Author Topic: Designing and Developing a Toneboard  (Read 2151 times)

Offline LagrueCustomCalls

  • Custom Call Maker
  • ****
  • Posts: 223
Designing and Developing a Toneboard
« on: February 18, 2018, 01:51:49 PM »
I wrote this up some time back (and posted on FB, so if you've already read it there, this is the same thing). My goal with this was to help new callmakers understand what goes into designing the heart of a call- the toneboard.

This is not directions, but a story of my recent work, which highlights what I think are some of the important callmaking and engineering concepts that are important to designing a call toneboard. I've used this method in the past and it works for me.

I had to split this in two segments to fit the forum, so this is first.

Designing and Developing A Toneboard
Jeremy Chinn

When I designed my first toneboard, it was the late 90’s. I had already been making duck calls for around 10 years. I had been using a jig that is part of my family’s callmaking history. I still have that jig and use it occasionally. It’s one of the most famous designs in all of callmaking, but I wanted my own design!

As I dove into making designing my new toneboard, I truly was on my own. There were no Public Jigs to be had. The internet was around and I had a few callmaking friends on one of the few forums that were around, but callmaking information was scarce. I had nothing but my own experience and tools to guide me. In the end, I designed a great toneboard which I used for almost 20 years. I even won a couple mainstreet contests with a slightly modified version of it and sold a lot of calls off of the jig that I had cut from the design. Most importantly, ducks fell from Canada to Arkansas with that design.
In late 2016, I decided that it was time to design a new toneboard. Ducks have not changed, but customers have (since I built my last jig). My goal in designing my new toneboard was to get a design that can be tuned easier to blow, lower overall pressure, lower backpressure, than my 1999 design. I also wanted to get a lower pitch ‘break pressure’. This is what call the lowest note the call will make when you blow air into it. It’s a good indicator of how low and raspy a call will be. Of course, through all of this, I wanted the design to have a good hail call, great feed call and do everything else I was looking for.

So why am I writing this out and describing this process? I want to describe this process to allow more people to understand what it takes to develop and design their own toneboard and learn more about callmaking in the process. I want to enable people to design something they can be as proud of as I’ve been of my own designs.

I think part of the problem is that new callmakers honestly don’t know what the process is to design a new toneboard. I see so many callmakers who are building calls with public jigs, or using plastic inserts. These are good learning tools, but they are not supposed to be the final step or final solution for the callmaker. They are supposed to be something that a person can learn the trade on and then use to develop their own design and processes from. Everyone may not agree with my opinion, and that is fine, but I’ll stick to my belief. Hopefully we can clear up some mysteries here.

A few things have to be said before starting – First, if you cannot run a call yourself, you need to learn before starting this process. I’m not stating that you have to be a World Champ Live Duck or Mainstreet caller, but it is very difficult to adequately assess a call’s abilities if you have no ability yourself. Second, you must have good technique in making parts. If you cannot make a consistent tennon for the toneboard, then you will have a very tough time measuring accurately what you are making from one version to the next. Build up your wood turning skills, Practice, Practice, Practice! Third and finally, be willing to take critique of your calls openly. Listen to what others say and interpret it the best you can. Ask others questions and listen. If someone is willing to tell you what they think about your call, it is a gift!

To start, I needed a number of things- I needed my old jig, a notepad, digital caliper, lots of reeds, and a bunch of people to bounce ideas off of and to test the toneboards. I eventually added to this list different diameter tone channel and exhaust drill bits, shim brass, lots of extra tonewood and patience.

I started my process by getting tons of opinions from other callmakers, top level callers and entry level callers. I think getting this cross section was important. Top level callers are important because they can usually run just about any call and give good feedback. Entry level callers are important because their skill level is not yet developed enough to run just about anything, and any weaknesses in a design will show up quickly. Other callmakers are important because they understand callmaking concepts like backpressure, etc. and they often speak the same callmaking language again giving good feedback.

In my case, my calls did not have the level of backpressure I wanted, so I made one design change to see if I could alleviate that backpressure. I built several inserts to see what effect different exhausts would have in trying to get the backpressure the way I wanted it. I tried different lengths and different bores. I eventually settled on one length with one bore. I marked my tapered reamer carefully to indicate the bore and measured with the caliper to ensure repeatability. In doing this, I would make a shorter insert, run it to see how it sounded, then change the effective bore. One change at a time.
This brings up one extremely important concept in the whole process. ‘Ceteris Paribus’ – This is Latin for all other things being equal. The reason this is important is because changing factors or aspects of a design of a call will change how it runs. If you change too many things at once, then you have a difficult time understanding which one factor made the call run the way you wanted. It is also true that ultimately, the call runs the way it does as a result of a combination of all of the factors, however, for the sake of designing your toneboard – Change one thing at a time whenever possible.

« Last Edit: February 18, 2018, 01:59:01 PM by LagrueCustomCalls »
There's a duck call in that block of wood. I just have to find it!

Offline LagrueCustomCalls

  • Custom Call Maker
  • ****
  • Posts: 223
Re: Designing and Developing a Toneboard
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2018, 01:54:03 PM »
Segment 2 -

Once I had dialed in the backpressure factor, I wanted to change the ‘break pressure’ or lowest note that I could get out of the call. This is created by a few factors, but primarily by the length of the toneboard and tone channel. The curve also is a factor, but it is laid on top of the overall length of the toneboard and is related to the length of the tone channel. To achieve a longer toneboard using my jig (my old design was very short), I would put the insert in the jig with the tennon sticking out past the end of the jig. I would cut the cork notch, then slide the insert back until the tip lined up with the jig and cut the curve. I used carefully cut spacers to ensure I was cutting exactly the right length each time and was able to change the length of cut. This also works well for me because I cut from the cork notch to the tip, instead of from the tip to the cork notch as many people do. Everything measured with the digital caliper. I tried many different lengths before settling on the length I now like.

Eventually, I settled on a new toneboard length which had a much better break pressure, which resulted in a lighter overall blowing pressure, better low end performance and a good, wide ‘sweet spot’ for tuning. Again, to get this right, I had made half a dozen to a dozen different inserts to test the different lengths. Everything measured with the digital caliper. Measure everything!

All of this was done with my same old 1999 curve…. And with it on then end of that long toneboard, I had given up some top end and mid-range rasp/ring. I had gained a lot of bottom end, but at the expense of the top and mids.

At this point, I started experimenting with different tone channel bores. This suggestion came from another callmaker. I tried smaller and larger than my standard. For what it’s worth, I have run smaller tone channels in the past and had some great calls, but that just ran the backpressure up higher again, which was something I was trying get away from. I tried larger, and while it was good, I found that it would not work at all with my existing curve. Again, measure, measure, measure. Take notes.

That brings up another challenging concept…. If a test insert is close to good, don’t cut it or push it further. Make another one as a duplicate and cut the duplicate or modify it further. That way you have the first one to reference. If your process is good, you should be able to duplicate that first one without fail. If your process is not good, then you need to work on your process! I say this concept is challenging because I know I have a hard time following it myself. I have something ‘nearly perfect’ and I want to push it just a little further to make it perfect – in the process I ruin it.
In the end, I found two tone channel bores that work well with my design. They take slightly different exhaust bores and have slightly different exhaust pressures, but have good tones and work well.

Finally, I had a good bottom end, but still did not have the top and mids the way I really wanted. The one factor I had not changed in this jig was the deck height. My previous design had always had the deck height right at the centerline of the bore.

As an aside, If you make O-ring calls and want to experiment with this, go turn an insert tennon slightly undersized. Then put it in your jig to cut it- this will effectively give you the idea of what your jig might sound like with a raised deck.

To raise the deck in my jig, I used a trick I had used in some other homemade jigs in the past. I used some shim brass and glued it in with CA. I clamped it in place heavily and used accelerator. After doing so, I filed in a new curve directly over the old. This first filing was a guess. However the first call off of it was Nasty! I refined the cut and curve over several successions. All the while, I was measuring several key points on the toneboard with my digital caliper to ensure consistency of these prototypes. When you’re measuring the toneboard, measure at the same locations (I call them stations) each time – directly under the tip of the cork tongue, at the tip of the tone channel, etc.

Finally, I had the great top end, excellent middle and great bottom end I was looking for.

After that, I duplicated this new toneboard cut several times to ensure that it did sound the way I wanted it to sound, and that it was everything I wanted. I hunted it over much of the seasons and dropped a lot of birds with it. I did not stick and it ran well in varying temperatures.
At this point, I’m ready to have my new jig cut. I’ve burnt up a bunch of wood. I’ve burnt up a bunch of shop time. I’ve re-learned all the different factors that affect tone, just as I did back in the late 90’s. I’ve experimented with the following factors – Toneboard length, deck height, curve, tone channel size, Exhaust length and bore.

In conclusion – If you are learning callmaking, but still using a public jig to make your calls, take the time to go through the process I’ve described above. Make your own path. Change your own variables or factors and design something that you can be proud to call your own. Do so and you’ll enjoy the most satisfying aspect of callmaking- Learning what really makes a call work while creating something you can truly call your own!
There's a duck call in that block of wood. I just have to find it!

Offline ben

  • Tutorial Contributor
  • Custom Call Maker
  • *
  • Posts: 927
  • Age: 78
  • Location: Arkansas
  • Making special calls one at a time
Re: Designing and Developing a Toneboard
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2018, 08:14:01 PM »
Well written.


Offline s wuebber

  • Custom Call Maker
  • ****
  • Posts: 33
  • Location: Montana
Re: Designing and Developing a Toneboard
« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2018, 10:18:52 PM »
Thx for taking the time to post this here. Very well written and informative.
  The amount of time and dedication  to achieve what you have is admirable.
Cupped Wings!

Offline Scott Ward

  • Custom Call Maker
  • ****
  • Posts: 118
  • Age: 54
  • Location: East Texas
  • Steelbyrd
Re: Designing and Developing a Toneboard
« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2018, 11:22:54 PM »
Toneboard design is interesting, rewarding, depressing, exhilarating, but most of all fun. Just took a piece of acrylic tonight 90% to a finished insert.  When I get close to going for it, I like to stop and take a day or two break from it all, then come back and experiment on that board.  I don't use jigs.  Eyes, ears, & experimentation. 

Offline James Strickland

  • Tutorial Contributor
  • Custom Call Maker
  • *
  • Posts: 1319
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Monroe, LA
    • Bayou Legacy Game Calls Facebook Page
Re: Designing and Developing a Toneboard
« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2018, 10:27:37 AM »
Good write-up.  Thanks for taking the time to share your process. 

Offline Gouldman

  • THO Recommended Advertiser
  • Custom Call Maker
  • *
  • Posts: 1068
  • Goulds Custom Calls & Custom Bands
    • Gould's Custom Calls
Re: Designing and Developing a Toneboard
« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2018, 12:00:19 PM »
Again....well put.

 At a glance a lot of folks look at a tone board and say "well I can do that no problem" they make something "close enough"......and then there are those that go much deeper into it and try to understand what makes these things tick....subtle changes here and there that take time, lots a time to grasp how changes effect the sound.

Again good read. :yes:
Of all the things I've lost while call making...its my mind I miss the most.
"A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.


Offline Mattmccain

  • New Forum Member
  • *
  • Posts: 2
Re: Designing and Developing a Toneboard
« Reply #7 on: April 13, 2018, 08:42:06 AM »
I’ve used a public jig for three years now and just purchased a flat jig to move to the next step. Thanks for sharing this. It will definitely come in handy over the next few months/years as I go through the process.