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.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Project Update: The Next Time Around...

I know it's a little early in the project to be reflecting, yet I've been at it since May, so I figured I'm due. Granted, I don't work on the instrument every day, but I have put in quite a few hours and made some interesting choices that I will definitely change on the next one.

First, I would take the jointing of the keyboard blank more seriously. This blank is the large piece that is the result of gluing together five pieces of poplar and from which I cut all keysticks, both naturals and sharps, using the band saw. The next time around, I will use a jig similar to the one I use to glue up guitar tops and backs; it simultaneously pulls the sides together while applying pressure to the top, creating a nice glue joint and completely flat end product.

Second, I would make darned sure the natural key top laminates were exactly 1/8" (3mm) thick. As I'm gluing them to the keysticks and sanding them, I'm finding some disconcerting variations that could have been avoided simply by remaining attentive to the rip cuts.

Third, in alignment with my second point, I will make adjustments to my table saw so the glue line rip blade works without a hitch. Because my zero-clearance throat plate (the plate through which the blade pokes its ugly head) was a little low, the key top wood dropped down during the cut, resulting in blade marks and uneven cuts, which I had to sand off. I would also not cut the sharps on the band saw because the blade left cut marks that were a pain to sand off - and you know how much I love sanding.

Fourth, I would use the same supplier for all parts I cannot manufacture myself. Now, this one was unavoidable given the fact that Lutz Bugart, owner and operator of The Instrument Workshop, passed away. This forced me to order additional balance and back rail guide pins from Hubbard Harpsichords, resulting in minute differences in pin sizes. This will in no way affect how the instrument plays, it would just be nice to have everything be a uniform size.

Fifth, I will build a custom miter box to accommodate a saw with finer teeth to cut the natural key tops to size. The current miter kit I used is designed for household/building projects, not for cutting fine wood at small tolerances. My miter box will be much smaller and allow me to use one of my nice pull saws to get the finest cut possible.

Finally, I will build the next instrument using metric measurements. Having used only the metric system while earning my BA and MA degrees in anthropology/archaeology, I became quite accustomed to the system and now value the smaller increments that are, frankly, easier to calculate in my noggin when in the throes of working the wood. Base 10 is not a bad thing at all.

Regardless of all of these changes I would make, things are going quite well with the build. I continue to make mistakes nearly every day, but I'm noting them here and filing them away for later reference. I'm also experiencing some great successes; those get filed away, too.

Until next time...

Friday, November 7, 2014

Day 56: From Chaos Comes Order

I glued one of the key top tails to a keystick last night and it looks pretty darned good.

So good, in fact, that I started gluing up the remaining key top heads in anticipation of notching and sanding them as I prepare for the tail glue up step.

I know it looks chaotic, but, in my defense, I'm using just about every clamp I own, which include all shapes and sizes. And, yes, it's true: you can never have too many clamps. Frankly, I'd just like about two dozen more clamps like the little one in the first photo above. They're small and cheap and work great for these key glue ups. Finally, something from Harbor Freight worked out!

I'll be notching and sanding the key top heads before proceeding with the gluing of all of the tails. That way, I'm not endangering the tails as I use the new razor knife -- yes, I decided to go ahead and make the minuscule notch at the second score line using it -- and the file to round off the heads. It turns out I was making the notches too deep - they only need to be about 1/32" deep to help protect the score line from the rigors of the file.

As I've described in a previous post, sanding can be a bit of a challenge for me because 1) I don't like it very much and 2) my hands always hurt from the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome surgery I had a few years ago (I'm a Data Scientist in my day job - CTS is an occupational hazard). My solution for the sharps is to sand no more than three or four at a sitting and putter around on other things between sessions. As I glued up the key tops, I was able to finish buffing up 10 of the sharps. There are only 21, so I'm getting there...slowly but the tortuga.

Until next time...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Day 55: Fixing the Fixes

It's been an eventful few days this week. First, I was able to get the sharps buffed and ready for prime time. I ended up using a Heavy Duty Scotchbrite pad I had laying around for eventual use on the many hand plane renovation projects that exist only in my mind at this time. All of the keys I worked on buffed up nicely and are just about completed - the only thing left is to top them with a thin veneer of quarter sawn red oak.

After posting about my challenges with the naturals, Andrew Nolan was kind enough to suggest I simply use a file to round them off. As I did this, I realized I had made the notches a little too deep, but they're going to stay for now. I had to band saw off the two I had ruined and I'm just too tired and, frankly, impatient, to do that again. Besides, it's only a couple of keys at the high end of the keyboard. If I decide they're nagging at me too much later, I can always replace them.

As you can see, the natural looks pretty good, but the notches are a little too deep. I won't tell if you don't.

On a completely unrelated note, Andrew was also kind enough to remind me that the mask in a photo I had posted of myself was completely ineffective against most, if not all, airborne particles. Based on his comment, I went ahead and purchased a 3M 6300 HEPA-filtered mask off of eBay. It was only $15 and will probably end up extending my life given how much dust and aerosolized paint I've produced these last few months.

Now, I feel safe and snug as a bug in a rug. Or a gas mask. Either one. Yes, my hair gets crazier with every bad selfie I take. Just wait a couple more months.

Until next time...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Project Update: Seeing with New Eyes...Again

When I started this project blog, I was determined to include everything, including my mistakes - warts and all. Well, this is a wart part. I've been struggling with cutting a notch near the second score mark on the natural keys because the African blackwood I'm using is as hard as stone. The photo below illustrates the notches I'm talking about.

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

The notches are really designed to protect the demarcation point between the second score line and the sanding I will do to round off the edges of the keys. I will eventually use a thin strip of sandpaper to round off the edges and the notches will keep my sanding accurate. The photo below illustrates this nicely.

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

I started notching with a knock-off X-Acto knife I purchased on eBay and I ended up breaking two of the knives that came in the three-pack. The first blade went flying past my head and the second almost cut my hand. I then decided to purchase a good, quality razor knife from Woodcrafters here in my beloved Portland. The handle is just the right size, the blades are tempered steel and the craftsmanship is outstanding.

I then proceeded to cut the notches - and also cut right through the end of the keys, taking the scored parts right off. And I also almost took off part of my thumb. Not dangerous, frustrating or in any way devastating at all. Now, I will have to plane off the two key tops I destroyed and start over with them. I'm not looking forward to that process, but it's just wood. I'll get it.

As you may know, I keep a Facebook project page that has sparked the interest of Australian harpsichord builder, Andrew Nolan. He asks me clarifying questions and makes salient suggestions on the page from time to time. Recently, he reminded me that the mask I was using for sanding paint and wood was completely ineffective against airborne particles of pretty much any kind. I bought a nice HEPA filtered mask on eBay for $15 at his suggestion.

I asked him about my notching dilemma and he said he simply puts the keys in a small miter box and uses a file with a flat side (the one against the score side) to round the key tops - you know, like they did 600 years ago. Similar to my own miter box solution for cutting the natural key tops, this one was staring me in the face and way too simple for me to come up with on my own. Clearly, I need to keep the KISS method in mind as I proceed.

The end result of all of this will look very much like the keys on the left in the photo below.

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

Now that I have a simple solution to what seemed an nearly insurmountable problem, I can proceed once again with abandon.

Until next time...