Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Have been building several minstral banjos and it occures to me that the dowel stick could easily be built as an integral extension of the neck... This would avoid the obvious difficulties with an accurate joint between stick and neck. The beauty of wood being that if the dowel stick bends at some point it can be steam bent back into shape (as in bent wood furniture). So I am wondering why the dowel stick is not integral to the neck in any banjo that I am familiar with. There is so little string tension in minstral banjos that I would think there should be no structural problem with this method.

 

Perhaps ease and cost of shipping could account for the removable dowel stick. Also in manufacturing the separate dowel stick most likely means a more efficient use of wood. So I guess I have answered my own question.... But I may just try building a dowel stick as an integral extension of the neck, out of pure curiosity.... Just kind of thinking out loud.

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Hi Bart,

If the old dowels were put in with hide glue, I doubt if anyone but luthiers could get them out. But I think, yes, you answered you own question.

I never use the round plug method. I make full length neck and stick, or the Stichter joint, as I call it, or this...

look closely (courtesy of the database)....talk about solid!!...........

http://www.banjodatabase.org/images/Boucher_I_DoubleHead_StencilGir...

My assumption has always been that it is simply much more unwieldly to build a neck that way. Having the dowel stick as one unit means its harder to fit the neck to the rim, for example; such a joint often requires a great deal of precision and changes to fitment (not that many of the earliest makers seemed to care about subtleties of neck angle or alignment). The whole neck is more difficult to handle in a production setting, and overall it's just less convenient.
Have any of you builders tried using a wood threading device to make a dowel stick/heel joint? I think you could get a really good (but still easily removable) joint with a threader. I have one but havent't used it productively yet, except for making glueing clamps. 
I believe Jeff Menzies builds his necks with integral dowel stick from one piece of wood.
I never tried the wood threading device.

I used a one-piece for my first gourdy. Really a b*tch to make the heel match the spherical surface of the gourd, esp since I chose a club-heel (a la Dobson). The dowel took a dive to the left and would not straighten out. So, the dowel exits the back of the gourd a bit on the low side but if I tie the strings so that they exit on the top side of the dowel, it all lines up.

Next time, it will be a two-piece...unless the next one is an ekonting. ;-)

Regarding dowel stick bending.... I have restored an old banjos and a few banjo mandolins with bent dowel sticks using concentrated hot steam to make the dowel pliable.... then when you bend the stick back to straightness if you over bend it just a bit and clamp it into position it will usually settle back to a pretty straight line. or if not then you can do it again.... one problem with approaching it this way is that it is necessary to remove the finish on three sides of the stick to allow the steam to penetrate the wood. This is roughly how bent wood furniture is made... Of course I also found out what happens when the water boils out off your steam source.... Charred dowel stick.... Not good.

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