The Soundbox Beginnings! Each Wiens mandolin starts out by choosing a fine bookmatched Spruce soundboard. After a pianstaking jointing process, I glue the halves up on a special joining board using hot hide glue. The bars and wedges ensure that the plate halves go together nice & flat against the board. This is my shop-built duplicarver which I use it to rough-carve the mandolin’s plates.Here I’m roughing out the maple back plate on the duplicarver, which then gets cut to its final profile on the bandsaw. I will follow this with a similar roughing-out process on the inside of the plate using a separate model. Here I’m in the process of doing the final carving and graduating an on F-5 top. First I tackle the exterior. It gets carved using several different violin makers’ planes and is then scraped to final dimension. I use a low-angle light in a darkened room to help me spot any minor distortions in the arching. This will be the final exterior belly shape except for the flat edge, which is necessary for the binding rabbet operation. Next, I graduate the top from the inside. Graduating is the process of carving the plate gradually thinner as you near its’ outer perimeter. The graduated plate offers less and less resistance to vibration as it travels outwards from the thicker bridge area, allowing them to travel further than they would through a flat, non-graduated soundboard …..This results in amplification. To compound this effect further, the thinner, more flexible area around the edge of the instrument allows the graduated soundboard to pump up and down and function like a speaker cone when energy is applied. This is why good archtop mandolins are so sensitive and loud. I use a dial indicator to help me gauge my progress as I slowly plane and scrape these last few critical shavings from the plate. I am now also tapping and flexing the plate to get a sense of its overall stiffness. I’ll base my final minimum thickness on this factor. During the final few moments of graduating, I frequently hold the plate in front of a lamp andpass light through it. This lets me see discrepancies that are hard to spot with the dial indicator alone. Time to cut the F-holes! This is my pin-routing setup for quickly and accurately cutting the F-holes of the mandolin. The f-hole’s size, shape & location on this aluminum template were taken directly from Loar #76547. To make them, I must carve two spruce tonebar blanks to exactly fit the interior of the soundboard, and then glue them in place. I start by marking the locations of the tonebars and then hold them in place while I use a shopmade scribe to mark the soundboard’s contour on both sides of the tonebar. Now it’s just a matter of carving the bar down to the mark right? …Easier said than done. It can take hours of scraping and sanding and checking to get the tonebars to fit just right. Next I begin to carve the tone bars down using a small chisel and sandpaper. As I get closer to to my minimum dimension, I constantly flex the tonebar with my hands. This particular step is about walking the fine line between big sound and adequate structure. When I feel the tone bars are as close to the minimum as I care to go…I stop. Signing off on this completed Wiens F5 soundboard! The sides of the mandolin start out as straight, thin strips of figured maple that are cut and sanded to the desired thickness. A little water and a hot bending iron is all that is necessary to bend the sides to the proper shape .With highly figured maple, a stainless steel strap is used to assist in the bending, and prevent any break-out. It takes me 2-3 very intense hours to bend a set of sides that I’m satisfied with. After a day of drying, this set will be trimmed and glued-up into a rim. Before I can glue the rim up, I must make the F-5‘s 4 internal blocks. The blocks will serve as solid areas to mount the neck and tailpiece, as well as give the sides something solid to join on to. These blocks are simply bandsawed from some Honduras mahogany and then sanded to final dimension with the spindle and belt sanders. This is my Dedicated F-5 Rim making mold. It allows me to consistently glue up F-5 rims without any unwanted surprises. The shape of the mold is from a direct tracing I took from Loar F-5 #76547, signed on March 31st 1924. The unique asymmetry of that particular Loar has been captured as closely as possible in this piece of tooling. The bent maple sides and mahogany block are married together in the jig to form the F5 rim! I’m using little shims to tighten up any gaps and then gluing the blocks in place using hot hide glue. A stack of Wiens F5 rims as they come out of the jig. Before I can glue the soundboard on though, I”ll need some kerfed linings. This is the gangsaw and crosscut sled I use on the tablesaw to make the cuts or “kerfs” in the Basswood strips that will become the kerfed linings.The set is comprised of three thin-kerf blades with spacers between them. The two lexan featherboards hold the linings down and against the fence so that they don’t ride up or shift during a pass. After the strips are slotted I simply pass them over a belt sander by hand until I achieve the triangular cross section. I can now move ahead and apply the kerfed linings. For this step I’m using pearl hide glue. It sets up a bit slower and will give me a few extra seconds of open time so I can all the clamps in place before the glue cools and gels. Still, I pre-warm each lining with a heat gun,before I apply the hide glue and clamp it to the rim. Now with the top linings in place, we are ready to glue this one to a soundboard and make a soundbox out of it! I use my jig to hold the rim exactly as it was when I glued it up, only now I install a special inside mold with a riser that holds the rim up high enough so that the kerfed linings are clear of the mold. First I warm the rim with a heat gun, then quickly coat the rim with hide glue and place the soundboard over the pins and onto the rim. I place a clamping caul over the soundboard and bolt it down using a cordless nut driver. We just made a box! ….total time: about 25 seconds! Fresh outta the jig. Now t’s looking more like a soundbox. Now I want to start getting the binding on. That involves routing precise rabbets completely around the top edge. I can use my router table to rout the majority of the binding rabbet, I use a a special spiral bit that gives and an extremely smooth cut. It does a nice job, however the router table can’t get into the nook in the bottom point or around the scroll. Those areas will require a lot of time spent hand cutting. Before I get too focused on that scroll rabbet, I want to cut the 15th fret crosspiece line. This is where the riserblock will reside and it’s location is very important. Now I can spend some time refining the scroll rabbet to get it Loary looking. I do this mostly by eye using only a razor knife and few small chisels. As I work, I occasionaly refer to some detailed photographs of various Loar F5’s on my shop wall. A few newer additions to my scroll rabbet chisel collection. In-cannel gouge, back-bent gouge and my custom dogleg curved chisels I have a pair of custom left & right curved dogleg chisels that help me refine the bottom of the rabbet. Just like with the F5 Peghead, I apply the celluloid binding in two stages. First the black/white purfling, followed by a custom- sized outer ivoroid binding. This two-step technique is more time consuming, but replicates that used on the Loar mandolins and the thicker outer binding gives just the right look. Now I can start applying the thicker ivory grained celluloid binding. Again I use the heat gun and various forms to get the right shape. I fill a syringe with my ivoroid binding glue to help with clean application. Masking tape, packing tape, wedges and spool clamps keep the pieces in place while the glue dries. gluing in the remaining pieces of binding wrapping & clamping the corners using whatever works best for the application. Often it’s wedges and more packing tape. Production! Fall 2006. With the top’s binding completed. I can install the riser block and then apply the back’s kerfed linings now in the same way as I did the top. I rout the body’s dovetail mortise using a router and a collar template. This ensures a a very clean and repeatable cut. I’m ready to fit the neck on this one. I use a chisel and then run sanding strips through the joint., constantly checking for my final neck angle and bridge height. It’s a stressful operation. Here, after a couple hours of fussing, I’ve fit the neck. This is what I call an excellent dovetail joint. I used to join the neck after the back was on, but I’ve come to realize that I can better control my final bridge height and also improve the quality of the dovetail joint by joining the neck first. Here’s a look at #40 with it’s neck attached but still no back. The second Wiens piccolo P5 in front. Joining a beautiful 2-piece hard maple back. After rough carving on my duplicarver. I refine the shape of the back using a chisel and planes. Hours of carving and refining have gone into this one-piece back and it’s ready to be glued in place. This photo shows the deep wood removal around the scroll. Here, I’ve glued the back on and routed its binding rabbet much like I did the top. Except of course that maple is much harder and much more difficult to work. And here it is after the binding has been applied & scraped flush. Fingerboard in place and the neck is final shaped. Here’s a look at a Wiens F5 in the white. Sanded and ready for stain. This is a beautiful one-piece back jobbie.