Making the Neck & Fingerboard Starting with an ebony blank I’ve prepared, it’s time to start cutting the fret slots. I use double-stick tape to adhere the ebony blank to my fretting template. It has precisely cut notches for each fret position .I use that cross-cutting sled you see on the tablesaw to make the cuts Inserting an indexing pin into each notch, and then passing the sled over the saw blade, I cut the fret slots for an entire fingerboard in just a few minutes. The slotted Fretboard blank. I can remove it from the template and cut it to shape now. After the slotting operation, I rough-cut it to shape on the bandsaw, then cut the final profile using a special flush-trim bit on a router table. After marking out the locations, I drill the holes that will accept the Mother of Pearl position markers. I spend some time trying to get the dots turned the just the right way so that each will appear “lit up” when viewed from the same angle. Once I’m satisfied with the layout, I inlay the dots using a slow curing black epoxy mixture. Since these fingerboards will have scooped extensions, I’m inlaying some pure silver flatwire into the upper fret slots to become “faux frets”. When the extension is finally scooped down these will appear to be frets, but are actually flush with the fingerboard surface. Installing the frets With the fingerboard fine-sanded and fret-slots chamfered, I begin installing frets by running a bead of white glue along each one and seating them in the slots, I do several at a time. I use a special fretting caul in an arbor press to seat them. With the fingerboard now completely fretted, I file the fret ends flush with the fingerboard edge and prepare to apply the ivoroid binding which I’ve already laminated with a w/b trim, and bent to shape using the heat gun. A sheet of wax paper will ensure that the work doesn’t get glued down to the work table. An interesting detail found on Loar era mandolins were tortoise celluloid side dots. I recreate this detail by using a small plug cutter to cut dots out of sheet tortoise celluloid that I’ve painted white on one side. The dots are now glued in white side first so that the white backing will help “light up” the tortoise figure. This way they don’t just end up looking like black dots. After plotting out their locations, I use a small drill bit mounted in a pin vice to carefully drill each side dot hole by hand till it’s just through the binding. Here you can really see the random tortoise figure of the dots in a batch of fingerboards. A quick visit to the spindle sander results in the scooped extension. Now the inlayed silver wire that was inlayed earlier is revealed and appears as faux frets. The scooped extension eliminates the “pick click” sound that some players find annoying, while retaining a tradtional 29 fret appearance. The fingerboard is now ready to be installed on the mandolin. Anatomy of a Loar F-5 peghead. Some folks may not be aware that the peghead veneers on the Loar mandolins were not made of ebony like most contemporary mandolins. They were actually a veneer sandwich made of black-dyed Pearwood laminated over a Holly substrate, finished over with some sort of blackened shellac or paint. Here’s a close-up comparison of an original 1924 Loar F-5 truss rod pocket (above) …and a 2006 Wiens F-5 To re-create the Loar style veneer, I prepare holly and black dyed-pearwood sheets to the desired thickness. I glue two black-dyed pearwood veneers to a thicker Holly substrate and then clamp them flat overnight. To cut the truss rod access hole, I use a dremel mounted in a router base equipped with a collar. The collar rides the template. Here’s my #76547 Fern Loar peghead template being used to trace profiles onto one of my pearwood & holly veneer sandwiches. For the classic flowerpot inlay, I use a completely different template taken from an earlier ’23 Loar F5. Next, I go to the bandsaw to cut the profile. The final shape is achieved by using a spindle sander, then finally by hand using a razor knife. A stack of completed peghead veneers Now I need something to stick the fingerboard and pegehad veneer to. Starting with a squared maple neck blank, I can now cut the slot for the Loar-style truss rod. I’ve penciled-on the profile of the cut to illustrate the curved slot profile. The filler strip above fits over the truss rod when installed. I use this special jig to make the curved bottom slot on the table saw. The bottom of my slotting jig matches the curvature of the truss rod. A tall, temporary fence and guide are clamped to the table saw for accuracy and safety during this cut. I use a pair of specially-ground table saw blades to achieve a round-ish bottomed slot of the correct width. Which is just slightly undersized. Here I’m in the cut, rocking the jig as I pass the neck over the table saw to achieve that curved bottom.. With the slot cut I can finalize the truss rod pocket’s location and size. Here I’m hogging out the last of the pocket.. Cleaning it up with my special round-nose chopper chisel. The pocket hole has to fit one of these old Gibson half-moon washers. The Truss-rod slot and and finished pocket hole are ready for final fitting of the truss-rod. I use this sanding tool to fine tune the truss-rod slot for an ultimate tight fit. The truss rod sitting in its curved slot. Now the slot is completed and ready to receive the truss rod. I firmly seat the rod into the slot and then glue a maple filler strip on top of the rod. After flushing up the filler strip, I can move on to the next step. I drill a shallow hole and install a cross-grain maple plug in a strategic location that will help strengthen the delicate scroll, just in case it should take a blow someday. Scroll Reinforcement in place Completed batch of necks. They just need a little flushing up of the peghead surface now. At this stage, most builders would bind the peghead veneer off the neck, level it and install it as a completed piece. But because this veneer sandwich is light and flexible compared to the typical ebony overlay, I prefer to bind it in situ to achieve the cleanest result. So, next, I position the peghead veneer on the neck and glue it in place. To achieve the classic triple bound look of the ‘24 Fern Loars, I apply celluloid binding in two separate steps. First the black/ivoroid laminate or “purfling” is applied. I use a heat gun to soften and bend the material to shape, and then glue it to the peghead using CA glue. The joints are all mitered by hand using a chisel. The black/white purflings are completed on this peghead. In a bit of a departure from most builders, I now rough-cut the peghead. I trace a line the approximate thickness of the final piece of ivoroid binding. Cutting the peghead out at this point will make it easier for me to seat and tape the final pieces of binding into place during the next step. To achieve the classic F-5 look, I use a special bandsaw jig to hold the peghead at the proper angle during the cut. Gluing the ivoroid binding. For the second layer of binding, I make special glue made of the binding itself dissolved in acetone. This literally melts the joints together and tends to fill any small gaps, giving a perfect-looking result. It’s best applied with a syringe. The second layer of binding is all lap joints, just like the Loars.Here I’m test-fitting a joint. Applying a bead of binding glue. I make liberal use of twisted packing tape to secure my bindings. Here I’m heating and forming the peghead binding around whatever round object is at hand Test-fitting the peghead scroll ‘s lap-joint. The peghead is now fully bound. I make liberal use of masking tape, packing tape, and wedges in the scroll to ensure that there’s no gaps in the final result. Tapering the peghead. Once the glue is dried and the tape comes off, I level the binding and thickness the peghead on a belt sander. The Wiens F-5 peghead has a subtle taper to it, just like the Loars. I now prepare to apply the peghead’s back veneer using hide glue. It is black-dyed pearwood also. The peghead’s rea-veneer glued & clamped up. Now it’s looking like something! I trim the veneer and sand the edges of the peghead flush with the binding using a spindle sander and, in some places, a 1” vertical belt sander. This is done with the neck mounted in that same bandsaw angle jig you saw earlier. Using a shop-made drill guide, I can now drill the tuner holes. Test-fitting a nice set of Waverly tuners. Standard equipment on Wiens mandolins. I’m finally ready to cut the dovetail tenon and call this neck done. I use this rocking jig that holds the neck at 5 degrees and tilts side-to-side 4 degrees. Now at the bandsaw I use the jig to rough-cut the dovetail tenon. This pin I’m pointing to squares the jig for cutting the cheeks. I’ll finish the tenon up when I final fit the neck to the body. For now , we’ll call this neck completed!