Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Great news! I am but a few weeks from finishing my Sweeney replica banjo! This is my first attempt at a Minstrel Banjo build and it is going great so far. I have some locally harvested Black Walnut that I am using and love the look.  Still trying to figure out how to join the ends of my tension hoop. Hardware has been ordered from Pickard Banjos. A few more hand rubbed coats of finish on the pot and I will be ready for the head to be installed. I am convinced that I am forgetting something but I can't figure out what it is! Can't wait to start playing this one!

Happy playing!

Views: 405

Comment by Bell Banjos on December 6, 2011 at 9:44am

What material are you using as a tension hoop and what are its measurements?

Just so you know, Black Walnut is a wood I do not use anymore. I was using it occaisionally and suffered very serious asthma like symptoms. I had many emergency visits to the doctor and hospital with a rattling chest and feelings of suffocation. I recieved many treatments of breathing therapy with inhaled medicine with a home nebulizer, pills, and several blood gas tests - the needle straight in and deep into the wrist to find an artery. Just the thought of that again makes my knees buckle.  The black walnut woodchips and dust apparently contain a natural insecticide. Years ago a doctor treated parasites (in me) with black walnut oil. Only a few drops did the trick. Powerful stuff. So if you dabble in Black Walnut, keep your shop as clean as an operating room and use the best mask you can find, and if wheezing starts, forget it, it'll only get worse. That's my heatlth tip for the day. I'm not a doctor, I only play one on Ning.

Comment by Bart McNeil on December 6, 2011 at 9:23pm

Brian... I am on my fourth tension hoop... Like you I am a beginner so take this for what it is worth. After bending the steel stock into a hoop shape and carefullly calculating the circumfrence of the circle by trial fitting to the wood hoop I cut one end so there is approximately a two inch overlap so that the overlap will be in line with the fretboardand heel joint, Then I cut the overlap to size giving me the proper hoop size including overlap. 

     Using bench vise I clamp the overlaping ends together and drill three 3/16"holes through the joined ends.

     I use roughly 3/8" sections of 3/16" brass rod to use as rivets. I then hammer each rivet into the overlapped ends. A small C clamp allows you to handle the clamped and drilled ends until one or more rivets are hammered in. I use the top of my bench vise as an anvil and hammer the rivets with a ball  peen hammer or whatever hammer is at hand. The rivets expand in the holes and secure the two ends quite securely. There is finishing work beyond this but this syatem makes a good joint.

     You will have brass rivet material creating kind of a low pimple on both ends of the hammered rivets... This can be sanded or filed off creating a perfect joint. You could silver solder the joint as well but I think three rivets should do the job quite nicely. They seem to on mine. The is procedure should give you a good secure joint to get you started.




Comment by Bart McNeil on December 6, 2011 at 9:28pm

PS: have you bent your tension hoop into a circle yet??? that is a job in itself.

Comment by Brian Glass on December 6, 2011 at 10:48pm

I am using 3/16"x1/2" brass bar stock. Any hints as too how tight it should be to the rim? I was thinking that it should be slightly loose so the head will fit in between. I lucked out in that my Dad used to be a smithy and I came home with this great vise that has a pinch roller for just such a job. Piece of cake bending the radius. In fact the brass bar came in the mail today and I did it up nice tonight! I have an extra piece of 1/8" bar stock that I cut for a spline and will rivet that across the joint as soon as the rivets come in the mail 8-) The 1/8" stock was from the first try where I got a little creative and did a scarf joint and silver soldered it. Not so good a result when the bar stock broke and the silver solder wasn't strong enough a bond.

As for the Walnut, I have used it off and on for a few years and it agrees with me just fine. My killer wood is Spanish Cedar. Looks like I have been hit with a can of mace when I work that stuff. Unfortunately, I work with it quite a bit when I do custom mill work in my construction job. Got me a good HEPA filter mask for those days...

Comment by Bart McNeil on December 7, 2011 at 7:43am

I was having trouble getting the right circumference to my hoops... I think if you wrap masking tape around the pot maybe four or more layers thick that should give you a working circumference for the hoop during skin installation. I understand that dimension can vary among professionally made instruments. That sounds like a fabulouse  vice which rolls circles... I have been in the market for a small anville just because I think they are so neat!! but those circle rollers are quite pricey new. I have been watching the used market for circle rollers but they are not cheap. Hope you put up some photos of your instrument.

Comment by Bart McNeil on December 7, 2011 at 9:04am

Brian: How did you make the pot itself??? Did you steam bend one thin board to shape? or constuct a laminated shape and turn it on a lathe? Just curious because I am working with minimal equipment. No lathe and standard carpentry equipment. I would love a band saw but haven't found a decent cheap used one yet.

Comment by Bell Banjos on December 7, 2011 at 9:33am

Brian, 3/16" brass for your hoop is a little thick - it might be a lot of work getting the kinks out, but there's no right way I guess. 1/8 and 1/16 is usually used. Here's a surefire way to get the PERFECT diameter for your hoop. Get a bunch of round toothpicks and tape themaround the top of your rim on the outside. Have them stick up about 1/2 inch over the top of the rim. About 20 toothpicks does it. Wrap your brass around the rim and toothpicks. It's the PERFECT distance to allow the skin to go down and back out around your flesh hoop. The flesh hoop has to be the same thickness and diameter as your tension hoop. To do this, lay your tension hoop on the table and make some little wood blocks (size of dice) with cuts in them the width of your tension hoop. Form your flesh hoop and use the blocks (and some tape)  to secure it to the tension hoop. If your two hoops are not the same size, you're gonna be in trouble. To make room for the tips of your hooks to come down between the rim and the hoop when the skin is on, be sure to taper the top 1/4" to 3/8" of the outside of your rim to almost half of its width. To get the correct hoop height, which I think is about 1/16" over the top of the rim, this ensures that your tailpiece will be low at its base ensuring the most string angle over the bridge - while insalling the wet skin, adjust your nuts so the hoop is 1/8" over the rim if you're shooting for 1/16." The main thing once this is set is DO NOT tighten or touch the skin for 2 days. Later, after 2 days you can snug it down a little, bringing it to 1/16" over the rim and you tailpiece will be in perfect position, you don't want it touching the skin. Send some pics eh?

Comment by Bell Banjos on December 7, 2011 at 9:35am

Regarding the rivets - Two of them. Not brass. Copper or Steel.

Comment by Brian Glass on December 7, 2011 at 9:36pm

Bart, Yes I did steam up a piece of the walnut and clamped it onto a jig. It sat in the basement for three years waiting for a project! I tapered one end of the 1/4" thick board before steaming it. In fact I bent up enough for four pots at the same time (stay tuned for Banjo number two) As for the band saw, I hit Craig's list and picked up an 18" Grizzly for $300- last winter. They are definitely out there and its a buyers market.

Comment by Brian Glass on December 7, 2011 at 9:42pm

Terry, I started out with a piece of 1/8" stock for the hoop and managed to break it, then read someones comments about the thicker one adding more sound to the banjo and thought "what the heck" and now have the 3/16". I also figured that since I was going to use only 6 hooks, the extra thickness would help with the tensioning. As for the flesh hoop, any ideas on material choice? I have heard several takes on it from coat hanger wire to brass square stock. I like the idea of repurposing something I might have in the shop but haven't thought of yet. Hmmm???


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