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First Vcarve fretboard inlay

In the past, I have used a plug cutter to make simple round fret board markers out of a contrasting coloured wood. I never attempted a more complex inlay, but assumed I would eventually try it.

Well now that I have a CNC, I figured it was time I tried it. The fretboard in my son’s kit is Walnut, pre-slotted, and inlaid with round pearl-ish inserts.


For mine, I made a fretboard out of Bartlet Pear. I laid out the lines in Vcarve using the offset tool and the fret calculator on Stewart McDonald’s site. Then I cut them using a .021 endmill.

For the fret markers I wanted to use a Sycamore leaf, for Sycamore Luthiery. I wasn’t able to edit out the leaf from my logo, so I looked around the web for clipart. I found one that actually looks more like a sugar maple, but what the hell.

I used the vcarve inlay technique. For the male part of the inlay I found a nice piece of scrap bloodwood, one of my favourite woods.

Unfortunately it ended up being a little too chippy for an inlay with this much detail. I have a couple little pieces of Corian from an install I did at a Petro Canada gas station. They’re two cutouts from a hole saw. I saved them only because they are Corian, and I don’t have a source for it and I wanted to experiment with making a nut out of it. Fortunately Corian machines very well and holds detail well.

I used up all the CA glue I had, and ended up having to use epoxy on the last inlay. Once dry I ran the fretboard through the drum sander slowly sanding away the extra material. It turned out pretty well. I will have to fill in some of the voids with CA glue and Corian dust once I get some more superglue.

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Making plates

The next step in my ukulele “kit” build is making the top and back plates. For the soundboard, I am using a piece of Sitka spruce from Aircraft Spruce in Brantford, Ontario. I bought a couple of their odds and ends bundles and found a nice ukulele-sized board, and re-sawed it on the bandsaw.

I have a jointing jig I made in 2009 for use with a hand plane, but I decided to try an experiment. I jointed the edge using my CNC and a 2 flute straight bit.

jointing the soundboard

I first squared the edge to the Y axis by butting the boards up to the edge of the bit, then moving it along the Y axis to the other end of the board, and butting it up to the bit again, then tightening everything down.

The bearing on the bottom is not used, of course. You don’t use bearing bits on CNCs, but the Z axis does not change for this operation so the bearing has no bearing on this job.


The experiment worked just fine. I can’t say this is any faster than doing it the old-fashioned way with a hand plane, but that does take some skill, and practice, so if you have the machinery, this is a viable option.

Of course you can also cut this joint with a powered jointer. I have a 4″ jointer, but I have never been satisfied with the results. Jointers are faster as there is no real setup involved, and of course no gcode, but there is no snipe using the CNC as there can be with a regular jointer.

I did the same for the back plate as well.

The back is spalted maple. I used hide glue to glue both the top and back plates.

ukulele back
I am Groot!
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Getting jiggy with it.

side bending jog

Last year I bought a concert ukulele kit from Stewart McDonald for my son Bryan. I plan on making it with him as a father/son project. We’re not going to just build his kit uke though. I am making one for myself too, but not from a kit. I’m creating my own “kit” by making all the same parts of the StewMac kit, from scratch using wood I have in stock.

First though, I need some jigs. My son’s kit comes with pre-bent sides. I need to build a ukulele-sized side bender to be used with a silicone heat blanket.

I designed the bender in Vectric Vcarve Pro, basing it on others I saw online.

I cut all the parts out on the CNC. The press is just a piece of 1/2-13 threaded rod from Lowes. For now I’m just going to use a socket wrench to work the press. Maybe someday I’ll make a handle for it. To bend and then hold the upper and lower bouts, I have carriage bolts and a simple block that will accomplish that, but I need to get eye bolts from the hardware store to hold the carriage bolts, but with the pandemic, I’m avoiding unnecessary trips, so I may just use clamps for this one.

side bending jogUkulele side bender

Next I built a scarf joint sled for my table saw. I don’t know where I got this from, but the modified date on the jpeg file is 12/24/2003, so I probably got it from a post on the MIMF (Musical Instrument Makers Forum). I’m a self-taught luthier and I owe a great deal to this forum. I started on this journey in 2003 so this photo of the scarf joint jig has been in my collection from the beginning. Unfortunately luthiery has been perpetually on the back burner as the last 16 years have been spent moving around a lot and trying to make something of a career in IT. As a result I haven’t had a proper shop, or the time to work on this stuff for a very long time.

scarf sled

Finally I made an outside mould. For Bryan’s kit we’re going to follow the instruction videos on StewMac’s site and they suggest a simple workboard with angle brackets to act as an outside mould, but for my uke, I made this mould out of scraps. The sides you see in it are the pre-bent ones from the kit.

Next I’ll start to make the parts for my “kit” ukulele.