Cello #1 189

Estimated completion December, 2019

(click any of the thumbnails for a higher-resolution photo)


This cello is for my grandson Sam. I've promised all my grandchildren to build them an instrument if they learn to play, expecting of course that they'd learn to play something that I build, such as a guitar, violin, or mandolin. So much for expectations. This cello, my first, will feature a red spruce top and sugar maple back and sides.

Construction Photos

I've located a chunk of red spruce of sufficient size for the top, I think -- it's close --but find that it's too wide to rip on my bandsaw. First order is to build a sled that will hold the blank vertical while I rip as deeply as I can on the tablesaw. The cut is completed with a handsaw. The wedges are fitted perfectly, then glued together with hot hide glue. The back slabs are also too wide to cut into wedges, but I'll simply waste the extra wood; these slabs are also glued with hot hide glue.

Full-sized templates are created. An internal form is constructed, and corner and end blocks are attached. This form will support the cello's shape during construction and will be totally removed during the process. The outline of the cello is traced onto the blocks, and they're trimmed to their final shape.

The ribs are ripped from matching maple using the bandsaw, then sanded to final thickness. They're bent over a hot pipe, then glued to the corner blocks, beginning with the "Cs".

The ends of the "Cs" are trimmed, and the upper and lower bout ribs are glued in place. The upper layer of the internal form is removed, and the upper thirds of the corner and end blocks are pared to an approximate final shape. Mahogany lining is kerfed on the bandsaw, and glued in place with hot hide glue. When the glue is dry, the ribs and lining are sanded level.

The top is marked for the proper overhang and trimmed to size. Excess wood is rapidly removed with a palm plane. The edge thickness is established by planing. A series of stopped holes establishes the depth of the recurve area of the top. The purfling channel is cut with a Dremel tool mounted in a shop-built guide. The points of the channel are refined with a razor knife.

Wooden purfling is glued in with hot hide glue. The neck outline is laid out onto a maple blank, and the blank is cut to shape. A centerline is established all around the perimeter. Small holes are punched in the template's centerline to allow viewing of the line beneath. The basic profile of the scroll is marked onto the blank.

The blank isn't quite thick enough to form the center of the scroll, so a bit of wood is added to this area, and glued on with hot hide glue. Turning my attention back to the top, I begin refining the outside with small planes. I wish there were some quick and easy method to accomplish this, but it's simply a lot of whittlin'. The outside of the top is further refined first with scrapers, and finally with sandpaper.

The surface is constantly examined in raking light for imperfections. A stop is set up on the drill press so that there's a fixed distance -- the desired thickness of the top -- between the top and the bit at its maximum depth. Since the top, with the exception of small areas in the "Cs", is of uniform thickness, a series of thicknessing holes are drilled all over the area to be carved away. A cradle is constructed that supports the top while the inside is carved. work begins with palm and finger planes.

When the holes I drilled begin to disappear, I know that I'm approaching the proper thickness, and that it's time to move to finer tooling. A scraper levels the surface, and sandpaper brings the thickness into fine tune; progress at this point is measured with a dial indicator. The f-holes are roughed out with a fine carbide bit in the router table, then perfected with sanding forms. The bass bar is fitted to the top, shaped, and glued in place.

The edge of the top is shaped to a pleasing contour. Hot hide glue is applied to what will be the mating surfaces of top and ribs and allowed to dry. The parts are clamped together, and the hide glue is reactivated with a burst of steam. Pilot holes for the begs are drilled. The shaping of the head begins with the bandsaw.

A dovetail saw is utilized to begin "chunking" off waste portions of the scroll. The scroll is further defined with chisels and gouges as the work progresses.

When one side of the scroll is fairly well defined, the process is repeated on the other. When the scroll is roughed out, I begin hollowing the pegbox. The cheeks of the neck heel are cut using a simple jig on the table saw.

The bottom of the neck heel is shaped. At this point, the internal form is removed and set aside; I won't be using it again. The corner and end blocks are shaped. Kerfed lining is glued in. The neck mortise is cut with saws and chisels, and the neck is brought to a perfect fit and alignment.

A washer is utilized to mark the desired overhang onto the back material. The back shape is cut out on the bandsaw and perfected on the spindle sander. Edge thickness is established on the router table. Excess wood is removed with a power plane and with a chainsaw blade mounted on a side grinder. The latter is a dangerous tool, and one I'm not fond of. I've worked with this lot of maple before, though, and it's super hard to carve! Every shaving I can remove with a power tool will save my shoulders and elbows.

Holes to establish the thickness of the recurve area of the edge are drilled. The shape is refined with planes. The purfling groove is routed, and the purfling is fitted and glued in with hot hide glue. Using scrapers, gouges, and sandpaper, the scroll and pegbox are brought to finished dimensions.

Returning my attention to the back, I switch to a toothed plane that will remove this gnarly wood without so much tearing. As the surface approaches final dimensions, I switch again to scrapers, and ultimately sandpaper. When the outside is finished, the graduation lines are laid out on the inside.

Thicknessing holes are drilled. Again I utilize the chainsaw-on-a-side-grinder to remove excess wood. If you can find a review of "Tools That Will Dirty Every Square Inch of Your Shop," this tool will be rated number one. I work with a plane as far as I can, then switch to scrapers and begin measuring the thickness as I go. When the graduation is correct, the edge is shaped.

The label is glued in. Hot hide glue is again applied to the mating surfaces and allowed to dry. Then the parts are aligned and clamped together and the glue is reactivated with a burst of steam. When the glue has again dried, the clamps are removed. A fingerboard is fashioned from maple. Ebony is a more traditional wood, but I find that maple is just as durable, more stable, and a heck of a lot cheaper. I'll stain it black; the ebony available today needs staining as well. Everything is fitted together to check for fit and alignment. Hey, it's looking like a cello! I want to roughly fit the pegs into the pegbox before I glue the neck to the body. Since I have neither a trimmer or reamer of cello size, I turn the pegs on the lathe, using a simple jerry-rigged PVC fitting as a holder for the head.

Likewise, I simply wrap sandpaper around a finished peg to shape the holes in the pegbox. After some final sanding on the scroll and neck, the neck is glued to the body with hot hide glue. The fingerboard is stained with a very permanent leather dye. After many hours of sanding, I begin to apply color coats to the instrument. When the color coats are built to what I consider to be the proper color, I begin applying clear coats of varnish, allowing plenty of time between coats for curing. When the finish approaches a satisfactory thickness, I begin sanding between coats.


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