Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Project Update: Little Buddy Tuned Up and Ready for Action

In my last post, I stated the goal of completing a crosscut sled to "promote an added level of safety at Tortuga Ancient Instruments Worldwide Headquarters and help my wife stop stressing every time she hears the table saw fire up," and my buddy, Cameron Smith at Pacific Spaceflight, was kind enough to call me on the fact that I did not pursue that goal forthwith. The reason for this is the funky design of the riving knife assembly I recently added to the table saw; it has a mounting bracket for a safety shield on it that forces me to be creative with the sled design.

Most riving knives I've seen are more like a knife with a sharp blade and no bracket at the top. As I paused to think about the sled design, I decided to go ahead and complete the maintenance on the Delta 12" band saw or, as I like to refer to him, "Little Buddy". He was the first machine I purchased when putting together the shop and he holds a very special place in my heart. I was surprised to see when I purchased the saw the dude selling it on Craigslist was Brooks Masten of Brooks Banjos working in a tiny, little garage with barely enough room to maneuver. I could see why he was selling it.

Since then, I've worked with Little Buddy a lot, using him to build furniture, guitars and now a harpsichord. The one thing I've not been good about is keeping his tires clean and in good condition. As you can see from the photo below, there's a bit of pitch and sawdust buildup there.

It's doesn't look too bad, but it is. Buildup like this can cause vibration and even push the blade off the tire if it gets bad enough. The tire was in this shape when I first purchased Little Buddy from Brooks, I just didn't know I could use sandpaper and/or steel wool to clean it up. So, I used 400-grit sandpaper and 0000 steel wool to take as much of the gunk off as possible without harming the integrity of the tires.

I did the best I could with what I've got, but the tires really do need to be replaced. I'll be swapping them out with a set of the blue urethane beauties from the eBay dude who sold me the tires for Big Bertha. Because my original goal was to have the Tortuga Ancient Instruments Holiday Maintenance Program wrapped up by the first of the year (2015), I've decided to add this to the June maintenance program list.

After learning about band saw blade tooth configuration (TPI = teeth per inch) while researching slicer blades for Big Bertha, I replaced the 1/4" 14 tpi blade with a 3/8" 6 tpi blade. This will give me better cuts for reasons I'll explain later when I install the slicer blade on Big Bertha. The stand also had a small wobble. I tightened up one loose bolt and it's rock solid once again. Until the June maintenance program kicks in, Little Buddy is cleaned up and ready for action.

Now, the question is...crosscut sled or mobile finishing table?

Until next time...

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Project Update: An IKEA Outfeed Table

Last night I built a piece of furniture you won't find in a catalog or one of their stores: an IKEA butcher block cutting board outfeed table for the table saw. One of our old cutting boards warped a couple of years ago and I just couldn't bring myself to throw it away at the time. Now, I'm glad I tossed it onto the scrap pile - it works like a charm as a table saw outfeed table. What you can't see is a small 1/2" wide piece of wood underneath that locks the block into an outside channel so I can slide the table back and forth the length of the saw as needed, and it pops right off for easy storage.

I finally found a good use for IKEA furniture.

On an unrelated note, I haven't yet gathered up the parts and pieces for the folding finish table. I need a pretty healthy list of items, including a 4'x8' piece of Baltic birch plywood, two piano hinges, four 3/4" threaded pipes, etc. I'll work at knocking down the list over the coming week. In the meantime, I'm going to build a crosscut sled for the table saw. This will promote an added level of safety at Tortuga Ancient Instruments Worldwide Headquarters and help my wife stop stressing every time she hears the table saw fire up.

Until next time...

Friday, December 26, 2014

Project Update: Saying Goodbye to the Blue Monster

Parts are continuing to arrive at Tortuga Ancient Instruments Worldwide Headquarters on a daily basis. Since I've been on break from the day job for a few days now, I really have no idea what day it is. I think it's Friday. Or Saturday. I have no idea. Regardless, I went to the mailbox today to discover the four jointer stand feet and the table saw riving knife assembly sitting there patiently waiting for me to bring them inside.

The feet will be somewhat difficult to install because it's just plain hard to simultaneously lift the jointer with one hand while putting the feet on with the other. I'll wait to install them until I have a little help. I did, though, have no problem whatsoever installing the riving knife and getting the table saw put back together. With the knife installed, I'm still not calling the table saw good - I need just one more addition: an outfeed table so 1) I'm not reaching over the blade to keep wood from falling on the floor and denting and/or 2) Wood doesn't fall on the floor and get dented. More to come on this.

Along with this, I took down the Blue Monster. This was a difficult task for me because the chop (technically, a 12" sliding compound miter) saw was one of the first tools I purchased after deciding to put together my own shop. My first project was to build what I thought was a pretty reasonable solution for keeping the saw's dust under control. After spending some time in the shops of other instrument makers and woodworkers, I realized the Blue Monster was unnecessary in its depth and breadth and simply had to go. You can see why in the photo below.

On the left side facing the saw, I had a dreadnought guitar plan, form, and bracing template hanging on nails and screws and on the right side I had nails up for the 12" band saw fence and a drywall square. As you can see, it also acted as a plan shelf (the papers on the top). Now that I've built a smaller box, I will need to find a place for all of these items. Still, the space I've gained was worth it. I'm going to start sawing and resawing my own woods and will be drying and storing much of it behind the saw, so this allows me easier access to that area.

As you can see, I opted for a small box that essentially funnels the sawdust into a garbage can below (not included in this photo). There is slight blowback with this arrangement, but the Blue Monster allowed sawdust to go everywhere, so I'll take this over the Monster any day. In this case, smaller is better and I'm happy. Oh, and the new box just slides on and off; this way, I can remove it to do any kind of miter cut, yet I've found that 99% of my cuts are 90-degree chops, so I'll be good to go most of the time.

The next project on the Tortuga Ancient Instruments Holiday Maintenance Program list is a portable, folding finish table. I'm frankly a little concerned about how robust the table I'm planning on building will be. Mostly, I'm worried about its stability when I'm building the case or gluing the various case parts in the weeks ahead. I'll probably include my own modifications such as 4x4 legs, but I will only know if that's desirable once I start putting the thing together, which will be soon.

Until next time...

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Project Update: Big Bertha's Tires

The only thing left to do on the table saw is install the riving knife when it arrives, which should be any minute now. It's been interesting to watch the shipping times on the parts - everything is arriving in record time. I attribute it to the holiday ramp-up. Or it's a Festivus miracle. Regardless of the reason, it's been nice to receive my orders in a matter of days, rather than weeks.

I turned my attention last night back to Big Bertha and her tires. After unsuccessfully trying to install her new tires myself a couple of days ago, I decided to hold off until I had help. In the meantime, I noodled around on the Interwebs and several forum posts caught my attention. The general recommendations were to get the tires good and hot in soapy water. Another post was by a woman who used a Crock Pot to cook her tires so she could slide them on herself. She cooked them at medium for 30 minutes. I eschewed the soap because I didn't want it all over the shop, but I took up the Crock Pot idea.

I cooked mine on High until they reached 120 degrees. I must admit that, even with the cooking, mounting the tires was one of the most difficult things I've ever accomplished in the shop. It's a lot like wrestling a large snake made of rubber that's not happy with the situation onto a thin, constantly moving rail. I ended up clamping, stretching, clamping, stretching and then REALLY stretching the final 6-8 inches. It's the least amount of fun I've had in a great, long while, but I did get them on.

I'm hoping they last years because I don't want to have to do it again. Ever. Of course, I haven't given the 12" band saw its going-through, yet. I may have to replace the tires there, too, but I'm pretty sure they're the orange urethane ones and are good to go for now. Here's a photo of Big Bertha in her completed splendor. I even installed the 3/4" blade and cut a piece of scrap (can't wait to get the new Timber Wolf blade - I have no idea what they were cutting with the current one, but it wasn't good for the blade; it burned the wood from start to finish).

She runs quiet, quieter than the 12", so I'm happy. I have very few things left to do with her. One is to replace the v-belt with a link belt that will cut down on vibration. She does have a bit of vibration, but she weighs so much, it's at a minimum. I will also be replacing her blade guide blocks and bearings, but those can wait. The blade and link belt are the next improvements to come her way.

In an unrelated matter, I received more parts - the table saw miter fence end cap (as you may recall, a previous owner sawed through the last one) and a quart of Garrett Wade wood glue. The glue was recommended by Mark Roberts of Mark Roberts Guitars and Ukuleles, a scholar, gentleman and master luthier. It's a great product for luthiers because it has some saw dust in the mix and is designed as a "gap filler" glue. I can't wait to use it.

Today is Christmas Eve, so I'm going to sign off and stay out of the shop for a couple of days unless, of course, Santa brings me a SawStop table saw. Trust me, I haven't been that good this year. I hope you can find time to enjoy the holiday season with your loved ones; it's a time to review, rethink, recalibrate - and maintain!

Until next time...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Project Update: Table Saw Nearing Completion

I noodled around online today, clicking on shipper tracking links in my email for several of the parts in transit. To my surprise, I discovered the table saw tilt gears and Big Bertha tires would be arriving today. I was pleased to find both in the mailbox when I arrived home today. This was astonishingly fast shipping, especially for the time of year.

The funky tool on top of the tires is designed to help stretch them onto the band saw wheels. The directions that came with them say to soak them in hot tap water before mounting them. Because I'm leaving the wheels on the saw and the tires are really, really hard to get on by oneself, I decided to wait until my dudes (Trey and Reed) are here on the 24th so they can help me. You know, in the Spirit of the Holidays.

As I shifted my attention to the tilt gear, I noticed that it appears to be made of a better quality material than the one that stripped out, which is think was aluminum. This one looks like a hardier metal, but I know about as much about metals as I do electrical wiring, so we'll just leave it at that. I ordered two, just in case.

I located an exploded diagram of the saw - sorry, cutting system - on the Interwebs and was able to get the machine back together pretty quickly; much quicker than I had anticipated. The photo below shows the tilt gear mounted in its proper spot inside the case.

I know, it doesn't look like much, but it looks wonderful to me. As you can see in the photo below, I was able to tilt the blade to 45 degrees; the tilting action went as smoothly as I had hoped - like a hot knife through butter. And, yes, the saw runs just fine - the new switch is a success! The only thing left to do is install the riving knife assembly when it arrives and put the saw back together.

Now that the table saw is nearing completion, I've decided that part of the Tortuga Ancient Instruments Holiday Maintenance Program will include building a new hood for the chop saw. The current blue monster is huge and I'd like to build a smaller one out of plywood that funnels the sawdust into a box or small garbage can. I have the materials to make this pretty quickly and will probably put it together tomorrow as part of my cleaning the chop saw area task(s).

Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

Until next time...

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Project Update: New Switch Installed

The new table saw switch arrived yesterday and I got around to installing it today. The trouble with the original switch was that I could turn it on fine, but the red OFF switch in the photo below would jam sideways and I would be forced to bend down with the saw running and wood often still on the table to push the switch more squarely to turn it off. I always envisioned a piece of wood kicking back and driving through my left temple into my temporal lobe. Not scary at all.

I discovered that this switch had actually been recalled by Ryobi and contacting them would have resulted in a new, free switch being sent to me. I wish I had known this before I ordered it, but it wasn't that much - certainly worth the new safety standard it sets at Tortuga Ancient Instruments Worldwide Headquarters.

Once I pulled the old switch off, I discovered that it had two connectors while the new one had four. Because I know less about electrical matters than I do about building a harpsichord from scratch, I was in a serious dilemma, so I engaged my fallback strategy and posted a request for help on Facebook.

In response to my somewhat pathetic plea for help, Dr. Jerry Schlesser's wife, Christine, notified me that Dr. J is a wizard with all things electrical (in addition to many other things too numerous to cover here) and that I should call him for help. Once I called the Good Doctor, he instructed me to break out the multimeter to check continuity on the poles of the new switch.

It turns out I only needed to use one set of two connectors, or poles, on the new switch for it to work properly. Once I got the connections secured, I went ahead and installed the little bugger.

As you can see, it's a simple rocker switch with a cover that rolls the switch off when I tap it (it's natural position will be closed, resting the square on the cover on the O of the switch - I opened it for the photo). This is awesome. I can turn the machine on and off now without fear of a plank being driven through my skull. Not a bad thing at all.

Now, we wait for the other parts to arrive. Perhaps I should start a pool and invite my Facebook friends to participate. I see some holiday money arriving in my very near future, probably before the rest of the parts.

Until next time...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Project Update: Parts Arriving Soon

It turns out that I found the tilt gear available on Amazon! Because the vendors there only carry select parts, I assumed they wouldn't have the tilt gear, which is notoriously hard to find, and just checked on a whim. When I found the part there, I was able to cancel the eReplacementParts.com order because the Amazon shipping estimate said the parts would be here next week and they were a couple of dollars cheaper. eReplacementParts.com has been a great resource and I did end up ordering a riving knife assembly from them (for safety reasons).

Big Bertha continues to come together. I've ordered urethane tires from an eBay dude located on the East Coast, so they should be arriving some time next week, as well. Yes, the Craigslist dude sold it to me with the blade installed over bare wheels [insert rant about the state of machines I've purchased off of Craigslist here]. And the feet for the jointer should be here then, too. Oh, and I ordered up a switch conversion kit for the table saw because the off-switch on the current setup is horribly difficult to activate. Yeah, not scary at all. I know, it's Christmas week, so I'm giving them all a few extra days to arrive.

To summarize: The parts in transit at this time are

4 - Jointer Stand Foot
2 - Table Saw Tilt Gear
2 - Band Saw 17" x 1.25" Tire
1 - Table Saw Riving Knife Assembly
1 - Table Saw Switch Conversion Kit
1 - Table Saw Miter Fence End Cap

And a partridge in a pear tree.

In case you're wondering what the heck a "riving knife" is...it's a thin metal blade that is installed at the rear of the table saw blade; it mounts inside the saw case and extends above the table to help keep the sides of a cut apart. There are times when I've wished I had one in place, so now's the time to make it so. And then there's the table saw miter fence end cap. The last guy who owned it sawed through the end cap, which is indicative of the level of care with which he operated and cared for the machine.

The next purchase will be a resaw blade for Big Bertha. The blade length is enormous at 130", yet PS Wood Machines (recommended by George Vondriska of Woodworkers Guild of America) carries a 1" wide, 130" long resaw blade for $35.85, so it must not be that uncommon. The only remaining option I need for resawing is a Kreg fence and resaw guide. I'll explain more about these when it comes time to start slicing things up. Then, as Australian harpsichord builder Andrew Nolan was so kind to point out, the only remaining machine I will need is a drum sander to smooth down the slices. I'll be building a 30" wide model from a kit. Of course, I'll be detailing that process here, as well.

The Tortuga Ancient Instruments Holiday Maintenance Program is nearing its end and I can see light at the end of the tunnel, though I have yet to clean the chop saw and Delta 12" band saw; I'll get to them this weekend. Once all parts have arrived and are installed and everything is back in place, I'll call it good and get back to the reason for all of this: building a Flemish-style harpsichord!

Until next time...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Project Update: Please Welcome Big Bertha!

The Tortuga Ancient Instruments Holiday Maintenance Program continues with a new addition to the shop: Big Bertha! She's a beauty with an 18" throat, 12 full inches of resaw capacity with blade guard and guides installed, and a 2 hp motor. All that for $200 from a dude on good, old Craigslist.

I think I'm in love.

In the photo above, she is somewhat unclothed for a thorough cleaning, as she just arrived last night and needed a little work, but not much - certainly nothing like the jointer. In this view, I've removed everything but the table, fence, and motor. The wheels will always remain intact, unless they throw a bearing, but let's not manifest that.

Interestingly, she came with a 3/4" blade that was mounted on the wheels with no tires! My first improvement for her will be to purchase urethane tires and get them installed, which can be a bear, but is completely necessary. Then, I will seek out a no-kerf slicing blade and a good, solid Kreg resaw fence (both recommended by Mark Roberts of Mark Roberts Guitars and Ukuleles).

I was able to sell the 14" band saw I had purchased for resawing (mentioned in a previous post), covering most of the cost of Big Bertha. Had I kept the 14" saw, I would have purchased a 6" riser block ($100) to get a full 12" of resaw capacity and a beefier motor ($60 or more) and still would have been left with a smaller saw. Bertha will accommodate super-large billets and planks that I will resaw with abandon. The first thing I will cut with her will be 1/4" slices of quarter sawn red oak for the inside and outside laminates of the instrument case.

This is my last acquisition for a while, but you have to admit, this was a good one. When I ordered the tilt gear (ordered 2) for the table saw, the shipping estimate said 19-25 days, which means I'll see them some time in February, if I'm lucky. In the meantime, I'll get the new team member a into shape and continue completing the keys. I'll post up a photo of Big Bertha when she's fully clothed and ready to rock.

Until next time...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Project Update: My Kingdom for a Tilt Gear!

One of the concerns that prompted me to embark on the Tortuga Ancient Instruments Holiday Maintenance Program was the difficulty I had tilting the table saw blade when cutting the sharps a couple of months ago. I needed a 10-degree tilt to make the cuts, which was fine, but once I was finished, I couldn't get the blade to return to 90 degrees without a lot of effort. Too much effort, really, and it was very difficult to get the height adjustment gears to reengage.

Before taking the saw apart, I went ahead and read an online manual about how the tilt mechanism should operate. Yes, I read a manual, a document perilously close to a map - please alert my wife to this fact. Anyway, the manual says the crank handle should tilt the blade by moving a gear that meshes with the teeth of a "gear rack." This was not the case when I turned the crank handle - it just spun with halting movement of the blade, so I would have to manually jam it into position.

After reviewing a schematic of the saw, I was able to identify the potential part - a Tilt Gear - that might be the culprit. On closer inspection, I could see that a couple of the teeth were indeed missing on the tilt gear. On even closer inspection, it became clear that I would need to take one of the sides completely off to get at the gear, which resulted in the photo below.

What a mess.

The good news is I removed the tilt gear with the side benefit of cleaning parts and areas that clearly have not been cleaned in a long while. I removed the entire crank assembly and was able to pry everything apart in order to get at the tilt gear. As you can see, not just two, but four, of the teeth had been sheared off.

The tilt mechanism was problematic from the day I purchased the saw, so it's nice to be able to fix it and move on. The really nice thing is that the part is available from eReplacementParts.com for $3.99. I'm going to buy a couple of them to keep one in stock, though I intend to treat the saw with more care than its previous owner. So far, I've replaced several key parts and found stand mounting screws missing or quite loose. I've replaced so many parts, I feel like I've done what my dad recommended I do with one of my first cars: "Jack up the radiator cap and drive a new car underneath it."

For now, the Tortuga Ancient Instruments Holiday Maintenance Program continues. Next on the agenda while waiting for the new tilt gear to arrive is cleaning the 12" chop saw and tuning up the 12" Delta band saw. When those are completed, I'll build a folding assembly table on braking casters in anticipation of starting the instrument case in the next few weeks.

Until next time...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Project Update: Mission Accomplished

I was able to complete the cleanup of the new Delta 6" jointer tonight. As you may recall, I purchased it in a state of disrepair that included lots of rust and a few missing parts.

Once I disassembled the stand, I cleaned it up with the new bench grinder using a wire brush wheel and spray painted it with some of the paint I had left over from the sharps.

While the stand paint dried, I put the machine up on blocks and finished polishing the bed using a heavy duty Scotch-Brite pad.

It ended up nice and shiny, like brand new.

My two youngest sons, Trey and Reed, are pretty handy in the shop. They both have solid woodworking experience and have helped me with some great suggestions along the way. Tonight, they helped me put the stand back together and get the machine remounted.

I ran a piece of scrap through it and it worked like a charm. It's even quieter than my previous machine. Very exciting stuff.

The only steps left are to install the feet that are in transit to Tortuga Ancient Instruments Worldwide Headquarters and then to build a mobile base with locking wheels. For now, the machine will be stored off to the side of the shop until I need it (which will be soon - I'll be starting the case in the next couple of weeks).

Now, I can get back to cleaning up the table saw and starting the assembly table.

Until next time...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Project Update: Holiday Maintenance

I've decided that I'm going to take this holiday season to slow down a bit and start a mini-maintenance program on all of my shop tools and machines. I don't have a dust collection system, other than a shop vac and cyclone collector, so the nooks and crannies are pretty badly in need of a dusting and cleaning.

I've been having some trouble with the blade tilting gear on the table saw, so I decided to start there. In the course of taking it apart to check the gear, I discovered that a couple of bolts were missing or loose. Not cool. Clearly, I need to do this every couple of months.

The inside was caked with sawdust. The sense of purging was exhilarating when I brushed and vacuumed it out. The next step is to check the tilting gear and try to figure out why it won't go back to 90 degrees very easily after a tilt. I discovered this when cutting the sharps at 10 degrees; this is mainly why I switched to the band saw to cut the remaining sharps, which I will never do again (it left painful little blade kerf marks on the sides).

Along with this, I'm going to thoroughly clean the chop saw area. I'm also going to look at the bearings and tires on the 12" and 14" band saws and start preparing the 14" for the riser block and new blade. The 12" planer is due for a cleaning and the new jointer is going to be sparkly after this week. Speaking of which, I took the stand apart because the wire brush wheel should be sitting in my mailbox as I write this.

The only other maintenance project I intend to complete is to build a portable shop table, one that I can fold down and wheel out of the way when I don't need it, which is most of the time. There are times, though, when I've really needed a table larger than my workbench, which is only 24" wide, for things like looking at plans, assembling pieces, etc. I have a couple of other small projects in mind, but I'll hold off on those until I see how long the jointer cleanup and assembly table take.

Until next time...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Project Update: Bench Grinder Procured

I was able to secure the $30 bench grinder from a dude via Craigslist. It's brand, spankin' new, which is nice. It also has a built-in light, which is very nice.

I've ordered a wire brush wheel from eBay, scheduled to arrive at Tortuga Ancient Instruments Worldwide Headquarters by this Friday. In the meantime, I'll take the jointer stand apart so it's ready when the brush wheel rolls through the door. I'll also continue working on filing and sanding the naturals.

Until next time...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Project Update: Band Saw Out, Jointer In

Because I realized the Delta 16" band saw I had purchased did not quite provide the clearance to accommodate the wood I wanted to resaw, I decided it needed to go to a new, caring home; more specifically, one that is not mine. I posted it on Craigslist and it went to a dude just starting to put his shop together. We installed a blade, cut some wood, loaded it in his truck and it was gone. I emailed him the manual and the websites for the missing parts. Goodbye, old/new friend.

In its place, I now have a "new" Delta 6" jointer. I had sold my previous Delta jointer to Mark Roberts of Mark Roberts Guitars and Ukuleles. Mark is a great guy who builds beautiful instruments. Meeting Mark has been a wonderful experience - he's a jig wizard and master luthier and it's been an honor to visit his shop and learn from him. My esteem for Mark notwithstanding, as soon as I sold the jointer to him, I found I needed a jointer.

One of the reasons I sold Mark the jointer was that I wanted a larger, floor-stand model, one with a bigger bed for when I start work on the instrument soundboard and case. Of course, I can still use it to joint smaller pieces, yet it was the larger pieces of the harpsichord that prompted me to seek out a floor model. I ended up finding a Delta (37-280) 6" jointer on a nice stand for $80 on Craigslist. The sale of the 16" band saw covered me on this one.

This photo above is of the underside of the machine after I've schlepped it onto my workbench. I took it off the stand at the place where I bought it so I could load it into my Kia Rio for transport. You'd be amazed what you can fit into one of those little buggers. The guy I purchased it from had been keeping it in a non-weatherized shop, so the bed was completely rusted. It was superficial, but it still amazes me how some guys treat their tools and machines. In this case, it was to my benefit - this jointer would have cost me one heckuva lot more had it been in decent shape. Here's a shot of the bed as I started cleaning it up with a wire brush wheel on my cordless drill.

I was able to get most of the rust off, yet there still remains some oxidation that I will remove with 320-grit sandpaper once I get it mounted back onto the stand.  Here's a shot of the bed after a couple of hours of grinding away.

Night and day, eh? I hit it with some 3-in-1 oil so it wouldn't start oxydizing again while I work on the stand. Speaking of the stand, it's a rusted mess, as well.

You can see where I hit the bolt heads with the drill brush. I found an $80 bench grinder for $30 on Craigslist, still in the box and ready to go. I'm going to pick it up this afternoon and disassemble the stand so I can grind away on it using a wire brush wheel. Doing it by hand using the drill would prove to be too much for my delicate little fingies. Besides, I've had occasion to use a grinder in the last couple of months, yet held off on the purchase. It's time.

Once I get the stand brushed down, I'll repaint it with black Rustoleum, remount the jointer and call it good. This is a slight diversion from progress on the instrument, but it needs to be done and I don't have the luxury of assigning it to one of my apprentices, so it gets completed during evening and weekend shop time. Ah, the rigors of working alone (I'll take it over working with others any day).

Until next time...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Project Update: A Better Way

As I'm working on filing and sanding the natural key tops, it occurs to me there must be a better way to go about this for two reasons: 1) Doing it by hand is an incredibly organic (i.e., non-replicable) process resulting in each key having its own, unique characteristics, which sounds far better than it actually is and 2) It's killing my delicate little fingies and hands. Since I've started the process, I can only complete two or three per day because of the chronic pain issues caused by my CTS surgery. It's not unbearable, I just don't look forward to causing myself pain every night.

I'm wondering if it wouldn't be possible to make the transition cut between the head and tail and also at the second score line so that I ended up with three pieces to glue. I could then use a finish router to trim the corners of the heads. I could easily build a router table that would accommodate my little finish router and it would be easy enough to run the head strips through the router even before cutting them for length. This is probably a nutty idea, but one I'm willing to consider.

The trouble with this approach is that I'm back to making astonishingly small cuts with a very fast moving blade. If I go this route, I would consider purchasing a tiny table saw (4" blade) intended to cut stained glass to make those cuts. If you have any experience with this sort of thing, please comment below. We can assume this is a crazy idea, so you need not remark about that. If you have a creative solution or two, I'm all ears. In the meantime, back to filing and sanding...filing and sanding...

Until next time...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Day 61: Crisis Averted

It turns out only two of the natural key top heads were off by around one millimeter on the end where they butt up against the tails. I simply trimmed them on the band saw and all is well. This was a close call, one that I will never forget, especially the lesson that I need to review Mr. Miller's eBook Most Excellent on a regular basis before proceeding - with anything. Once I determined things were okay, I went ahead and glued up the remaining natural key top tails.

The sharp tops are not yet completed, though it may look like it. I still need to cut, trim and glue up the quarter sawn red oak for them. The veneers are only 1/16" thick; this will make it oddly both easier and more difficult to get them the right size. Fortunately, all of the sharps, including their tops, are exactly the same size, so I can set up a system and power through them in an assembly line fashion.

Once I completed the tail glue ups, I went ahead and notched all of the heads.

All of the drama I introduced in a previous post about notching with my new, razor sharp knife was rather silly. The notches are designed to protect the second score line from the file and should be neither too deep nor too long. One of the Facebook page followers suggested that I use a file with a flat edge to file down the corners of the naturals. I don't have a bench grinder to easily accomplish this with, so guess what my next purchase will be.

On the few I did file, I decided to use a larger raspish file, a medium, and then a fine file to complete them. Unfortunately, I nicked the second score line on a couple, so I'm stopping production until I can pick up a bench grinder to smooth out one side of the files. It's just too much work to ruin keys at this point, especially when the fix is so easy.

After filing down the edges, I used 220 and 400 grain sandpaper to smooth them up and finished buffing them with a heavy duty Scotch-Brite pad, my new favorite tool. As you can see in the photo below, they look pretty good, even without any finish on them.

I found a bench grinder on Craigslist a few miles north of the shop and the guy only wants $25 (I'm betting he'll take $20) for it. Once I get it set up, I'll be back in business and posting my progress here.

Until then...

Friday, November 21, 2014

Day 60: Uh Oh...

I've been gluing natural key top heads with abandon, never once using a straight edge to line them all up. It's been a great experience and I've really felt like I've made some serious progress on the project.

Big mistake.

Tonight, I get to see how badly they're misaligned. If they are, and I suspect they are, I will need to come up with a strategy for realigning them, if that's even possible. Hey, it's just wood, right? This is one of those times I question what the heck I'm thinking and quitting is certainly easier than fixing a stupid, stupid oversight. All I needed to do was sit down with Mr. Miller's eBook Most Excellent and review his directions before taking any action. In fact, I resolved to do this early on and have not done it once during the course of the project. In this case, hindsight ain't all it's cracked up to be.

In the meantime, I cut and shaped some quarter sawn red oak laminate that I rejected from the initial batch of cuts. I just wanted to see if I could get it cut and trimmed up to fit on the top of a sharp. As you can see, I did this, but no glue was involved and I will diligently review Mr. Miller's directions before proceeding with the real thing.

I also completed the miter box and it works great - the cuts are finer and smoother. At least I'm happy with that. One thing I would like to do is work on designing more jigs, as well as a sled for the table saw. I've mentioned the sled in a previous post. I think it's time. A sled will allow me to make the tiny cuts with a maximum of safety, which is nice.

I was considering indulging in a pleasant diversion - building a Baroque guitar during this project, but I may reconsider because I feel I need to focus on this instrument. I clearly need to be more thorough in my approach. Regardless, here's a photo of the plan for the guitar.

As you can see, it's an odd little creature. It will also be a LOT of work. The ebony/bone pattern work will take a lot of time. I was considering it a chance/reason to build the sled for cutting the minuscule laminates, but, again, I'm thinking now that my focus should be on the harpsichord. This latest screwup with the natural key heads is a biggie and I may have to start the keyboard over. Heck, it only took me six months to get this far, what's another six to nine months, right?

Until next time...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Day 59: Sharp Key Top Covers

I was able to get enough quarter sawn red oak cut last night to, I believe, cover all of the sharp key tops. As you will recall, I'm building this instrument in the Craftsman/Arts & Crafts/Mission style using quarter sawn oak when and where appropriate. This is one of those places where and when it's appropriate. It also obviates the need for me to use bone, as is the custom these days, especially since ivory imports to the U.S. have been curtailed.

As with the arcades on the front of the naturals, I cut my own quarter sawn oak pieces for the sharp covers. Rather than purchase the wood from a specialty, exotic woods store for $9/board ft. or more, I simply used some red oak I purchased from Lowe's. The piece is flat sawn, yet, as a consequence, the sides are nicely quarter sawn and cost me a fraction of what I would pay for wood from a place like Woodrafters or Gilmer Wood Company. I think the entire board cost me something like $12 for a 3/4" x 6" x 8' piece, rather than $36 elsewhere.

The laminates are only 1/16" thick, so cutting them on a full-sized table saw is a bit tricky. The key is to set the feather board (the blue thing in the photo above) at 1/16" from the saw blade and move the rip fence closer to the blade as I cut the slices from the board, and to also use the zero clearance insert (the red thing in the photo above). Easy peasy, but still a little scary given the small tolerances. I'm thankful every time I use the table saw for my GRR-Ripper from MicroJig (the yellow thing in the photo above). Safety first at Tortuga Ancient Instruments!

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was putting together a custom miter box that would allow me to use one of my smaller pull saws to cut the natural key tops. The plastic miter box was okay, but it required me to use a saw that was pretty rough on the laminate cuts as I trimmed them down. With this new box, I can get finer cuts that will sand nicely and create a final product of higher quality.

The next step is to cut the remaining natural key tops using the new miter box so I can get this keyboard wrapped up - it's been six months already!!

Until next time...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Day 58: Preparing the Sharps

I was able to complete the buffing of the final sharps last night. I did this while sitting on the couch watching My Big, Fat Greek Wedding. I've decided to start using Windex as a fix-all in the shop. In fact, along with the buffing, I took the protective tape off of the sharp tops and keysticks using Windex.

Yes, I'm kidding.

As you can see, they're ready for the quarter sawn red oak tops. I will be cutting these tiny laminates on the table saw using a feather board, a shimmed zero-clearance throat (more on this later) and a heap of patience; they must be no more than 1/16" thick and are astonishingly small in general. It should prove to be another interesting experience, indeed.

I continue to glue up the natural key top tails and I've started the construction of a little miter box that I can use for slicing and dicing the smaller pieces required by future keyboard work. I'm not completely done with the natural key top heads because I decided to cut three of them off for a variety of screwup-related reasons. I'll get at these this weekend once I can get back into the shop and  the miter box is completed (personal reasons prevent it at this time).

Until next time...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Day 57: Happy Birthday to Me!

Yes, yesterday, November 11 - Veteran's Day - was my birthday. Frankly, I've stopped counting and/or acknowledging how many years I've been on the planet, so it's a bigger deal to friends and family than it is to me. More importantly, I was able to spend some time in the shop last night and finished gluing up all of the natural key top heads and even started a few tails.

It's coming along slowly but surely. Because of this, I've decided to name my company Tortuga Ancient Instruments. Regardless of my speed, I'm happy with my progress so far, including the two naturals I've filed and sanded (they're the ones with the tails glued on in the photo above); this bodes well for the remaining keys. I'm planning to get more of the tails glued up tonight so I can start filing and sanding in earnest. I also nearly have the buffing of the sharps completed - just four more to go and I'm there.

Until next time...

P.S. Watch for a new project on the horizon - a Baroque guitar modeled on an instrument that may have been owned by Marie Antoinette. Apparently, she let them eat cake AND play guitar. There is no historical evidence, though, that she let them do both at the same time.