Building a Ukulele from a Stewart-Macdonald Kit

Photos and Comments by Steve Miklos 

NEWS: on March 25 and 26, 2006, I'll be leading a workshop on building this kit, at the Woodworkers Club in Norwalk, CT. Every participant will complete (except for finish-coating) an instrument in the two days!  Contact me also for other dates and locations (have uke kits, will travel - within reason), club participation, etc. For details on the workshop, and photos from our February workshop, click here


IMPORTANT ALERT:  If you have one of the early kits shipped out before mid-February 2006 you may have a copy of the instructions that contains a critical error. The distance given for placing the bridge should be 13-3/4", not 13-5/8". This is being corrected in the kits currently shipping. Note that some kits are being sold through Woodcraft stores, and they may have been on the shelf for some time. Take note! You can download and print a corrected (and improved) from the Stew-Mac web site at There are other errors in the old instructions, including an assymetrical outline drawing and missing steps. Definitely get the new instructions before starting your kit! 

On October 6, 2005, I opened the box containing a Stewart Macdonald Ukulele kit. Absolutely everything was included, even strings. 

In this series of photos and comments, my aim is to narrate the process of building as I did it, pointing out my second thoughts about techniques I coulda shoulda woulda used instead of what I really did. It's also a description of the Stew Mac kit, which I found to be of high quality and fairly easy (though with a few challenges to ingenuity, none overwhelming). I hope this will be of help to anyone trying to make the kit and of interest to anyone thinking about lutherie as a possible activity, whether as a one-off or a continuing hobby.

First in the instructions comes installing the ring around the soundhole. it comes in five separate plastic strips. 

You need to hold these five strips together throughout this simple thing, as they are very slippery. Possible solution: a drop of thin superglue to hold one end in order.

The strips fit perfectly in the slot; even the depth is exact. There will be no need to scrape these down. (update: this wasn't quite true in later kits I helped people build; some scraping is required. I used a well-sharpened chisel with the back held flat against the surface of the soundboard.


Unfortunately, the fretboard doesn't reach far enough to cover the joint in the ring, so the joint has to be perfect...unlike here. Instructions say to carefully slice the ends with a razor blade or equally sharp knife. What I did was to cut tiny pieces from the cutoff strips and jam them into place. Next time, perhaps, I'll make a tiny scrimshaw pineapple and inlay it over the joint.  (later note: currently with my classes I'm deliberately leaving a gap and filling it with little pieces of the ring material turned 90 degrees, making it a really cool accent instead of a possible mess!)

Once the strips are cut, each one is a different length, due to the power of pi. So it's essential to keep them held in the order they were in when you cut them. Here I begin installing the ring for real. Thin superglue wicks in between the strips and down to the bottom of the slot, holding them in. Sure beats white glue. Since the strips all lay in flat on the test fitting, I should have just left them there and glued them in place. The technique here is a hangover from the days of white glue which you have to get into the slot ahead of the strips. 

Not perfect, but better than the first try. The stain where the glue wicked into the wood sands out without too much effort.


See about joining a weekend workshop to build one of these kits (click)

Look at these other sites of mine:

Carrot Creek (my dulcimer business)    

Osborne Atelier (my info pages on building a guitar, a harp, and a dulcimer)

Copyright 2005 Stephen Miklos

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