Soprano ukulele made from plywood and scrap. The frets are toothpicks.
Mark Frauenfelder
Jun 1, 2016 · 4 min read

The folks at Dremel have been featuring different makers as part of their “Meet the Maker” program, and last month they commissioned me to make something for them. I decided to make a simple ukulele. I was happy to do it because I’ve been using a Dremel Moto-Tool since I was 12.

I participated in a Facebook Q&A, offered some tips on Twitter, and made a ukulele from scratch. To make it, I referred to the free plans for the acoustic travel uke, available from Circuits and Strings. Here are my build notes. This could be a fun family project.

As much as possible, I like to use materials I already have at home. For the neck, I used a piece of wood that was destined for the recycling bin. I’m glad I didn’t toss it out. I think it is pine, but I’m not sure. It’s 1.5 inches wide, .075 inches high, and two feet long. I cut the end as shown, and glued another cut piece to same end, using wood glue. I clamped it and let it set while I went to work on the rest of the uke. I

I bought a 6-pack of 6 x 12 x 0.125 inch plywood on Amazon for $11. I used it for the body of the guitar and the fretboard. How did I know how to space the frets? I just held another uke against the new fretboard and marked the spacing with a pencil. If you don’t have a uke on hand, here’s a fret spacing calculator. Using a square — like the one shown — against a piece of wood’s factory edge is a good way to ensure parallel and perpendicular lines.

You can see that I used square toothpicks for frets. They work great, and are easier than fret wire. I removed the protruding ends with nail clippers and rounded them with my Moto-Tool.

Here’s a photo of the freshly glued frets and how I clamped them for drying.

The body is made from the same craft plywood. At first I tried to make a square body but then I realized it would be too short for the bridge. This was one of many mistakes I made along the way. I ended up making a rectangular body. The cut-out on the left is for the neck.

When gluing the body together, I used a bunch of scrap pieces of wood with right angles for bracing.

Instead of regular tuners, I used zither tuning pegs. C.B Gitty sells a 4-pack for $4.19. (Don’t forget to buy a tuning key!)

Here’s a block of wood glued to the inside of the body for the zither pegs to fit into.

Back to the neck: I used a rasp to quickly round the edges of the neck, followed by sandpaper. I made a bridge with a few scrap pieces of plywood glued together and shaped it with Dremel 8220 variable-speed cordless rotary tool.

After gluing the neck and body together, I painted a geometric fireball on the front. I then sprayed many coats of acrylic sealer on the uke, then strung it. Here’s the finished instrument (see if you can spot the glaring mistake):

If I make another one like this. I’m going to use regular tuning pegs. It’s a bit of a hassle using the zither key to tune the ukuele.

Here’s a sample of the sound. (The uke sounds better than I can play it):

Many thanks to Dremel for supporting me with this build!

Mark Frauenfelder

Written by

Research director at Institute for the Future. Co-founder, Boing Boing, editor-in-chief of Cool Tools.

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