Building from Kits: Yea or Nay?

Building from Kits: Yea or Nay?

Last week, Rob shared that he plans to build a ukulele from a kit and wondered if kits are a legitimate form of woodworking. Many of you say you fully support “pre-packaged” project kits. – Editor

“I built a ukulele for my granddaughter using the Tenor Ukulele Kit from Rockler. Everything needed was in the kit. Although it was challenging, the final product came out very well. She loves it and I don’t think I would have had the patience to make it without a kit.” – Red Mulvanny

“I found a kit to be a great way to share my woodworking experience with my grandson. About 15 years ago, I purchased a guitar kit and worked weekends on it with him (at the time he had been playing for several years and wanted a personalized guitar). I was thrilled, as he’s the only one of five to be interested in handiwork, to share with him how to plan, assemble and select colors and finish treatment for the instrument. In other words, an entire project from start to finish. He is now a construction manager with lots of skills and an enduring appreciation for wood and construction — all begun for about a hundred bucks. Priceless!” – Larry Leighton

“I just finished this soprano ukulele kit build that I received as a 60th birthday gift from my sister. I felt that the kit was the best choice for me, just to get the gist of it. Hope that makes since! Everything is right there. I felt that the quality of the kit was good. I now know what the inside entails and I feel very confident that I can tackle the next one on my own. I don’t feel I cheated in any way! When my friends say, ‘Wow you made that!’ I do admit that it was a kit but I added a little inlay… I also just gave it several coats of Danish oil and then lacquer. I like the finish. The next one I build will have banding, more inlay and perhaps a rosette. I also made templates of all the pieces, so voila to the next one! Whatever you decide to make, Rob, pick up a clamp-on tuner so she can start tuning and play it right away. If you have made a guitar already, that’s what you should make for her after the ukulele kit! What a lucky girl!” – Claudia Fletcher

“I have used kits for sheds as well as built them with just plans. As far as I can tell, the only difference is that the pieces are precut and you don’t have to go shopping for the right parts and wood. You still need woodworking skills that can range to the advanced if the kit is difficult.” – Katheri365

“I’ve not had any first-hand work with kits to make musical instruments, but a relative of my wife did make a violin that his daughter played at the funeral of an aunt. It really sounded great! I hope this will give you good feelings about your endeavor.” – J. Eric Pennestri

“I also built a uke kit for my granddaughter. I have some woodworking experience, and I also considered building one from ‘scratch’ but abandoned that idea, based on the need to bend the side pieces. Building the kit went very well, but it’s not without challenges and the need to have various tools not common to non-woodworkers (lots of specific clamps and even a router — preferably a table mounted one). I would strongly advise anyone considering a kit to first review the instructions. This is not like building a plastic model airplane kit. The kit I built utilized veneered top, bottom and sides. The veneer was very thin and discouraged much sanding prior to finishing. They now offer solid-wood kits. Although they are pricier, I would recommend them. It would simplify the build and probably yield a higher-quality ukulele.” – Bill Lebel

“I am on my second guitar kit build. I think the biggest lessons you can learn with a guitar kit are about finish work. Yes you can get into building the entire guitar body and neck and that is pretty technical, but the finishing of these guitars has taught me so much about staining, finishes and how they interact with each other. Above are photos of a bass guitar I did from a kit and the one I am working on now, which is a Les Paul style.” – Jay Stephens

“Though I have no experience with musical instrument kits (I have no talent there), I build wooden models of fire trucks, excavators, tractors and such, and I find the instructions and plans helpful in learning new techniques, such as how to put treads on tractor wheels. Recently I built a model bluenose schooner. Without the kit’s plans and instructions, I know I could never have finished it. So for plans, my vote is yes.” – John van Veen

“I would be interested in a DIY sailboat kit — one with remote-control power included.” – Joe Zwack

“I think kits have their place, especially for something complex that you have never done before. They basically take advantage of someone else’s experience. However, I don’t think I would use a kit for the second one I make. You should be able to learn enough from following their construction to repeat it yourself. The exception to this might be if special machinery you do not possess and that does not make sense to purchase might be needed to make accurate parts. Kits can also provide confidence to those not yet confident in their abilities and can serve as a stepping stone to better projects and more confidence. Personally, I do not use kits anymore nor do I buy plans. I now look at something and do my own version with my own drawings. For me, the design process is as rewarding as the execution, and I love making each piece unique to fit my skills or push me to learn new ones. That being said, if I were asked to make a ukulele, I would probably go to a kit as I have never attempted a musical instrument, and they seem pretty exact.” – Tom Shapley

“Many years ago when I was a fairly young man, which I am not now (76), I had limited time, tools and skills. I wanted to give my spouse a grandmother clock for Christmas. Rather than building it from plans, I took the easy way and purchased a kit. All of the pieces were precut, and there were a lot of miters! I followed the instructions step-by-step in assembling the clock, then stained and finished it with oil. It turned very well and is still working after 40+ years (although the works had to be replaced). When daughter #1 got married, I purchased the kit for their wedding present. Same for daughters #2 and #3. When my youngest got married, she requested the traditional wedding clock! So, that is five kits! I like making things from scratch, but for something like this, the kit was great. I would not have tackled the clock without a kit. My only regret was not buying five all at once — the price from #1 to #5 went up by three or four times! If the fifth daughter should marry, and I doubt she will, I’ll order kit number six, even though I have the tools and time and have developed the skills to do one from scratch!” – Karl Reichardt

“I made ukuleles from a kit several years ago for Christmas. They turned out great. A violin didn’t do as well, but they all look great.” – Barney Heller

“Kits have their place in woodworking from a number of perspectives. Using a kit for a full-featured workbench can save time and money going through the iterations from working on the floor through sawhorses and so forth until you have the pilot workbench to use to build your dream. Using a kit for a ship model can speed the process to producing a decorative piece without having to acquire hundreds of one-off tools and materials. The kit question also bears on how far you go back with prep work. Fancy growing your own timber? Making all your own tools? Inventing your own adhesives or finishes? On the other hand, there are some things for which there are no kits. I have found that I can make lathe benches that are much more effective at dampening vibration than the off-the-shelf models, by sloping the legs and making them to exactly the right height for the lathe owner.” – Graeme Coles

“It’s not like you are building a birdhouse from a kit. (A ukulele kit) should be a good experience and worth a few lines of print. Stay unconfirmed.” – Doyle Moeller

“I made my wife a ukulele (pictured above) from a video. I had no experience with building instruments but it turned out sounding good — good enough that she has played it at her ukulele group where she regularly plays her Kala concert model. It is a box-type soprano size — Baltic birch, mahogany, cherry neck, bubinga bridge and a snakewood nut and saddle. The scariest part is waiting while it is finally tuned and strummed; if it doesn’t sound good, then I just made a wall ornament. Whatever way you go, good luck and enjoy the process.” – Ron Bailey

“My late wife bought me a kit for a mandolin, one that would be a Red Diamond if built by them. It was a high-end kit that the manufacturer said would take a lot of woodworking skills. My wife assured him that I could build anything out of wood — don’t know quite where she got that idea…Anyway, it did demand a lot of skills and tools that I had to learn and acquire over the course of building it. I started in 2010 and would work on it until I got to a point where I thought I was going to mess it up, so I would stop, get some more tools, do some research and then proceed to the next step. Finally in 2013, I decided that I was going to finish it, right or wrong, and I worked on it every night from January 1 to around April 12, when I tuned up the first string. The sound was extraordinary in my opinion, and I couldn’t wait to let my brother, a self-taught and accomplished guitar player, help me string it up the rest of the way the next morning. He was ecstatic also. He even tried to borrow it from me to take the Galax, Virginia, fiddlers convention to show it off to a bunch of musicians he knows. That said, I would not have been able to build it without a kit. It took well over 120 hours of work from start to finish, but it is a treasure to me, and I get many compliments on it. I think I could build another one in around 80 hours from a kit, but don’t know if I could make one from raw wood. Good luck. I am building a dulcimer from a kit now.” – Mark Carnes

“It might not take as much skill with a kit, but it still requires patience and pride in what you are doing.” – Doug Ellis

“I enjoyed making several clocks from kits. Then I got more tools and made a number of small household items with my grandchildren. Now I’ve put my house on the market and will move to a condominium apartment. If I want to be creative with wood, I’ll have to use kits again.” – Alan Stein

“I have done both from kit and from scratch. They are fun, and good plans help a lot. I made the above hammered dulcimer from scratch for about $250, using a set of plans. It was great fun and is a beautiful piece. The plans were great. These instruments sell for around $1,000. I think it looks very nice in my dining room.” – Phil Zoeller

“I’ve made several things from kits. As someone who works on average 60 hours a week and has limited shop space (a garage when I move the wife’s car out of it), a kit can come in very handy. Assembling and finishing are often the real keys to making a project shine, so that part is not lost. I made both of my daughters jewelry boxes as well as display cabinets from scratch, based on a picture of the display cabinet that they sold as a kit. I’ve also made a lot of furniture from scratch, and I think whether you build from a kit or from scratch all depends on how much time you have available. The key is just to be making things.” – Frank McEnulty

“I have never built any wood items from a kit. But I also build high-powered model rockets, and I’ve built many of them from kits. It’s much easier to get someone else to source all that fiberglass, tubing, etc.! However, I’ve seen several toy kits (cars trucks, bulldozers, etc.) that caught my eye and interest. Still, having no grandkids at this point in my life, I just kept on walking. As for guitars and such, I already have several, so I’ve never really thought about it much. Maybe if I win the lottery and can afford to buy a nice CNC…” – Steve Kendall

But kits are thumbs-down for a number of others. – Editor

“Kits limit creativity and don’t stretch your abilities. Mistakes hone your skills.” – Tom Moss

“Taking the kit route is a copout for building a uke or guitar. Every kit I’ve seen is a waste if money. End product will be mediocre at best. I can make a uke from a cigar box that will beat any kit at a quarter the cost, and the quality will be better.” – Chris Jenkins

“If you’ve built guitars without a kit, a uke is a piece of cake. No need for a kit unless you are really pressed for time. My opinion is that you didn’t really build it if you bought a kit. Sorry.” – Frank Clements

“I really hate kits. But if I were to be making a uke, I would have to buy a kit. I don’t have all of the equipment to do the job from scratch.” – Lowell Taylor

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