How to make custom hardwood tuning machine buttons

IMG_6978I recently picked up a set of geared banjo tuning machines with broken buttons for $15. These tuning machines usually cost about $100 for a set, so I felt pretty chuffed about getting them at such a low price.

I really wanted to make the tuning buttons out of some nice scrap hardwood I have. I searched online for instructions, but everything I found used more finely tuned equipment than I have access to. I tried using my table top drill press to put holes into little blocks of wood, but I couldn’t get a straight hole. Even if I had been able to drill a straight hole, it wouldn’t have fit the flattened cylinder shape of the tuning machine shaft.

I puzzled over how I could put straight holes with flat sides into small bits of wood and remembered that knife blocks are often made by cutting slots into blocks of wood and gluing them together. I gave that a shot and am really happy with how it turned out.

I used a belt sander and a bandsaw for this but, with some patience, you could make these without any power tools.

Tools:

  • pen or pencil*
  • square or straight edge*
  • Chisel
  • course file
  • saw with depth stop (Fret saw is perfect)*
  • Bandsaw
  • Belt sander (medium or coarse grit)
  • Glue*
  • Clamps*
  • Misc Sandpaper (I used 100, 200, and 320 grit)
  • Tru Oil

*Absolutely necessary tools

  • Start with a fairly thin scrap of hardwood. The piece I used was ⅜” x 3” and 3 ¾ long.

  • Decide the approximate max width of the buttons you want to make. Measure half of that number in from the outside edges. I wanted roughly 1” buttons, so I measured and marked ½” from the edges and marked the midway point between those points as well.

  • Measure the widest part of the stem of the tuning machine. The machines I was using had 3/16” stems. Measure half of that number on either side of the lines you marked.

   

  • Use a square to make vertical lines at each of those marks.

  • Measure the thinnest width of the tuner stem and set the depth stop of your saw for half of that number.

IMG_6979

  • Cut along your lines with depth-stopped saw

  • Use a chisel and a file to remove any material left in the slots.  
  • The slots should fit the wide part of the tuner stem and be about half of the thin, flat side of the tuner stem.

  • Use a square to mark the edges of the inside edges of the buttons. For mine, I measured 1” from both edges.

IMG_6981

IMG_6983

  • Use a square to mark the horizontal center of the wood and use the bandsaw to cut the wood in half horizontally.

  • Cut the lines between each button. Each of these sections is half of a button.

  • Put a thin coat of wood glue on either side of the slot on each half button, then alight the slots and clamp so that you have a straight hole for the tuner stem. Don’t worry if the edges are not exact. Allow the glue to set overnight.

  • Make a template of the shape of the tuner you want to make. I made a trapezoid.img_6980.jpg
  • Mark the center of your template and align that with the center of the stem hole and the base of the template flush with the bottom edge of your button. (Note: if the bottom edges of your button are not aligned, use the shorter of the two edges)

  • The best way to cut out your button will depend on your design.  I used the band saw to cut off the excess wood on the top.

  • Then, I used the belt sander to make the angled sides and remove the thickness. (Note: You have to really hold the buttons tight for this. Using the belt sander for these little bits resulted in a few smoother fingerprints and several instances of tuner buttons rocketing across the garage).

  

  • I used the rounded edge of the belt sander to make the width concave.  Be careful not to take off too much material if you do this.

  

  • Once you have the rough shape and thickness, try fitting the buttons onto the tuners. If a hole is too small, use a drill bit or a Dremel tool to slowly open it up.

  • Use sandpaper to round off the edges and get the buttons smooth. I used 100, 220, and 320 grit paper wrapped around a pen.

    

  • Finally, use a finish that holds up well to use. I used about 4 coats of Tru-oil.
  • That’s it! Custom hardwood tuning machine buttons!

 

Let me know in the comments if you made these, or if you have another way you make tuner buttons.

I can make custom hardwood tuner buttons for your guitar too! I have a variety of hardwoods and can adjust the shape of the buttons to your specifications. Contact me for pricing info:

 

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