Gourd Banjo

Carving the Heel

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When I last left the banjo I had a sort-of fit between the end of the neck heel and the gourd. The heel of the neck was a straight cut using a saw, and it needs to be made into a curve so that it fits the gourd better.

I carved on it for a while using a little Xacto gouge and my hook knife until I had kind of a fit, but it was not going together very well. So I decided to try something to see where the gourd was butting up agains the heel. I decided to use some of my old oil paint for that. Here is a photo.


I don't use black when I paint anyway so I might as well use it for this. That is water-soluble oil paint, which is a new item for artists. I chose it because I am pretty sure that I will be able to get it off of the gourd after I am done using it to mark the high places on the heel.

Here is the theory. I put the paint on the gourd, and then I push the neck up against it, and where the heel is hitting the gourd, it will leave some of the paint. So I put some of the paint onto a plastic plate.


With my paintbrush, I painted some of the paint onto the gourd where the neck goes up against it.


Well it didn't help much. It looked to me like there was no paint at all being transferred to the neck, which makes no sense since it has to be hitting the gourd somewhere! So I kept cutting and painting and hoping. Here are the tools I used to cut the bowl shape into the neck heel.


There is, of course, my hook knife. The tool with the red handle is a gouge from an XActo set I have. Sitting next to it is a little 1/4 inch chisel blade. I finally did see some of the paint deposited on the cheeks of the neck, so I went after those with my little chisel.


That helped a lot, and the neck seemed to seat itself pretty well.


You can see in the photo that there is still some space between the top of the neck and the gourd. I think I will leave that there to provide for some space for the skin head after it is stretched onto the gourd.

The neck is also a bit looser in the front hole than it was before I carved it. It used to be a snug friction fit, but now it will fall out easily. I hope that won't be a problem when I get the banjo assembled. A normal banjo is held to gether by some hardware on the dowel stick that pulls the neck tightly to the pot, but since the gourd will be sealed with the head, there is no way that I can do that on this banjo. People tell me that what holds a gourd banjo together is a friction fit.

I think that I might have to put some sort of wedge on the tailpiece at the rear of the gourd to pull the neck in. I will solve that problem later.

That is about it as far as mating the neck with the gourd.

Here is a photo of the end of the heel after I got finished carving it. You cannot see the bowl shape of the heel in the photo, so I have provided a 3-D image of it as well. To see the 3-D version, click on the 3-D link below the image.

Carved heel

I still have some afternoon left, so I decided to start making the blanks for the tuning pegs. I will cut them out of the same cherry that I used for the first prototypes that I made. I ripped off two pieces of cherry that are 1" X 3/4" X 12".


Then I ripped them down to 1/2" in depth, removing 1/4" of the wood.

Half Inch

Then I cut them into six pieces, each one being 3 1/2" long.

Cut To Length

Man! Look at the tearout on those pieces where they broke away! Dang! Decades from now, banjo collectors will be identifying my banjos by the tearout. "And here we have what is obviously a Kimerer banjo, identified by the characteristic tearout on nearly every part".


Well, I will be cutting those bits away anyway so it doesn't mater in this case. But I do wish I could learn to use the tools better. The next thing I did was to cut the sides off down to the buttons to make the square shaft 1/2" across. The buttons are 1" X 1" X 1/2"


There are the five blanks.

"Five? Weren't you making six?". Well, I was making six just in case. Then I split one while I was sawing off the sides of it. So now I have five. The spare one is already wrecked. But that is what it was for. See how well that worked out?

That is it for the day. I am pooped.

Carving the heel to fit the gourd took about two hours, and making the blanks for the tuning pegs was another 1 1/2 hours for a total of 3 1/2 hours today.

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Last updated December 2, 2007