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I have often been asked how I became a Mandolin builder, well ..........

.......... my wife and I retired to the West Country of the UK with the intention of walking and playing golf.
What we had failed to realise was that the beautiful county of Devon is green for a reason - it rains a lot.
Faced with the prospect of filling the wet days doing jobs, I thought that I needed to find something else to do,
I have a background in teaching craftwork and became a proficient boatbuilder while working in Outdoor Education, so I figured that I could apply this knowledge to something new.
I flirted with the idea of building a violin, but soon realised that it left little scope for individual design.
We are, after all, talking about the man who had a house full of different chairs because he didn't like making the same thing twice.
So why the Mandolin?............. to be continued.


My great grandfather built a mandolin which, as a family heirloom eventually would have been mine, but it was never returned when loaned to a friend.
People use the word 'literally' a lot these days.
Well, the family mandolin was literally a battered instrument.
The back and sides had been fashioned, with a hammer from an old metal cooking pot - in those days you worked with what you had.
The idea of creating a family heirloom with a replacement mandolin had some mileage.
How did I start when I knew nothing?.......... 

.......... the Internet of course.
I found a guitar luthier, Shaun Newman, living and working in Crediton, Devon.
I told him that I wanted to make a bowl back mandolin and he politely suggested that I might be a little less
ambitious  and found me a set of plans for a 19th centuary style flatback mandolin.
Two hours of solid advice later and extensive visits to You Tube and I was on my way.
My tools, although comprehensive in number, essentially were for cabinet making, with the result that I had to do a lot of improvisation for mandolin making (see the video).
I hand planed timber, to a thickness of 2.5mm by sticking it down to the bench with double sided tape.
I bent the side ribs around a metal flue pipe with heat supplied by a paint stripper gun.
Kerfed linings were held in place with washing line pegs and fibre glass struts from a broken umbrella.
The body of the instrument was held together with masking tape until the glue had set.
As I had no idea at the outset that I would make more than the one instrument, I did make the decision to use high quality timbers and the result was a mandolin with a very pleasing sound.
Not bad for a first attempt, but I still had a lot more ideas and that bowl back was still in my mind.......... 

.......... I was already hooked on my new hobby from the moment the first string came under tension and the whole thing came to life.
I wanted to make more mandolins and to make each one differently .(remember the chairs)
What I now needed was a good reason to spend money on specialist tools and machinery.
The motivation, surprisingly, came from my wife who reminded me that we had two children and each would appreciate an heirloom for their respective families.
So where am I now?..........

.......... I have now built 15 instruments in 3 years and hopefully justified the expenditure.
I have even found myself building them on sunny golf days, although generally the rain has continued to give me a reason to 'fettle' in the workshop.
We are now  surrounded with instruments that I need to sell in order to make room for the next generation of designs.
Oh, also I am learning to play the mandolin!