Archive for October, 2010

Trimming the keychest

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

I put in the wheel for the first time since gluing on the back. I needed to check the fore-aft keychest measurement, because I thought I had the side pieces slightly too long, so that they extended past where the sides of the body attached to the head block.

The instructions say the center of the 7th key has to be exactly 6 15/16″ from the bridge. And the bridge has to be about 7/16″ from the wheel. So, checking all that with the pieces in place, I found that the sides were in fact too long by 1/8″ to 3/16″.


Chopstick serving as 7th key to measure proper spacing from the bridge

In the process, though, I discovered something else a little more bothersome — I had the whole keychest way too high. When putting a straightedge on the angle of the wheel, it rested right on the keyshafts! [At least it appeared I had cut the bottom of the sides at the right angle.] The best I could tell, the sides and end pieces needed to be cut down on the bottom by about 7/32″ to have the chanter strings the right distance above the keys. That’s almost a quarter of an inch. How’d I get so far off?

  1. When cutting the bottom edges of the keychest side pieces, I had overcompensated for the curvature of the soundboard. There is hardly any curvature at all to deal with 1 1/2″ either side of the centerline, even though I had doubled the curve amount from that specified. I knew I had to sand the keychest bottom to fit the soundboard curvature, but  I had about 1/8″ extra there — too much to sand.
  2. The wheel seems to sit lower in the body than on the plans. This is not a problem with the plans, but is related to some adjusting I did when making the braces in the body. I had added some 1/8″ thick wood to the tops of the large braces before rounding them. The reason I gave April 15th for this was…

You can see an 1/8″ thick strip of wood has been glued on top of the brace. The short brace is 4″ high, but the two larger braces were 1/8″ shorter. This modification to the larger ones makes all three 4″ high, which is the height of the body. This also makes the threaded hole for the bearing closer to the same height of the shaft hole in the end of the body. I could have sanded down more from the sides of the body and the top of the short brace, but decided to try this.

In hindsight, perhaps I should have made the small brace shorter and sanded down the entire top of the body more. Anyway, this obviously effects the wheel height, lowering it by whatever was left after rounding of that 1/8″ strip. You can see the strips I’m talking about here.

So, this accounts for why I was almost 1/4″ off on the first cutting of these pieces, despite all my attempts to accurately measure the plans. Jerry was good about letting me come over and re-do all these tedious cuts last night. Everything went well, thanks to his careful expertise and excellent tools.

Unfortunately, this necessary shortening messed up the nice double rabbet joint I had on the bottom of the keychest front. Now the base is thinner and weaker than the original piece. I will probably end up adding a second strip on top of the base to reinforce the joint.


The front piece after re-trimming, beside original piece

This front piece is now the same height as the original — what a coincidence! I was wondering why it was so much higher before. Hopefully, that’s a positive sign I’m more on the right track, now.

The good news is, if you’re making one of these kits and sticking to the playbook, you won’t have any of these self-inflicted problems. The keychest will be all put together, cut the right size, and everything!

Chanter selector 4

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

The chanter selector is done, except of the exterior lever, which will be made towards the end of all construction.

Yesterday I took my rough cam design sketch, and created a precise outline of the pieces on the computer using Corel DRAW, a vectored drawing program.  This was rubber-cemented to the rosewood strip.


Original design sketch, and computer pattern ready for gluing

The cams were then cut out with the scroll saw. Broke one blade. I’m having some problems with the tensioner on the saw due to a deteriorated rubber piece.


Cutting out cams with scroll saw

I couldn’t get the curves as smooth as I had hoped, especially the concave ones. But they were satisfactory. It was hard to hold the short, narrow piece firmly.


Cut pieces ready for edge smoothing

Next came smoothing the cuts. I was able to clamp all three pieces together and work on three ends simultaneously, which not only ensured the pieces were uniform, but also gave me a wider surface to work with, to prevent accidental bevelling from not sanding at 90 degrees to the cam. I got half the ends done last night.


Pieces clamped for simultaneous smoothing of end curves

I used a dowel and another flat wood scrap for sanding the ends with fine sandpaper. The shaping of the other three ends and center notch was completed tonight, as well as the flat sanding of the sides. Steel wool was used for final smoothing.

There were two gluing sessions, using epoxy. I did the double cam first, centering it on the flat part of the shaft. The single cams were glued after the double one had set. It was easy to line up their outer ends with the big one. Excess epoxy was removed with a  toothpick before hardening and then steel wool afterwards.


Completed camshaft for selecting chanter strings, ready to install

It came out nice. I like the rosewood. I hope it works right! I was thinking, if the “OFF” position —no tension on any strings— is determined mostly by gravity [weight of cams and lever], will the lever hang right to prevent the nearest cams from getting too close to the strings? Will how I hold the hurdy-gurdy affect this?


Thursday, October 21st, 2010

LibertyCome to the rescue of a battered woman, before it is too late! Liberty is counting on you!

Be sure to vote November 2nd in this most crucial election. Our freedom and that of our children is at stake. Liberty is being held hostage by radical liberals who have no regard for the Constitution. We can’t afford to let them continue to greatly expand government with unlimited powers to plunder productive members of society and regulate all our choices, dismantling the American way of life for a freedom-crushing, wealth-redistributing, debt-ridden socialist utopia. Stop citizen-abuse by out-of-control Uncle Sam now!

Early voting started here on Tuesday. I voted yesterday.

Chanter selector 3

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Tonight I sanded the flat edges so the piece was 3/8″ high. [I had cut it a little wide, because I thought the saw would have made a rougher edge.] Then I rounded the two corners of what will be the outer edge, where the strings will be pushed up with rotation. After roughly rounding the edges against a flat piece of sandpaper, I clamped the piece to a 1/4″ piece of purpleheart and used the shoeshine rag technique to get a smoother curve. This way I could hold the larger board between my legs.


Putting a smooth curve on the edge

I had cut a piece of rosewood about 5″ long. I shouldn’t have been so stingy with it, and made it a little longer, based upon the three cam shapes I had originally intended, which would have had the double lifter go the entire 2.5″ width inside the keychest. But this will still work fine, though they will be a little shorter.


Total length of rounded rosewood cam stock compared to shaft size

The outer edges will be a little more decorative than the plain, perpendicular cut seen below.


Untrimmed cam stock shown in position on cam shaft

So, the scroll saw trimming is next.

The band was good

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

I didn’t do any hurdy-gurdy crafting over the weekend, due to a trip down to College Station ["Aggieland"] to see our son, and to attend a home football game with him at Kyle Field. We hadn’t been to one of the games in a couple years, and it is quite an experience. Texas A&M was playing the Missouri Tigers. He got us tickets in the student section, second deck. The picture below is one I took.



The 2010-2011 Fightin' Texas Aggie Band, Kyle Field, College Station

The Aggies have a bunch of traditions, one of the most well-known is the 12th Man. This requires the students to all stand up the entire game, to show they are ready to take the field in an instant, in case they are needed. Not only do they stand up, they stand on the benches! Though we are only parents, when in Aggieland do, as the Aggies do, so we stood up, too. The standing up wasn’t as bad as being in the sun the entire time. Thankfully, we didn’t get burned.

But the Aggies did get burned! The Tigers beat them 30 – 9. Well, we can always count on the band being good — one of the best you will ever see, due to its Corps of Cadets roots.

Since it was a morning game, we went down Friday evening and we slept on air mattresses in our son’s apartment, walking to the game in the morning. We wanted to see the Corps ”March-In” across campus to the stadium, a big tradition. You can get a feel for that in this video…


If you are interested in a typical halftime performance…

Frisco, or Bust!

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

StephenFriedLast night I had the pleasure of driving to the new Frisco Heritage Museum in Frisco, Texas to meet author Stephen Fried at a book-signing. [Well the drive all the way across Dallas and then some, in rush hour traffic was not a pleasure!] Stephen’s fascinating book came out this past March, and  is the most authoritative biography of one of my favorite subjects — Fred Harvey. The name of the book is “Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West.”AppetiteAmerica


Frisco is an old railroad town named after the Frisco line — the other railway, besides the Santa Fe — along which Fred Harvey had some of his dining establishments and news stands.

I got to have a tiny part in the book by giving Stephen access to scans of my collection of hundreds of Fred Harvey-related postcards, for him to choose whatever he wanted to use in the book. He ended up using 5-6. So, we’ve talked back and forth via email for some time, and finally got to meet last night on his Texas and Oklahoma tour.

Ever hear of the famous Harvey Girls? Fred Harvey is where they came from. They were so celebrated that in 1946 MGM did a musical about them starring Judy Garland. The song “On the Atchison, Topeka, and  Santa Fe” won the Oscar for best song that year.



But Stephen’s book tells the real story, focusing on the man, his sucessors, and the behind the scenes story of the hospitality empire that lasted several generations. He was very fortunate to be able to work with family members and have access to personal possessions of Fred Harvey, such as his wallet, datebook, and other early records never made public before.


My Fred Harvey Kansas City Union Station postcard used in the book

If you wish to see the first part of Stephen’s book lecture at the Kansas City Union Station, the former headquarters of Fred Harvey, check out the following video.


You may have noticed that this blog is located at That is because I have made a website featuring different Harvey House locations I have visited, with “Then & Now” pictures, using my old postcards and photos I have taken at the locations. You can even buy Stephen Fried’s book from my little Amazon store, as well as other great Fred Harvey books. I also host a Fred Harvey Discussion Group that anyone who is interested in the Fred Harvey odyssey can join. Stephen also has an interesting Fred Harvey blog.


One of my postcards used in the book

Chanter selector 2

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Plan “B”

The ready-made tangents seemed initially like a good possibility for the cams. Just square off the bottom and glue them on the shaft, and you’re done! They’d give the selector the same “look” as the keys. When I got this idea, I hadn’t figured out what maximum diameter I was going to end up with on the chanter selector.

The tangents are 7/16″ long. For a 3/8″ high cam on a 1/4″ shaft, that means only removing 1/16 of an inch, which is not at the widest point of the tangents, as you can see in the picture. They’ve already started rounding off on the back side at 3/8″. Then there’s the screw hole. Both of these issues would contribute to less gluing surface, and a weaker joint. I’m concerned about the cam getting sheared off due to the initial side stress of pushing up on the tight strings, and want a good amount of area in contact with the shaft for gluing.

So, I’m going to make my own cams. They will be more rounded and less pointed, since the taper isn’t  necessary for their function, the rounded end giving a more gradual lift which should mean easier  turning of the lever. I would think there’d be less wear to the wood, too. I’ve got a good variety of 1/4″ thick hardwoods. I’m going to use some rosewood, seen in the picture below.


The tangents are not really long enough for a 3/8" high cam

I cut a rosewood strip slightly wider than 3/8′ wide last night on my scroll saw. Clamping on a fence made a very nice, straight cut. If I’d known it was going  to come out that smooth, I wouldn’t have cut it a little wide to be on the safe side. That wood is hard!

I also worked on the shaft. It was preventing the keychest sides from fitting flush against the front piece. The square part was slightly too long. I had to round a little bit more of it. Plus, the short axle didn’t do all the way in because it was too long for the closed hole, and needed some filing. I took some pictures while checking the fit…


Front keychest view of chanter selector shaft test fit



Back keychest view of chanter selector shaft test fit

Last night I also sanded the base of the front piece so it is perpendicular to the vertical part. The angle was over 90 degrees before.

Keychest front 3

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Today I did the decorative scroll saw cutting opening up the two circles. The curves came out a bit rough, because I used a heavier blade. I thought a thin blade wouldn’t cut as perpendicular on 3/8″ thick wood when doing the turns. Everything filed pretty smooth and symmetrical, though, with some work with one of my wife’s emery boards cut square on the end. After doing some finer sanding of the flat surfaces, I glued the base to it.


Keychest front and base glued and clamped together

Besides the decorative opening for the chanter strings, you can see the profile with the 1/2″ thick lower part, the slightly scooped out section for the rotation of the lifting cams, and the 3/8″ thick upper part. The top is a little too tall, but will be trimmed and sloped to match the keychest sides after they are glued together.


Original and new parts

I’m happy with how it came out, though it needs a suntan to match the rest of the mahogany! The angle between the front and bottom is a little more than 90 degrees, but I’ll sand that so it’s right.

Another thing I did today was deepen the far hole for the selector shaft, which didn’t quite go halfway through the 1/4″ thick keychest side. I did some chiseling with an X-acto knife at first, and finished sanding the hole deeper by gluing some sandpaper to the end of  a 1/4″ wooden dowel, trimming it to the dowel’s edges when dry, and then swivelling it back and forth in the hole. Now it is a little less than 3/16″ deep.

Keychest front 2

Friday, October 8th, 2010

On the inside of the front piece I needed to scoop out a channel for the rotation of the chanter lifting cams. I used a cove router bit to get me started, even though it was well below the needed diameter. I cut it to almost the right depth, though, so only the edges needed to be widened out.


Initial step of rotation channel creation with cove bit

I looked around for something that was 1″ in diameter to enlarge the channel. A broom handle in the garage was about 7/8″. I also  found a wooden flute from Peru on top of the piano, which was right at 1″. I protected that a little better than the broom handle before wrapping it with sandpaper. This process made a very nicely curved channel which I think will allow the turning cams to avoid hitting the front.


Broom handle wrapped with sandpaper to widen channel

I wanted the exposed top part of the piece to be 3/8″ thick, like on the original kit part, so I used a flat router bit to remove 1/8″ off the back. Below the rounded channel that isn’t really visible, it will remain 1/2″ thick to provide a stronger joint with the sides. The unrouted top edge is scrap.


Angled view showing profile of edge with thinned top section

Since this inside edge is not straight, it wasn’t really practical to use the double rabbet on the side joints. So I went  back to Leonard’s and cut them off as well as the extra scrap on the top. I marked in pencil where I will cut the top opening with the scroll saw.


Sides trimmed to 2.5" width for side butt joints, top removed

Next was further sanding of the front to get the inlay fairly flush before the scroll sawing, and rounding off the inner top corner on the base.


Sanded front ready for scroll sawing

Keychest front 1

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Original keychest front

I decided to make a new piece for the front of the keybox. I wanted something a little more imaginative than the square cutout for the entrance of the chanter strings. I really didn’t care for the base showing on the front, but I could have lived with that, or veneered over it, except for the square cutout. Also, the upper ends didn’t seem to be flush with the keychest side pieces. I probably just have the height of the keychest measured wrong. The soundboard camber is hard to figure, so I’m erring  on the high side.

The original piece is 3/8″ thick. Mahogany that I could easily get was either 1/4″ or 1/2″, so I got a 1/2″ board. I hope it won’t matter that I made the grain go horizontally, like the sides. Most of mine is 1/2″ thick instead of 3/8″, so that should help hold it together.

I wondered about some design to add to the front for some time, and eventually got the simple idea to duplicate what I did on the head block of the body — inlay some left-over 1 1/2″ wide cocobolo with thin stripes of black-white-black along the edges. It won’t be that visible, so no sense doing anything fancier, plus this will tie in well with other parts of the instrument, such as the knob and soundholes.

First, I had to flatten the left-over cocobolo, which still had ridges down the center of one side, due to my crude way of splitting my 1/4″ board with a table router.


Flattening a center ridge on left over cocobolo pieces

I cut out the mahogany front and bottom pieces on Leonard’s radial arm saw, including double rabbet joints for the bottom piece to fit into, and on the sides, which I thought would be better than a plain butt joint. Then I had to recess the area for the inlay. I used the cone-shaped sheetrock cutting attachment that came with my Dremel tool, making a mini-router.


Ready for gluing in the five inlay pieces

Since the recess ended up a hair wide, I added two slivers of black veneer to give a perfect fit. I used the ebony sawdust in the epoxy trick when gluing these in, which got the front a little messy, but ensured no visible gaps.


Two pieces of front assembly, after gluing in the inlay

Jerry and I drilled 3/4″ diameter holes for the strings with a Forstner bit on his drill press. They came out real slick. The opening will be about the same overall width as the original piece, so I hope they’re okay from a functional standpoint.


Some very smooth holes for string entry

The top and center parts will be opened up with my scroll saw.

I will deal with what I did next to the the back of this piece in another post.