Monday, June 22, 2015

Project Update: A Visit with a Master Builder

Owen Daly of Owen Daly Early Keyboard Instruments is one of the master builders and players I frequently mention on this blog. I "met" Owen via the Facebook project page when he extolled me to not chop off any of my fingers using the old Ryobi table saw. This is funny because I had posted a photo of the saw without the zero-clearance throat plate installed and I was talking about the 1/16" sharp tops I was cutting. In reality, I had used the zero-clearance plate, I just posted the photo because I didn't think anyone would catch it and/or call me on it.

I was wrong.

When I looked further into Owen's own Facebook page, I was pleased to discover that he lives and works in Salem, Oregon, just about an hour south of me. I took the initiative to suggest a visit to his shop so he could teach me more and he was gracious enough to spend four hours with me on our first visit. It was awesome. He answered every question I asked in great detail and I learned more in that four hours than I had the previous year of building on my own.

On that first visit, Owen had just finished up a double-manual Zell, a German harpsichord that had the depth and clarity I had never before heard from such an instrument. It was, in a word, amazing. While I enjoyed hearing him play and looking it over from top to bottom, it was a finished instrument and I wanted to see one in the early stages of production. Well, I recently got my chance. Owen invited me to come for another visit this past Sunday to see two Italian harpsichords he's building. It was the best Father's Day gift I could imagine.

One of the reasons he invited me down is that I'm in the beginning stages of creating the bentside of my own little instrument. As you probably know, the bentside is the curved part of the case that starts just past the keyboard and extends to the tail of the instrument. In my case, I decided to go with a laminated bentside because I don't have 220 in my shop and I'm renting the house we're currently in, which prevents me from making the changes I would need to set up a bending tool like the one Owen has in his shop. Regardless, he thought it would be instructive for me to see him bend the side and bridges for the two Italians, and it certainly was.

Owen's bending tool is unique; it's constructured of a large piece of pipe that looks like a Cat D9 ran over it. He's capped one end and put an oven element through the other with an on/off switch and thermostat to control the heat. All of this is welded to a stand and he has bolts mounted to he can change the position of the bending bar to change the angle of whatever he's bending. Here's a photo of the little beauty:

And here it is with a cottonwood plank being bent into submission.

One thing I found interesting was how Owen was able to basically eyeball where to bend the plank, which he then marked with a pencil. Here he is during the eyeballing process:

And here he is in full bending mode:

When he got a good bend going, he would pull it off and measure it against the instrument frame. I could not do this with the Ruckers I'm building because I have no frame against which to compare a bend. The construction process between an Italian and a Flemish are completely different and require different ways of completing the sides and bottom of the case (too lengthy to discuss here, but I will provide more detail in a later post).

Once he completed the bending of the side, he went ahead and clamped it to the frame to "train it how to behave."

Then, he bent a couple of beech bridges for the two instruments, being careful not to go too fast, lest he break them.

He had to shave one end down a bit so they tapered before bending.

And then he bent away.

The results are going to be wonderful. Owen is a master builder and I'm honored to know him and have the opportunity to watch him work. Every time I visit him, I learn a ton and come away completely energized and ready to get back to work in the shop.

Thanks again, Owen!

Until next time...


  1. Keep up the good work Darin. Cheers Lad!

    1. Thank you, sir! Owen and comments like this keep me going.