Canadian Woodworking

Build a Mandolin Holder

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: August September 2014

This holder will keep your mandolin accessible, while making sure it doesn’t get damaged.


This was built for a mandolin, but by adjusting the sizes slightly you could easily hold a guitar on it. This project is great as an introduction to veneer work. The flat veneered panel is small, so pressing the veneer will be fairly easy, and finding a small piece of veneer isn’t hard. There is nothing wrong with figured veneer, but be forewarned that burls often have small holes in them that need additional care, and they are fragile. Curly, bird’s eye and many other figures are much easier to work with.

Cut the core to rough size – 1/2″ wider and longer than the finished size required. Trim the face and back veneer to the same size as the core with a sharp knife and ruler. When making veneered panels, you should keep them balanced by applying veneer to both the front and the back face. The back veneer doesn’t have to be figured like the face veneer, but it should be about the same thickness and density.

Cut two cauls from a piece of 3/4″ Baltic birch plywood, particle board or MDF that are 1/2″ larger in both directions than the core. These cauls will evenly disperse clamping pressure. Also cut two pieces of blank paper the same size as the cauls. The paper will go between the cauls and the veneer to stop them from bonding to each other if any squeeze-out occurs.

You can use many things to spread glue evenly, but I find the easiest is a 2″ long piece of wood that has some bandsawn notches cut into it. The notches can be cut just under 1/8″ deep and should be about 3/16″ apart.

Even Coating
A simple shop-made spreader will help apply an even coat of glue to the core.

Cauls & Clamps
With the core and veneers in the center, there is one caul placed on each surface before adding clamps. If you want to spread the pressure out even more, you can use a few extra smaller wood cauls under the clamp heads.

Cut the Panel to Size
Brown clamps a simple jig to his fence that references off the center of the core to cut veneered panels, but smoothing one edge before cutting the part on the table saw works fine too (guard removed for clarity).

Trim the Edges
A sharp block plane will bring the solid edge down almost flush with the face of the core.

Add Some Texture
Before assembling the parts, Brown adds some small gouge grooves on the insides of the two arms.

Attach From the Back
Once the clearance and pilot holes are drilled, use glue and screws to screw the arms on from the back using 2" x #8 screws.

Get out the glue

With all your parts ready, a dry run might be appropriate. Applying glue to the veneer will cause the veneer to immediately buckle. Spread glue on one side of the core, apply the veneer, paper and caul, then do the same to the other side. A few small pieces of low-stick transparent tape will help keep the parts aligned. Now use clamps to press the sandwich together. You don’t need to apply a lot of pressure with each clamp; I find more clamps, each applying less pressure, is best.

Once dry, trim the veneer with a knife and cut the core to size on the table saw. I use a simple jig that I clamp to my rip fence for cutting veneered panels, but you don’t need it as long as you flush up at least one long side before cutting.

With your core trimmed to size, rip the solid strips to size and glue them to the top and bottom of the core, then trim them to size when dry. I like to flush up the top and bottom strips with a block plane before adding the sides. Once the sides are attached, plane the strips close to flush, but don’t sand them perfectly flush yet.

Holding arms

Cut the two arms to length, with one end at a 7° angle. Cut the curve on the front end of the arms, sand it smooth, and then add the small, carved notches (or another detail you like) to the arms, for aesthetics. Place the backboard on your bench and position the arms on the board. Lightly draw an outline onto the backboard where the arms will go. To determine this, you will have to do some experimentation with your mandolin or guitar to make sure the arms will hold the instrument properly. Drill two clearance holes per arm through the backboard and add matching pilot holes in back end of the arms, so the wood won’t split. Temporarily fasten the arms to the backboard.

Position the instrument in place and mark the locations of the notches that will be cut into the inside of each arm. With some hand tools cut the notch then check the fit. Remove the arms and drill a hole through the backboard, directly between the two arms, so a screw can be used to install the holder on the wall when complete. Sand the three parts, then apply a small amount of glue to the angled end of the arms and screw them in place.

Finishing details

I applied three coats of polyurethane. When good and dry, I rubbed the finish with 0000 steel wool and wax. The last detail is to cut and stick the felt to the notch in the arms, to protect the instrument from getting scratched. You can get this from a local craft store or Lee Valley. A single screw, with a cap to cover its head, will fasten the holder to a stud, and you can then put your mandolin or guitar in its new home.

How do you store and display your mandolin or guitar? Post your ideas in the comments section below this article.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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