Friday, January 12, 2018

Day 163: They Call Me Captain Hook

The bridges came off the bending form some time ago, but I've been busy with other things, as well as engaging in my annual Winter Maintenance work, so I'm just now getting around to finishing them up. One remark I received from one of the Master Builders on Facebook regarding soaking and bending the bridges was that he wouldn't like all the nails in his bridges. Of course he wouldn't, and neither do I, but it needed to get done and this is the method suggested by Mr. Miller in his eBook Most Excellent*.

The detritis in the photo above is composed of the remnant pieces of 1/4" plywood pads I used for cushions against the brad heads. Part of the reason I'm not crazy about the soaking method is due to nailing the bridges to the form while they were still wet. This resulted in the brads leaving dark stains on the bridges at each contact point - not my preferred level of quality. And, yeah, using stainless brads was probably the key here. My bad. If I build another Ruckers, I'll bend the bridges in a completely different manner (to be disclosed at a later date).

The 4' bridge is ready to glue up. The 8', on the other hand, requires a "hook" to be joined to its larger, "far end". This hook curls the string contact points away from the bend and requires me to cut one from a smaller piece of beech and then stitch it onto the bridge at the correct point. As you can see below, I traced the hook onto some parchment paper so I could draw it onto the smaller piece.

I then took it to the band saw, the table of which I set at a cool 30-degrees, and went to work - until the blade snapped. Granted it was a tiny blade, but it was still scary. I neglected to purchase a new blade last payday and the tiny blade was the sharpest in the shop. Suffice it to say, it made the work a lot more interesting.

I made it through most of the cut before the break.

I then mounted an older blade onto the saw and went to work, resulting in this:

It turns out the smell of burning beech is actually kinda pleasant. The burns notwithstanding, I pulled out the oscillating spindle sander and went to town cleaning things up.

As you can see, it cleaned up nicely, though I'll do some final polish with a spokeshave once I get the hook joined to the bridge. I'm planning on using a half-lap joint, which I've had some success with in the past. Before I can do this, I'll need to get another printout of the plan - I mangled it pretty badly getting the bridge templates onto the bending form. This is not a big deal because I'll have it printed at the local FedEx Office up the street for a few bucks. The lady there is now referring to me as "the harpsichord guy." I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing.

On a completely unrelated note, my wife and I travel to the Oregon Coast every Christmas season, sometimes staying there for Christmas day (a beach with 10 people is a good thing, even when it's chilly outside). This year, we found ourselves in Lincoln City where we stopped at an antique store and I discovered the Holy Grail of 6" rulers.

I've been looking for a 6-incher to keep stowed in my shop apron and this one is special because it's not only sturdy, it offers both U.S. and metric measurements, as well as decimal equivalents for numerous measurements on its reverse. This was definitely the best $5 we've spent in a very long while.

Until next time...

*Mr. Miller has significantly updated his eBook Most Excellent, the Harpsichord Project eBook 4.0. It now has more content with multiple ways of accomplishing several tasks, as well as upgrades to several of the sections. If you're looking to dive into building a harpsichord as a first-timer, I highly recommend this book - it's a bargain.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Day 162: Bending the Bridges

After soaking the bridges for 48 hours, I pulled them out of the soaking trough and nailed them to the templates on a piece of 3/4" plywood.

Now, they dry for a week (until next Monday) when I pull them off and work on the eight foot end hooks. In the meantime, I return to my work on the jacks. I have a surprise coming up and I must admit I'm going to have fun watching the heads spin around and explode. You've gotta find the fun where you can, right?

Until next time...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Day 161: Making the Soaking Trough

I've spent the better part of the last three months agonizing over how to bend the bridges. The bridges are long strips of wood that get mounted to the soundboard. You can think of them as terminus points for the strings that run between them and the nuts near the keyboard. The distance between the nuts and bridges is the string length that results in the tuned note played for that particular string. It's similar to a guitar in that the nut and bridge on that instrument perform the same function.

As you may recall, I tried to steam bend them a few months back, and it did not go well. After speaking with several people about the steaming process, most of them helped me come to the conclusion that I had not left the bridges in the steam long enough. I then chatted with several instrument makers and the consensus seemed to be centered on soaking them in water for the bend. So, I decided to steam them again.

Then, I broke down and went back to Mr. Miller's eBook Most Excellent and jumped ahead a bit. For whatever reason, he decided to split the details about completing the soundboard into two parts, so I jumped ahead and discovered that he recommends making a trough from 4" PVC pipe by splitting and capping it for soaking the bridges a couple of days before bending. In the end, I used 3" PVC, capped each end with the lid from a Talenti Gelato container and cut the stands from a discarded IKEA cutting board (the old ones were made of joined beech and tended to warp themselves out of usefulness; now, they're making them from bamboo and they're awesome).

Putting a straight line on a cylindrical object is always fun. In this case, I clamped the pipe to the bench and used some scrap lumber as a guide.

I then cut it in half on the band saw and used Gorilla Glue to secure the end caps. I used Gorilla Glue because it's good for plastics and is waterproof once cured. I also cut the stands at this time.

I may or may not have exhibited irrational exuberance with the glue that is gorilla.

I let it dry for about four hours and proceeded with the soaking. This was on Saturday, so I'll take the bridges out on Monday night for bending.

I scavenged the basalt rocks from the front driveway to completely submerge the parts.

Part of this method requires me to drill holes for tiny, little brad nails I'll be using to secure the bridges to the templated form. I also needed to make pads from 1/4" plywood that will protect the parts from the nails once I commence the clamping process.

Now, we wait until Monday to remove the bridges from the trough and get them settled for bending. Time to go after another squirrel.

Until next time...

Monday, December 4, 2017

Day 160: Crazy Chicken Lady and a Bigger Bath Tub

Last weekend, I decided to get the soundboard completed. This means I would need to mount the bridges and bracing and get the thing glued into the case. In order to get the bridges glued up, I would need to bend them first. I had tried steaming and it just didn't work. I suspect this is because they're made of European steamed beech and most of the lignin in them has been set. I don't know this for certain, but I do know steam bending resulted in an epic fail.

I then chatted with a few experienced builders and they just about uniformly agreed soaking them and getting them into a form of some kind overnight was the way to go. The only water receptacle I have in the house is the bathtub, so I checked it out and, as you can see below, the 8-foot bridge created another epic fail - it's just too long.

So, it's back to the drawing board - again. To be honest, I haven't checked how Mr. Miller accomplishes this task in his eBook Most Excellent. I'd be willing to bet he explains his method somewhere in there. I'm sure I've read about it, I just can't remember what he says to do. Guess I have a little research when I'm done here.

I did, though, make some progress with cleaning up the shop. This is a regular task I engage in during this time of year. I clean up and rearrange things a bit, as well as tune up the tools. As you probably know, I've admitted to having a bit of a walnut problem. A couple of years ago, I worked just up the hill from Goby Walnut and Western Hardwoods and found myself on my way home after work indulging in the free boxes they would set out from time to time.

If you've never partaken of a high quality wood supplier's free box, just imagine the energy of a Las Vegas buffet except you didn't pay a dime to elbow your way under the sneeze guards. It's really an irresistible enterprise, one I found myself succumbing to several times on the way home from work. Well, it turned out they had thrown most of the wood away for good reason. I don't engage in the noble pursuit of marquetry (wood inlay), so my needs run a bit larger than someone who does. After stepping over, around and under walnut for the better part of the last two years, I decided it was time to cull the herd.

It was pretty astonishing to discover that most of the wood I had captured was simply unusable. I ended up giving Crazy Chicken Lady (don't ask) three and a half of these boxes filled with stuff I simply could not use.

This was liberating in ways I can't even describe. And it was a good lesson. From now on, should I find myself passing by Goby and the free boxes are out, I shall divert my gaze and drive on by.

Until next time...

Monday, November 13, 2017

Day 159: Register Relief and Thinning

I've not been working on the instrument much over the past month based, once again, on other obligations. I'm back at it and expect to make some pretty good progress now. I have a lot to do to get this thing finished and I want it DONE.

After speaking with Owen Daly and reviewing Grant O'Brien's Ruckers book, I realized some additional thinning of the soundboard was in order, especially around the tail and cheek edges. I went to work and got things down to where I think they should be - at least according to Mr. O'Brien's book (p. 101).

Once that was done, I could turn my attention to another task I'd been putting off for quite some time: cutting tongue relief notches into the upper registers. First, I lined out one side in order to position the 1/4" chisel for the cuts.

Then, I cut away.

It was fairly quick work and I needed to be sure to keep the register snug against the scrap plywood and make sure the chisel stayed straight; otherwise, I was in danger of taking big, ugly chunks out of the underside (this may or may not have happened). I completed the 4' register last night. Tonight, the 8' shall be completed.

I was able to make a pilgrimage last Friday down to Salem to meet up with Owen Daly and see his latest Italian instrument. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Owen's work is just wonderful. It's cosmetically beautiful, which is important, but it's the sound he's able to produce from oddly-shaped wood boxes that is just amazing.

As you can see, the instrument is sublime. It still has a few more weeks to "settle in," yet it's almost there and sounds just lovely.

I was also visited today by Jack Peters and his protoge, Mike. Jack said he was making his annual "Oregon instrument maker trip" and called me up to see if he could stop by. It was a pleasure and an honor to have him in the shop and he gave me a couple of suggestions, especially about lightening up the business end of the keys, that I took to heart. It really was great to meet the man I had heard so much about.

Until next time...

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Day 158: Drilling a Hole Where the Rain Gets In, the title of this post has precious little to do with the topic yet who doesn't like the Beatles, right? I actually ended up drilling several holes, but more about that later. First, I finished up the near-final thicknessing of the soundboard. I have some feathering left to do, but it's good to go for now at or near 3 mm.

I still need to work a bit on cleaning up the reverse, as well as getting the bridges bent and completed for mounting. More on that later.

I was able this past week to finally get the holes drilled for the tuning pins. This entailed making a couple of small sort-of-guides with 5-degree angles cut into them. One was necessarily thinner to accommodate the lack of space between the eight foot pin holes and the nameboard, but I really just ended up using it for both sets and, eventually, abandoning it altogether. Before drilling the holes, I tested an idea from Owen Daly of Owen Daly Early Keyboard Instruments that involved initially running the drill bit backward to prevent tear-out on the soft spruce that caps the pinblock.

Once I was satisfied with the results, I laid out the plan, tapped in starter dimples and scored the location of the nuts with a marking tool.

The IKEA lamp I use for close-up work messes with my phone camera - I didn't really do the work with the lights off and a flashlight shining on the plan. Once it was all dimpled up, I went to town drilling the 104 holes.

I'll be gluing the eight foot and four foot nuts up soon (I'm not really sure when as a couple of other urgent projects have caught my attention as of late).

On a completely unrelated note, I recently ordered some clavicembalo music written by Ferdinando de Medici and the envelope it came in identified me as Dr. Chief Sawdust Maker Darin Molnar. Yes. Yes, I am.

And...finally...The Tortuga!

Until next time...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Day 157: Back at It

I've not posted in a long while because I've been busy with other tasks, such as making a couple of Native American flutes with my daughter, Jordan's, guidance and assistance. Lest you think I'm engaging in cultural appropriation, she's the indigenous person, I'm just the woodworker. We made a couple of really nice cedar flutes - one of Alaskan yellow (the Blonde) and the other of both Alaskan yellow and western red (Odd Duck). I still have a few more to make for friends and family, but things have settled down considerably in this regard, so I'm back at the instrument.

As you probably know, I've been vacillating about whether I cut the nuts and bridges correctly or not. Well, I finaly contacted Mr. Miller and he set me straight - they're fine. I was a little confused by what he was referring to as "the bevel" because there really are two bevels. I followed his directions closely, taking my time and referring back to them as I made the cuts, so it was something of a mystery how I could have gotten it wrong. It was nice to learn I didn't.

Now, before I glue them to the wrestplank (aka pinblock) and soundboard, I'm going to drill the holes for the tuning pins into the pinblock. Mr. Miller in his eBook Most Excellent recommends clamping the nuts to the block with the sliced up blueprint between. This will hold the plan in place while I use a punch to mark the holes. I visited Master Builder Owen Daly this past weekend and he recommended I go ahead and eyeball the angle on the holes (5 degrees). He says most people are off by that much when they think they're drilling straight, anyway, so there you go.

When I decided I had cut the nuts and bridges backward, I charged ahead with making new ones.

Fortunately, the flutes pulled me away and I only partially remade the eight foot nut. Sometimes, I scare myself, but you already knew that.

As I took time to work on the flutes, it gave me ample pause to reflect on completing the instrument. I just want it done. So, the next couple of months are going to be intense, especially now that the weather is cooling off and the two-car oven will be more habitable (this was also partially responsible for the delay - the aluminum garage door is on the sun side of the house and it heats up quite nicely when we have 100-degree days). I have many tasks ahead, including jack making. Everyone says I'm crazy to make my own jacks, but I just don't have it in the budget to purchase them from someone like Norm Purdy (whom I've yet to meet). So, I soldier on.

On a few unrelated notes, I have been able to make some minor acquisitions and to also make a major decision about one of my tools. First, I picked up some sandpaper in grits from 230 to 2000 so I can finally get the edges I want on chisels and plane blades. I also picked up a nice, little jeweler's hammer to adjust plane blades as well as a couple of nice containers for the fish glue.

I've also decided to sell the Craftsman 18/36 open-ended thickness (drum) sander. My standing rule is that if I don't use it within a year, it's gotta go. Well, it's been about that, maybe more and it's taking up valuable real estate that I'd rather have the planer occupy, so...buh bye.

Finally, I spent last night cleaning up the shop after making the flutes. Between routing the wind channels and lathing the outside diameter, a horrible mess is made. Everything is all cleaned up and I'm ready to get back to the instrument - tonight.

Until next time...

UPDATE: After successfully installing sandpaper and sanding a guitar top, sides, and back, there's no way I'm selling the thickness sander - what a blessing it's turned out to be!