Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

Discussion Forum

Want to hide these Google ads? Join the Players Union!

 All Forums
 Other Banjo-Related Topics
 Banjo Building, Setup, and Repair
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Shop advice for newbie.

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

Bigfoot21075 - Posted - 09/30/2019:  07:45:31


I have been wanting to get into instrument building for fun. I have a 2.5 car garage (marginally climate controlled) that still has to be able to park 2 cars in most of the time. The extra half is in length which is where I had been doing car work. I am no longer restoring cars and want to turn it into a wood work area. I have a 10 foot long, by 3 foot deep, 3" thick butcher block table and a few basic power hand saws, a table saw and an articulating miter saw (all portable) as well as an air compressor and a very old but working drill press. There is nothing currently on the table other than a vise.

I want to start building banjos to begin with, what do I really need to get going? Should I start with a kit like from StewMac or should I just dive in. Are there any resources that are better than others to get a beginner going?



QuailCreekBanjos - Posted - 09/30/2019:  08:17:24

If you want to build an open-back banjo, Noel Folstad's banjo building course is an excellent place to start. Check him out on Facebook or go to -- $75 total cost for access to all his 52 videos. You can do them at your own pace, and he is very responsive. They are really, really helpful. Other than that is a useful resource. They have a book as well.

I have a small shop and the essential tools (for me) include a miter saw, bandsaw, a table saw, spindle sander, belt sander, router and jointer (assuming you want to true the wood yourself), drill press, and a router. Tons of sandpaper. But people (e.g. Clifton Hicks) also build banjos using hand tools.

Balsam Banjo works and Rickard are good resources for hardware at a reasonable price. LMI is a good resource for slotted fretboards. StewMac obviously has a great selection as well. LMI has lackluster customer service but better prices; StewMac is awesome, better selection, but pricier.

I build in Charlotte, NC and thus need a dehumidifier. 

Just my two cents. Hope this is helpful.

Edited by - QuailCreekBanjos on 09/30/2019 08:18:23

Quickstep192 - Posted - 09/30/2019:  09:24:58

For my builds, I have just accumulated parts from various sources and built the banjos over a period of time. For the first, I bought a pot and neck that were mostly complete and focused on doing inlay and finishing. For the next, I expect to build the whole thing more or less from scratch except the rim since I'm not really geared up for bending.

One of the things I like about accumulating parts is that I lose track of the costs! :)


Roger Siminoff's book is a good guide to get you started.

Edited by - Quickstep192 on 09/30/2019 09:26:05

Bigfoot21075 - Posted - 09/30/2019:  09:29:12

Hmmmmmm and so would my wife......

Dan Drabek - Posted - 09/30/2019:  09:53:33

Building a banjo neck is fairly simple. It doesn't take much room or special woodworking skills. The rim, on the other hand, can be a little more complicated. I'd recommend you buy a rim blank from Stew Mac or one of the other suppliers. You can save rim building for future banjos, if you find you enjoy the process.

Rather than fully equipping your shop, you might consider buying new tools as you need them. It spreads out the cost and gives you an immediate use for them. ( and excuse for buying them ).


beegee - Posted - 09/30/2019:  13:32:50

Three tools I find essential: band saw, oscillating sander, belt/disc sander, buffing wheels.Nice to have: table saw, jointer planer, thickness planer, drum sander, lathe. Woodworking vises.

Small tools; jeweler's saw, razor saw, several Dremels, quality rasps and files.

rudy - Posted - 09/30/2019:  18:07:30

Hi Rob,

It sounds like you've got a good plan for what you want to accomplish.  I have much the same shop situation, purposefully imposed to keep my minimalist shop remaining as such.

I had a complete pictorial of my shop as a feature page on my">old website, much of it devoted to home brew banjo construction methods as well as banjo design, but the photos are no longer there.

I'll post my shop as featured on the Highland Woodworking website as an alternate to perhaps give you some idea of what you can incorporate into the extra half of a two and a half stall garage.

Rudy's shop via Highland Woodworking Magazine

Edited by - rudy on 09/30/2019 18:11:17

Bigfoot21075 - Posted - 10/01/2019:  03:52:11

GREAT advice on here - THANK YOU! Rudy - that is eXACTLY what I was looking for. I was having trouble envisioning the layout.

syndy - Posted - 10/01/2019:  14:10:49

I am no banjo building expert but I have built fine furniture for at least 60 years. I have built three banjos and made a slide show of building a Walnut banjo with a segmented rim. I used fixturing to do most everything. What I paid most attention to was the fit of the glued parts. I used a dial caliper not a tape measure to measure all the parts. I used Titebond original glue. I am a beginner lousy player but this banjo rocks. Open back and just the wood rim tone ring and I have sometime used nylgut strings in it. BTY, I built this around 2006, not 1997 as in the show.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 10/01/2019:  16:57:25

Make sure that any woodshop set up has good ventilation. There's a lot of sawdust when wood is involved.

Bigfoot21075 - Posted - 10/02/2019:  02:55:18


Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Make sure that any woodshop set up has good ventilation. There's a lot of sawdust when wood is involved.

That's gonna be tricky, but great point. Good or bad, my garage is under my house and is made of poured concrete walls on the 2 outfacing walls.

rudy - Posted - 10/02/2019:  05:15:49


Originally posted by Bigfoot21075


Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Make sure that any woodshop set up has good ventilation. There's a lot of sawdust when wood is involved.

That's gonna be tricky, but great point. Good or bad, my garage is under my house and is made of poured concrete walls on the 2 outfacing walls.

I used to have my shop in the same type of garage when I lived in a "split foyer" house many years ago.  Not having the room or funds for fancy dust collection forced me to develop alternate means of dealing with copious amounts of saw dust and shavings, so I made good use of a proper push broom coupled with regular use of my electric leaf blower which hangs on a hook in the shop, ready to be called into service at a moment's notice.

The "garage shop" has a natural advantage in providing great lighting, easy access, and a good way to allow you to clean shop with the aforementioned leaf blower.  (It's a must have if you have garage doors available!)

No matter what dust collection scheme you end up using, the one item that should be first on your purchase list is a good "nuisance dust" half mask.  Get in the habit of using it any time you create shop dust during any operation.  My personal favorite is the Elipse P100.  If a mask isn't easy to slip on and fit to your face you won't use it, so make sure it meets those qualifications.

The Elipse P100 half mask makes it easy to also wear hearing and eye protection, too.

Garage shops sometimes mean that we have to modify shop time according to appropriate weather conditions, but you can't have everything.  Appreciate the finer points of opening up the shop and being able to work in the great outdoors.  If you have wheel-mounted tools and a driveway, so much the better!


Helix - Posted - 10/02/2019:  06:08:29

I got into this late, I retired early at 62, I've been building banjos for 12 years.

Try to learn the hand processes first. I keep the noise down.

Read up on cabinet scrapers and how to use and sharpen them, no one has yet mentioned them: make shavings instead of dust.

Rim making is one thing, neck making is another. I do my necks by hand with everything from a Farrier's rasp to Japanese hand-struck rasps to cabinet scrapers, no duplicator, just nice little templates.

A rim lathe is easy to build without buying an old engine lathe (you could do worse) to drop over your back fence. .

I have 400 sq ft., everything is on wheels, I use furniture dollies for the planer and chop saw. Everything else is up about 42". I had my knees replaced, so I just walk around now. My clamps are in a cooler on top of another cooler full of my minwax stains and lacquer on top of a bigger furniture dolly.
How people stage things is their own business, I can't refer you to my jumbo website or show you 40 photos. Just ask.

Get a dinky shop banjo, take it apart. Take notes, begin to write things down. I make my own fingerboards, neck and rims.
How I do my hardware is private, ask me,
I've made a few mistakes. So what? Do your research and let us know, I'm curious.

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories