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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Bill Rickard Banjo kit build

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Mungo Park - Posted - 08/06/2010:  20:36:41

Hello all banjo people.
I have in my shop, I use the word shop loosely, a Bill Rickar's banjo Kit.
As a Nubie I jumped out of bed one day and decided I wanted to make a banjo, that day may still come. I figured I could enjoy making it and my wife would enjoy playing it , a win win.
After reading a bunch about making a banjo I figured I would start with something within my skills and look at a kit instead. This is where the Banjo Gods smiled on me, and put me in touch with Bill Rickard. He was kind enough to take the time to set me up with one of his "kits" I say "Kits" as it is incredibly high quality parts put together as a kit, for me as Bill fit it to my wants.
Here is his web site:
Here is his Blog:
Since I enjoy the banjo makers here posting threads of their work I thought I could put up some photos of me putting the kit together, from a Nubie prospective. Since I don't really know what I am doing it will also be a good way for me to ask questions as I go along.
So here is the kit, a curly maple rim and neck and raw brass, ebony fret board. A Dobson style Banjo:

Cheers Ron.

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/06/2010:  20:45:57

The first thing I worked on was the rim, I picked this as the wood looked spectacular and I wanted to see more of what the wood could look like.
I hand sanded it up to a 600 grit sandpaper and then " burnished" it with a cotton cloth, don't know if the cloth part helps much.
I was careful to use a curved block so I would not round over the edge where the tone ring fits. I forgot to mention it is a White Ladey tone ring style.

Cheers Ron.

f#dead - Posted - 08/06/2010:  21:27:06

Good idea Ron, sharing your project and soliciting advice along the way. That is good looking "curly" and should show it's figure when you get to the finishing stage. I haven't built a banjo of any sort yet, so I'll be watching. Good luck.

Paul R - Posted - 08/06/2010:  21:35:38

This is great, Ron. I've been contemplating a project such as this, so your experience will be a good guide. The Whyte Laydie tone ring seems like a good choice, too.

Will you be staining the wood? If so, what colour choices?

I look forward to more posts as your work progresses.


Oh, and welcome to BHO. Don't hesitate to ask for advice as you proceed to do finishing and assembling. There are some excellent banjo makers here.

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/06/2010:  21:37:29

Thanks for the words of encouragement, I never know if this stuff is just interesting to me or not. Idin't want it to be snoozer of a thread.
Yes the rim is looking good, it took a bit of time going at it by hand but it was a sort of Zen thing I figure.
I am thinking the inside is next, for some reason I am thinking the inside would not be as easy, I posted the question and somebody cleverly suggested a cabinet scraper, so I will give that a go.
Cheers Ron

Bill Rogers - Posted - 08/06/2010:  21:45:25

How much did this particular kit setup cost? Cost is, of course, an ever present issue.... btw, I like your screen name. His adventures would make a great movie--though with a downer ending.

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/06/2010:  21:47:16

I asked Bill for maple because I like the look of light wood. I want to bring out the grain as best I can. When I Google, making maple pop, thousands of opinions on that. They talk about staining the maple and then sanding most of it off to leave some stain on the curl to bring it out. I am not a stain fan, BUT this seems to be the preferred method by most. So I will test this out on a scrap piece, I will look for the lightest maple stain that will offer the contrast needed. My only thought is if I put it on and don't like it, well as they say you cant un ring the bell, it will soak in enough that I will have to remove to much of the ring. I am trying to sand as little as possible as to not alter the ring much beyond what Bill sent me.
So this stain thing is the one part of this banjo that is most unclear to me, but I am not at that stage yet so I have a while to figure it out.
Bill suggested the White Ladie tone ring to me.
Cheers Ron.

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/06/2010:  22:06:09

Here is the original thread about the kits, down in the first page Bill has a post laying out the prices and options, he is located in Ontario:
Cheers Ron.

vernob - Posted - 08/07/2010:  02:59:16

It looks lovely. Bill's stuff is about the best you can get. He's also a good guy which makes it even better. I want one of his kits as well but the recession has put me in a different spot for such acquisitions. All in good time, I guess. Enjoy yourself and let us see it as you progress. These are good photos by the way.

R Buck - Posted - 08/07/2010:  19:09:31

Bill had these kits for sale for under $700 at Clifftop and finished banjo kits in a generic black for $1000. Great sounding banjos and all of the real hard work is already done. I spent several hours talking to Bill and learning a lot. Bought some parts and a Cherry tubaphone that rocks with tone.

OldPappy - Posted - 08/09/2010:  07:41:01

Very pretty curly maple.

I have built a few long rifles using curly maple, and wanted to bring out the "stripe".

Since you have searched the internet for ways to make the grain stand out with maple, I suppose you have seen a number of old recipes that involve using harsh chemicals to transfer iron oxide down into the wood which will produce a very nice color and contrast in the the grain. I have done it that way, but I really don't like fooling with the chemicals.

In my opinion, the absolute best prepared stain I have ever tried on maple is a brand called "Laurel Mountain Forge".

I have used this stain on flintlock rifles in the past, and have tried two different colors of this stain on banjos recently, with beautiful results every time.

The banjo I am building now, is stained with their "Honey Maple". This banjo is a 100 year old maple pot, with a new neck. I chose this color because, to me, it looks like a light maple finish with a little age to it. It is very pretty.

The stain penetrates very well, which makes it easier to repair scratches later.

For the last few years, I have bought the stain from an outift called "Track of the Wolf" that sells muzzle loading rifle supplies and such. Should show up with a google search.

Will1717 - Posted - 08/09/2010:  11:22:11

Thanks all for the positive feedback.
This particular kit was a 100% custom kit and nothing like the kits we were showing at Clifftop. As of Clifftop we are now offering a Whyte Laydie and tubaphone kit, plus a limited number of titanium WL tone ring kits. The basic kits are based on a custom built 12 ply drum shell rim cut to accept the heavier tone rings. If you wanted you could add a 1/2" x 2 ply rim option with capping and binding as shown in Rons kit. The neck and rim in Rons kit were meant to go in a custom banjo that I was building for myself, but in a weak moment I sent the parts to Ron. After numerous e-mails and phone conversations I feel that Ron is more than capable to build this particular kit into a real nice high end banjo. Knowing that it's gone to a good home is perfect in my books. Plus being that I can't play anymore, I certainly don't need another high end banjo to look at.
The whole kit concept is working out perfectly, as it's saving me hours, not having to do the finishing work one handed. I'm also trying to keep each kit as custom as possible. Unfortunately I hate building the same thing over and over again and enjoy lots of variety. If not it just may turn into a job! Which I don't need! So if you have any particular wishes just drop me a line and we'll see what we can pull off at our end.

Bill Rickard

OldPappy - Posted - 08/09/2010:  13:46:37


I was looking at that pretty inlaid band, wishing I knew the secret for doing that on something round.

I have been looking at some decorative inlay strips available at some of the wood worker supply stores in my area, but do not know how well they would bend.

Will1717 - Posted - 08/09/2010:  17:00:45

First off with a call name as OldPappy I feel like I should just be calling you dad! Kind of brings back memories of the guy who knew nothing when I was a teenager but got smarter as I aged!

The inlay banding that I use is over 1/16" thick and bends real easy into a circle. You just cut a groove into your rim the same width as the binding your using and apply glue to the groove. Clamp the end of the binding in the groove and pull it around into the groove adding maybe 2 or 3 one handed clamps as you wrap it around the rim. The force of the bent binding actually holds it in place as you wrap it around the rim. You don't have to pre-bend the binding at all. Just glue it in and trim the end to fit the end where you started. Let the glue dry and scrap it level with the surface of the rim. What you should avoid is the inlay binding sold at your local shop as its usually only 1/40" thick which is too thin and therefore difficult to work with. LMI sells a variety of bindings that work great or you can purchase some from my stock. I usually have it custom made in large quantities by Gurians so it ends up being quite inexpensive. Give it a try if you get the urge as it's real easy to do + really adds that finishing touch to your rims or necks, just under the fingerboards.

Bill Rickard

Cherry Rim and neck open back

!/2" x 2 Ply Rim With Inlay Banding, Maple Capping And Vega Style Neck

OldPappy - Posted - 08/10/2010:  05:53:34


Thanks for the reply, it is encouraging, and probabaly saved me a few bucks as I had about made up my mind to buy some of the stuff I've seen at the WoodCrafter store.

I cut some black walnut strips and used them for binding on a maple neck I am just about finished with. I had to soak the one on the 5th string side a few minutes in water to make the bend at the tuner, but it was real easy, and that is a tighter bend than around a pot.

It may be a while before I start anouther project, but will give it a try then.


OldPappy - Posted - 08/10/2010:  06:34:11


You can call me Andy if you want, but I ain't old enough to be your dad.

The name "OldPappy" is a little silly sounding I suppose, but we do have 11 grandkids, and they call me "Pappy". When I joined BHO I tried to use just "Pappy", but it was already in use, so I used what one of my grandsons called me for a while when he was little. He looked at my grey beard one day, and said "you're old Pappy". Then he called me "OldPappy for a while.

greadore - Posted - 08/10/2010:  06:34:46

I've heard some of his banjos on YouTUbe. They sound great, espcially the dobson tone ring ones. Looks like a lot of fun building one. How much do the kits run?

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/10/2010:  17:43:49

Well I had some time to work on the banjo. The next step I figured is to sand the inside of the rim.
Here is the inside of the rim as it came to me. The wood is not really rough, but with the curly grain it has no real grain direction. Bill put the inlay on the inside as well so it does look like it goes right through the rim with the grain matched on both sides of it.:

Here is a photo of the glue seam on the inside of the rim. Without this line it would really be seamless as it is glued together so well.

The line on the outside is where the neck will go so once the neck is on it will not be seen and the rim will look like one piece. I do not have a close up of this but if you look you can just see it in this photo, where the square is cut out for the neck dowel.

Cheers Ron.

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/10/2010:  18:09:30

It was suggested that I use cabinet scrapers so I figured I would give it a try.
I have a few, in hard, med,and soft, which is set by the thickness of the scraper. I started with the thickest as it seemed to work the best. It is the newer looking one second from the front, you can see of see that it is thicker:

It worked rather well to remove the rough surface and to smooth out the constantly changing grain. I am just holding it in the photo as I needed the other hand to take the photo. People that use these things will say I am holding it backwards and they are held so they are pushed instead of pulled. I never knew this and have been pulling them for so many years and have never changed. The scraper has to be bent slightly, but the stiff one bends very little for my strength. This is fine as the scraper takes more of a even amount off across the width of the rim. I turned the rim around and went in the other direction to see if it had any effect on the grain but it had it's good parts in both directions. You can see the figure of the grain starting to come out.

Once the rough parts were removed the scraper lost its effect. Since the rim is round it is not possible to move the scraper at a angle to the curl and it began to create waves following the curl. Despite this it did save a lot of time from sanding. I have spent about 30 min with the scraper. The softer scraper only enhanced this effect.
So I cut a block to fit the inside curve and started with 220 grit paper. The stiff block took the tops off the waves and kept me from rounding the edges. I reversed the rim to the other direction just in case I was a little heavy to one side:

I have not worked my way up through all the grits yet, but thanks for looking in on me.
Cheers Ron

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/11/2010:  19:54:07

I have finished the sanding on the inside and will start in on the neck next. I think it is looking good, the light in the photo is not showing it off as well as it should.
Cheers Ron.

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/17/2010:  20:57:31

I have the neck sanded, it seemed straight forward enough after I got my feet wet with the rim.
The part that was the most picky was the little shapes around the head.

I found the best thing was some sandpaper around a dowel.

Even with this I found that the black of the ebony would smear into the maple and make the maple look muddy. With a little practice I manged to just turn the dowel so that the sandpaper would rotate and not mix the dust into each other. it took a little more time but it worked.
The neck is really smooth and nice to the touch, the shape of the neck is really nice and flows well under my hand.

Cheers Ron.

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/17/2010:  21:02:54

I thought I should fit all the hardware on next.
The tuners have a nice heavy feel to them and turn nicely.

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/17/2010:  21:15:23

I got the neck nicely supported on the workbench.

Looking at the tuners I figured the little spike should go on
neck with the spike facing the inside if the neck, that way they would have the most wood support, who knows, hate to have a split. This is a photo after I removed the tuners.

I tightened them down with a socket wrench, so as not to slip and scratch something, the little spike sunk into the wood nicely without a hitch. The tuner holes were drilled perfectly, the tuners fit in snug with no slack, just as they should be. Took all of a few minuets.

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/17/2010:  21:27:58

So things have been going along without a hitch, so on to the 5th string tuner.
I am using the wrong words for something please point it out so I will use the right word next time.
I measured up the tuner first, figuring it should be pressed in but again did not want a split/crack.

The width was looking good but the depth was a little short, figured I would be scratching my head as to why it would not go all the way. In the end it was really darn close. I put a brad point drill bit in the hole and turned it by hand, a few quick shaves and I had the right depth.
The tuner has one big "fin" on it, like the spike on the other tuners, to keep it from turning. I did not know if it was needed but I cut a little nick for it. I made it undersized so it would be tight.

Cheers Ron.

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/17/2010:  21:52:20

I seemed to have it about right, if I put a stick on the tuner and the pip/nut it looks about the right angle. I did not have the traditional thread spool to put on the tuner. A piece of wood with a hole in it worked and I pressed it in by hand so I could get a idea of the force needed. It went in well and again the hole was right size.

So that about does it for fitting the tuners.

I will try the brass parts next.
Cheers Ron.

Edited by - Mungo Park on 08/17/2010 22:30:58

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/17/2010:  22:07:48

I will fit the brass parts next. I do not know what to do in regards to finish on the brass parts. Do people leave them as is or put something on them.
I guess it will depend on the stain of the maple and the finish. I bought this stain to test out on a scrap of wood to see if it would enhance the grain.
I will mix some up and see how it looks. I thought I would try this first to see how it looks, if not, somebody was kind enough to recommend a gun stock stain. I wanted to try this first to save me ordering through the mail. This is a dye and is reported to not cloud or block up the grain.

Cheers Ron.

Bob Robert - Posted - 08/18/2010:  05:26:55

Wow, that is some great-looking wood. That is going to be one lovely banjo. Can't wait to see it all together, but it's fun to follow the process, too. Thanks for sharing.

Mungo Park - Posted - 08/19/2010:  20:55:04

I looked at the brass parts and figured the dowel stick ferrule was next. Bill gave me some advice on this, he is great for follow up service for sure.
So the ferrule is this piece and Bill tells me the stick is flat on the side that faces out when the Banjo is put together, the other 3 sides are tapered. I need to sand the three sides enough to get the ferrule to fit on but to be real tight.

I was all hot to use this home brew plane I had just made but the stick end seemed to small to work on so I opted for the advised sand paper.

First a little measuring to see how much needed to be removed. A quick comparison shows that the difference is not all that much really.

I marked on the stick with a pencil how far the ferrule would go on the stick. Then I cut the corners of the stick to round them off as the onside corners of the ferrule are a little rounded. This also give me a reference for my sanding, that is I can see how deep and even the sanding is by looking at how much of my cut is removed. Hmmm, the close up shows my chisel might need a trip to the sharpening stone.

After some careful sanding and pushing it was clear I needed the big whacker, as my kids call it. I also got the scrap with the hole in it that I used to press in the 5th string tuner, reuse, reduce.

Well some more sanding and whacking and it was starting to show results. I got the thing about halfway on but the embossed marks in the wood was not even, I think I have expanded the thing out of square by pressing it on. I pulled it off and squeezed it with my hand and it came back to square.

Since Bill told me the tighter the better it was hard to get off once I whacked it on, so the whacking on block became the pulling off block. You can see in the photo the little bit of a dip from sanding as well as the embossed marks from the ferrule. it is about half on so I figured I had removed enough to get it to fit TIGHT. I pulled on the dowel stick and not the neck I did not want to damage the neck/dowel joint.
As we have all found out going slow is the fastest in the end, as it is a real pain to put some back once to much has been removed.

So I whacked it on, I am saying whacked, but not really a lot of careful taps does the job. I got it on enough that I know it will go all the way on for final assembly. You can see a dip in the stick where the ferrule will snug up to it just nice.

Once I got the ferrule off you can see the embossed marks, the ferrule is about as tight as I can get it without it cutting into the wood, seems even pressure along the stick, should be fine.

Cheers Ron.

Edited by - Mungo Park on 08/19/2010 20:59:00

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