Sunday, April 25, 2010


We just got back from two days at the New England Folk Festival. It was a bit discouraging on the one hand because virtually all the impromptu jamming was non-vocal. The jam sessions are where you can meet kindred (or at least compatible) spirits. We should have seen it coming since this is primarily a folk dance festival and most of the musicians there play for dances. As I thought more about it, I realized that many - if not most - of the vocalists who go to this kind of event have become instrumentalist so they can join in - Castlebay included.

It makes sense. This is communal music and the words get in the way. The only festivals we have attended where this happens vocally are nautical festivals where there are a lot of sea shanties sung. The shantys have simple choruses and veterans know most of the verses (which are pretty much mix-and-match, anyway).

There was a pretty good schedule of song-based workshops. John Roberts, a perennial favorite at the festival, had two or three ballad workshops. All the vocal workshops were in high school classrooms, so the seating at each was limited. The Barry Finn memorial was well attended. Barry was a shanty singer from the Portsmouth, NH, area who died suddenly last autumn. Several of Barry's friends sang some of his favorite songs, although nobody could come close to replicating Barry's intense and emotional delivery!

On a positive note there were a substantial number of young people there - teens and twenty-somethings. That was great to see and holds the promise of a continuing tradition into the future.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

All Done!

April 15
I did my taxes last week so I'm not sweat THAT today, at least.

After setting overnight it's time to smooth the finish over the patches and try to blend it all in. I sanded it lightly with 400 and then 600 grit. Next step is to seal the stain with amber shellac... drat! There's none at the shop so it's drive in to town to get a half-pint. I put a couple of thin coats, maybe three all together, sanding lightly with 600 grit between each. After it hardened up for a few hours I rubbed it down through 400, 600, 1500 grit wet or dry paper followed by 2400, 3200, 3600 and 4200 grit sanding pads. It came out very smooth to the touch, but not shiny like the rest of the harp.I like to spirit off after the last smoothing. I usually use methanol but didn't have any in the shop. I got a quart of vodka for Christmas from my nephew three or four years ago so I decided, rather than drive back into town, I would try that. It worked great - even better than menthanol. Thanks, Sashi.

Time to put it all back together. Now I can feel where the bolt goes in at the base of the pillar but I can't seem to figure out how to get the nut started. I had to take the base off to see what's going on. The base on this harp is mostly decorative and just bolts on. Some of my earlier harps were more complex in the base and go together like a puzzle. This design works fine, the only virtue of the old design is that it's dreadfully clever.

Here is the nut I'm looking for. This must be how I put it together in the first place.

There are a couple of hanger bolts in the top. This photo is looking in the bottom sound hole. It's too far to reach from this end and the last sound hole in the back is too small for me to get my hand into.

Here is a tricky maneuver - starting the nut on the hanger bolt in the top of the harp. The plunge grabber is handy when you don't have ultra-skinny arms or small children to do it for you.Here are the tools every harp builder needs. The socket with an extension and sometimes a universal joint is crucial. The plunge grabber is for setting washers on the bolts and starting the nuts. This is trickier that it seems because the grabber has four prongs but the nuts have six sides.

This is the pin that got bent when the harp fell over. That must have been one helluva thump!

Here she is - all strung up and ready to go home. There were a few creaks and groans as I brought the strings to tension, but that's normal.

We'll take it to Mary tomorrow on our way to the concert in Houlton.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Harp Repair, Continued

April 13 Clamps off, time for clean up. I made the patches a little bit thicker than the depth of the cavity so I can plane, sand, scrape it down to the same thickness.

So first take out as much as I dare with the plane. It's small, but effective.

I had some really aggressive sandpaper, too that flattened things out pretty quickly. Then on to the card scraper, which you can see resting on the top of the pillar. This tool is one of my favorites for finishing work. It cuts rather than grinds and when it is sharp leaves a surface smooth as glass with no scratches.

Luckily I still had some finish left from when I made the harp four (?) years ago. You can see that the new wood is quite a bit lighter than the old. We'll need more coats.

Later in the day, three coats with light sanding between each.

It looks pretty good! I'll let it harden up tonight and until noon or so tomorrow before I rub it out. If it is too soft even then I'll have to reassemble the harp and rub it down later. I have to get this thing put back together, strung up and back to Mary Saturday.


Friday, April 9, 2010

A New Project

A couple of years ago I built a harp for a friend who had injured her shoulder. I designed it so that she doesn't have to rest it on her shoulder and the strings are easier to to reach.
Mary loves her harp and it was traumatic when she accidentally knocked it over and broke the pillar.

With about 800 pounds of tension pulling down on the pillar it didn't stand a chance when it hit the floor - hard enough to bend the steel tuning pin!

April 9 First I had to disassemble the neck/pillar from the body. There are a couple of bolts Waaaay up top on the inside. When I had kids with small hands around they would do stuff like this for me. Luckily my arm is long enough to reach (with a socket extension) through the bottom of the harp. Next I replaced all the splinters I could find and tacked them with thin superglue. A couple of brads were driven into one side, nipped off, and pressed into the other side. This indexes the break and guards against slippage during glue-up. Next a visit to the Carpenter's Boatshop where they had more soft jawed clamps, a good vise, and fresh WEST epoxy.

Apr 12-13 A couple of days have passed while we were gone to the Ulster-Scots in Maine symposium. I decided that I wanted to reinforce the break, but want the repair to be as inconspicuous as possible. So I made a couple of cherry patches (we called these "Dutchmen" in the shipyard), then used the router to make a template for the cavity - one on each side. It sound easy, but I had to make an intermediate template to get the sizes to match.
The grain of the patches crosses the grain of the pillar at an angle, so there will be a good strengthening effect.

So far, so good. You can see the dark glue line in the bottom of the recess. I don't like thick glue lines like this. It is a consequence of the fracture. There were splinters that kept the joint from closing perfectly, so the reinforcements are, indeed, necessary.

I added a little bit of carbon fiber cloth to REALLY make it strong. The glue pot in the back is for quality assurance. I won't move the harp or remove the clamps until the glue in the pot cures.

Add some more WEST epoxy and clamp. (The vinegar in the background is for cleanup. It will easily wipe off epoxy while it is still uncured) Wax paper keeps the clamps from gluing down to the patches.
I should be able to take off the clamps, clean up, stain and finish on Wednesday. I have to get this harp back together and deliver it to Mary on our way to a harp workshop and concert for the Northern Harpsong organization in Houlton on Saturday.

The Daffodils Are Out!

Here is a shot of the back garden. The front is also spectacular. Julia worked in her garden today and found some carrots from last year.

Three ticks found her. Maybe we need some chickens.