Building a mandolin is a great project for the woodworker who is musically inclined or the musician who has woodworking skills. An octave mandolin is a simple and beautiful instrument. Here's how to build it and start enjoying the wonderful sound of mandolin music.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Table saw with tenoning jig
- Wood glue
- Wood chisels, files and rasps
- Band saw
- Small wood vise
- C clamps
- Kerfed lining
- Coping saw or small scroll saw
- Hand drill or small drill press and bits
- Masking tape and double-sided tape
Decide if you want to make a mandolin from plans or a kit. Buying a kit makes your first attempts at mandolin building easier. A beautiful octave mandolin kit can be found at donkawalek.com. You can also find plans to build your own from scratch.
Build the form. If you buy a kit, this may be done for you. Tenon the head and neck together using a tenoning jig on your table saw. Use plywood for the form and a higher grade wood for the real parts of the mandolin. Print and apply the plan directly to the wood and cut accordingly to acquire the teardrop shape for the form. Apply the tail block and carve it according to your mandolin plans. Carve out the shape of the head block using the wood rasp.
Bend the sides of the octave mandolin using a steam bending method. Make sure your sides are exactly the right thickness before bending, unless your sides came pre-cut with your kit. Soak the wood in water. Use your steam bending apparatus to bend the sides according to the plans. Attach bent sides to the form with rubber clamps and let them cool and dry. Sand smooth.
Make the neck. Cut the neck from the plans using a band saw. If you've purchased a kit, this step might be done for you. Glue the ears to the neck using wood glue and clamps. Sand the top and bottom of the ear faces smooth. Glue the templates for the head and cut according to the plans for the mandolin. Sand the head.
Join the neck and rim together. Using wood glue or epoxy, join the head, tail blocks and rim together around the form. Use rubber clamps or a band to secure the rim and neck during drying. Carve the neck, using wood files and rasps. Join neck to rim with wood glue and clamp in place. Apply the kerfed lining to the rim with wood glue and clothespins.
Cut and attach the top and bottom. Rough cut the top and bottom, then use the plan as a template for exact cutting. Mark the placement of the bracing on top and back pieces. Drill a small hole where the sound holes will be in the front. Using a coping saw, cut the sound holes. Finish the holes with wood files. Glue bracing onto the top and bottom, clamp and let it dry. Carve the bracing to plan specifications. Glue the top and bottom to the rim, clamp and let dry.
Finish your mandolin. Cut and attach the fret board using copper wire through small drilled holes in the neck and fret slots. Finish any carving with rasps and files as necessary. Apply stain and clear coat to the body. Install the tuners on the head following the manufacturers directions and install the tailpiece system according to your mandolin plans. Cover fret board holes with frets and string your octave mandolin. Now it's ready to play.
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