I've gotten a few emails about tools that I used to build the mandolin, so here's a non-definitive list of the most helpful tools I have used (or should have used) to build mandolins. Most every tool I used could be substituted for a different tool and method, or could be left out entirely. It should also be possible to make the mandolin without any power tools, although you would need a bigger assortment of hand tools than I list below. This list should serve as a starting point for anyone to adapt to a specific situation.
This is an incredibly helpful tool. It makes neck carving easy and faster. For an earlier neck (before I got one of these rasps) I carved the neck with a whittling style knife. This was equally as enjoyable, but not as fast or easy and takes more concentration It is not difficult to plunge to deep and remove wood which should have stayed on the mandolin with a knife.
This tool has a finer/ slower cut than the microplane rasp. It is perfect for the times when your afraid to use the microplane for fear you will cut to deep to fast. Mine has a flat side which works great for evening out the neck once the shape has been roughed down. The opposite side is round and was used when evening the side to neck transition.
These files are truly indispensable. I use them for fine details as well as shaping of the tail pins. I also used these in lieu of an expensive purpose-built set of nut files. They worked fine for this purpose, but it is more difficult to get an accurate slot of the correct size without some creative, careful cutting.
This tool worked well for carving the tone bars. I hadn't seen anyone else use a thumb plane fro this purpose, but I wanted to try it out on something for the first time. I have seen a professional luthier use a chisel to carve the bars, but I couldn't get the hang of that technique before frustration and impatience set in...
Low Angle Plane
I used this tool to trim down the sides of the mandolin once the rim was glued up, but you could also use a thumb plane instead. As long as you sand the rim flat using a sanding table of some sort, the planing doesn't have to keep the rim too even.
Sorry for the cliche but, you really never can have too many clamps. I mostly used quick-grip style clamps which make it much easier to clamp things together when you could already use an extra hand to align everthing, much less a second extra hand to tighten the clamp.
- Bar Clamps a few each mini/ medium/ large quick-grip style clamps (or substitute with standard style clamps)
- Spool Clamps(about 20) I used 1/4 inch bolts and toy wheels from a craft store. I have also seen people use actuall spools cut in half (hence the name.) They sell ready made versions on luthier supply sites.
- Close Pins I used these to hold on the lining for gluing. It takes a lot...
This is an important tool for cleaning up and fine tuning the fit of the neck joint so it is tight and doesn't show a gap between the sides and neck.
I used one to rough cut the f-holes. Some luthiers, especially violin makers, use a coping saw with a coarse tooth blade instead of a bandsaw. I don't have a coarse blade and so I found it very frustrating and slow to cut thick maple this way.
There are two ways to use a scraper including a hand plane mounted scraper and a free standing scraper. I have only used free standing scrapers. They can be tricky to sharpen, but once you figuire them out, scrapers are useful for fine shaping and finish smoothing (instead of sandpaper.)
This job requires quite a few specialized often expensive tools to be as fast and easy as it can be. If you only plan to do a few mandolins, or want to try out building before you buy to many specialized tools, you can get by with just a set of needle files and a larger metal file. Fret work will take longer and be more tedious with a greater chance of cutting up the fretboard, but these tools will get the job done. I would suggest if you are considering any specialized tools at all, the one tool with a job that couldn't be done by alternate tools was the recrowning file. Here is a list of all the tools that would be useful for fretting:
- Fret Hammer
- Fret Pulling Pliers
- Fret Nippers/ Cutters
- Fret leveling File
- Side Angle File
- Recrowning File
- Large Metal File
- Needle Files
- Fret Polishing Tool (or sand paper and steel wool)
Side Bending Tool
For bending the sides, you can go one of two routes. A comercially built, electric side bending tool will do the job and can be used without ventilation or too much fear of catching things on fire, but may cost over $150 depending on its size and model. The rig I described on this site costs very little to make from parts readily available at your local hardware store. However, it is harder to regulate the heat and shouldn't be used indoors, without proper ventilation or near flammable things.
I used a variety of different grits on the mandolin from about 60 grit to 300 grit paper. Some other sandpaper based tools that often come in handy:
- Sanding Block: comercially available or easily homemade by gluing or wrapping sand paper around a hardwood block
- Sanding Table: This can be as simple as a flat surface with sandpaper attached, or go further by including an integrated dust collection system. I used the flat table on my belt-sander to act as an impromptu sanding table.
- 0000 Steel Wool: I used this mostly for knocking down the finish in between coats and to acheive the finish's final, soft sheen.
I used Titebond II (most any wood glue would work) to glue on the lining, top, back, bracing, tone bars and the glue neck joint. I used epoxy to glue the sides onto the headblock and tailblock.
This is the finish I have used on all my mandolins so far. I use the clear gloss variety.
Blue tape is invaluable while finishing. It makes it easy to keep finish away from places you don't want it, such as on the top of the neck where it would interfere with the fretboard to neck glue joint.
The bandsaw is much faster than traditional methods for making rough cuts such as the neck side profile. I also used it to resaw the book-matched set used for the back.
I used a surface planer instead of a sander for this mandolin. The planer worked well enough for the back, but tended to chip out the spruce top and the curly maple used in another project. It also was not meant to be used on such thin pieces. A thickness sander would do a much better job and leave a smoother surface when jointing and thicknessing any type of wood. They are, of course, a bit expensive if your only making one mandolin. Unless you plan on making a lot of mandolins in the future, it may be best to have a luthier supply company or local cabinet maker joint the two-piece tops and backs you will need. Most of the online luthier supply sites will do this type of work for a reasonable fee.
Oscillating Spindle Sander
This tool makes it much easier to smooth the sides of the form and to trim the mandolin's top and back down to the sides than my previous method; carving the majority of the excess with a rasp then using a small sanding drum on a drill press.
The table saw makes accurate and smooth cuts. It was mostly used during the early stages of building when cutting roughly sized blanks and for cuting the mortise and tenon joints on the headblock and neck.
Compound Miter Saw
It was used in the same stages as the table saw for cross cutting quickly and accurately.
I have been using a somewhat compromised all-in-one Shopsmith for drilling. A larger table with plenty of ways to easily clamp down the workpiece would make for much faster and easier set-up and drilling.
A stationary belt sander is great for taking off a lot of material quickly (sometimes too much material, too quickly.)