Monday, August 20, 2018

Cigar Box Banjo

I've been playing the banjo for about two months, now. It's been a lot of fun. Slow going, but I'm happy to be trying it out. I love an obsessive hobby and there's no shortage of history, YouTube vids or books on the banjo to pore over.

Cigar box banjo

In looking through a digital ton of historic banjo pics, online, within the assorted gourd banjos, tackhead banjos, Appalachian mountain banjos, Bluegrass banjos, etc., I stumbled onto cigar box banjos. Black slaves or sharecroppers and poor white southern mountain folk made instruments from all manner of found objects - grain sifters, gourds, cigar boxes, etc. I tend to find homemade folk art instruments, with their imperfections, more interesting than high quality luthier instruments. The high quality instruments might sound much better, but there's something soulful in the effort made by some guy that just wanted to sit on the tin-covered front porch and play for his family after a tough day in the dust and dirt.

That leads me to this, I built a fretless cigar box banjo. I sanded much of the labeling off of the box, stained it and stuck a stick through it. The neck, largely hand-shaped, is just a glued up pine board I had in the garage. I burned on an ivy pattern in the rough positions of where the frets would fall. Inexpensive geared guitar tuners on the peghead and a ukulele tuner on the fifth string. The head/resonator is a simple one gallon paint can lid.

Building a cigar box paint lid resonator banjo.

Building a cigar box paint lid resonator banjo.

Finished shaping the cigar box banjo neck.

Cigar box banjo

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Cigar Box Ukulele #2 - CBU02

Cigar box ukulele number two is completed.

I recently completed a second cigar box ukulele. It's the same shape as the first one I built, but I went a little more modern on the look of it. This second uke is going to the guy that traded me the vintage Harmony banjo that I've been playing a little over two weeks, now.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

An Evening on Springfield Lake

Springfield Lake Canoe Evening

Last Friday evening, I busted out of work at 5:30pm and headed to Springfield Lake to bob around in the heat and bugs. It was pretty, in spite of the warmth. Lots of martins or barn swallows overhead, other things spotted: a handful of blue herons, a northern water snake and a whistle pig (commonly referred to as a groundhog).

Springfield Lake Canoe Evening

Springfield Lake Canoe Evening

Springfield Lake Canoe Evening

Springfield Lake Canoe Evening

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Backyard Art Shack's Progress

So begins The Art Shack

I started the Art Shack project about a year ago. It's been derailed a few times due to weather and a lack of discretionary funds (nearly every time I collect enough for materials, something stupid happens and I have to spend it elsewhere). Funded mostly through art sales, when I can, it's been a learning experience. I kinda see this as a test on building a larger cabin in the woods, someday. I'm picking up some carpentry and design skills I have never messed with until now and hope to get any stupid mistakes out of the way.

The Art Shack foundation went together this morning. So far, artwork has paid for the materials.

The Art Shack foundation is decked over

Shed frame is up.

And that's how it sat all winter. I tacked up some plywood on the roof and walls, right when things started to thaw. But a very rainy late winter and early spring killed further progress until this past weekend. I used the Memorial Day weekend, with its halfway decent weather, to finish out the roof. With trim boards in place, I tacked on the tar paper, drip edges and tar roofing tiles. Braving heat and clouds of thirsty vampiric mosquitos.

Shed/clubhouse progress

Roofing the Art Shack

Roofing the Art Shack

Next up, some slightly more fun stuff. Window placement, figuring out how I want to cover the outside (probably a mix of barn tin and decorative wooden battens in a slightly modern aesthetic), hanging the door, painting the interior, etc.

The roof did really well in the downpour we had later yesterday afternoon. It rained really hard for about 15-20 minutes. I ran out to the shed and sat in it for a bit while it rained, just to see if I goofed anywhere. No leaks to report. Fingers crossed that it stays that way.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Couple of Projects Out of the Way.

This past weekend, I used what free time I had to finish up a couple of projects I'd had on the back burner. One, a red oak slab end table that I pulled out of a recent firewood gathering trip and the second, a wood burned logo wall art piece that I did for our work photo and video studio. Pretty happy with how they both turned out.

The red oak table, I started by chiseling the bark of and sanding it. Then I coated it in Danish oil, which it drank readily due to the open pores of the tree type. I should've varnished it. The solids in the varnish probably would've sealed it much better. The hairpin legs, I pulled them from a cheap table I found in an antique shop. I spray painted them black before install and then I applied some finishing wax to the table, itself. The wax fogged badly when it dried and I couldn't buff it out enough to my liking, so I hit it with a heat gun and the wood absorbed it. The finish is nice, now.

Making an end table from a 5”x18” chunk of red oak.

Finished red oak slab end table

The logo wall art/decor, that I made from a 24" disc of wood that has sat in my garage for over a decade. I had plans to make a chalkboard out of it, but never got around to it. Last week, I decided to use it for our new office space, instead. I measured the piece, built a line art version of our logo icon to size in Adobe Illustrator, printed it tiled on 11x17 paper, taped it together and then cut it out with an x-acto knife for a stencil. Afterwards, I traced the design onto the wood in pencil and used a wood burning tool to burn in the artwork.

Work photo/video studio wall decor.

Work photo/video studio wall decor.

Work photo/video studio wall decor.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Musical Distractions

I haven't completely forgotten about boats, boat stuff and boating, in general, but I have been heavily distracted at times, since starting this blog several years ago. Music, of which I am miserable at playing, but great at appreciating, has been my latest in a long line of shiny things to catch my attention.


Less than a year ago, my daughter bought me an ukulele with money she earned in a garage sale, it was her Fathers Day present to me. I've worn the frets clean of their silver paint and I'm starting to whittle my way through the plastic fretboard with every chord I take a poke at. I love the plinky-plunky plastic sound of the little soprano instrument and it means a lot that she chose it for me.

That gift started the ball rolling on the cigar box builds I've done in the past six months - a couple of three stringed slide guitars, a tenor tambourine banjolele and a tenor cigar box uke. Currently, I'm working on a second cigar box uke for a coworker's father-in-law.

Cigar Box Guitars 001 and 002

The vintage tambourine banjolele build is done!

Completed cigar box ukulele

Which brings me to this, a 1970s Harmony banjo that I was given by the coworker mentioned above. I'll be restoring it in the near future and hope to learn to play something on it to be of interest around a campfire.

1970s Harmony Banjo 5-String

Also, I still hope to build this, a fretless tackhead banjo from a vintage teak bowl that I found. I'm also planning to build a fretless mountain banjo and maybe an even earlier minstrel style instrument, at some point.

Making full-size banjo plans

Something else that I've dusted off, my 1960s Sears Silvertone parlor guitar. When I took guitar lessons 16 years ago, I had this little cheap guitar and a really nice and expensive Gibson acoustic. As I lost interest, I sold the Gibson and kept this, it had much better tone and waaay more character.

1960s Sears Silvertone Guitar

Yesterday, my daughter gave me a second musical gift. She invited me to play backup at her school talent show. She sang a simplified version of Surfer Girl by The Beach Boys while I accompanied her on my CBU. The mic quit working on us while we were performing, so we decided to record it again before bed time, last night.