Manolins by the Pair

Much too far back in time I began building a second Ham Jones Archtop Mandolin with Walnut back and sides, a Red Spruce top, plus a Flattop Mandolin with figured Sapele back and sides, Spruce top. It was January , and I should’ve had these finished mid-April but life gets in the way of things at times and here we are almost mid-July telling the tale.

I’ll start with the Archtop which I have built and covered here before. This one was made with the same piece of Walnut as the first. Since I’ve posted this type build before I’m just gonna cover the basic plan and any things I did different. This time around the bending went a little better with experience and the rim came together without issue. I decided it was best to have the top on before sawing the neck pocket so at this point I moved on to carving the top and back plates.

Carving the plates by hand with convex finger planes takes a lot of time but if I want to say ‘hand-made’…. Right? I start with a large flat hand plane to knock the outer edge down, cut the shape out at about an eight inch over size and begin carving. The upper surface of the top is carved first and then the inner. On the inner side I do use a drill press jig to drill a series of holes to facilitate wood removal. When the top is ready it is glued in place and the edge is trimmed flush to the sides once the glue is dry. At this point I finish carving the backplate and make and install the two tone bars for the top.

I made the neck, finger board, headplate, and frets same as before except I built the fingerboard extension into the shaft and eliminated the extra part. When the neck is finished, including fingerboard and fret work I can move on to fitting the neck joint.

I am not going go into detail about fitting the neck but it goes like this, I slip the finished neck into the pocket and let it go where it wants to go. Now check, the fret plane height at the bridge location, the center line of neck is center line of body, and fretboard is 90* to sides of body. If it looks good then I got lucky, if not I adjust.

With the neck glued in and locked, the back plate can be installed, trimmed and final carved along with the top. Before routing the binding slots there is sanding required to get the top and back flush with the rim for a nice clean channel. After the binding is glued in there is lots and lots of sanding.

Prep for lacquer includes some grain filler, especially with rosewood headplate. I really don’t like to use grain filler unless it’s necessary. If I didn’t say it already, lots of sanding, this time with fine grit paper. I start with 100 grit after binding, then 220, 320 and 400 then 600 to 1000. After lacquer there is more sanding, gently with 400, do not to remove all sparkle, then with wet sand with 600, 1000, 1500 as needed. Then buffing and polishing.

For about a year I’ve had it in my head that I wanted to build a Flat top Mandolin. Not having built one before and this being a prototype I used the same mold as for the Archtop and build the rim, using figured Sapele this time.

From the same Sapele I made the back halves and joined them using a redwood center strip. I braced the back similar to guitar bracing with a spine and three ribs. It looks to me as if the bracing is too heavy but when done, the weight of the finished instrument was the same as the Archtop, for whatever that’s worth.

For the top I’m using Ukulele size Sitka Spruce with ‘H’ bracing which looks heavy to me, same as I felt about the back bracing. I have at the time of this writing strung it up and I am pleased with the sound. I calculated the size for the circular aperture and after the two top halves were glued I installed the rosette. Next I position the rim to the top and mark the bracing layout. When the braces are glued in place they can be carved, tapered at the ends and then locked into the rim.

The neck joint on this is done the same way but there is some adjustment needed to get the correct neck to body angle due to the lack of an arch. Once the finished neck is fitted to the pocket the neck can be glued in place. The back is positioned and it’s braces locked into the rim then glued in place. What follows is lots of sanding, binding installation, lots more sanding, more sanding then the finish and hardware.

Now I have two new Mandolins ‘Windy’ and ‘Skinny. They both play and sound great, of course.

See these and all the other fine instruments for sale at

Author: Rick

A life long woodworker, I've been building guitars since 2006 after attending a guitar building course presented by Martin guitars. I build acoustic dreadnoughts, electrics, and the "Hambone", a Terz guitar. I am a North Carolina native and am currently located near Charlotte, NC.