Sunday, 25 August 2019

Building a 13 Course Lute, Start to Finish (3)

Hi friends, today I want to document veneering the neck with a single piece of ebony.

If you've been tuning in to this series, you'll know that my rationale in these posts is to present a photo and one-or-two sentence description of each discrete operation in building a 13 course lute. It's not my intention to present a how-to blog, though of course there's much information to be found for those who want it.

I have to confess that, after making the first two posts in the series, I felt a little pang of something--maybe of guilt, maybe of jealousy--with which I've had to reconcile before continuing the series.

Guilt first: on one hand I'm happy to talk about my working procedures (and nobody's forcing me to do it, after all), but I've had a nagging feeling, as I've been doing it, that they are not quite mine to share. After all, I learned them from my great teacher, Grant Tomlinson; and he learned them from his own great teacher, Stephen Gottlieb. Am I not appropriating their ideas, and presenting them as my own?--And yet these procedures are mine; I've earned them with my hard work, and though they have their source in those great makers, for better or worse I've taken them and made them my own. And so, I share them humbly, and hope in so doing to show respect and pay tribute not only to Grant Tomlinson, but to all the teachers, woodworkers and luthiers who have guided me (and still do guide me) on my journey in craft.

Now, jealousy. As I write these posts, I sometimes wonder: am I not sharing too much? Am I not giving away the farm, by talking in so much detail about how I do my work? It's a good question; many makers have derived income by packaging and selling such information. Well, maybe I will too, at some point; maybe these blog posts will eventually form the basis of a best-seller on how to build baroque lutes, and my sweetheart and I will retire on the royalties to our private island in the Caribbean. Indeed!--For now, though, I've resolved not to feel jealous about sharing what I know, and what I've learned. For one thing, there is plenty of information that I am not giving away in these posts, information that can really only be imparted through personal contact between a teacher and student, side-by-side at the bench. For another, if what I offer here helps someone to build a better baroque lute, and in consequence there are more excellent baroque lutes being played, and more people listening to great players on excellent baroque lutes, then I'll count that a good thing, not a bad one. So by all means, dear reader: take whatever is useful to you, use it to build great baroque lutes, and please, pass it on.

To begin.


I've carved the neck, and allowed for the thickness of the veneer.

This is my neck veneering jig (and my cup of coffee.)

Another view.

And yet another: this view shows the length of thick cotton skate lace that I use to tie the veneer down to the neck. I use skate lace because 1) it is very strong woven cotton, and 2) it is wide and flat.

The neck must sit up from the jig at a particular angle so that the veneer will tie down closely at the edges. I've worked out this angle (and made these wedges) through trial and error.

The nut end of the neck must sit up higher than the bottom (joint) end.  
Because the neck has a slightly asymmetrical shape, it must also sit slightly askew the centreline of the jig. 

A dry run with the skate lace allows me to check whether I've got the angles right, and the veneer will tie down tightly all along both edges of the neck.

It also allows me to rehearse the best way to tie the lace around the bottom end of the neck. 

I mark out the veneer, leaving a couple of millimetres extra in each dimension.


Then I cut it out and run it through the thickness sander.

I scrape the outside surface free of sanding marks, then run it through the sander one more time (with the outside surface face-down) to take the veneer to its final thickness.


My neck, my veneer, my jig, my glue, my bending iron, are all ready to go. I'll bend the veneer and glue it, working at a fairly quick but careful pace.




I've heated a saucepan of water, which I brush on the outside of the veneer. The veneer begins to curl immediately.

I also heat the underside of the veneer on the hot plate, which helps to curl the veneer even more. (The only use I have for the bending iron is to do some fine shaping on the outer edges of the veneer, near the nut end of the neck.)

I locate the veneer carefully and hold it in place while drilling a small-diameter hole through it. 

I can then locate the end of the veneer securely with a push-pin.

I drill another hole about halfway up the neck for a second location pin.

Working quickly, I heat the neck surface and the inside surface of the veneer with a hair dryer, then brush hot glue on the neck core.

Then I brush hot glue on the inside of the veneer.

I get the veneer in place quickly, and locate it with my pins.

Then I start tying it down tightly with the skate lace.

So far, so good. I can remove the location pins...

And start applying heat and pressure with the iron. You can see I'm getting some significant glue squeeze-out through the hole for the location  pin, halfway up the neck; I also check for squeeze-out along the length of the neck, on each side.

I continue tying off until the entire veneer is tight.

I also keep ironing until I'm quite satisfied that the veneer is glued closely to the neck core, and that there are no gaps or air bubbles.

The fit looks pretty good from the nut end...

... and from the bottom end too. I clean up the glue squeeze-out with a brush, and then give the surface of the joint a coat of glue size.

At this time, I would like to introduce my audio-visual aide, whose name (for some reason) is Carl. Without his sturdy assistance, none of the actions shots of me working would be possible. Thanks Carl!

Next morning: the glue is dry, and I can remove the veneered neck from the jig. Here I am beginning to carefully saw away the excess veneer at the joint end of the neck.

I use my low-angle block plane (with the sole well-waxed) to plane the veneer almost flush with the surface of the joint. I use the low-angle plane to bring all the other veneer edges flush to the neck core as well.

Top view of the veneered neck: I think I got a good result.


The back side looks good too. No big lumps or bumps, no air pockets; everything looks solid.


Now, I will set the neck aside for at least one week before re-fitting and gluing it to the body. This is because hot hide glue, when used over a large surface such as this, will take a long time to dry thoroughly. While it dries over a number of days, it will continuously contract, mainly across the grain, but also along the grain as well. (This property of hide glue to contract as it dries is one of the main difficulties of working with it, but also, in certain circumstances, one of its great benefits.) As it contracts, it exerts a great deal of force on the woods on each side of the joint, and ends up significantly distorting the shape of the neck. The upper surface of the neck was dead-flat when I began shaping it; it's no longer anywhere near flat, either in cross-section or long section. The same is true for the neck-joint surface. By putting the neck aside for a week, I hope to allow the woods and the glue enough time to reach an equilibrium before fitting and gluing the crucial neck joint.

And so the blog will take a break as well. Happy lute making--and happy lute playing--and I will talk to you again soon.










7 comments:

  1. The most binge-able series on the web that's not on Netflix. Thank you for this glimpse into your workshop!

    And of course, what else would a Canadian luthier use other than hockey skate laces!?!?

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    1. Hi Bill, thanks for your comment. Makes me feel great, makes me want to get on with the next instalment.

      And yes, skate laces are every Canadian's birthright, along with universal healthcare and mosquitos as big as dragonflies in the summer. Thanks for noticing!

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  2. I'm inclined to agree with Bill; very addictive series on building a baroque lute! It's fascinating to see the steps involved in building such a wonderful instrument, and I've gained a much greater appreciation of the luthier's art.

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  3. Thanks very much for your comment! I'm glad to hear that the blog is doing what I hoped it would--educating and entertaining!

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  4. Excellent post.

    One thing I have noticed about certain sites is that, even though they have tons of content, the site looks great and the headlines are eye catching is that the material is simply filler. It’s downright unreadable. You can forget it 6 seconds after you read it. Not the case with your post though, really enjoyed it reading it and it held my attention all the way through! Keep it up.

    Read my Latest Post

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    1. Thanks Pete! I appreciate the comment, and I will keep it up. Please stay tuned for more posts!

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