Monday, June 26, 2017

Project Update: The Tale of the Lathe (and Other Things)

In continuing the Tortuga Early Instruments Semi-Annual Cleanup program, all of the tools I listed on Craigslist went their merry ways (thank goodness). Sold were:

2 - No. 4 Hand Planes
2 - No. 220 Block Planes
1 - Spokeshave
1 - Drawknife
1 - Egg Beater Hand Drill
1 - Antique Marking Tool
1 - Big, Ugly 39 1/4" Harder Fright (it that shall not be named) Lathe

Whew. All of the tools went within 48 hours. What a blessing Craigslist can be.

My initial plan for the "new" lathe was to mount it to a board that I could clamp on and take off the assembly table for storage when not in use. As I considered the space from which the previous lathe was extracted, I realized I really did have room for a decent stand, especially since it only needed to be a couple of feet wide. I had some spare 2x4s and procured some maple veneered plywood from a local lumberyard, so I went to work.

As you can see, I decided early on to build out a shelf near to bottom of the stand that would provide stability as well as a little more storage space. As I cut the plywood up for the top, I discovered the lamination was failing. I guess that's why they called them "seconds" at the store. I just thought it was because they were fast. I ended up having to reglue the top and one of the shelves. I used the go-bar setup and it looked something like this:

After swearing off of poverty mentality and dropping the Cheapest Guy Alive moniker, I still succumbed to bargain basement thinking. Dammit. Fortunately, the fixes were quick and easy and I had the pieces glued up in no time. And the end product isn't too shabby at all.

Now, it's really time I got back to work. Next up: Steam Test #2.

Until next time...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Project Update: Some New Old Tools

Every once in a while, I pause to clean out the shop and collect some "new" tools. Well, this past week has been one of those pauses for a variety of reasons. First, I've been slowing things down a bit. In the past, I've felt rushed to get the first instrument out (yeah, I know, it's been over two years) and just about 100% of my screwups are directly related to rushing through without thinking about things, planning, reviewing Mr. Miller's eBook most Excellent or asking for help and advice from the Master Builders.

Part of this slowing down process, at least for me, has been retooling the shop. When I first started woodworking, I was not building instruments. It just wasn't on my radar. So, I took a shotgun approach and bought up all of the tools and accessories I thought I would need. But, things tend to change over time, don't they? Even before putting a shop together, I was flipping through the newspaper during lunch one day (something I really never do) and saw that a guy was offering a guitar building class at the local community college. I signed up and quickly realized I could do what he and his students were doing on my own.

I then signed up with ADX Portland in order to use their amazing facilities. They really do have everything a maker would want or need. Except for dedicated space. They had lockers available (at an additional expense, of course), but there was a one-year waiting list to get one. After carrying wood and other supplies in and out for a couple of months, I started looking at Craigslist to see if I could buy a couple of tools to put in the garage. The rest is, as they say, history.

Of course, when you buy from Cool Craigslist Guy, you get what you pay for. Over time, I transitioned from, for example, a crappy, little Delta contractor's table saw I was chasing around the shop during cuts to a Riyobi BT3000 wondermachine to my current brand, spankin' new Grizzly. Building this instrument has helped me focus on what's important - and what's not. When you're building fine instruments, saving money is not a factor, so I had to shift my thinking in this regard. Now, I purchase tools with the longue durée in mind.

And this brings us around to the latest acquisition period. But, it's not only about acquisition; it's also about purging that which no longer suits. A good example of this is my lathe.  I knew I would eventually need a lathe of sufficient length to carve the legs of any instrument stand I might make, so I purchased one I thought would accommodate some pretty lengthy stock.

As you can see, I opted for the cheapie. I purchased it from Cool Craigslist guy early in the shop building experience for $40 and added a stand for another $50. It will take 39 1/4" stock with a turning radius of 12". I thought it would work just fine. Then, I tried to use it. When I tightened the tailpiece, the entire thing bent in the middle. Good grief. I quickly realized my Mr. Thrifty mentality was, once again, working against me. Fortunately, I've committed to the long-term mindset, so this one is going out the door and a better one has already arrived:

As you can see, a steel pipe supports the bottom. No bendy bendy moving forward.

Other tools of note that I've recently acquired are a Lie-Nielsen Skewed (Right-handed) Rabbet Plane; this will be helpful when trimming up the various rabbets required by your typical harpsichord.

The plane is used, yet it's also an heirloom-quality piece that I will pass down to the grandkids. Along with this, I picked up a 1-ton press and some nifty handtools, all (including the plane) from Cool Craigslist Guys. The drawknife in the older handtools photo below is razor sharp and the guy only charged me $18 for it. Thanks, Cool Craigslist Guy.

When I purchased the caliper, he threw in the screwdriver for free.

Finally, it was wood processing night at Tortuga Early Instruments Worldwide Headquarters a couple of nights ago. Over the years, I've managed to acquire lots and lots of log pieces. In my effort to declutter the shop, I realized these logs could be cut down now and stored, significantly reducing the amount of space they take up.

The photo above is a piece of apple being cut to size. The photos below illustrate the amount and variety of woods (redwood, cedar, maple, apple, and walnut) that were cut and what it looks like once it was stowed under a shelf.

What a difference a few cuts make.

The next time we speak, you will hear about the new lathe table/bench and my steam bending success. Once again, it's time to get on with building.

Until next time...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Day 151: A Steamy Situation

When we last spoke, I was preparing the steam bending setup in anticipation of getting the bridges bent with the most efficiency and effectiveness possible. I settled on using 1/4" poplar dowel for the material platform(s) in the pipe. You can see me marking the pipe for drilling and inserting the dowel pieces in the photos below.

In hindsight, I probably should have not cut them up before inserting them into the pipe. Trying to find the hole on the other side of the pipe with a shortened piece was a bit of a chore, but not a deal-breaker. Once I got them inserted, I filled the Earlex Steam Generator with water and plugged it in.

As you can see, I decided to simply tape a cotton towel to the open end of the pipe. I decided early on to not build a pipe bomb because, well, that would be bad, so a towel on the end it is. This allowed sufficient steam to escape while condensing it for collection in a strategically positioned bowl.

I also managed to jam the candy thermometer I use for the hot hide glue setup into one of the dowel holes. As you can see in the photo below, it quickly came up to temp (water boils at 212F/100C - can't get much higher than that when using steam). My luthier friend, Mark Roberts of Mark Roberts Guitars and Ukuleles, made the point that I should have inserted it as far from the steam generator as possible. Noted for next time.

Once it came up to temp, I inserted a piece of beech I had used during one of my previous abortive lower register attempts and left it for roughly 50 minutes based on the fact that the piece was only 1/2" thick. Well, I'm not so happy to report that the result was an epic fail. I clearly needed to leave it in longer. Much longer. Like, I'm now thinking a couple of hours. When I pulled the piece, it looked completely unfazed. Perhaps the "one hour per inch" rule applies to length (but I doubt it)? One thing we can all count on is that I'll keep testing and eventually land upon what works. And there's always YouTube and my wonderful Facebook builder friends.

On a tangentially-related note, the gallon of high tack fish glue came in from Norland Products. I'll be picking up smaller (8 oz. or so) containers at a local art supply store and filling a couple to keep in the shop refrigerator and then freezing the rest. It is, after all, a protein and should be treated as such. If you want to try the tacky, fishy stuff, let me know and I'll see about getting some to you - I now have enough for many years to come.

Until next time...

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Day 150: Building a Steam Generation Plant

I still have a little work to do on the registers - I need to notch a space into each slot that faces the back side of the jacks. This relief notch will allow the tongue of the jack to swing out freely on its way back down to the resting position. I've ordered a 3/16" hollow square hole punch from Lee Valley that should do the trick. I'll post more here when the punch arrives and I start testing out the best way to go about cutting out the notch.

Now, I can return to making the bridges and nuts for the instrument. The bridges are for the 4' and 8' "ranks" of strings, one being longer than the other (I bet you can guess which one) and the nuts go onto the pinblock to level the strings from the tuning pins to the endpins (they pass over the bridges to reach the endpins). Mr. Miller recommends using maple for these in his eBook Most Excellent. When I posted something to this effect on good, old Facebook, several of my builder Friends were quick to remind me the Ruckers used either beech or cherry. Because I love working with beech, beech it is.

I then went on a wood gathering adventure that included stops at Crosscut Hardwoods and Gilmer Wood Company, both in Northwest Portland.

Crosscut Hardwoods

Gilmer Wood Company

These companies are completely different in that Crosscut caters mainly to furniture builders and Gilmer offers more specialty exotic and tone woods. The level of customer service also differs significantly between the companies with Crosscut workers offering more help and a generally better attitude than those at Gilmer. Yeah, Gilmer is a challenging place to shop, but they're just about the only game in town for these woods and they know it. But enough about that. Suffice it to say I picked up a 1x4x8 piece of beech at Crosscut and I'm now preparing it for the steamer.

"What steamer," you ask? Well, I've been wanting to put together a steambox for a very long time and, after conferring with Random Roger Green and Owen Daly (more about Owen below), I decided to simply put one together using a 4" tube and a steam generator. I picked the tube and cap up at Lowe's (no Orange Box for this guy) and the steam generator at Woodcraft in Tigard, Oregon. I then drilled a hole in the cap and hit Parkrose Hardware here in Vancouver for a couple of high-temp rubber oil pan gaskets.

I was then interrupted by the need to complete the building of a Native American flute (in E) with my daughter. It turned out lovely, but it did take time away from completing the instrument.

The flute is done and will be gifted to its impending owner in a couple of days. So, it's back to the instrument for me. The next step is to complete the steam bending setup and get those bridges knocked out.

While the glue was drying on the flute (I used 192-gram hide glue), I was able to visit master builder, Owen Daly, for a few hours last weekend. As always, he crammed my head full of new knowledge and insights. It's always a pleasure to see Owen because I learn so many new and interesting aspects of building from him, but also because I like and respect him a ton. As you can see below, he's currently working on a little Italian instrument.

Cypress and black walnut and poplar and pine. All good stuff. Our discussions ranged from conservation strategies (for older instruments) to wood types to glue-up tactics and beyond. It was a wonderful visit and I look forward to seeing him again soon.

On a few completely unrelated notes, I was able to acquire some new tools for the shop over the past week. I picked up a new socket set, which I needed badly, a new stool, and a little router table with a nice Riyobi router (thanks, Cool Craigslist Guy), as well as some Mirrka Abranet 320-grit "sandpaper".

I didn't upload a photo of the socket set because, you know, it's a socket set. The stool has been a bit of a game-changer for me. I have an incredibly bad back and spend much of my time in the shop in near-debilitating pain. Not only does the new stool have a nice cushion for my rear-end, when adjusted to full extension, it allows me to rest an elbow on the assembly table while writing or working with the smartphone. This little bit of rest from time to time has made all the difference.

The router table is a stop-gap until I can purchase a cast iron router table wing for the table saw and the Abranet is some amazing stuff. It's really a sanding lattice that keeps the sanding surface cool and doesn't clog like regular sandpaper, which is especially important on the thickness sander.

And, finally, I went ahead and called Norland Products and asked for their "Tech Dept." The guy who answered the phone turned out to be Tim Norland, the owner of the company. We had a lengthy discussion about his high-tack fish glue and humidity. He debunked the myth that his fish glue would not last in high humidity conditions (I think I can still hear him laughing about that one) and he was kind enough to remind me the the only thing that will make an instrument built with fish glue fall apart is to submerge it in water. For days. He also reminded me that it's probably never a good idea to play a glued instrument underwater. It was music to my ears, so I ordered a gallon.

Until next time...

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Day 149: Registers Accomplished

As promised, I've been in the shop nearly every day since my erstwhile recovery from pneumonia. And, as you may recall, I was in the throes of completing new upper and lower registers in some beautiful European beech I picked up at the local Crosscut Hardwoods because it is, after all, "The Woodworker's Candy Store®." I was able to finish the slotting of all registers this past weekend using my fancy new jig (you know, the one I made from scrap wood).

I described how the jig works in my last post, so I won't belabor it here. Suffice it to say it worked great. Yet...there is a dicey aspect to all of this: cutting the 10-degree relief slants into the bottoms of the slots. This is done to provide room for the jacks to tilt freely (i.e., without binding) when one of the upper registers is slid to the side so the plectra for that rank (8' or 4') are moved just enough they miss the strings and vice versa. This effectively turns the ranks "on and off".

The diceyness (yeah, I just made that up) comes when cutting the slants because I've already cut the straight slots. When cutting the reliefs, I simply line the existing slots up with one of the table saw blade teeth and run it through the blade again with the Incra miter gauge set at a 10-degree angle. This isn't much fun because the tiniest slip will ruin a slot. Clamping is not really possible because the clamps tend to pull the registers up at an odd angle. So, I basically ran them through while holding the register to the miter gauge with my free hand. It wasn't the greatest approach, but it worked and I was able to complete all of the cuts over the course of two days with no mishaps (I know, a first).

Because no two cuts are ever the same, I had to clean the slots up with a nifty razor knife I frequently use for just such a task. Once the slots were free of cut anomolies, I dove into the glue up process.

When I posted the photo above on Facebook, I said, "I love the smell of fish glue in the morning," a direct rip-off from Apocaplypse Now, but you've gotta find fun in the shop where you can, right? And, yes, I'm using fish glue on most of this instrument. And, no, it doesn't smell - at all. I have detractors with regard to this, yet the only thing I fear with using this glue is excessive humidity or submersion in water. Extremely high humidity is a real concern. If you're submerging a harpsichord in water, you have issues beyond playing the thing. For this task, I'm using Norland High Tack Fish Glue. I just love the stuff.

As you can see from the photo above, I use frog tape to secure the parts before clamping them for the finish. This is a pretty common luthier strategy and one I highly recommend. I had cut the parts a little rich so I would have wiggle room to smooth them once they came off the clamps, which is what you see me doing in the photos below.

I'm quite happy with the end results.

The only thing left is to cut a relief notch for the jack tongues into each of the slots (more on this later). I'll need the hollow square hole punch I ordered specifically for the task. While it's in transit to Tortuga Early Instruments Worldwide Headquarters, I'll be turning my attention back to the soundboard and its attendant bridges and braces.

Until next time...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Day 148: Remaking the Registers. Again.

It's been a while since I've posted because I managed to pick up a pretty nasty case of pneumonia (is there any other kind?). I've been sick quite a bit the last couple of years, which gives me pause, but I digress. During my nearly four-week hiatus, I had sufficient time to think. This is usually good for most people, but I have a tendency to overthink and overcommit (another story for another time). In this case, I believe the time was well spent as I considered the unevenness of the spacing between the register slots. I thought, "Do they really need to be this way?"

After laying both the 4' and 8' registers (jack guides) over the ends of the keys, it became glaringly apparent that I could do better. Now, lest you think I overthought the matter, consider this: there were some pretty huge gaps between quite a few of the slots. This made me think about how the tuning pins and strings were going to appear once the instrument was completed and I decided I had enough time and enough beech to start over. Again.

The first step was to plane down enough wood to slice it up for both the uppers and lowers.

Once this was accomplished, I ripped two uppers and the one lower(s), as well as caps for closing the combs of the uppers (I already had the two cap pieces from the previous version of the lowers).

Beech rips and crosscuts like a dream - I just love the stuff. Henceforth I declare that all things Tortuga shall be made from beech! Unless they're not.

Next, I grabbed some poplar from the wood pile and trimmed it down and taped it to the ends of the keys so I could eyeball where I wanted the slots to go. In this case, I cut a small piece off of the former lower and used it to mark one side of the cut I would make with the table saw. I always mark one side because I feel it's easier to line up a side, rather than eyeball the middle of a cut, which usually ends up a disaster.

Once I got all of the cut sides scored (I use a scoring knife, rather than a pencil because I feel it's far more accurate), I went ahead and cut all of the slots that would become the guide slots for the poplar jig.

Then, I set about making another part that mounts to the Incra miter gauge and contains a small piece of jack-sized wood that juts from it to act as the alignment guide. You see me cutting the guide slots in the photo above; that piece will be turned upside-down and slotted into the part of the jig that mounts to the miter gauge in the photo below.

You can see the two jig parts lining things up in the photo below as I've taped all of the upper and lower register parts together in order to get consistent cuts for at least three of the register sides.

See how the slotted jig lines the cuts up with the blade? It took a little while to make the jig, but the peace of mind it offers is incredible. Unless you forget to tighten the jig to the miter gauge and it slips during the second, third and fourth cuts. Which, of course, I did, resulting in the funky slot spacing you see below.

After laying the slotted parts on the ends of the keys, I pushed around a couple of the endpins and, voila!, they lined up (for the most part). An alternative would be to plug the most egregious of the mishaps and recut them, but, as you can see in the photo below, they line up well enough that I'm calling it good. Or at least okay.

Holy cow, what an adventure. The only task left is to cut the remaining slots into the blank side of the lower registers. Once this is done, I can close the combs on all of them and get on with my life. The fact that I've come this far and now remade the registers at least six times is a bit frustrating, but, hey, that's the nature of learning, right? At least it can be. Okay, in my case, it absolutely is.

On a tangentially related note, what the heck are they thinking when they put the little plastic gridded filter thingies on the business ends of a dust collector? I already removed the one that was clogging the hose end and realized while using it with the planer that something was still amiss. The planer chips going everywhere but into the collection bag was my first clue. When I pulled the bag off, I found another clogged plastic grid thingy that I promptly removed.

It's not like I already make things hard enough on myself by making multiple, repeated mistakes, you know? I have to deal with this silliness. Then again, they're probably on there for some sort of safety reason, but, in my most humble opinion, a dust collector that's clogging both high-speed power tools and itself is not safe, so there you go. Now, it works like a charm.

Until next time...