Building a Ukulele with Basic Hand Tools

Over the years I have accumulated a collection of specialized tools for building ukuleles.  But for this project, I wanted to scale back the needed tools and see what I could build with simple tools.  I am a big fan of Leatherman Multi-tools, so I decided to build a travel style ukulele only using the Leatherman Super Tool 300.  This tool is one of their “heavy duty” multi-tools, and it has a great selection of tools.

Even if you don’t have a Super Tool 300 (or its little brother the Leatherman Rebar), you can still build this instrument with the tools most people will already have in their garage.

Tools:

  • Pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Slotted screwdriver
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Knife
  • Saw
  • Awl (for drilling holes)
  • File

Parts and Supplies:

  • 9.75″ by 1.5″ by .5″ wood (for neck)
  • 2″ by 1.5″ by .25″ wood (for where the neck meets the body)
  • 16″ by .75″ by .75″ wood (this will be cut in half for the body)
  • A set ukulele strings
  • 4 – beads for the ukulele strings
  • 4 – ukulele friction tuning machines
  • 1 – 5/32″ by 1.5″ cotter pin (for zero fret nut)
  • 6 – 3/32″ by 1.5″ cotter pins (for 12 frets)
  • 1 – 1/4 by 3.5″ carriage bolt
  • 6 – 1/4-20 jam nuts
  • 10 – 1/4 by 1″ fender washers
  • 4 – 1/4 by .75″ nylon washers
  • 2 – 3/16″ ground wire straps
  • 3″ aluminum or steel tube (for bridge)
  • 2 – 3/8″ screws
  • Wood glue
  • Super Glue (also known as Cyanoacrylate glue, or CA glue)

Other instructions:

  1. Cut 16″ by .75″ by .75″ wood in half to make two 8″ pieces.
  2. Drill holes for the turnaround and two tuning machines on both of these 8″ pieces.  .5″ from the end, 3″ from the end, and 5 ” from the end.
  3. The neck is glued to the two 8″ body pieces with a 2″ overlap.
  4.  The 2″ by 1.5″ by .25″ wood is used to fill in the overlap area to flatten out the back.
  5. The string slots up by the headstock should be 1/4″ to 3/8″ deep.
  6. The jam nuts, fender washers, and nylon washers can moved around to adjust string spacing at the bridge.

 

Printable Fret Template: 

Print this template at 100% size on 8.5″ by 11″ paper (normal printer in the USA) for a 13.5 inch (soprano) scale length.

13.5_in_travel_uke_fretboard

 

Watch this video to see how this ukulele was built.

15 thoughts on “Building a Ukulele with Basic Hand Tools

  1. Bruce O Bowes

    Is there a reason why the gap between the 2nd and 3rd is larger then between the 1st and 2nd, 3rd and the 4th ?

    Please answer.
    Thank you

    Reply
      1. Bruce Nowes

        I was asking about the space between the strings not the frets. I think the problem is that the notches on the head of the strings are not equal distant. There is more distance between second and third notches, hence the string are further apart .

      2. danielhulbert Post author

        Ok. Sorry that I misunderstood. Yes, for this one, the string spacing isn’t perfect. Doing it with a tiny handsaw was a challenge. 😊

  2. Michael

    I love it! I would really love to see the same sort of approach to a basic hand-tools only travel 6 string guitar with standard tuning. Any chance that you would build such a thing?

    Reply
  3. Freth

    Built one using regular tools. Bore out the nuts with a 1/4” bit. Just doesn’t work well trying to progressively thread them on. Used aluminum angle to make bridge.

    Reply
      1. Soph

        Oh I meant how did the one the person with the username “Freth” go, since they made one too! 🙂
        I’ve already seen the video, I’m having a go at it this week, exciting! I’m combining it with your travel uke style. Fingers crossed I succeed, it’s the second attempt at making a uke! (the first attempt ended in a broken unfixable neck.. oops)
        Actually I have a question, in the video you say you measure the half-scale from the 12th fret up to the near edge of the tube, why not to the middle of it? Isn’t that where the string touches it? The part I’m most worried about is messing up the intonation so I want to make sure I understand what I’m doing haha!
        Thanks a lot for posting these instructions, fretboard pdfs etc. It’s inspiring!

      2. danielhulbert Post author

        You are right about the strings touching the tube at the middle top of the tube. I find that the extra distance between the edge and the top gives a tiny bit of compensation that helps with intonation. Good luck with your project!

    1. danielhulbert Post author

      That was fantastic! I love your ukulele and the video. Do you mind if I share the video on Facebook and on this blog? I can credit you as “Soph from France” or however you like.

      Reply
      1. sophiechrtn

        Thank you very much!
        Of course you can share it, I’m glad you like it! 🙂
        Yeah Soph from France is good!

  4. Pingback: “Avatar: The Last Airbender” Travel Ukulele | Circuits and Strings

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