Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Day 13: Setting the Bentside Jig Aside - Back to Work on Those Keys

These blocks are for the bentside jig. Now that the keyboard parts have arrived, I'm going to set these aside and get back to finishing those keys.

By next Monday (today is Wednesday), I will have picked up a dado blade set for the table saw and ordered dado and zero clearance throat plates, as well as the Roller Holder for the fence.  Good times ahead...

Project Tip: Know Your Power Tools

I've been struggling with cuts on my table saw for some time now. The trouble is that wood often comes off burned on one side, which requires me to sand when it shouldn't really be necessary. And, as you probably know by now, sanding ain't one of my favorite pastimes.

Don't get me wrong - I love, love, love my table saw - it's a Riyobi BT3000 that includes a router table so I can use the rip fence as a router fence whenever I need to work some routing magic. Here's a stylized picture of my wondermachine:

I discovered last night that the back end of the fence was not holding fast once I locked it into place. The wiggle room is only a couple of millimeters, but it's enough to throw off a cut and cause the burning. Upon closer inspection, I discovered the part that clamps the fence to the rail on the far side is broken and it's been in that state since I purchased the saw a couple of years ago. Here's the part:

The culprit is the part marked '7' on the diagram. I found a replacement for it on It's called a "Roller Holder" and costs $3.16. 

Lesson learned.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Project Update: They're Heeeeeeeere!

The pins, papers, and felts have arrived. No more time for jiggy nonsense - back to work on the keyframe and keyboard. Thank you, The Instrument Workshop!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Project Tip: I See Jigs in My Immediate Future

The keyframe parts still haven't arrived; they must be coming up by bicycle messenger. In the meantime, I will need a few jigs down the road. Woodworking jigs run the spectrum from cutting aids to clamping systems - and everything in between. Fortunately, Mr. Miller's excellent e-book has an entire chapter on helpful jigs, including one for the bentside.

While patiently awaiting the keyframe parts, my son Trey and I will begin constructing the large jig that is a clamping system for the bentside of the instrument. Some harpsichord makers use a solid 1/2" piece of wood and bend it using heat and steam, but I'm going to create a laminate because I'm using the quarter sawn oak in the Mission style. In this case, I will use two 1/8" piece of quarter sawn red oak veneer for the inside and outside of the bentside that will sandwich enough 1/8" pieces of poplar to create a 1/2" thick bentside for the instrument. The image below illustrates the jig clamping a bentside during glue-up.

The other parts of the case sides - the spine, cheek, and tail - will not require lamination. I will simply use 1/2" thick poplar for these. The graphic below illustrates these parts. I will not be working on the case sides until the entire keyboard structure is completed, but why not get something done while I'm in a holding pattern, right?

Graphics from Harpsichord Project 3.1 E-book by Ernest Miller.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Project Digression: A Silver Lining?

I was poking around the Interwebs looking for more parts supply sites the other day when I ran across these photos posted by someone selling this sweet double manual with pedal specimen. Hey, if I buy it and the harpsichord is unredeemable, at least I have a sex doll to fall back on, right?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Project Tip: Be Patient with Your Suppliers

I ordered the punched papers and felt, back rail felt and all rail pins to complete the keyframe from The Instrument Workshop via email as requested on their website. When I didn't hear from them in over 24 hours, I called to make sure my email had not been spam blocked. The helpful gentleman who answered sounded absolutely horrible and he confirmed this by saying he had just gotten out of the hospital with a respiratory infection. Poor guy. I quickly let him go after he said he would follow up ASAP.

At around midnight the same day, I received an email with a PayPal request for payment from guess who - yep, The Instrument Workshop. They're shipping from Ashland, Oregon and, since I'm located in Vancouver, Washington, it means the parts will be here some time next week.

The lesson I took from this is to always remain mindful that my suppliers are people just like me working hard to make it on a daily basis in this crazy, mixed up world. Helpful The Instrument Workshop guy, I salute you!

Now, where are my parts...?  :-)

Day 12: Cutting the Keyframe Pieces

What's a keyframe, you ask? Well, naturally, the keyframe is the framework the keys sit on; it consists of a balance rail and a back rail. The balance rail is the fulcrum for the keys and the back rail holds pins that keep the keys from slipping side-to-side and clacking when the player releases one.

The keyframe consists of two side pieces that secure the oak balance rail and poplar back rail. I'll be using a tool given to me by Bill Rodgers, a friend and master carpenter, to determine how much to angle my table saw blade for the cut. For this reason, I call it my Rodgers Tool. It turns out the Rodgers Tool decided I needed to set the table saw blade at a 16 degree angle to get the proper bevel cut. Yes, I tested it on some scrap wood first.

Once the bevel cut tested out fine on the scrap, I went ahead and cut the balance rail.

As you can see, it could not have worked better. I'm so proud of my table saw right now. Next step: Cut the dados and rabbets into the side rails that hold the balance and back rails in place. Can't wait...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Day 11: Finishing Up the Arcades...Really

I purchased another brad point drill bit set today with a 1/8" bit, so I went ahead and made the final drill cuts on the arcades. I must admit that I was a bit conflicted because the Forstner bits had a small, pointy brad end of their own that left quite the indent when all was said and done. I tested the new bit on a piece of scrap and it definitely looked better than the side effect holes left by the Forstner bits.

Once I completed the brad bit drilling, I needed to trim the entire arcade piece down to the desired final height and depth, which was 1/2" x 1/4". I used the planer to complete this final trim and I am quite pleased with the result.

The final step in this arcade adventure is to glue the arcade strip to the front end of the keyboard.

Yes, that's green painter's tape, a staple of instrument makers everywhere. I clamped the keyboard to the table saw (a table saw is a great gluing board because yellow wood glue just pops right off when it dries) to ensure a nice, flat finished product.

The next step will be completing the keyframe, which includes some pretty accurate rabbet and dado work, as well as key pin placements, etc. This will be exacting work, but someone's gotta do it, right?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Day 10: Finishing Up the Arcades...Almost

I made the 5/8" and 3/8" arcade cuts today with the Forstner bits. When I went to complete the final cuts with the 1/8" brad bit, I realized I have brad bits in many sizes, just not that one.

More to come after I purchase the bit...

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Project Tip: A Note on Hardwood Cut Types

Because I'm making such a big deal out of the quarter sawn oak, I thought it might be helpful to post something up about the different hardwood cuts available to the fledgling builder (like me). you go (click the link below).

What is the Difference Between Quarter Sawn, Rift Sawn, and Plain Sawn Lumber?

Day 9.2: Preparing the Arcades for Drilling

The arcades for each key are prepared much like the keyboard - from a single piece of wood. The product measurements called for by Mr. Miller's wonderful e-book are 1/2" x 1 1/2" x 32". Because I purchased the oak at Home Depot, it comes in 3/4" thickness, not the initial thickness called for by Mr. Miller. While the desired thickness is 1 1/2", I don't see the current 3/4" thickness as a problem because I would have trimmed the 1 1/2" down, anyway (I hope this is making sense).  Here I am preparing to chop it to 32"; I will rip it down to 1/2" depth after this length cut.

No, my chop saw is not pink, it's salmon (that's okay, my wife doesn't buy it, either).

The photo below illustrates the markings for the arcade cuts and the drill press I'm going to use to make them.

I'll be using two Forstner bits - 5/8" and 3/8" - to make the concentric circle cuts and a brad bit (if necessary) to finish off the effect. A Forstner bit is different than a regular drill bit in that it produces a relatively flat surface after the cut with one twist: a dimple in the middle, which is a very good thing. Let me explain.

The way I am lining up the cuts here is to lay the keyboard blank (the big poplar piece that I drew on) flat and tape the arcade piece to it. I then trace the key marking into the arcade piece as you can see in the photo above the drill press. This gives me a perfect representation of my keys as a template - if they're a little off in width, that's okay because it will be relative based on how I used the keyboard blank to make the marks.

Eventually, the arcade blank will be 1/2" high by 1/4" thick. At this point, it's 3/4" high, so I will draw a horizontal line the length of the piece through the key marks at 1/2" below the top of the arcade blank. Where the vertical key marks and my new line intersect, I will use an awl to set a shallow dimple. Because every Forstner bit has a small brad point on its end, I will simply clamp a fence to the drill press that allows me to align the drill bit with the dimple and drill 1/16" deep - 31 times.

I know this is a long explanation, sorry. My point is important: All good wood cuts just end up being geometry and, if you're lucky with multiple cuts, a production line approach. In this case, once I've made the dimples in the arcade blank and properly set up the drill press fence, it will be easy to drill each "hole". The depth is no problem because the drill press has a depth gauge that is pretty darned accurate.

Day 10 will detail my final cuts with the Forstner and brad bits.  Until then...

Day 9.1: Choosing the Arcade Wood

Arcades are the decorative caps on the ends of harpsichord keys facing the player. As you can see from the photo below, they are usually made from a light wood with concentric half-circles cut into them. The photo below is from The Harpsichord Project E-book 3.1 by Ernest Miller.

As with all of the external pieces and parts of this instrument, I will be making the arcades from quarter sawn oak. Now, this can be a rather expensive proposition - unless you are creative about the source of your lumber. After looking over red oak at Home Depot, I realized I could rip a plain, old $10 piece of oak lengthwise to get the arcade piece I need. Purchasing a quarter sawn piece of red oak at a specialty lumber shop would have cost me $20 or more. The photos below illustrate what plain sawn oak looks like when fronted for sale at Home Depot and what the quarter sawn side-effect looks like when turned 90 degrees.

Because I have good, reliable tools, I will be doing a lot more of this sort of thing. This will cut the cost of completing the instrument down a considerable amount, which is a very good thing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Day 8: Drawing the Keyboard onto the Blank

The photos below illustrate the process of drawing the keys onto the keyboard blank. It's exacting and exhausting work. While I would like to charge on to cutting the individual keys out (using a band saw and scroll saw), the next step is to locate a nice piece of quarter sawn oak for the arcades - decorative pieces on the end of each key facing the player. As you can imagine, the arcades are prepared using a single piece of wood and are then cut apart as the keys are cut. More on this later.

Project Tip: Gilmer Wood Co. - Heaven in NW PDX!

This is a photo of just one wall of the tonewood room at Gilmer Wood Co. in NW Portland. It's a truly magical place. They just happen to have gotten a load of large spruce lumber in recently and they said they will cut the soundboard to my specification when I'm ready. Sounds expensive.

Day 7: Keyboard Blank Trimmed and Ready to Go!

The keyboard blank has been trimmed to 14 15/16" x 29" and is now ready for me to draw the keys on using templates provided by Mr. Miller. But!

Day 6: Trey to the Rescue!

My son, Trey, helped scrape and sand down the keyboard blank today while I was at the day job. He's my Sanding Block Warrior! In fact, he has more woodworking experience than I and has made some great suggestions so far. Thanks, Trey!

The next step is to trim this piece down to 14 15/16" x 29" and start working on the arcades, the decorative pieces that are tacked onto the ends of the keys facing the player. I will make these from a single piece of quarter sawn oak in keeping with my Mission style design theme. Trey has approved this idea.

Day 5: The Good, Old Cabinet Scraper

A truly ancient woodworking tool is the cabinet scraper - you can see it laying on the keyboard blank below. The cabinet scraper has been used for centuries and is an invaluable tool for woodworkers everywhere. It is simply a hardened piece of metal with a sharpened edge. It's not quite razor sharp, but it could cut you if you're not careful. The goal of using a scraper in this case is to get as much of the dried glue off the blank as possible. It's hard work, but not as exhausting as sanding.

Day 4: The Keyboard Blank Glue-up

Everything went without a hitch gluing the keyboard blank pieces today. I can see by how it's drying that a lot of sanding will ensue over the next couple of days. Note: I did use the Big Fellas (my large clamps); they're under the pieces supporting them.

I'm not really looking forward to the next step - sanding is not my favorite woodworking task. Yet, it must be done if the show is to go on. And it must go on.

Day 3: Preparing for the Big Glue-Up

When jointing two or more pieces of wood, it's important to have clean, crisp edges at the interface. This is where the trusty jointer comes in. This tool is intended to work with smaller cuts of wood and I typically reserve it for exactly what I'm doing here: matching up two pieces of wood so they glue together nicely.

Unfortunately, I ended up not being happy with one of them, so it's more poplar, planing, ripping, crosscutting, and jointing before I can engage in the big glue-up. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Day 2: Cutting the Keyboard Pieces

Now that I've successfully cut the six 1/2" x 5" x 18" pieces on the table saw, I will begin the process of jointing them using my largest clamps (photo below).

I've not yet built anything requiring these large clamps, so it will be a new experience for me using them, which is what this project is really all about. When I'm not working on minuscule parts and pieces, I'll be working on furniture-sized ones. It was late when I finished these up, so I hit the sack and looked forward to Day 3.

Project Tip: A Note on Not Rushing

It turned out that I ended up with five keyboard pieces from the two boards I purchased at Lowe's. The interesting thing about this is that I had calculated on Day 1 that I would need a 10' board and went ahead and purchased an 8-footer. The result is that I needed to purchase another 4-footer to get the final piece needed. Clearly, I need to slow down and do more planning before purchasing and cutting wood. The lesson: Measure twice, cut once - or at least measure twice before purchasing wood. Lesson learned. I hope.

Day 1: Starting the Keyboard

The base of the keyboard is made from poplar or basswood. In my case, it is poplar because both Home Depot and Lowe's carry it in various sizes and both are generally less expensive than a specialty/exotic wood store. Specialty stores will be necessary later when I begin using ebony and quarter-sawn oak. For now, I'm using poplar purchased initially from Lowe's. In fact, the photo below is their idea of "Please cut this board in half."

As you can see, good help is hard to find these days. Regardless, I purchased a 1" x 6" x 8' piece of wood for around $20 and needed them to cut it in half because I drive a Kia, not a truck. Hey, that's just how I roll. The goal here is to end up with six 1/2" x 5" x 18" pieces that I will joint (glue together in a side-by-side fashion) together to create one large piece from which I will eventually cut the keys.

The first step is to plane the two pieces to 1/2" from their original purchase size. Now, the interesting thing is that any finished lumber you purchase has already been planed so that 1" is really 3/4". This means I need only remove about 1/4" using a planer (photo below).

A planer is a wonderful piece of machinery. If the knives are sharp and everything is working as it is supposed to, a planer will make short work of trimming 1/4" from the boards. And, voila! As you can see below, I'm well on my way.

The board on the right above has been planed to 1/2", the one on the left is next. As you can see below, both are planed and ready for ripping and cross-cutting.

More to come...

Project Tip: A Word on Design Style

Though the plans I am using are based on an instrument built by Andreas Ruckers in 1640, I intend to build this instrument in the Mission style. You may be familiar with this design style under other names - Craftsman, Arts and Crafts, Stickley, Greene and Greene, etc. I'm using the Mission style for this instrument for no other reason than I like it. Something about the quarter-sawn oak and the rich hues of the stains used for period furniture have always resonated with me. Will I be successful in bringing this style into the project? Only time will tell...

In the Beginning

This blog presents my best effort to build a harpsichord based on an instrument created by Andreas Ruckers in 1640. I'm working from the incredible Harpsichord Project E-book 3.1 by Ernest Miller. This e-book has detailed instructions with photos, videos, and links to suppliers and I would not have attempted this project without Mr. Miller's excellent e-book. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to him.

When I tell people I'm building a harpsichord from scratch, many ask if I'm using a kit or they simply look at me as if I'm crazy. No, I'm not using a kit - all of the materials are described in detail and the method for creating the instrument is clearly explained by Mr. Miller. I have some woodworking experience, but I do not consider myself in any way a professional level woodworker. I initially put together my shop to build acoustic guitars and I've built some furniture and crafty goods for friends and family, as well.

It was some time last year that I began playing a harpsichord at the Portland Community Music Center when I realized the harpsichord and guitar are quite similar in construction. The soundboard on a harpsichord is as thin as a guitar top and the sides act much like the sides of a guitar. I was looking for harpsichord plans in general when I ran across Mr. Miller's e-book and the rest was, as they say, history.

I hope you enjoy watching my progress as I muddle my way through creating this beautiful instrument. I will make mistakes and I will have surprising successes along the way. More than anything, I simply want to learn how to craft a fine instrument that can be passed down by my family for years to come.

Onward! Darin