I've recently acquired a secondhand ukelele, and is good enough of a quality for me that I wanted to give it a case. It originally came with its own box, but it's difficult to carry around, and by itself wouldn't protect it well. Hardshell cases would be way more protective than just buying a ukelele bag for it, plus making your own would cost a little bit less than a manufactured one. And why not build one yourself? I had found a great tutorial on wizzley.com that showed how to create a ukelele case from the box it came in! The idea was genius! Then I came across sylrig's tutorial on Instructables.com, for a entirely homemade case, but included a handle and latches and a custom interior. Also genius! I wanted to try combining both of these into one tutorial, to have a custom case all while recycling materials. Totally worth it, and it's also very protective as well. If your uke came in a box, like mine, this might be a fun project for a rainy day.
Also, a shoutout to Ralph Shaw, to whose song "How to Make a Ukelele Case" instantly popped up on Youtube when I tried searching for tutorials on how to do this, plus his instructions were super helpful as well!
Step 1: What You'll Need
Materials you'll need:
• Of course, the box. And the ukelele; it'll help when making the inside.
• A solid, limited-stretch fabric. This is for the exterior covering of the box. I used denim from Hobby Lobby, although it's possible to repurpose some old jeans if you have some. For my concert ukelele box, a yard of fabric was enough. This ultimately depends on the size of your box.
• A soft fabric. I used fleece -- again, a yard was more than enough. Old fleece pants/shirts could have been substituted as well.
• Some sort of soft foam. Mine was poly-foam, like the kind you'd use to make cushions, also from Hobby Lobby. I bought 1" foam and it worked out fine. I also had scrap foam.
• Scrap cardboard, to create your interior design (not pictured). This should be a thicker, corrugated material; I found a wine box that was about to be recycled, but an old box or a shoebox could work too.
Hardware: (all from Ace Hardware)
• Luggage handle
• Cabinet hinges (two): nothing too big or heavy. Mine are about 1 1/2" across.
• Latches (or "catches") (two): mine are about 2 3/4" high, which fit on the width of my box.
Tools and Accessories:
• Fabric glue
• Carpenter's glue (or wood glue)
(Below are items not pictured)
• Box cutter, or something that can cut cardboard reliably
• Handsaw or Swiss army blade, something that can cut thick cardboard reliably
Note: These glue recommendations are from Michaels.com "Glue It To It!"
Step 2: Preparing the Box
First thing's first: examine your box. Make sure it's sturdy enough on its own; I started to make this a few weeks after I got the ukelele.
Eventually, we need to glue the box together into a solid form, and then cut it open to make the halves that will eventually open and close like a suitcase. Thus, it's helpful to remove all of the staples, tape, etc. that is holding the lid and base of the box together, and strengthening with carpenter's glue. I only glued the base back together, however.
With the lid left flat, cut out the flaps of the box from the top piece, but don't discard these.
Step 3: Creating the Case
Glue the flaps to the outside of the box, on the sides they would have been if the lid were on.
Then glue on the top of the box to close the form. I trimmed the flaps and the area around the top during this part to make all of the edges as flush as possible.
Coat the entire box with Mod-Podge and let dry. This will seal all of the work we've done so far. Focus on the edges mostly.
When the box has cured, we now need to cut it open. Measure around the "case" to find where it needs to be divided. I dry fitted the approximate location of where I wanted the latches (the point at which the halves of the latch meet), which for me was about 1 1/4" from the top. Then I copied this measurement around the box, and drew a straight line all the way around.
Cut it open carefully, and treat the newly-cut edges with Mod Podge. My Swiss Army knife did a nice job at this point, but a handsaw would also serve some justice as well.
Step 4: Exterior Work
From this point, I following sylrig's tutorial closely and used denim for the outside. Get a piece of fabric that covers the outside top piece of the lid, with perhaps some excess around the sides, and glue it on (with the fabric glue). I did have to make some cuts to make the piece fit without bulging out at all. Consider using a roller to keep the fabric as flat as possible with the lid.
Then cut the strips to cover the sides of the lid; I ended up cutting about four, one per edge. This may also depend on the shape of your box. The width of the strips should be about an inch larger than the height of the base. Then glue them onto the sides; you can then wrap the excess around the bottom of the base to secure it better.
When finished, Mod Podge the lid to seal your work. Repeat all of the above for the base.
Now for attaching the hardware! I didn't have to drill holes, and by pushing and twisting some the screws were able to screw directly into the case. Having a drill on hand might be a good idea if you would like. Also, it's likely your screws will poke through your case some; we'll worry about this later.
On the back of the case, attach the hinges. On the front of the case, dry fit your latches to find where you can best put them. sylrig says to imagine you're going to open this case, or even better, pretend you are -- where would you put your hands? This is probably the best place to attach the latches.
Note that I am not putting on the handle just yet. Saving the best for last!
Step 5: Interior Work, and Putting the Handle On
Designing the inside of your case is actually a custom job, so most of the instructions listed below are really guidelines, or things you'll want to consider. Your ukelele may be a different size, or shape, or oriented differently in your case, so it's up to you in how you'd like it to look.
The first thing you definitely should do is line your case with fabric. I glued on strips of my fleece onto the inside edges and then the bottom face, for both the lid and base. I then cut my foam pieces to size and wrapped them with fabric, gluing them around the foam and then to where they need to go.
One thing I recommend doing is adding two vertical cardboard pieces covered in fabric to cradle the neck. The space between your verticals also creates a small compartment to hold other stuff such as tuners, strings, etc. Most instrument cases have a space of some sort available. To make these, measure the height between the case and ukelele at the opposite ends of where the neck will lie (so, 2 measurements, one near the headstock and the other near the body). Then measure the width between both sides where your vertical pieces will touch, at both places. You should now have the dimensions for two rectangular pieces. Cut out a slot in the middle of each for the neck to fit into (mine are curved, but maybe they could be more angular? It's up to you!). I ended up reinforcing the corners of these with more cardboard and foam, sealing them with Mod Podge, and then add fabric, etc.
I'm adding the handle last instead of with the other hardware, because I thought the screws might be in the way when I glued on the interior pieces. Also, finding the central balance point of the case is easier when all of the weight is present in your case. For the handle, sylrig suggests to put it in a spot where the case will be balanced. To do this, pick up your case with your thumb and forefinger. Where does it feel balanced, or at what point is the top of the case horizontal? (That's how you're going to walk with it!) This would be the best place to put your handle.
One last note! Make sure the screws aren't poking out when you're finished! I found covering them with more fabric worked pretty well, or if they were too large, I just added another small chunk of cardboard covered in fabric as a "patch" of sorts.
It was so satisfying to finally call this project finished and ready to go. You're just about finished! Well, I am anyways, for now. Enjoy your finished product!
Step 6: Lookit!
I was really pleased with the final product! It's fairly durable, not too heavy, and holds together very well! Maybe I'll decorate it some in the future. Looking back, there are definitely a few things I might try next time:
• I'll wait to do this product until I have lots of old fabric I could use/repurpose. It'll definitely reduce the cost a little! Maybe I should experiment with other fabric such as tablecloths, pillow covers, fleece blankets/clothing, or maybe even newspaper! Well, maybe not newspaper, but who knows? Also, old suitcases may be a good source for your hardware instead of having them store bought, however I didn't have any to use.
• I did this project during winter, so going outdoors to spray on wood hardener wasn't a great option. However, maybe next time I would apply wood hardener instead of Mod Podge for the cardboard form. It did come out fine just with sticking to Mod Podge, but I discovered there is a "hard coat" Mod Podge formula that may give even better results.
• Maybe I could make the sides thicker. This would make cutting a lot harder, and gluing would take a long time, but the screws might not poke out as much.
• Again, I had an okay time getting the screws to go in, but maybe using a hand drill would be a good thing to do. However, I'm striving to not use power tools; it's cool to do things without electricity... sometimes.
• sylrig suggested using a "lip" of cardboard & fabric in his tutorial to make it seem like the lid closes over the base. This could eliminate that "thickness" issue I had throughout this project.
• Should I have used brighter fabric? Probably, yes. At least I didn't use black, where you could see every piece of debris that falls on the case.
• Lastly, my case doesn't have a strap to keep the lid from opening too far, or purse feet (I wanted to at first, but my case ended up being able to stand by itself without them). sylrig's tutorial has both, if you'd like to check them out!
Thanks for reading! Thanks to sylrig, wizzley.com, and Ralph Shaw for your insights!