit complicated, it's time to bend these strips with the shape we need, after trying some methods I found the best one, using water and a hot pipe, you can search in internet something like this " bending wood with a hot pipe"

Using the template we can give the necessary curves to fit these strips in the mold we build. We will have to make four strips in total, two for each side.

Step 6: Sticking the Strips

To maintain the shape of the curves it is necessary to stick two strips together, the strips that I got were approximately 1mm thick. Glue is placed on the inner side of one, the other sticks as best as possible and this fits into the mold we made, pressing the strips between the internal and external part of the mold, if in some parts it starts to take off you can use tweezers to keep everything together. We do this with both sides independently.

Step 7: Joining the Sides

First we must cut the strips that we paste previously according to the template. Now inside the mold we can join both parts, for this we use two blocks of wood, these are glued just in the center as seen in the image.

Now to stiffen the walls of the ukulele are used wooden strips with many small cuts to be able to bend them with the shape of the curves we did, ideally these strips are approximately 1x1cm, but in my case, after several failed attempts trying to fold these strips I decided to use strips that I got from the 4mm plywood I had (they were easier to bend). Having all this ready we can stick the blocks of wood, once it is completely dry the glue will proceed to paste the strips, for this I used many tweezers.

Step 8: Now to the Neck

Following the plans I started with the construction of the neck. It is important to work as accurately as possible, the part of the assembly must be straight as well as where the fretboard goes.

This is where I use the plank, taking the appropriate measures I made a cut at 15º trying to make it a very clean cut because we will have to paste this part but rotating it, so we will achieve the inclination where the pegs go. We will do this in one extreme, in the other instead we will stick some more blocks of this plank to obtain the necessary height.

Step 9: Cutting, Filing and Sanding

We will continue working with the neck, once the part of the assembly is finished we will be able to start making cuts to take the proper form and facilitate the work of filing and sanding.

We will make the necessary cuts to form the headstock, the whole length of the neck will be rounded with a wood file, after having the shape we need we will be able to sand it progressively. Work carefully so as not to remove more wood than necessary.

Step 10: Headstock Holes

Before making the holes for the pegs you have to make sure to measure very well, and try to make the holes completely perpendicular so that then the pegs fit perfectly, the diameter of the holes will depend on the pegs you get. Start with small holes and then go increasing the diameter.

Step 11: Fretboard

For the fretboard I used a part of the first board that I mentioned. This board was 15mm thick and for this part I needed to get to 4mm, here I used the router and using a technique mentioned in the Instructable Woodworking class I got the thickness I needed. Having this I began to mark where to make the cuts for the fret wire. Fret positions can be easily calculated in internet applications, I use this:

https://www.stewmac.com/FretCalculator

There they explain how to do everything correctly.

Step 12: Inlays

Now it is time to place the inlays, these are placed different from those of a guitar. They usually go on frets # 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15.

Now you have to think about what material to make them, really I would say that any material that is resistant is useful, I improvised here a bit and used the part of a bicycle rim valve, I got a kind of rings, it seemed interesting to me as they would look, so I put them For this I was marking and making holes, I embedded them and fixed them with superglue, having everything well glued I sanded it to the necessary level.

Optionally you can place inlays on the left side, I did it, I needed something similar to the rings that I put, looking for my house I found some very small tubes that take them out of an old car carburetor, they were perfect :)

Step 13: Fret Wire

Now it's time to place the fret wire, it's quite simple, we cut to the proper size leaving a leftover and then make an exact cut, and then at each end file a bevel.

This cable is made so that with a couple of beats is embedded in the wood, but if you want you can also use superglue so that everything is well fixed.

Step 14: Back Cover

According to the model that I wanted to build the back cover not it was flat, but with relief, (doing it this way adds a bit more weight to the ukulele)

Here use the rest of the first board. The width of this was not enough so I had to stick two by its sides. If both sides are well squared they will stick without problems, a little glue and pressure and ready.

Also, here I used the router to reduce its thickness up to 10 mm as needed, I also used the block plane.

Step 15: Sticks

We will need some sticks, I used pine, about 1x1.5cm that we will use to strengthen the two covers. For now we will stick some on the back cover.

Here draw the outline of the ukulele to have a reference and cut them to the correct size.
Once it is dry, we will remove some material from the ends using the chisel. When we start with the front cover we will do the same as in this step.

Step 16: Front Cover & Sound Hole

The front cover was made with the 4mm thick plywood panel, but I needed this part to have a maximum of 3mm so I had to use the router once more, although it also works trying to detach one of the panel's sheets.

Draw on this the outline of the ukulele and trace the place where the sound hole would go. Ideally, I would use a hole saw bit, but I did not have one, so I tried with a circle cutter compass and patience, and it worked.

Before cutting the circle you can make a rosette to make it look much better. I did it by sculpting a little around the hole to embed some small pieces of wood that were left over from the strips on the sides of the ukulele. I also put a binding strip all over the circumference, I stuck everything with superglue.

With all this ready we can stick the sticks as in the back cover, there are different provisions of these sticks, try the one that suits you best.

Step 17: Back Cover Again

After I glued the sticks to the back cover, I cut out the shape of the ukulele I had drawn, leaving a remainder around the outline. With this piece ready I was ready to paste it. I used a few clamps. You have to be careful with the pressure you give to the clamps (without realizing I almost break one of the sides).

When the cover is well stuck we can eliminate the surplus with the router and a flush trim bit.

Step 18: Carving the Back Cover

With the back cover pasted, we can use the router to
do on the edge, the space where the binding will go. This will make things easier in the future.

With this ready we can start the task of carving wood. First I used the chisel to remove larger quantities of wood, being careful with the grain direction of the wood. Then I used the file to give a more stylized shape. And to finish for now I sanded everything with a sandpaper No. 80.

I really liked the result.

Step 19: Time to Close the Body

We will do something similar with the front cover. We will stick it aligning everything correctly and with the right pressure (as this part is more fragile use a thin rope, if you use rubber strips it is much better, and some pieces of wood to make pressure, that monstrosity that you see in the photo is like it was xD)

With this ready we will also do with the router the space for the binding of this side.

Step 20: The Bridge

I made the bridge with a piece of the same wood that I used for the back cover. In this part I took about six hours, but only to take care of even the smallest detail. I made a design somewhat different from conventional bridges, in this case I left a hole, where the rope would get stuck when knotting it at one end, so that it can not pass through a smaller hole that reaches the bottom nut. Either way, you can build the bridge as you like c:

I will also leave the plans of the bridge that I made.

Step 21: Joining Point

With the body practically finished we can do the part where the neck will fit, this part is crucial, because it depends on the neck being well centered.

Taking all the correct measurements we will mark where to make this rail. I did it with the my hand router and a bit with the right size.

Step 22: Stick the Fretboard With the Neck

After verifying that the neck fits in the body correctly we can continue

Now it's time to finish the neck of our ukulele. Now we will paste the fretboard, it is important to have everything well measured. There are not many complications in this step, but you have to do it with patience and care so that it is well aligned, use all the clamps that you think are necessary.

Step 23: Binding

Now we can start to place the binding, with the spaces that we made it is very easy.

In a store of musical instruments buy some strips of plastic suitable for this task. I was just fitting them into place and sticking them with superglue. When they are already dry we can level them, for this use the blade of a cutter, little by little it was removing material until leaving everything at the same level.

Step 24: Body & Neck

With those two parts ready, it's just a matter of putting glue, putting a clamp and that's it.

Pd: I forgot to take a photo of the part when I stick them :(

Step 25: Place the Bridge

Now you have to paste the bridge, everything well measured and centered. I put some adhesive tape around to avoid staining with glue the rest of the cover.

Step 26: Sanding, Sanding...

It's time to sand, now is when we will leave our ukulele very soft.

As in some parts I started with a # 80 sandpaper, continue with a 120, with a 220, and then with a 400. With this done, it is time to make a very important step. With a little water you have to wet the surface of the wood, so the remaining microfibers will be raised and we can sand them to have an extra-smooth finish. And finally I used some steel wool.

Step 27: Apply the Finish

With everything sanding and ready it's time to apply a finish. In the end I decided first to darken some parts of the ukulele a bit, so I used some wood dye

Now the final finish, while I was researching, I found something that I thought was perfect for what I needed. I wanted to have direct contact with the ukulele wood, if I used lacquer I would not achieve this. For this reason I used a natural finish. I prepared a mixture of equal parts linseed oil and beeswax. I melted them together and I applied it to the whole ukulele with the help of a piece of T-shirt. This mixture seals the wood, moisturizes it, protects against moisture and gives it a really nice shine, it also gives a slight smell of honey :)

Step 28: Almost the Last Step

We are practically finished, now it is time to place the pegs, the nuts, the strings and tune it.

Step 29: Last Step, Learn a Song

We have finished with the project, now we just have fun with our ukulele.

As this is the first ukulele that I have yet I do not know any songs, so here I leave a video of my sister doing a sound test :D

Step 30: And... Clean Your Work Station!

Important, do not forget to clean your work area :), after the time that I was in this project my work zone was like this.

With this I finish this instructable and I hope you liked it. Thanks!

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    22 Discussions

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    Ham-made

    14 days ago

    As a high school music teacher, I've incorporated all of the ukulele variants into my curriculum and have a mini uke symphony! I was going to purchase a StewMac kit for my first uke build but thanks to your 'ible, I'm no longer intimidated and will just dive in when the time comes!
    P.S. That's exactly what my shop looks like after every project!
    Cheers!
    Mr. Ham

    2 replies
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    F_A_B_A_SHam-made

    Reply 13 days ago

    Wow! a uke symphony, that sounds great!!
    I hope you can build it soon.
    Thanks :)

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    Ham-madeF_A_B_A_S

    Reply 9 days ago

    When they're all in tune it sounds great! We have baritones, tenors, concerts, and soprano ukes that make up the orchestra and it's a whole lot of fun!
    Cheers!
    Mr. Ham

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    F_A_B_A_SArthurJ5

    Reply 12 days ago

    Thank you very much for your comment, . They look very useful and easy to build. I'm sure I'll do them.
    Regards!

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    Hakamisu

    14 days ago

    How did you find bending the sides. I feel like that's the most intimidating part. Not sure I'd get the bends right. Did it take more than a few tries?

    2 replies
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    F_A_B_A_SHakamisu

    Reply 13 days ago

    At the beginning it was also the part that most intimidated me, but it was quite simple.
    It took me a couple of tries, but because I did not find the right method, I used steam, hot water, but in the end what gave me good results was the one I found on this YouTube channel WoodworkersJournal, in this video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEF4d-bDKOg.
    I dipped the sheet a little where I was going to bend it and then I pressed it on a pipe that I heated in my stove. And it went well on the first try :)

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    HakamisuF_A_B_A_S

    Reply 13 days ago

    Thanks. I was looking at streaming as well because making a PVC steam pipe seamed less daunting, but then I saw the issues if spring back and the issues with that.

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    JavierL90

    13 days ago

    I love that you were able to do it without thousands of dollars of fancy tools, it's much more approachable for all of us, and it looks beautiful too!!

    1 reply
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    coes66

    15 days ago

    Amazing limited tool build! I sometimes think my shop is too cluttered, and you have proven that one doesn’t need to have every tool in the book to complete a complex build. Ingenuity, skill, and patience are it all it takes sometimes.

    Sounds and looks great.

    Voted!

    1 reply
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    F_A_B_A_Scoes66

    Reply 14 days ago

    That truly means a lot to me. Thank you so much!

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    gralan

    14 days ago

    You have given me courage to tackle an instrument build that is within my skillset and tools on-hand. Thank you muchly. This reads clear, pictures are spot on; I join the others who salute you.

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    F_A_B_A_Sgralan

    Reply 14 days ago

    I'm happy to read that. Thank you so much!