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...


  1. Would you mind offering some more details of your subplot / aside regarding the flute project?

    1. If you email me at and have specifics questions, I'll be happy to answer them. Thanks for reading my blog! Darin