Installing the Binding Around the Mandolin

Installing the binding material around the body and the headstock took quite a bit of time, and also required some specialized tools. Most of the photos in my blog have been of the instrument itself. This post contains a few pictures of tools and materials used in the process of installing the binding material.

Binding Material

Binding Material

In order to strengthen the instrument, protect the edges and enhance the look, many instrument builders use a strip of material around the joints where the sides and faces meet. Often this is decorative, and I chose to use strips of binding material that have white/black/white layers. For the body, I used plastic. For the binding around the head stock, I chose wood. These strips are very tiny: they are measured in thousandths of an inch thickness and require some precision to install.

Before it can be installed, it has to be bent to conform with the shape of the edge. The plastic can be placed in a pot of hot water and will soften pretty quickly to allow it to be bent. Once it cools, it holds its shape pretty well. The trick, of course, is to get the bend to correctly match the profile of the edge. This took some practice.


Before the binding material can be installed, a small groove, or rabbet must be cut into the edge of the instrument. I can tell you that this step in the construction process required a leap of faith in the tools I had chosen and in my ability to use those tools. I had had visions of a completely destroyed instrument, the victim of an errant Dremel tool cutting too deeply in the wrong place. Fortunately, though it isn’t completely perfect, I am happy with the overall results.

To cut the rabbet around the body, I used a tool designed and produced by Roger Simonoff, a builder of mandolins who also teaches the craft. I am using his book as my guide. He developed a device to fit the end of a Dremel tool which will cut a groove to match the profile of binding material that is .090 inches thick. Here is the Simonoff binding cutter:

Guide for Cutting the Rabbet for the Binding

Guide for Cutting the Rabbet for the Binding


As the sharp little blade spins, you hold the end against the side of the instrument and the cutter cuts a channel. I don’t usually like to have my fingers that close to a sharp, spinning cutter, but I still have all ten fingers after completing the cuts.










StewMac Dremel Guide with Spacer Attached

StewMac Dremel Guide with Spacer Attached


For cutting around the head stock, a different device was needed. I have gotten several of my tools and materials from Stewart MacDonald Company, a supplier to luthiers around the world. I got a very handy attachment from StewMac for the Dremel tool, which provides a very precise surface exactly perpendicular to the Dremel bit.  I made a little wooden guide to work with the Dremel attachment, so I can adjust the depth of cut to the smaller binding strips used around the head stock.







Assorted Cutting Tools

Assorted Cutting Tools




While these tools could assist with much of the work, all the curves and angles provided ample opportunity to cut and carve in the tiny little places that the Dremel would not go. This required an assortment of chisels, gouges, knives, etc. to delicately cut the rabbet in the tight areas around the scroll, and on much of the curvy head stock.








Once the rabbet is cut and the binding material is bent to shape, it gets glued in place. While it dries, it is held in place with tape, wedges, clamps, and whatever else will help keep it there. When it is all dry, everything gets scraped down to a nice (ideally) smooth, even surface.

Binding Installed along the edge of the Back

Binding Installed along the edge of the Back

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