Sunday, October 30, 2016

Project Update: Visiting a Master Builder

As you probably know, Master Builder Owen Daly of Owen Daly Early Keyboard Instruments lives about one hour south of me. From time to time, I email Owen with questions and concerns and he promptly emails back with solutions and encouragement. Well, yesterday was one of those special, rare days in which I was able to head down to Owen's shop and meet up with the great man in person. Before discussing my petty concerns, Owen was kind enough to show me a couple of instruments he is currently working on.

The first is a "Poggio virginal," an instrument from the Russell Collection currently residing in Edinburgh, Scotland. It's a wonderful instrument with resonant depth and beauty that's hard to describe here except with a few photos.

I even played it a bit! I've not talked about it here, but I'm very, very hesitant to play before other human beings. Playing is my thing, one that I will rarely, if ever, share with others. I know, it's weird. But the playing and interpretation of music is something that's intensely personal and I feel I already share so much of myself on this blog that I get to keep the playing for myself. Of course, my wife, Tonya, probably feels differently about this - she must endure my practicing.

The other instrument Owen is currently working on is a Donzelague, a larger instrument from the 18th century.

Owen and I discussed a wide range of topics. We covered building techniques, including keyboard construction, register slot cutting (an obvious choice), and jack making and he held a short sharpening clinic for me, as I brought the new planes (described below) along for the ride. It's always great seeing Owen. Not only do I learn a lot about building with every visit, Owen has a quick and inquiring mind and we end up talking about all kinds of interesting subjects.

Owen loaned me a table saw blade he had made by a local (Salem, Oregon) company. It will cut the registers with perfect precision. In fact, I emailed Mr. Miller about a discovery I made with the CAD drawings and he detailed a better way to go about cutting the register slots that aligns with the method described to me by Owen - and Master Builder Michael Peter Johnson on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. In the end, I'll be making a jig that attaches to the Incra miter gauge/cross cut sled that will allow me to cut them perfectly so I can get on with things. More to come as I work this out.

There have been several shop tool acquisitions over the last few weeks and I'm happy to report they have come to a successful end with the arrival of a small Lie-Nielsen 60 1/2 block plane. I've named the new LNs the Three Musketeers.

The Three Musketeers
Lie-Nielsen bench and block planes - 60 1/2, 112, and 62
These, along with the new Grizzly band saw and Kreg band saw fence with microadjuster mark the end of a long shopping list created years ago. Now, it's time to get moving on the instrument once again.

Yet...before I can do that, I need to get the shop into shape. I've made light of my fixation with free walnut over the last year or so, but, like any addiction, there are ramifications to the behaviors with which it is associated. In this case, I just have too damned much walnut crowding the shop and I have nowhere to store project parts and pieces. It's a problem.

As you can see, the shop is a mess. And, I'm working on restoring the 6" jointer Alan Ollivant was kind enough to loan me. There's just so much to do and so little time and space. It's clear now, though, that I must simplify and if that means getting rid of some walnut, so be it. I'll be working on it tonight so I can get back to completing the instrument. A cluttered shop creates a cluttered mind and that's no condition in which to work with large, loud, fast-moving cutting tools.

Until next time...

Monday, October 24, 2016

Project Update: Some Head-scratchin' Time

After taking some time to attend to personal matters, it's become clear to me that I need to ditch the current upper register and have a do-over. First, I made mistakes in cutting the slot widths and it's just too much trouble to repair them. Second, I realized just today that I could have made the 10-degree cuts using the Incra table saw sled with its awesome miter gauge, so why didn't I? I have no idea. Third, because the slots are equidistant, I could also easily build a jig that attaches to the miter gauge that will help me cut the slots perfectly.

This is precisely the sort of thing that Owen Daly of Owen Daly Early Keyboard Instruments calls "head-scratchin' time" and I've not taken enough of it lately. Granted, Mr. Miller's eBook Most Excellent is an outstanding resource as I work my way through this first build, yet Mr. Miller stated in an email to me that it's really designed for beginning woodworkers, which I am not. I am also not an expert, but there certainly are things I can do with the tools I have that don't require me to follow Mr. Miller's instructions to the letter.

As I've interacted with Master Builders like Owen Daly and Paul Irvin and Michael Peter Johnson and Martin Spaink and a host of others both in-person and on Facebook, I've come to realize there are, like religions, many paths to accomplish similar goals. Several builders and interested others have derided me for purchasing certain tools or helpful accessories when they probably started with those to begin with. I did not. I started my shop with the intention of building a guitar or two every now and then and it's morphed into something that speaks to my soul and lifts me up in ways I never thought possible.

And then there are those who are concerned with the ostensible speed of my work. I have, in fact, a single client: Me. Do I want more? I honestly don't know. My original intent was to build one instrument per year and give it away to a school or other institution that will value and care for it over time. In the end, the rate of my progress is singularly my own and, frankly, if I'm happy with it, that's all that really matters to me. I appreciate the concern of others, but it's simply not something that propels me forward - I'm perfectly capable of making plenty of mistakes without the added pressure of speed. Besides, I AM THE TORTUGA!

So, in the end, I realize I need to make space for more head-scratchin' time. As I think back to the early days of putting the shop together, there was plenty of room for me to take this time. Sometimes, I would simply sit in gratitude that my wife, Tonya, so avidly supported my efforts and that I was able to assemble what I did by filling the one-car with Craigslist gems, most of which have moved on as I upgrade to equipment that's easier to use and a lot less dangerous. I simply need to break out the pipe from time to time and fill a little highball glass with some Pusser's while I enjoy reflecting on what I have accomplished over the last few short years. And I need to think about what it means to build harpsichords that will most certainly outlast my time on this earth.

Head-scratchin' time.

On a completely unrelated note, a couple of books recently recommended to me by Paul Irvin finally arrived at Tortuga Early Instruments Worldwide Headquarters.

These, combined with the Boston Museum book, will give me plenty of entertainment and education over the next few months. As I read through the first chapter of the Ruckers book, I realized I was building an instrument by Andreaus Ruckers that he built just a few years before his (probably untimely) death. While this doesn't affect the quality of my work, it certainly adds a dimension to it that makes it more satisfying.

I was finally able to get around to mounting the Kreg Band Saw Fence and it's attendant Microadjuster last night, as well. This fence is important because I discovered the new Grizzly 14" band saw has a bit of blade drift. The Kreg fence is made to adjust to accommodate any drift in the saw's blade while sawing. You will also notice the slots in the fence itself; these allow me to mount jigs and additional fences to it as I think of new ways to use the saw - primarily through head-scratchin' time.

So, far, I couldn't be happier with the Grizz and the fence makes it just that much better.

Until next time...

Friday, October 21, 2016

Day 134: Register Redux

After failing so dismally with Mr. Miller's register cutting jig from his eBook Most Excellent, I cut off the three slots I screwed up and hauled out the Incra table saw crosscut sled I had purchased a few months back. Now, I understood the cuts I would make with it would not be exactly perfect to the 1/1000th of an inch, but I figured I could get skippy damn close. So, I tested it out.

Well, they measured out with the calipers to be very, very close to perfect, so I, in my typical Tortuga fashion, charged ahead with cutting all of the remaining slots.

In the end, I only screwed up three, which ain't bad (for me). The screwups entailed cutting the slots too wide because I was not only running the register through the blade, I was pulling it back over the blade to finish, as well. Just. Plain. Stupid. The offending gaps were produced on the backstroke. Good grief, sometimes I do scare myself. I'll be chatting with Owen Daly of Owen Daly Early Keyboard Instruments about this to see if I should just throw it away and have a do-over, but, until then, I'll keep at it by repairing the three.

Along with this, the acquisitions keep taking place at Tortuga Early Instruments Worldwide Headquarters. First, one of the books recommended to me by my Master Builder friend, Paul Irvin, arrived last week.

It's an excellent study with a nice variety of old instruments I frankly have no hope of seeing in person any time soon. I've been studying it for the past week and will be poring over it again tonight.

A couple of other hardware pieces also showed up: a Lie-Nielsen 62 low-angle jack plane and a Kreg Band Saw Fence with Micro-adjuster.

Coincidentally, I'm planning on using the plane to make jacks for the instrument. It comes highly recommended from more than one woodworker/maker/builder pal. The only jack left to arrive is a little Lie-Nielsen 60 1/2 block plane. Random Roger Green loaned me one when I was working on the Roubo bench and it was love at first use. It should be arriving any minute now.

When making some test cuts with the new Grizzly band saw, I noticed some blade drift, probably due to the installation of the 6" riser (that gives me 12" of vertical clearance for bigger cuts) and the fact it could use a tune-up. When I mentioned this to my good friend, Mark Roberts of Mark Roberts Guitars and Ukuleles (you really should check out his site - he makes some of the most beautiful instruments I've ever seen), he recommended I pick up a Kreg fence because it not only adjusts for blade drift, it accommodates the nifty microadjuster, which every conscientious woodworker needs.

This coming Sunday has been set aside for shop work. I'll be installing the new Kreg fence, working on the registers, wire brushing the 6" jointer, and cleaning up the shop - it's a mess. I'm hoping my daughter, Jordan, and my son, Trey, will be here for a visit and to help out a little.

Until next time...

Friday, October 14, 2016

Day 133: Epic Register Fail

I finally got back around to showing some progress on the project by starting the register slot cutting process on one of the upper registers.

All went well. Until it didn't. When I got around to using the register slot cutting jig (in the photo immediately above), the result was an epic fail. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that. Let me be clear: this does not speak to the effectiveness of Mr. Miller's jig as described in his eBook Most Excellent; rather, it speaks to my inattention to detail. As you can see in the photo below, the jig did not cut any of the slots evenly.

This means the piece of wood I used for the base of the jig was not an even 1/2". Or something like that. In the end, I decided to abandon the jig and cut the slots on the table saw using the Incra sled I purchased some time ago for just such a purpose. Fortunately, my desired slot width matches exactly the width of my current table saw blade - 1/8". I will still use the CAD template and hog out the 10-degree slants using a chisel. This shouldn't take me much longer than it would have using the jig.

Once I decided on my new approach, I cut off the offending slots and will be appending a small template of three slots to the bass end of the stick some time this coming weekend.

On a happier, completely unrelated, note, the clearances and acquisitions continue at Tortuga Early Instruments Worldwide Headquarters. I finally did it - I got rid of Little Buddy (the 12" Delta band saw) and replaced him with Big Buddy (a 14" Grizzly band saw).

I purchased this saw from Cool Craigslist Guy for a great price, especially considering the 6" riser and a Carter guide were included, as well as several blades - and I didn't need to coordinate shipping or deal with unboxing it and it's in astonishingly good/new condition. The motor is 1 hp, an upgrade from the 1/2 hp Delta, the body, table, and wheels are solid cast iron, and the fence locks in like a dream. I still need to tune it up a bit, but it purrs like a kitten and cuts like a breeze. Though Little Buddy will always hold a special place in my heart, Big Buddy is growing on me daily.

Until next time...

Monday, October 10, 2016

Day 132: A Little Register Progress

I was able to make a little progress on the first upper register and will be drilling it out tonight as a test. I'll use a fence on the drill press and work it like a production line.

If it doesn't go well, I have a Plan B, but I'm hopeful. Mr. Miller's eBook Most Excellent hasn't failed me, yet.

Progress has been admittedly slow lately. As I've said in the past, the client is in the mirror, so my sense of urgency is not as great as it usually is for the pro builders. Lately, I've been working on acquiring a few nice hand tools, as well as working on the 6" jointer loaned to me by Alan Ollivant.

Along with this, I'm replacing Little Buddy with a larger Grizzly 14" saw, which will show up in the shop this coming week.

I'm sad to my Little Buddy go, but the only constant at Tortuga Early Instruments Worldwide Headquarters is change, so I must embrace it and move on.

A back saw kit recently showed up in the shop, as well.

This is a kit from Ron Bontz. I'll be making a handle over the next couple of weeks. Then, once it's sharpened up, I'll keep it close at hand - it's nice to have a small saw for quick crosscuts and this one fits the bill perfectly; it's 14 tpi and pretty shallow, which is fine for my purposes. Now, what should I make the handle from? Perhaps walnut...?

Another surprise that showed up this past week was a Lie-Nielsen Large Scraper Plane.

I found this one on Lumberjocks and it was just too good to pass up. I'll be using it quite a bit over the next few months. Also on the list: a low-angle jack plane and a 60 1/2 block plane. Once these come in the door, I'm good for a while, at least on the hand tool front.

Finally, I picked up a pack of tempered steel, laser-engraved rulers - 6", 12", 18" and 24" - at Random Roger Green's suggestion. I can't tell you how many times I've needed each of these and only had a crappy Harbor Fright debacle to work with. Now, I'm all set.

Until next time...

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Day 131: Jig Success

Things have been moving at a glacial pace at Tortuga Early Instruments Worldwide Headquarters lately and I do apologize. Then again, should you not expect this from the Tortuga? Regardless, things have started to free up a bit and are once again moving forward. As you may recall, I spent some time making a register cutting jig. Toward the end, I had serious doubts about whether I could get the thing to work properly. Well, I did.

The first photo above is the jig in action. Well, not exactly in action - you can see the saw it not running. The second is a successful cut to size, provided I make jacks that are the dimensions for which I calibrated the jig. They match a Hubbard jack (that I will not be using), so I figured I'll just go with that size for now. As Owen Daly of Owen Daly Early Keyboard Instruments reminds me on a nearly weekly basis, it's important to just get the first one done. Frankly, if it sounds anything like a harpsichord, I'll consider it a win, so Onward!

Once I proved the jig worked, I printed out a couple of upper and lower register CAD drawings provided by Mr. Miller in his eBook Most Excellent and cut them down to size on the assembly table.

Interestingly, this is the perfect application for the fish glue I mentioned a few weeks ago - the stuff given to me by Mark Roberts of Mark Roberts Guitars and Ukuleles. The thing about fish glue is that it's easy to work with and sets up nicely, yet warm water applied in the right measure will cause it to liquify once again. This is generally not good when building instruments of any kind. In this case, it's great - I'll use it to glue up the register drawings for drilling and cutting the registers and then simply moisten it to remove the templates. Easy peasy.

I've been taking it somewhat easy the past few weeks. My wife, Tonya, and I have some pretty serious health concerns that have caused me to shift down a bit and start sniffing the flowers a little more. We only get this life and I'd like to be remembered for more than a single-minded approach to the shop and making instruments. But, I digress...let's talk about something a little less serious, like the many low-dollar acquisitions that have taken place at Tortuga Early Instruments Worldwide Headquarters lately.

First, I finally got some decent shop shoes. Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but it kinda is. I've been wearing comfortable, yet flimsy, shoes for the past couple of years and have dropped wood and other things on my feet, which still makes me wince thinking about it. So, I purchased these today:

I kinda love em. And they'll be around a long time, so I can enjoy their company for years to come, I'm sure. Another important acquisition was a couple of measuring devices from Incra.

If you've been following this blog with any regularity, you've seen me struggle a bit with a $.69 plastic protractor I purchased at Fred Meyer - you know, like the one you had in 3rd grade. The Incra protractor allows me to draw angles with exquisite precision. Likewise for its partner, the ruler above it (the precision part, not the angles). The ruler offers accuracy to 1/64". Mr. Miller calls for such precision in his eBook Most Excellent from time to time, so I'm glad to have it in the shop. The tool between them is a spring-loaded drill tap thingy (can't remember exactly what it's called). It's a good thing.

A couple of new/old tools also showed up along with the Incras. When I arrived at Rockler on Saturday, I was surprised to see a sidewalk sale going on. Several people had used tools of all kinds for sale, so I picked up a nice hand saw and a drawknife, both of which I've been wanting for some time now (I've grown tired of borrowing Random Roger Green's stuff, you know what I mean?).

You've seen the other tools in the photo above before. I took the photo to share on good, old Facebook earlier today.

Finally, I had a great experience resawing wood last week. Over the last few months, I've gotten to know Alan Ollivant, a really wonderful guy originally from Alaska who now lives here in the PDX area. If you want wood of just about any kind, Alan's the go-to guy, and if he doesn't have it, he knows someone who does. Well, Alan invited me to a resaw session that involved some beautiful curly mahogany and a band saw with a 20' blade.

I've never seen such beautiful mahogany. I've seen maple like this, but never mahogany. So, we proceeded to cut 80 back/side sets for Gibson Guitars, who is fortunate to receive sets of such outstanding quality. Alan oversaw the production and ensured that Gibson would be getting the nicest sets possible, I was just manual labor and enjoyed every minute of it.

Along with this, Alan was kind enough to let me have a 6" jointer to refurbish and work with. As you may recall, I sold the Delta 6" jointer I had so carefully refurbished - and then regretted it almost immediately (like the next day). Frankly, this jointer, though in pretty rough shape, is a bit nicer than the old Delta because it has a closed stand with dust chute, a cast iron fence (the Delta's was aluminum), etc. I'll whip it into shape and you won't even recognize it within the next couple of weeks.

Thanks again, Alan, for the resaw experience and the loaner jointer. I'll get even with you one day soon.

Until next time...