misterg’s spice rack uke build : Part 3 – Making the fretboard & roughing out the neck

The fretboard was the biggest unknown for me.

I’d previously worked out that if I cut the neck pocket to the full thickness of the neck with zero neck angle (i.e. bottom of the pocket is parallel to the front of the body – nice and easy to rout out 🙂 ) that I needed a 3mm thick fretboard to give a reasonable action at the 12th fret (2mm, say) and at the same time fall into the available string height adjustment of strat style bridge saddles.

I wanted something contrasting for the fretboard, but couldn’t justify buying a nice piece of ebony or rosewood, since I was pretty certain I’d screw it up. In the end I went with another piece of the teak work bench – a much paler piece with a different grain pattern. It was “interesting” planing this down to 3mm while trying to keep the thickness even – possibly the most accurate bit of woodworking I’ve done to date. It was about to get worse :-\.

Fretboard blank:

The Stew-Mac fret position calculator gives fret positions to the nearest micron! 😮 From what I can tell, an accuracy of a few 10ths of a millimeter will do :-\ As I’ve already said, I can’t cut straight to save my life.

I bought some “narrow fret wire” from ebay seller ’Snowcauldron’ :

(This is his/her picture)

By happy coincidence, my super-duper Japansese style pull saw (from B&Q) cut slots that were pretty much the right width for the fret wire. This is good, because it cuts very cleanly. I clamped some softwood together to make a mitre box for cutting the fret slots. I made some test cuts on scrap, and tapped and adjusted an re-clamped all the bits until the test cuts were at exactly 90°. To stop things moving, I then dropped super-glue on the mitre box joints in a few places.

To control the depth of the slots, I clamped two strips of wood to the saw to limit its depth of cut (I checked this with a nifty taper gauge that I use for measuring string action):

(These got the superglue treatment when I felt they were correct, too.)

I didn’t trust myself to transfer the fret position measurements to the blank accurately, so printed a template onto acetate film (OHP film) that would drop into the bottom of the mitre box. I didn’t want to use paper, as it expands and contracts with the weather. I double checked each line on the print-out with a steel rule, and my cheap-ish ink-jet printer is definitely more accurate than my eyes!

All I needed to do was slide the blank along the template until the end matched up with a fret position, then cut down as far as the stops on the saw 🙂

The actual slot cutting only took about 10 minutes… (I should probably have taken a bit longer, and concentrated more on making sure the slots were cut to the full depth).

The fretboard blank was then cut and planed to its final shape (tapered out from the nut by about 3mm each side over its length).

I planned to use the fretboard as a guide for the router to cut the neck to the correct width, so needed to find a way of accurately registering it on the neck. Some people use a small nail in the base of a fret slot, and/or a dowel in one of the 12th fret marker dots. Since I’d decided not to put a truss rod (or any reinforcement) in the neck, I could use any of the marker dots, as there would be solid wood underneath. All I had to do was find something round to use as dowels. An extensive search of the shed came up with some heavy ‘strimmer’ line (for a strimmer we no longer have).

Just need to align the centre lines on the fretboard and neck, set the nut at the top of the neck, drill through the marker dot positions and push in the strimmer line:

The neck has been roughed to width at this point.

Schoolboy error:

Guitar players won’t see it, but banjo and uke players will…

…There isn’t a 9th fret marker on a uke – it should be at the 10th fret ::)

We’ll just have to live with that…

More later…

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