Friday, July 18, 2014

Day 25: Placing Pins, Installing Papers and Felts

I was able to get the new balance rail pins (yes, the ones that were 1/4" too long) cut and set last night. After long and careful consideration, I decided to try cutting each balance rail pin using my trusty bolt cutter. Why I have a bolt cutter laying around is beyond the scope of this post, yet there it is.

Once I cut 1/4" off each pin, I was able to get them placed without a hitch.

As you may (or may not) be able to see, the .005" diameter difference is noticeable to the naked eye, yet it's a non-issue for my purposes; they are placed, they will work, 'nuff said.

Once I placed the remaining pins, I installed the papers and felts.

Easy peasy. The only step left is gluing the back rail cushion felt against the back rail pins. Mr. Miller suggests that I glue only 1/2" (it's 1 1/4" wide) of the felt at the back of the keyframe. This way, the felt on which the key ends rest and are cushioned will not harden or become fixed over time. It turns out I do not have any felt glue handy in the shop, so I'm going to pick some up tonight. Once I get it glued up, the keyframe will be officially completed. Please tell my wife that I am, in fact, capable of finishing something.

Until then...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Project Update: Soundboard Pricing on a Beautiful Day

I took a much-needed break from the day job and walked down to Gilmer Wood Co. to price the wood for the instrument soundboard. This piece is very much like a guitar top - 1/8" thick and considered a "tonewood" - and you can actually rap on it when it's been sliced to determine the tone produced using an electronic tuner. The weather is beautiful today, so I snatched the opportunity to get out of the office and catch the tonewood dude out in the shop doing tonewood dude stuff.

When I reminded the tonewood dude that he asked me during a previous visit to return with specific measurements for the soundboard, he got a little annoyed because the nice spruce billets are buried high up on a rack that would require a forklift to maneuver around. Once I explained to him that I was there to 1) get out of the office for a bit and 2) simply price the wood, he settled down. Apparently, tonewood dudes can be a little touchy about actually doing their tonewood dude jobs.

Tonewood dude angst aside, it turns out I can purchase a 10' x 10" x 2" piece for $225. Because I need five 1/8" thick pieces five feet long, six inches wide, this means I can get enough soundboards out of the piece for two harpsichords because I will have them cut to 6' x 6" x 1/4" to start. Though this is a very good thing, I am left with two dilemmas. The first is how to transport a 10' x 10" x 2" piece of spruce in my Kia Rio and the second is how to get it sliced accurately. My original intent was to cut such pieces myself on my new band saw, but there is really no way I could cut a piece of that length without the blade floating around and making a general nuisance of itself.

Fortunately, Creative Woodworking NW on SE 10th and Taylor in our fair city (PDX) will slice and dice the billet any old way I want - for $60 per hour. This might sound like a lot, but it's really not that much to get smooth, accurate slices, especially for such a critical part of the instrument as the soundboard. It should take them no more than 30 minutes to do the work, costing me only $30 for the cuts. Combining this with the fact that the billet will yield four soundboards means I will be paying only $127.50 per soundboard. I don't know where you make your home, but in my neck of the woods, that ain't too shabby at all.

I'll keep you posted on how I solve the first dilemma: transporting the beast!

Until then...

Day 24: Preparing the Key Covers

I haven't been able to get much done on the instrument the past few days, though I was able to get some sanding on the key cover wood completed. It turns out my zero-clearance insert for the table saw prevented me from getting a nice, clean cut using the glue line rip blade because the insert is inset just a hair too much. When I feed the wood through, it drops down and wobbles a bit. This leaves slight blade marks that need to be sanded. So much for the glue line rip cut idea.

I first rough sanded the pieces using the electric sander with large grit sandpaper to remove the blade marks. Then, I used 220-grit sandpaper with a manual sanding block (not my favorite task). Finally, I sanded a couple down using 320-grit and they turned out really beautiful.  The photo below illustrates the pieces after hitting them with the 220. All of this sanding concerns me because I'm afraid of trimming too much off of each piece (woodworking is a fundamentally subtractive process, after all), so I'll be careful. I suspect it won't matter too much at the end of the day.

On a different note, I have a small (.005") problem with the pins I ordered from Hubbard Harpsichords; they're .005" smaller in diameter (because I measured with my digital micrometer, that's how) than the pins from The Instrument Workshop. They still fit snugly into the drilled holes, so it's probably not going to be a problem at all, I just need to be sure to account for the difference when cutting the end slots into each key. The real problem is that I ordered 1 1/2" pins when I should have ordered 1 1/4". Again, I rushed into an order without checking measurements twice. In this case, I'm going to try sawing 1/4" off a pin and setting it to see if it works. If it does, I'm golden. If not, I will be ordering another 65 pins from Hubbard Harpsichords.

Some good lessons this week. Until next time...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Day 23: Key Scoring Jig

I was able to complete the key scoring jig last night. In the photo below, you can see one 1/4" iron bar laid across the key top held snugly in the jig. When I actually do the scoring with a razor knife, I will use two bars to score each key cover twice. You'll see in a subsequent post or two why this is important for both decoration and completion of the key tops.

The parts from Hubbard Harpsichords arrived, so the next step is to complete the pinning and felting of the keyframe.  Until then...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Project Digression: How It's Made

I haven't made much progress on the instrument since this past weekend. I'll be working on pinning and gluing the felt on the keyframe tonight, yet I wanted to give you something to look at in the meantime. Here's a short piece from How Products are Made that provides a few of the details regarding harpsichord construction.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Project Update: A New, Old Bailey #5 Bench Plane

We took a day trip to the Oregon Coast over the Independence Day weekend and, lo and behold, I found myself inside Vintage Hardware in Astoria. They have lots of cool old stuff for sale, including old/antique door knobs, light fixtures, mouldings, doors, windows, furniture - you get the idea. They even had a harpsichord replica coffee table. It was pretty horrific, but, hey, who am I to judge?

On a shelf with some other hand tools, I found a Stanley Bailey #5 Bench Plane (corrugated bottom) in fairly rough condition for $15.00. It's missing a couple of parts, but I should be able to replace them for a few bucks.  A refurbished model runs between $100 and $150, especially if it was made before 1950, so I'm going to make this a mini-project and see what happens.

What do you think?  Is it worth at least a shot?

Day 22: Ripping the Natural Key Covers

I keep referring to the "natural" and "sharp" keys as I describe the work I'm doing for the keyboard. The naturals are the flat keys you see on a keyboard; typically, these are white and made from a material such as ivory, bone or a synthetic like plastic or nylon. Historically, the naturals on a harpsichord are dark and made from ebony or another dark, nearly black, wood. The sharps are the keys that are set back a ways and rise above the naturals; typically, these are black on modern keyboards yet are topped with a lighter color on harpsichords because they are made of bone, ivory or a synthetic material much like the naturals on a modern keyboard.

In this case, I'm using African blackwood from Gilmer Wood Co. in NW Portland for the naturals. I was able to purchase several blocks used for "turning" - using a lathe to make something long and thin. Because I have all of the tools necessary, I am able to rip (cut lengthwise) these pieces into thinner strips so I can use them as natural key covers. Before ripping them, though, I decided to smooth all sides using my planer.

This planer spins razor sharp blades at high speed to trim off as much as I choose using a crank-handled depth gauge to raise and lower the blades. In this case, I took off around 1/32" per cut because I wanted to preserve as much of this precious wood as possible. The photo below illustrates a before-and-after example of this work.

As you can see, this is a very nice wood that will look great covering the naturals on my keyboard.

Once I planed down all of the sticks, I ripped them to 1/8" using the glue line rip blade I recently purchased from The blue do-dad below is a "featherboard" that holds the wood at a constant 1/8" from the side of the blade closest to it. When I ripped one, I would simply move the fence closer to the blade using the wood as a spacer against the featherboard to get another perfect 1/8" cut. This is an example of my opinion that most good woodworking is composed of geometry and production work. And wood.

I did learn something about ripping thin strips during this exercise: Use a piece of scrap wood as a push stick that's at least as wide as the piece of wood you are ripping.  That way, you can push the cut piece through the blade while also cutting the end of the push stick. It damages the push stick, yet it also holds both sides firmly as you push the wood clear of the blade. Another interesting point to note is that the featherboard acts as an anti-kickback device, which is nice. Just a little more sanding the these puppies will be ready to go.

The next step is to build a key scoring jig before cutting the veneers down to size for the key covers. You'll see what I mean in a later post.

Until then...

Day 21: Keyboard Sanding Completed

I finished up sanding the keys using power and hand (block) sanders. I used the small power sander for the rougher parts and the block sander using 220 grit sandpaper for the finish work.  It's nice to have this completed so I can move on to the key covers.

The next step is to begin ripping the African blackwood veneers for the natural key covers on the table saw.

Until then...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Day 20: Sanding, Sanding, Sanding...

I was able to get the glue line rip blade installed on the table saw, yet I decided to put my focus back on the keys for a bit; they needed a good sanding before moving on. I'm almost halfway done:

I'm hoping to make some serious progress this Independence Day weekend. The additional balance rail pins and key mortise punch should be here any minute now. Once they arrive, I can complete the keyframe and make significant progress on the keyboard.

Until then...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Project Update: Glue Line Rip Blade Heaven

I'm still awaiting the arrival of the additional balance rail pins and a key mortise punch to complete the keyframe/keyboard setup. While I circle the airport (no, not the drain), I am jumping around a bit with the intent of completing the project in a more timely manner.

One task I can complete while waiting is to cut the African black wood natural key veneers. The keys on a harpsichord are historically different than those we are accustomed to seeing on a piano these days. The natural keys are generally a dark wood and the sharps are a lighter material, though the keys of the instrument that motivated me to start this project are like a contemporary piano with white naturals and black sharps. Modern builders use either organic materials (wood and bone) or synthetics intended to mimic the organic stuff for the surface of keys (i.e., veneers). Here's an example of a traditional harpsichord keyboard.

Photo courtesy of Ernest Miller's The Harpsichord Project E-book 3.1.

A veneer is a thin strip or piece of wood that overlays a different underlying material. In the case of this project, the keyboard naturals and sharps are all made of poplar, a light, flexible wood that I've enjoyed working with. Rather than purchase pre-cut key veneers, or covers, at great expense from Hubbard Harpsichords or Zuckerman Harpsichords, I will be manufacturing these myself from stock purchased at Gilmer Wood Co. (African black wood) and, well, Home Depot (quarter sawn red oak).

In order to get the best cut possible for all of the covers, I will be using a Glue Line Rip blade from Freud Tools, my manufacturer of choice for table saw and compound mitre saw blades. The purpose of this blade is to rip wood so that it's ready for glue-up straight from the table saw. Cutting these extremely thin veneers will take a little planning and a lot of patience, but I'm up for the challenge. Here's a shot of the new blade I purchased on from a guy in Seattle.

As I always say, I'm ready, Freddy!  Until then...