Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Inlays and Ukuleles

There seems never to be a dull moment in my dad's shop. Yesterday was another exciting Tuesday with the General Loafers, among others. Herb brought me some material to make an apron like his to wear in the shop. I hope you have had the pleasure of knowing him, as he is probably the nicest, most thoughtful fella in the world. Often when he comes to do repair work on Tuesdays, he will bring me a bag full of garlic from his garden, or show me a trick for repairing the body of an old Gibson guitar. This time it was several folded pieces dark green denim-like material that he said came from my dad's old shop. I only vaguely remember spending time in the oblong tarpaper-tiled building located next door to the Rugby Rescue Squad, but more on those experiences later. Herb's own apron that he wore for many years until it's inevitable demise due to overuse was made from this same material by his wife Mary. He also included an apron to use as a pattern, so I plan to construct something similar so I can be just like Herb.

Dave Nichols teaches inlay techniques
Another highlight of this week: I learned how to inlay. I thought I knew how before, but apparently I didn't. A very talented inlayer (I might have just made that word up) named Dave Nichols stopped by on his way from is home in upstate New York to a festival in Asheville. Upon seeing my dad's setup, which consists of two metal pieces that clamp a piece of pearl between them by using a foot-shaped pedal as you file horizontally, he barked, "No one can file anything like that!" Well, while that might be true for most, and I beg his pardon, but my dad has seemed to get along pretty well for the past 40 years, so that statement is not entirely correct. It was quite helpful though, to have a quick lesson on how to sit, relaxing my shoulders and my grip on the file, and how to hold the pearl as I file it vertically on a specially shaped board. The lesson turned out to be helpful, not only in matters of inlay.

My first attempt at sawing the new way.
These are for one of my dad's guuitars
I mentioned to him something about enjoying the inlay process and that making instruments is very fulfilling, learning from my father. He replied, "Well that is good, you should do what you love or else you will have to do what you are trained for!" Asked to clarify, he told me that he has a Ph.D. in Psychology, and after working as a psychologist for quite some time, he decided it was important to do something he got immense joy out of. I very much appreciate that he spent a lot of money and time learning to do something that currently he does not practice. It helped me to know that I am not the only nutpants who went to school to learn something  substantial but has ended up not using that knowledge fully.

Speaking of enjoying my time, this week I have been making a ukulele. Perhaps because they are small and dainty, or that they seem a little bit simpler to construct, I really love making ukuleles. This one is made from a walnut tree that grew in in West Virginia, and in it's heyday it used to produce prized walnuts, but was then struck by lightening. The people who loved the tree hated to see it waste into the landscape so they brought the salvaged wood to my dad. I had hoped to use this wood for the guitar I just finished, but the wood is riddled with wormholes, so finding a complete back of a guitar was not feasible. But there was enough clean wood make a ukulele :-)

I just got back from carving the neck, which is a little bit more difficult than a guitar neck as it is so small that you can't take some of the shortcuts that you normally would for a guitar. For instance, I had to use a rasp to shape the heel because the sander I would typically use is too large and would sand off excessive amounts of wood off the heel. Anyway, I also drew a lovely inlay for the peghead and cut and inlayed the pearly using my new skills. What do you think? Side note: It is currently storming-and it snowed 6 inches two days ago. This alarms me and kind of encourages me to go back to environment work...

Inlay for the peghead of my walnut soprano ukulele




5 comments:

  1. Dave Nichols is quite a character! I had the honor of spending 2 weeks with him in Malone last winter. It was a great time, the process of cutting the inlay is so magical. Can't wait to visit him again!

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  4. This is a great post! I am glad that there are still those out there that are prepared to take up the art of producing such fantastic instruments. I took up electrician courses at uni and found that woodworking was a great extra to get away from the course.

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