Friday, February 16, 2018

Day 166: Recutting and Rebending the Bridges

As you know from a previous post, I decided to recut and rebend the bridges. The first attempt resulted in bridges that were less than cosmetically beautiful because I used non-stainless nails to hold them in place for the bend and they stained the wood. And, well, nail holes. So, after talking things over with both Ernie Miller and Owen Daly, I decided to create bridges using both of their methods. As in making two new sets of bridges. Then, I came to my senses and developed a hybrid approach.

I picked up some double-sided carpet tape at our local blue box store and grabbed the plywood form I had used for the initial bending episode. I started with the 8' bridge assuming it would be easier to work with than the 4'. For once, I was right. I taped it to the plywood on a taper running from 3/4" to 1/2" and ran it through the table saw.

As you can see in the top photo, the beech board had plastic wrap around it. This was due to the fact that my friend, John Finn, donated the wood to the cause and it was raining buckets the day I picked the piece up at his house. He was kind enough to wrap it and there you go.

The tape held like, as Owen would say, grim death and I was able to cut the width and height to the dimensions I described above for both the 8' and 4', resulting in a couple of blanks that are just a fraction rich so I'll have a little room when it comes time to trim them down with the spokeshave.

The previous bending session went well by simply soaking the bridges in a water trough I made from some 4" PVC pipe capped with Talenti gelato lids and Gorilla Glue. I've been given the recommendation to also use a steamer, but I found all they really need is to soak overnight. They are super-thin pieces of wood and this is what Mr. Miller recommends in his eBook Most Excellent.

Yeah, that's a rock from the front yard and yeah, I cleaned it in this kitchen sink first with soap and water. When I checked the bridges the following morning, I noticed that the 4' had jumped ahead and started bending itself without me. I was not alarmed because it almost perfectly followed the angle I would be putting upon it with the form.

This may become problematic if it decides to twist, but I've been keeping my eye on it as it stands in the form and it looks pretty good.

Speaking of forms, rather than mess around with a custom jig, I went ahead and used the bentside form as Owen suggested in another one of our conversations that ended up with me saying, "I don't know." The question: "Why don't you just use your bentside form to bend the bridges?"

So, now they stand in the shop drying for a week.

And I remind you that this is a hybrid approach based upon suggestions from Ernie and Owen. I'll be cutting the bevels into the bridges on the band saw as soon as they're dry, which will get a blog post all its own.

Until next time...

Monday, February 12, 2018

Day 165: Beveling and Some New Gadgets

As you may or may not know, I've recently been sick yet again. Not only did I pick up "stacked infections" - sinus and urinary tract - I got food poisoning from eating oysters at the Oregon Coast. If misery loves company, I'm overwhelmed with the turnout. Now, having whined about that, I can say with 100% confidence that all illnesses have left the building - and my body. I'm good to go, so here we go.

After conferring with both Ernie Miller and Owen Daly about completely different ways to approach cutting and bending the 8' and 4' bridges, I've decided to pursue both methods and then compare and contrast the differences between the two. In the end, I really just want to get them done - as soon as I can figure out how to cut a 30-degree bevel on the table saw.

I'm mostly kidding. A good buddy, John Finn, is visiting later today to chew the fat over the best way to accomplish the bevel. Honestly, I believe it involves tilting the the saw blade at the complementary angle to 30 degrees (that's right - 60 degrees) and ripping the beech board with the fence set very close to the blade. More on this later.

Over the last few weeks, I've engaged in my regular Tortuga Early Instruments Worldwide Headquarters Winter Cleanup, including selling the Laguna 14" SUV resaw band saw and dumping that money into a nice, little CNC machine - the Shapeoko 3 XL. I purchased it from Cool Craigslist Guy in Waldport, Oregon (hence the bad seafood story) and saved a cool $1000 off the regular price from Carbide3D.

I've since ordered the XL--> XXL upgrade kit to double the y-axis depth of the machine. Will I be using it for harpsichord work? Probably not, but it definitely changes the character of some of the other (ahem...guitar) work I do.

Along with this, I finally broke down and replaed the $7 spokeshave with this:

The Veritas Flat Spokeshave, O1. As I've said in the past, the poverty mentality that accompanies being the Cheapest Guy Alive no longer applies to the shop. From now on, it's heirloom quality tools for me. Another example of this sort of mentality is the former CNC machine that took up space for over two years under the assembly table:

Heirloom. Quality. Tools. Moving. Forward.

Speaking of heirloom quality tools, I also brought a Grizzly air filter into the shop. It's not really heirloom quality, but it does filter dust at the 5 and 1 micron levels. I'm really, really, really hoping this, combined with greater attention to dust collection at tool origins, will help me cut down on the bronchial/sinus infections I've been enduring the last couple of years. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but I'll take that bet.

The little unit offers three speeds with three timer levels: 1, 2 and 4 hours, so I never have to remember to shut it off. I did the "flame test" by holding a lighter in various areas around the shop and I must say I'm impressed with its coverage. Grizzly claims it will recycle the entire shop air seven times per hour and I'm inclined to believe them.

Now, back to cutting that bevel.

Until next time...

Monday, January 29, 2018

Day 164: A Visit with Owen Daly

From time to time, I hop down to Salem, Oregon, an hour's drive from Tortuga Early Instruments Worldwide Headquarters in Vancouver, Washington, for a visit with Master Builder Owen Daly. Owen is a kind and generous mentor who always provides a ton of information for any questions I might have. This last weekend was no different. I headed down to see Owen with several questions in hand. My questions ranged from bridge making (yeah, I'm having another do-over party with the bridges) to soundboard thinning to string pinning.

Owen makes a small Italian instrument that sounds absolutely wonderful. Of course, his craftsmanship is also stunning, yet it's the warmth of tone that comes from one of his little harpsichords that is most impressive. And I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. This weekend, Owen was lining out the string speaking lengths between the nut and bridge (this one is a 2x8) using some thread and a couple of small weights.

In the photos above, Owen is hanging a spool of regular thread over the front of the instrument and then using it to track where the string should fall on the register as it makes its way to the distal/bridge end of the instrument. As with most of Owen's work, this is a brilliantly simple way to ensure complete line accuracy of string speaking length. I can't wait to use this method when pinning my own instrument.

Other questions led to more answers and I ended up stopping by Rockler on the way home to pick up a couple hundred solid brass escutcheons/nails/brads that I'll be chopping down for use as pins when the time comes. Another answer involved picking up some Melton wool at the Mill End Store in Milwaukie that I will be "felting" with "agitation and heat" in the near future. The felted wool will be use as jack rests on the distal ends of the keys as well as for an upper cushion on the jack rail. I like the milk chocolate brown.

Finally, Owen and I discussed at length a quick and easy way to bend and cut the bridges. As with most aspects of building I've spent considerable time and effort overthinking how to go about doing this. Owen showed me the way again by asking yet another simple question: "Why don't you just use your bentside lamination form to bend the bridges?" Once again, my answer was, "I don't know." After discussing it with Owen, I've decided to go ahead and follow his directions for steam bending, cutting and cleaning them up. There will definitely be more to come on this subject in the weeks ahead.

On a completely unrelated note, I've decided to sell the Laguna LT14x14 SUV band saw. I purchased this saw with the best of intentions. I wanted to create a cottage industry for myself resawing exotic and local woods for luthiers, but life and time are short and my focus needs to remain on building, not on cutting wood. So, out the door it goes. It's not a cheap item by any means, so it may take a while to leave, but I've learned to be patient about such things. It will sell. Someday.

I've also committed to purchasing a Carbide3D Shapeoko 3 XL CNC machine from Cool Craigslist Guy in Waldport, Oregon. This is a small unit that is easily extensible (to create more working space) and quite affordable. It comes with great design and operation software packages and Cool Craigslist Guy added necessary dust collection to it that I will be basically getting for free when considering his awesome purchase price. So, a road trip next weekend is in order. And then...a moderate learning curve as I figure out how to include this sort of automation into my building life.

Until next time...

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...