Friday, January 23, 2015

Day 65: Ditching the Hair-brained Scheme

Back in the Dark Ages when women sported bangs nine inches tall and mullets roamed the earth, I attended Lewis and Clark College in southwest Portland where I studied Organ Performance with Dr. Lee Garrett. Though we lost touch over the years, we've recently reengaged (no, not thanks to Facebook) and have been meeting up once a month for a couple of beers and good conversation. As you can imagine, one of the topics has been this very project. Lee and his wife, Bonnie, are both world-class keyboardists, he primarily on the pipe organ, she the harpsichord.

Dr. Garrett recently visited the Tortuga Early Instruments Worldwide Headquarters to see my progress firsthand. He follows my Facebook posts and, I suspect, this blog (hi, Lee!), so he was apprised of the recent Tortuga Early Instruments Holiday Maintenance Program, as well as my various challenges and crazy ideas about how to complete the keyboard. I showed him some of my homemade gadgets (e.g., the IKEA outfeed table) and proudly displayed the Riyobi BT3000 Cutting System (the table saw) with its built-in router mount and brand, spankin' new 1/16" roundover router bit.

He smiled and offered some encouraging words and asked a couple of pointed questions. Then, ever the teacher, he told me a story about how his mentor at University of Oregon, John Hamilton, taught him how the imperfections in playing are what really make things interesting, how changing tempo here and mixing up an embellishment there are the art part of playing instruments like the organ or harpsichord where no sustain pedal exists. He also told me a story about seeing a Vermeer painting that looked like a photograph from afar and how he could see the splotches and smears upon closer inspection.

He was telling me to ditch the hair-brained roundover bit scheme.

After thinking about it for a couple of days, I decided he was right. One of the reasons I'm working on this project is to get my hands dirty doing things the way they did them 500-600 years ago when the instrument began to take its present form. So, I clamped a key to the bench, taped it off at the second score line, grabbed raspy and fine files, and went to work.

It was incredible. I was back into the art part of creating this thing. Every stroke of the rasp felt right and the finer file made things even better. I finished up with 220- and 320-grit sandpapers and called it good until finish sanding time. The tape technique is clearly displayed in Mr. Miller's eBook Most Excellent, and I had, like so many other things, chosen to forget/ignore it in favor of expediency. Another lesson learned.

Given what I accomplished last night, I now have just 13 keys to file and sand into submission before finish sanding the entire keyboard and getting on to the next step, which, if memory serves, is building the foundation of the case.

Part of this completion process is replacing the natural tops on two keys - you can see them in the lower right corner of the photo above. This is not a big deal; it's just wood, and I'm going to use the Garrett-Wade glue because it's a "gap-filling glue." In the future, I will be using hide glue (no, not glue that hides, but glue made from animal hides) to glue the key tops because I can use heat to remove any of them should I need to. If things continue as they have, I will definitely need to.

Interestingly, Owen Daly of Daly Early Keyboard Instruments in Salem, Oregon commented on a post of mine on Facebook, recommending a different way to cover the naturals. He glues all of the key top covers on before slicing up the keys. That way, there is no fitting of the tops to be done in a post-hoc manner. This makes more sense to me and I will probably use this technique on the next one. Fortunately, Mr. Daly has agreed to allow me to visit his shop in the near future to learn more about how he builds his beautiful instruments. More to come on that as it unfolds.

Until next time...

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