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Braces · Attaching the soundboard · Fingerboard · Finishing · Gallery of the completed oud
The blank for the bridge of African Blackwood.
The rabbet is cut on the router table. Fence design is by routing expert Pat Warner.
Detail of the routing.
The rabbet cut into the bridge.
The ends of the bridge cut to shape and the ends of the tie block shaped to a half-circle.
I decided to copy the tile work of the rosette here. I routed out about 2mm deep for the inlay.
A better shot of the notch for the tiles
The completed bridge.
After the rosette is inlaid, the soundboard is taken to final thickness. I tried for 1.5mm. My friend with the thickness sander was out of the shop today, so I decided to plane it to thickness. Hankey's book stresses not to use a plane, but instead sand. Sanding is not one of my favorite activities. I have confidence in my planing abilities, and in my plane. It is a pre-WWII Stanley #7 jointer plane. I sharpened the iron until I could easily shave with it and built a special work board to hold the soundboard while I planed. It is simply a flat piece of MDF with three very thin (1.5mm) pieces of maple superglued to the MDF for the stops. They are actually leftovers from the rosette tile blanks. The heft of the plane and long nose section keep the soundboard from flexing while planing. Even with this special setup and plane, it is important to cut directly across the grain with the plane skewed about 20 degrees. Planing with the grain is far too risky in this situation. I got continuous cross-grain shavings. About 8 passes and I was very near thickness. I then sanded the back with 100 grit until all the cross grain plane marks were gone. The front was then sanded to 220.
The next thing I did was cut out the soundhole. I used the same setup as for cutting the rosette channel.
Tracing the outline in order to cut the soundboard to shape.
I cut about 4mm away from the line with a stout and sharp knife, taking repetitive light cuts until I was through. It is important to cut with the grain.
The soundboard cut to rough shape.
I couldn't resist laying the soundboard on the back in order to sample the look. It is really starting to shape up. I only left the soundboard on the back for a moment to photograph it. It is only supported at the edges. One false move and the fragile soundboard could be broken very easily.
A piece of bone I picked up at the local pet store. I sliced off a piece on the bandsaw for a round inlay at the center of the shams (rose). I may also use this for the nut.
The blank for the shams (rose) of cherry with the recess and the bone inlay.
I decided not to use the Blackwood bridge I made earlier. I was told by an oud historian that dense woods such as Blackwood, Ebony, Rosewood, etc. are not really used on ouds. I suppose the density of the Blackwood absorbs more sound than it transmits to the soundboard. Either way, I plan to glue the bridge with hide glue so it can be removed and replaced if need be in the future. The walnut bridge was made the exact same way as the Blackwood one.
Wood for the "raqma" (pickguard). The veneer was made from some resawn cherry I had. The original piece was 3mm thick. I double-stick taped the ends to a thick piece of plywood and ran it through a thickness sander until it was about .7mm (1/32") standard veneer thickness. I chose to do this rather than buy veneer because I liked the figure of this cherry, and it didn't cost any extra.
Design for the shams (rose). I divided the circle into 8 sections. Each section is a mirror image down the center, so I only had to draw one sixteenth of the pattern. The pattern was scanned into the computer and repeated to form the circle. The middle is an Arabic calligraphic monogram of the name "Khalaf Brothers" or "Ikhwan Khalaf". The name Khalaf is my real family name. Many thanks to the following gentlemen for help in designing the calligraphy (my own Arabic writing skills are almost non-existent): Nazih Ghadban (Lebanese oud maker-see homepage), Wael Kakish (, and Mike Malek.
Cutting the design. A previous attempt using the cherry/bone blank was unsuccessful. This is a thinner (2mm) piece of laminated birch. Using a laminated blank assures that there are no cross-grain sections that break off easily. The wood is cut using a jeweler's saw and a very fine blade. Cutting the design is more difficult than I imagined, and more time consuming. This amount took about two hours.
The finished rose prior to some final touch ups.
The bridge in preparation for gluing. It's taped in position and a special caul is made to press on both surfaces while clamping.
A thick caul is used under the top.
Clamping the bridge. I used hot hide glue. The stuff is reversible and stronger than conventional yellow glue. It is also difficult to work with. It sets up very quickly, and I mean in less than a minute. I guess I will see if I did a good job or not when I string the oud and the bridge stays put!
The "raqma" pickguard.
To glue the pickguard on, the sound board needs to be supported from underneath. I curved these blocks so I wouldn't pop the glue joint on the braces and put a layer of cork for extra support.
The pickguard outline is traced on a piece of paper and cut out. I positioned the pickguard in its location (with a bit of masking tape on the back) on the soundboard and taped the paper with the cut out in position around it.
I removed the pickguard to reveal the gluing area. I applied hot hide glue to this area.
I also applied some glue to the back of the pickguard. I layed the pickguard on the iron for a few seconds to warm it before applying the glue. By the time this was done the glue was beginning to gel. No problem, though. It was tacky. I positioned the pickguard and pressed down enough for it to stick. I then briefly passed the hot iron over it to re-warm the glue. The pickguard slid a bit when the glue became liquid again so I removed the iron and quickly repositioned the pickguard in its location, holding it for a moment while the glue grabbed it. I quickly removed the paper so it would not get glued to the soundboard. I then used the wooden block to smooth the pickguard down, pressing all over for a minute or two. A couple areas were not quite stuck, so I touched the iron briefly to the area and rubbed some more. This is the old veneering technique used for centuries around the world. It was my first try, and I would say that it worked very well.
Gluing the shams (rose) in place using hide glue, a thick caul and a weight.
The shams, pickguard and bridge glued in place.