Feb 2, 2013

Banjo Boys, Chapter 8

Clint and the neck with the beautiful bird inlays
Have we really been at this for 8 weeks?!?  It hardly seems possible.  When I came in today after one of our longest B-B days, Mary Ann admired the progress on my banjo neck and then asked, "Did you think it would take this long?"  I said that I knew that a banjo was a pretty complicated instrument and that I am not surprised at the time it takes.  We have made it even more complicated by choosing to build an instrument around a transmission part that was never intended to become a banjo.  We also chose to do some custom pearl inlay, which is very tedious.  All-in-all, I'm pleased at our progress.

Monty's "Green Monster"
Today started out with snow!  Monty arrived right on time driving his "Green Monster," a 1950 Chevrolet sedan-delivery.  Clint was delayed because several bridges in Huntsville had been closed due to ice buildup. Once he arrived, we started a very productive day.

Clint had worked at home this week to complete the embedding of his second mother-of-pearl barn swallow, so his neck inlay is nearly complete.  He inlayed this bird in the recessed section of the neck below the ogee that we routed last week.  It looks great.

Dressing up the finished frets
and sanding the peghead
After a short class on fret installation, Monty began embedding his frets into his fret board.  This involves cleaning up each fret slot using the fret saw (the slots get filled up with sawdust and other debris).  Then the fret material is cut just a little longer than the width of the neck at that location, and the fret is then driven into the clean slot using a special lead-loaded plastic mallet so as not to mar the wood adjacent to the fret.  After all the frets are installed, the ends have to be filed down and dressed so they don't have any sharp edges.
Ebony on the back of a
Romero banjo peghead

While Monty was installing frets, Clint was experimenting with some ebony veneer that he had purchased.  He wants to add ebony veneer to the underside of his peghead just as it is veneered on the top surface.  The problem arises because the underside has a curve at one end where it meets the "thumbstop," a small crest in the shape of the neck.  Clint tried using a heated bending iron that I use to bend dulcimer sides to bend his ebony.  Unfortunately, the experiment failed.  The wood is so dense and brittle that it splits, even when aided by heat and steam.  We think the solution may be to dye some poplar black and use it as faux ebony.

I had discovered that when I stood my neck up on the end that we machined last weekend, it leaned to one side by a couple of degrees.  That indicated that my circular cut was off-center relative to the center line of the neck.  So while Clint and Monty were "doing their thing," I set up the same rig we used last week and I reshaped the base of my neck.  While I was at it, I machined the notch that accommodates the tension hoop where it crosses the neck.

Later in the day, Clint and I got the sides of our necks cut to shape, and I got my frets installed.  Monty is now in the stage of shaping the back of his neck and will be using Surform rasps and checking his work using a cross-section template that we found on the Internet, printed, and glued to a piece of plexiglass.  We then cut the plexiglass to use as a gauge to check our neck shape.

Monty with the surform tool and shape template

These are starting to look like banjo necks!
My neck and Monty's with frets installed

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