Monday, September 29, 2014

Day 45: Taped Up and Ready for Paint

I finished taping up the sharps tonight in preparation for their painting with black semi-gloss. You may be wondering why I'm painting them black when I've already told you the sharps on a harpsichord are light wood or bone and the naturals are dark wood such as ebony. Well, you'll notice in the photo below that I taped the tops of the sharps with the intent of providing a clean surface on which to glue quarter sawn red oak strips. Remember, I'm completing this instrument in the Craftsman/Arts & Crafts/Mission style, which requires quarter sawn (red) oak with ebony/African blackwood accents.

Yes, I use green painter's tape, rather than the traditional blue. This was recommended to me by the first guy who taught me anything about building guitars many moons ago, so I'm sticking with it (pun intended). Regardless of the tape color, I'll be painting them with six coats of black semi-gloss (not at the guide rail ends, of course) and sanding with 320-grit sandpaper every two coats.

Now, this is real progress!

Until next time...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Project Update: Following Directions

In dealing with the extra sanding of the sharps, I decided to revisit Mr. Miller's eBook Most Excellent to see again what he had to say about cutting them on the table saw. Well, it turns out he basically uses a crosscut sled and a spacing stop against the rip fence. A crosscut sled is a framed structure that you lay wood in to more easily, and less dangerously, cut it on the table saw. Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

Photo courtesy of

Now, I'm not 100% certain he is using a sled from the pictures in the eBook Most Excellent, but he is certainly supporting the wood with another piece of wood. He also uses a "sacrificial" piece of wood against the back of the cut to prevent tear-out, something that frequently happens when sawing or drilling wood without the additional support.

Well, heck, here's the photo of the cut from the eBook Most Excellent (he has removed the spacer):

Photo courtesy of The Harpsichord Project e-Book 3.1 by Ernest Miller of Ernest Miller Harpsichords

As you may recall, I decided to cut the sharps on the band saw with its table tilted at 10 degrees. Big mistake. Okay, maybe not a big mistake, but I really should have cut them on the table saw because it would have prevented the wee, little cut marks on the sides that I had to take the time and effort to sand away. And you know by now how much I love sanding.

So, the moral of the story is to follow the directions, especially when they've been created by a guy who's been at it for 30 years and has been generous enough to share his knowledge with the world as Mr. Miller has.

Lesson learned (again).

Day 44: Gluing the Sharps

I finished gluing up the sharps last night. The interesting thing about this step is that it required using a "rub joint". This is a simple operation in which you spread glue on one or both surfaces and rub it until it firms up. Some say this pushes the glue into the pores of the wood. I think it may do that a bit, yet it also help dry up the glue, making it more sticky to the point where the surfaces adhere pretty solidly together. I must admit it was a bit odd not clamping with a clothespin or small clamp, yet it worked quite well.

In preparation for gluing the sharp pieces to the keys, I weighted down the back of the keys and then lightly clamped a straightedge across a line I drew when the keyboard was still a large piece of jointed wood.

When I posted this photo to the Facebook project page, my Australian observer suggested I finish capping the naturals before proceeding with gluing the sharps. He reasoned that I would be able to adjust the positions of the sharps easier if the naturals were completed. I emailed Mr. Miller, author of the eBook Most Excellent about it and he said that it's done both ways and that it's a matter of personal preference. Because his directions have thus far not steered me wrong, I decided to continue to follow them and move ahead with gluing the sharps up. We'll see what I learn from this as I cap the naturals in a later step.

For now, the sharps are glued and I'm preparing them for painting.

Until next time...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Day 43: Notched and Ready for More

The Dremel tool sanding barrels arrived a couple of days ago, so I was able to complete the notching of the guide rails ends of all of the keys last night. As you may recall, this will help when maintaining the instrument once it is completed because the guide rail pins will be hidden from sight. The notching will simply make it easier to slide a key in after it has been removed and repaired.

The next step is to glue all of the sharps to their respective keys. I will remove the naturals from the keyframe and glue the sharps centered and lined up with a line I drew when the keyboard was still a single piece of jointed wood. The glue up will take 24 hours to dry before I can do a spacing quality check on the keys in general. For those where a gap is insufficient to allow enough play between keys, I will use a heat gun to bend them at the balance rail pin hole. Should I need to do this (I believe I do on at least three), I will, as always, detail the process here.

Until then...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Day 42: Slowly, but Surely

If I were to start a company making instruments, I would name it Tortuga Ancient Instruments. I may move slowly, but remember: the tortoise always beats the hare. Tick...tick...tick...

I was able to make a little progress last night, though it didn't feel like much because it was sanding the sharps to remove the wee, little band saw marks I introduced a few weeks ago. Again, if I had been able to cut these using the glue line rip blade on the table saw, little sanding would have been necessary. Regardless, they are now all sanded and ready for gluing to their respective keys.

Once I glue them up, I will paint them with 6 coats of semi-gloss black spray paint, sanding with 320-grit sandpaper every 2 coats.

We have a new addition to the family! I recently acquired a Stanley Bailey No. 7 bench plane from a local antique (okay, junk) store. It's a newer model and is in pretty good shape. I'll be cleaning it up over the next few weeks; it doesn't require removing the Japaning, electrolysis to remove rust, etc., which is good because I'd rather spend my limited shop time on cutting and gluing wood.

As you can see in comparison to the No. 4 above, it's a fairly large creature. I'll be using it on the soundboard and parts of the case in the very near future.

Until next time...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Day 41: A Break from Sanding, and Sanding

As I continued to use the Dremel tool to sand the notches into the ends of the keys, I was producing more and more smoke. This is usually not a good sign when woodworking. Because I'm the thriftiest guy in the world (my wife uses the word "cheapest", but I'm not sure why), I decided to purchase additional sanding barrels on eBay where I found 100 for $5.00, rather than five or six at Home Depot for $10.00. They will be arriving later in the week.

In the meantime, I am turning my attention to sanding the sharps. As you might recall, I was having a bit of a challenge cutting the sharps on the table saw, even with the glue line rip blade. I had decided to cut all of them using the band saw with its table tilted at 10 degrees. This worked fine, yet it left wee, little cut marks, or ribs, on the sides of all of the sharps. Had I been able to execute the cuts on the table saw, this would not have happened.

The result: I now have to sand all of them using 320-grit sandpaper, so I set up a nice sanding block using a scrap cedar 2x4 and the 3m Super-77 spray glue.

This works great, but I can't help reflecting on how all of this time could be better spent on something else; anything else,  really (I detest sanding as a general rule). When I had cut the sharps, a visitor to my Facebook project page noticed the wood is aligned cross-grain, which he suggested is an unusual approach. Hey, I was just following the directions in Mr. Miller's excellent eBook. In hindsight, though, I would much prefer cutting them with the grain and using the table saw, which would result in long sharp strips that I would finish cutting with the band saw. Much, much smoother and easier.

So, another good lesson learned as I progress through this, my first build. I must admit I've learned more about woodworking and myself over the past four months than I thought possible. This is the true essence of the project and the main reason why I consider my shop to be a sacred space. When I cross the threshold into the garage, something in me changes and I shift from an insignificant wage slave to a Creator of All Things Wonderful. As I transform wood, it transforms me. And this keeps me coming back for more, especially when I learn from a mistake or think of a better way of doing something. For me, the magic is in the act of creation, not in the finished product.

Until next time...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Day 40: Much Ado About Notching

Yeah, I couldn't help myself.

I'm still chipping away at notching the guide rail key ends with the Dremel tool; slowly, but surely. Yes, I am a Dremel tool warrior.

For once, I'm glad one of my tools is not cordless/rechargeable.

You can see my progress in the photo above - 17 down, 34 to go. It shouldn't be more than a few more days and I can start sanding the sharps and getting them glued to their respective keys.

Until then...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Day 39: Notching the Guide Rail Ends and Restoring a Jack Plane

Now that all of the balance rail pin holes have been redrilled, I can turn my attention to notching the guide rail ends of all of the keys. This is necessary for ease of maintenance. In the likely event I will need to work on one of the keys in the future, this will make it much easier to get the keys back in because they are essentially hidden once the instrument is completed. In the photo below, you can see where I drew in a measure line 1/8" in from the end of the key.

I then use a Dremel tool with a small drum sander installed to cut from the end corner of the key into the cut line. You can see the result in the photo below.

One down, 50 to go.

While I'm working on these, I will also be restoring the Stanley Bailey #5 (patent year 1902) jack plane we picked up in Astoria, Oregon. As you can see from the photo below, it's pretty filthy. Of course, my mind wanders all over the place when I look at the built up wood shavings and gunk - where did they come from, who was the craftman who used it, why wasn't this piece better cared for? I'll never know the answers, but it sure is fun asking the questions. The photo below gives you a better idea of what I mean.

A great article by Jeff Hallam on WoodCentral details how to use electrolysis to remove rust from a hand plane. Basically, this requires a DC power source, a conductive solution, and patience. In this case, I'll be using a car battery charger I picked up last week to supercharge the hydrogen and oxygen in the water to melt the oxidation (rust) away. As with building a harpsichord from scratch, I've never done this before, so it should prove to be quite an adventure.

Until next time...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Day 38: Redrilling for Fun and Profit

After receiving a second email from Mr. Miller, author of the eBook most excellent, in which he told me the naturals should be loose enough at the balance rail pin hole that the keys actually tip forward, I noticed that only one of the keys did this. I then examined one of the balance rail pin holes and decided I needed to redrill all of the keys using my drill press for two reasons: 1) The holes were rather tight on the balance rail pins and didn't have enough play in them on the top sides where I slotted them using the mortise punch tool and 2) some of them appeared to not have been drilled at a perfect 90-degree angle by yours truly.

So, I pulled out my trusty drill press and went to work. Notice that I'm drilling from the bottom side of the key; this allows for a more accurate cut.

I chose a 1/8" drill bit, which is just slightly larger than the one I used for the original holes. This not only caused the naturals to tip forward, it evened them up a bit , as you can see in the photo below. I think I did a pretty lousy job of drilling them the first time around using my nifty drill guide. A hole that is not at a perfect 90-degree angle will actually tip the key to one side or the other, resulting in a keyboard that looks like a jumbled mess.

Along with this, a couple of them are a little too close to each other. When this is the case, Mr. Miller recommends two fixes. The first involves simply bending the guide rail pin at the end of the key in the same direction of the key to which it is too close. This fix is only good for 1/64"-1/32". In the event this doesn't work, he recommends using a heat gun to soften the wood at the balance rail pin hole and bend it by hand.

Wood bending is a common practice, so the heat gun suggestion is not as drastic as it might seem. A good example of this is the sides of a guitar. When I bend them, I first soak them in water overnight and then use a heat source to steam the water in the wood, which softens the natural resins, making the wood nice and pliable. If you can maintain the bend position as the wood dries, it will stay in that position.

In the case of the keys, the bends will be so slight there is no need for soaking or the use of a form or jig. I'll just perform this by hand and, again, the tolerances are so small that it should work fine.

The next step is to create a sanding block to do some finish sanding (320-grit sandpaper) on all of the sharps and get them glued to their respective keys, which will look something like the photo below.

Until next time...

Friday, September 5, 2014

Project Update: Balance Rail Pin Holes and a Drill Press

After a couple of communications with Ernie Miller, author of the eBook most excellent, I've come to the conclusion I need to redrill all of the balance rail pin holes for each of the keys. This is based on comments from Mr. Miller - he stated that each key should tip freely forward on its own. Only a few of them do this. He says that in the event they don't, it probably means the balance rail pin holes are too small.

My solution is to carefully redrill all of these holes using my trusty drill press. This will ensure a perfect 90-degree angle for each cut. I'm hoping to get these done tonight, this weekend at the very latest.

Until then...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Project Update: Heat Guns and Steamboxes

I emailed Mr. Miller, author of the eBook most excellent, to inquire about how to fix the key problem. He kindly responded that, yes, I could certainly use the heat gun method to soften up the keys and bend them into the proper positions. He was, as always, very helpful.

Upon further reflection today, I think I'm going to construct a steambox that I will use to steam and clamp each key to straighten them out. I have a plan in my head that involves an old commercial coffee maker, some PVC pipe, a sawhorse-like stand, and several 2x4s. As I work on this mini-project, I'll post my progress up here.

In the end, I believe I'll be able to steam the keys into submission. If not, as Mr. Miller reiterated, I will have to restart the keyboard from scratch. If this is the case, I will simply harvest as much reusable material from the current keys and keyframe and go, as they say, back to the drawing board, only this time armed with three months of experience. Either way, it promises to be another interesting experience, indeed.

Until next time...

UPDATE (9/4/2014): I sat with the keyboard last night for a while and realized it's not the tragedy I thought. Just a few keys need some work - the rest can be balanced (a step I will detail later) so that they all line up properly. This concern is an example of my inexperience with the building process. I'm learning...

Monday, September 1, 2014

Day 37: Slotting Completed and Restoration Project Parts Acquired

Well, I completed the slotting of the guide rail ends of all of the keys. I wish I could say I was pleased with the end result. The keys appear to be a jumbled mess. Several are warped and several more are twisted - for lack of a better term. I'm going to try to repair all of them using the technique suggested by Mr. Miller in his excellent E-book - using a heat gun and some elbow grease. You can see what I mean about the keys in the photo below.

I'll get this figured out, I'm just a little down in the mouth about it at this time. Hey, the worst that can happen is that I start the keyboard over. There certainly are worse things.

On a lighter note, I acquired a car battery charger over the weekend so I can officially start the Stanley Bailey Hand Plane #5 Restoration Project. I've read a few articles on restoring these things and several suggest using electrolysis to create a chemical reaction that uses the hydrogen and oxygen contained in water molecules to knock the oxydation right off the metal. I'm willing to give it a shot, and the 20% off coupon for the charger that was already 50% off at Harbor Freight (I know, I shouldn't buy anything there. I'm safe in this case - tools are another matter entirely) didn't hurt, either.

So, next steps include fixing the keys and shocking the heck out of the hand plane parts.

Until then...