Sunday, July 6, 2014

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...

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