Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

It's been awhile since I've had time to visit the Minstrel Ning and things look like they have been busy! I am hoping that those of you who are building your own banjos will join in a conversation with me about techniques for construction. I have been trying to bend up my own rims by steaming the stock and clamping it up in a jig but I am having trouble with my results. Has anyone else here steam bent any rims? I am finding that the rims are warping pretty badly once they are removed from the clamping jig. I left them to dry for several weeks and expected them to fare better than they have. I recently ordered some perforated stainless sheet stock and will make a round bending jig from it in hope of getting more uniform drying. I figure the perforations will allow better airflow on the inside of the rim as it dries. I am also considering placing the wet rims in my convection oven at a low setting overnight (120 degrees or so) while clamped in the jig. I was looking at the banjo sightings database and saw a note about one Ashborn that was thought to be turned on a lathe so that is my ultimate last ditch effort if all else fails. So please chime in if you have had any successes or failures and feel free to share!

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When you pull your wood from your steambox, IMMEDIATELY get it on the mould, round, in under 10 seconds. The wood is cooling off at the end of your rim strip. You can't steam it, dry it, bend it, cook it, or beat it into shape if it's not round under 10 seconds. And don't oversteam your wood, you'll crack it. The perforated steel won't help.It's a two person job.

Not having any problem getting it steamed and bent onto the jig. Its what happens in the weeks following that gives me trouble. Depending on the wood species, and in particlar maple, the rims are warping as they settle into thier new shape. I have left them for months to dry before pulling them out of the jig but once I do, they often will go egg shaped or worse. I am thinking that the convection oven will help to stabilize them much more quicklly. The perforated stainless form is to get a equal amont of drying on all sides of the rim while its clamped up. What are you using as a form when drying your rims? I know there is a better way to do this but can't quite wrap my mind around it.

How long at what temperature do you steam it? .. and how long does it take you to get it on your round jig? You're wasting time waiting for it to become round if you don't get the first three steps correct. The steel with holes won't help.

I've had good luck by: 1) like Terry said - getting the steamed wood bent around my jig as soon as it comes out of the steam box. I have trouble doing this by myself and have to get someone to help me. 2)  I put the whole thing - clamps and all - in the oven at 200 degrees and set the timer to turn the oven off after 4 hours. I have to wait until my wife goes to bed before I can do this without getting yelled at. The next morning I take the rim off of the jig and glue it up. I've never had trouble with warping, but have had trouble with the rim being out of round if it doesn't get clamped onto the jig as soon as it comes out of the steam box.

When you're putting the steamed wood on the mould / jig, and you feel any stiffening of the wood, start over. It should go on like a big wet noodle. It's the ONLY way to make a ROUND rim. They cannot be fixed after this step. Even if you did get a mishapen rim round, it's likely to change. They have to be on the jig in under 10 seconds, that's oak and ash. Maple is persnickety. It wants to bulge and bend in strange places. Maple is boring visually. For the lighter color, just use ash instead.

Trying to get my steam unit a little hotter. Shrinking down the dimensions of the box so it takes less heat and going to wrap it in isocyanurate foam insulation and tape up the seems to keep the heat up. I have a bending set up with a big crank handle that let's me one hand the stock around the form. I need to add some holes around the base to allow me to insert some bench dogs to hold the rim in place as I get the rim bent. I just received my perforated stainless sheet stock to make a better, ventilated to the inside, bending/drying jig. BTW don't know how many of you know about it but, I found a Musical Instrument Makers Forum with lots of great builders on line and tons of info at MIMF.com. Check it out if you too have questions like mine.

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