Gourd Banjo II

Making Some Peg Blanks

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It is time to make some peg blanks. I make my own pegs rather than use violin pegs that are used for most gourd banjos. The violin pegs are made of ebony or rosewood, and I find that they are more difficult to use than the ones I make. I suspect that the fancy wood is too hard. My first set of pegs was made of cherry wood. I am going to make this set from black walnut.

The reason I am using black walnut this time is partially because that is what I have. I don't have enough cherry left to do a set of pegs. Another reason is that I think I will like the contrast between the dark of the black walnut and the honey color of the maple.

I am also going to make the nut and the tailpiece out of black walnut. Here is the wood I found, left over from a clock project I did years ago.


I am going to use the small piece to make the tailpiece. Before I can do that I have to re-saw the wood to make it thinner. The wood is 3/4" thick and I want it to be more like 3/8" thick for the tailpiece. So I marked the wood down the middle with a pencil.


The trick here is to saw the wood lengthwise down the center line. HA! Easier said than done. Clamping this tiny piece of wood for resawing is going to be a challenge. I can't just clamp it in the Workmate® because squeezing it sideways will close the kerf and make the saw bind in the slot. Here is what I came up with.


The two dogs on the sides of the piece are not clamped very tightly so that the kerf will remain open. They are there to keep the piece upright. The bench clamp is where the force is applied. The saw will go down between the two sides of the bench. Here is an other view from the other side.


After I had sawed about half way down I turned the piece around and started from the other end.


After I broke through look what I discovered.


LOL I had cut part way through my caul. This piece of wood was under the bench where the bench clamp was set. I actually discovered this when I felt the saw blade nick the metal of the clamp. I hope I didn't dull the saw too much. Anyway, here are the two boards.


I need to smooth them out a bit. I used my cabinet scraper to do that.


OK. Enough of that. Let's get started making the peg blanks. I am going to make the peg blanks out of pieces of wood that are 1" X 1/2" so I need to cut them off my piece of walnut. Since the pegs will be about 3 1/2" in length and I need 5 of them, I will need about 20" of wood in those dimensions. My piece of walnut is about 12" long and there is some checking on one end so I will cut three pieces from it. Here I have marked off a 1" strip along the side of the wood.


I clamped it down to the bench and sawed the piece off with my panel saw.


I did that three times and here are the pieces.


The lumber I use is 3/4" thick so I have to re-saw the pieces again to make them 1/2" thick. I marked a line down the edge of the wood at the 1/2" location.


Once again, I strapped it to the bench and sawed down the length of the piece.


Clamping these tiny pieces of wood is becoming a pain in the neck. The Workmate® is not very good for clamping. No matter how I try to clamp the wood it seems like there is a structural member of the bench in the way. It also is light and wobbly, making it difficult to control the saw in a precise cut. I moved over to the end of my workbench to see if that would be better.


That works better, although it is a bit cramped.

Speaking of poor control of the saw, look at this cut.


That is on the bottom of the piece where I could not see what I was doing. I straightened that one out using my block plane.


I have to decide how long to make the pegs. On my previous banjo I made them 3 1/2" long, and that appears to be a bit of overkill. The violin pegs on my minstrel banjo are just under 3", but the peghead on that banjo is thinner than the pegheads on my home built banjos.

I measured the thickness of the peghead on my other gourd banjo and found it to be 1" thick. The peghead on the minstrel is 5/8" thick. The head on this new one is closer to 3/4" thick due to my mistakes with the saw. So I thought I would compromise and make these pegs 3 1/4" long.

Here are the three pieces of wood which are 1" X 1/2" and about 12" long and marked at 3 1/4"


I sawed them off and here they are.

Cut off

I marked off square buttons that are 1" across and drew lines down to them to make square shafts that are 1/2" thick. I used my panel saw to cut down to the buttons.


After sawing down to the button, I used the coping saw to cut off the side pieces.


I repeated the process five more times, and here they are.


I now have six peg blanks for my banjo.

You may well ask, "If it is a five string banjo, why did you make six peg blanks?".

Well you have seen my skills with the tools. I like to have some spares handy in case there is a disaster with a chisel or a saw.

Surprisingly, it took me 3 hours to make those six blanks and the thin boards for the tailpiece. Next time I will carve the pegs closer to their final shape and maybe cut out a tail piece.

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Original post date July 28, 2008

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Last updated August 4, 2008