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  • Pete

A belated happy new year!

I figured I hadn't posted much of late so thought I'd put a round-up post for the new year, however, looking back it seems I haven't posted anything in nearly 8 months. So this may be more than a short post.

So let me rewind over the past 8 months and work out what I've been doing (trawling through my phone photo's to remind me). My last post in May was a teaser about two electric ukes, flicking back through posts it seems I posted a couple of other bits on Facebook but not a follow-up blog on the two Flying V ukes, maybe I'll put out a separate build blog on those in a bit.

In May, I also picked up an absolute bargain on eBay, another car-load of luthiery timber.

I won it from a nice chap in Cambridge who used to run a tonewood business and was losing his lockup so getting rid of old stock. He also had a big CNC that I was almost tempted with but I felt I'd already robbed him by winning the timber cheap so I didn't think I could be too ruthless on the CNC, and it was probably too large for me anyway.

Some of this timber has gone into my uke stash, some has been relisted on eBay already and the rest is sitting in the twilight zone where it's too good to sell but I'm not sure what I'll use it for.

After completing the flying V's I made some progress on several other uke projects, all of which remain incomplete having stalled at various points, so maybe that's a blog on its own too.

Then June was my Brother's stag do in Portugal, which took well over a week to recover from since I came back with Covid, which in itself wasn't particularly bad but seemed to leave me exhausted for a few weeks.

July was my youngest daughter's 5th birthday and I had been customising a sopranino ukulele for her as a gift. I picked up two of these "Tanglewood" sopranino ukuleles many years ago on eBay (another bargain I couldn't refuse). I had been looking for a smaller-than-soprano uke for a while but the other manufacturers were all pretty pricey (Kala, Ohana, Tangi, iUke etc) £150+ and not common secondhand. Given I didn't know if this size was even playable I wasn't keen on shelling out big bucks but had a punt on these. They were branded as Tanglewood but are very similar to lots of non-brand stuff from Vietnam so I'm not sure if they are genuine or not. They are mahogany laminate ukes, in the sopranino (sopranissimo?) scale. They came tuned an octave above a baritone uke, in D-G-E-A, but I detuned them to standard Soprano tuning and they are just about playable without the strings being too slack. Generally, they are okay, but as standard, the necks are far too bulky and the finish far too thick. I sanded and scraped back the finish and reprofiled the neck before adding a little headstock veneer and inlaid a Disney pin badge. Finally, I gave it a respray in satin Wurth lacquer and added some decals to the case.

For size comparison, here's my eldest daughter's sopranino in a lineup of soprano concert and tenor along with a prototype travel uke I built back in lockdown.

August was holidays followed by building a set of display stands for my wife's first major craft show, the Henley Craft Show at Stonor Park. I took the display boards I had made for a previous display and added low-level shelves/benches along with a third wall to create a full display booth. An awful lot of work and preparation goes into putting together a small stand, not least the months and years of work producing the portfolio of art on display. The show as a whole was a good experience although not particularly commercially successful. The demand for artwork was far outweighed by people buying faux crafts and mass-produced tat, even in a wealthy area such as Henley. Whilst I'm sure many of the vendors did well, there were few genuine artists and fine crafts, although a lot of jewellers of varying quality. I had previously mused over the idea of having my own stall selling my random wares, but I just don't think I would clear the ~£600 stall fee.

September was Harwell RFCs 75th anniversary (my rugby club). The celebratory dinner happened to be the same weekend as my Brother's wedding so I was unable to attend but I knocked up a few raffle prizes.

Firstly a couple of small handheld bottle openers with the Harwell logo engraved in them. One in Walnut and one in Roasted Birdseye Maple. I made up around 50 of these blanks back in lockdown so it was only a case of adding the engraving and finishing them.

The next two prizes took a little more effort, two wall/fridge-mounted bottle openers in the shape of a ball on a kicking tee. Lots of work went into the design of these, with the machining consisting of 4 different size and profile end mills and 6 separate run paths. I was pretty pleased with the end results.

The final prize I produced was a gift voucher for something custom, placed in an offcut of Sapele that also doubled as a phone stand.

Next up I wanted to tackle the 6 part built ukes that I had sat on the bench, most were waiting for fretboards or other machining operations but I broke a belt on my machine so it was out of action. Instead, I decided to try and tidy my shed a little. The first job was to move my engineer's toolbox that I had restored a couple of years ago. Below is a short picture log, it's a Union toolbox that my Dad gave to me, it was complete, bar the key, but was in a little bit of a distressed state.

I stripped it down and sanded everything back, it's mainly plywood for the body with oak trims, the drawers are oak with plywood bottoms and the pulls are aluminium.

A fresh coat of stain followed by some polyurethane satin varnish and new felt baize.

Whilst I really like the toolbox, and I am always on the lookout for others, it being sat on the workbench is not ideal. The drawers were always blocked by other stuff so I decided to knock up a little stand for it to sit on so that the drawers would be unobstructed and I could use the space underneath. A couple of oak offcuts and a bit of ply, some stain and varnish and it almost looks made to measure.

Next up with my newly discovered bench space, it was time to crack on with some of those outstanding projects.

So I started another uke.

To be fair I had been procrastinating (unusual for me, I know) for many months about how to carve a particular feature on the acoustic uke I was making. In the end, I decided to just keep it simple and try the idea on the next one instead, Hence I then had to start the next one.

I had one offcut of Sapele that the acoustic uke was made from, but it was just too small for a normal uke, I also had a really nice bit of cedar but it was too narrow and had a couple of defects. So I settled on making a boat paddle shaped uke.

There are plenty of these out there so it's not a novel idea by any means, I spent some time googling both ukes and actual oars before coming up with my design.

This one will also have its own blog but there were a few things that I wanted to try out in this build. It would again be solid block hollowed to form the body, but it would be my first go with a softwood top, which would therefore need a rosette, soundhole binding and purfling and binding. The soundhole purfling was one of the features that I was keen to try, as well as being a protective and strengthening edge to the soft cedar sound hole, I also made it slightly deeper in an attempt to produce some sort of basstube/trumpet effect. This one is turning out to be a real test of my skills (or rather proving that I haven't mastered any of the skills yet!)

Oh as part of the shed tidy and in preparation for Christmas I also finished up this little project that had been sat on the bench for the last 2 years. Oak beam barn with cedar roof for the kid's nativity figures.

In November we decided to rip out our old bathroom and replace the units, sink and toilet with new. The plan is to build solid wood cupboards with a worktop made from this walnut slab that I found via Facebook. The original plan was to have it all completed by early December, well that didn't happen and we are still currently living without any cupboards or a basin. However, I have recently been informed the new deadline is a more reasonable target of May.

Here's a pic of the worktop slab along with the fake wood floor for colour comparison.

And this is a pile of boards from my lockup, ash, oak and sapele, which will be the cupboards.

And that about rounds up what I've been doing for the past 8 months. I will attempt to write up some separate blogs on ukes in the coming weeks, although work has been pretty hectic for the last few months and doesn't look like easing up until summer.

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