Custom F-5 Mandolin #41 174

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Construction Photos

The back of the headstock is shaped, and the ebony back veneer is glued into place. Fretwire is cut to length and notched on the ends to accommodate the binding and purfling. The frets are set in a thin line of hot hide glue and pressed into place. The headstock is cut out on the bandsaw, then refined with hand tools and on the spindle sander.

The neck is shaped with rasps, planes, and scrapers. A specialized jig assures proper spacing of the tuning machine holes, and another aligns the neck while it's glued to the body. A series of depth-stopped holes are drilled around the perimeter of the back to establish a uniform recurve thickness.

The back is refined with scrapers, planes, and ultimately sandpaper. The graduation pattern is marked on the inside of the back, and thicknessing holes are drilled.

A fixed overarm router is used to remove exess wood quickly, and then I switch to finger planes. When the thicknessing holes begin to disappear, I again switch to a scraper. For the final shaping, I evaluate the back for thickness, weight, and tap tone, resulting in a back that is well matched to the top.

The maker's label and signature are applied, then protected with low-tack tape through the finishing process. Hot hide glue is applied to the mating surfaces of sides and back and allowed to dry. Then the parts are clamped together and the glue is reactivated with a jet of steam. The following day, the clamps are removed and the back is trimmed flush with the sides.

In preparation for binding, a thin white side purfling strip is glued to the bottom edge of the tortoise binding. The edges are routed for the binding and purfling. The inaccessible areas are marked with a compass, then cut with hand tools. This is slow, tedious work, and a job that can't be hurried.

The binding and purflng are applied in layers, beginning with the white purfling line. Then the tortoise binding is applied over that. The process is repeated on the back. My preferred glue for celluloid bindings both swells and softens the material; to allow it to harden and shrink to original size, the instrument is set aside for two weeks or so. After the bindings are cured, work resumes. The 15th-fret crosspiece is fitted and installed. Carbon fiber reinforcing bars are glued into the back of the fretboard, and an ebony fretboard extender is fashioned.

The extender is glued to the bottom of the fretboard. A sculped finger rest is fashioned from a solid piece of ebony. This finger rest follows the contours of the top, and is totally self-supporting without any additional brackets or hardware. The next process is to carefully scrape the bindings level with the surrounding wood.

The resonance of the body cavity is tuned by gradually enlarging the f-holes while observing the tap tone. Since this instrument is to have binding around the holes, I then have to remove an equal amount of additional wood. The black/white binding is glued in place and scraped level with the top. Then the instrument is sanded to 320-grit.

Since there's no hurry on this one -- it won't be delivered until fall -- and our current humid weather is making finishing problematic, I've set it aside while I wait for dryer conditions. This instrument has a very unusual color sheme -- a silver/gray to black sunburst -- and I've waited for the future owner to visit and approve the effect. That took place this prior weekend, so I can resume work. After the stain is applied, a light sealing coat of sanding sealer is sprayed. When that's dry, I remove the masking from all but the fretboard, and begin scraping the binding and purfling. That white purfling line really pops!


When all the scraping is complete, the instrument is given another coat of vinyl sealer and allowed to dry overnight. Then the first of two series of three coats of nitrocellulose lacquer is applied, allowing an hour between coats. After that has cured, another series is applied. Then the instrument is sanded perfectly level. Two final, thinned coats of lacquer are applied, and the finish is allowed to cure before final buffing and setup. When the finish is fully cured, the instrument is wet-sanded with increasingly finer grits of Micro Mesh paper, then buffed on a flannel wheel.

The masking is removed and the frets are dressed. Waverly tuning machines are installed. A nut and bridge are fashioned, slotted, and fitted. An engraved James tailpiece and the ebony finger rest are installed. An hour or two of setup work, and it's ready to go.

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