Archive for March, 2011

Keyshaft holes

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

While I’m procrastinating about carving the head, I thought I could at least file out the keyshaft holes. The holes are not originally big enough to insert the shafts. They have to be individually enlarged to custom fit each shaft.

I wasn’t sure how to go about this. If I used the little metal files I had, I was sure that I would have ended up with ugly, non-rectangular holes that didn’t have straight sides or 90-degree angles. Plus, the files aren’t long enough to do both sides of the keychest at once. It would have looked terrible.  My idea was to try cutting an emery board to the width of the holes, which would allow sanding an even, straight edge. But before I got around to try cutting one…


Home-made balsa wood sanding stick in action

I came up with the perfect solution last night. I had a nice assortment of balsa wood strips from the local hobby store for other projects. I thought, “Maybe some of them are the right width” and sure enough – I had some!

Bottom row of wenge shafts fitted, shown with sanding sticks

Bottom row of wenge shafts fitted, shown with sanding sticks

Two of the holes in the top row are 1/4″ square. The rest are 1/4″ x 3/8″. I had some 3/16″ thick balsa wood strips in widths of 1/4″ and 3/8″, perfect for precise enlarging of the keyshaft holes! All I had to do was cut 1/4″ and 3/8″ strips of 320-grit sandpaper and glue them on the edge of the two strips of balsa wood, which I did last night.

What’s-his-name’s wenge hatband

What’s-his-name’s wenge hatband

Then it was just a matter of lightly running my sanding sticks through the holes just enough to allow a shaft to slide in smoothly without binding or wobbling. At this point, the shafts need to be numbered so that they get put back into the same holes. 

Top maple shafts fitted, though they need trimming and beveling

Top maple shafts fitted, though they need trimming and beveling

What is ideal about the balsa wood is that it is softer than the mahogany, and will not affect the hole except where the sandpaper is glued on, which gives more control, unlike a metal file, which could gouge the wrong edge when working in a corner. Plus the same-sized balsa wood fit in the holes without a lot of play, ensuring good edges and sharp, square corners. And the 1/4″ one could be used on the vertical sides of the 3/8″ holes.

Button side – this is beginning to look like a complicated apparatus!

Button side – this is beginning to look like a complicated apparatus!

So, now we not only have a new category, we have 23 more pieces added to the puzzle, instead of sitting in a bag in the box! All this time, I’ve never been able to see how the keys looked in the keychest, since they didn’t fit, so this is an exciting step.

By the way, the kit comes with all wenge [black] shafts. When ordering, I asked for the white maple shafts for the top row, as I’ve seen on some old hurdy-gurdies. It also ties in with my black and white Brittany theme. Next, I need to get those white shafts trimmed to the proper length and beveled, then figure out drilling the holes for the tangents.

Ad Vielle Que Pourra

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Cover of the CD I bought last night

We went downtown last night to trade in some of our CDs. One nice thing about this store is you can listen to used CDs you are interested in. I came away with one that’s pretty nice. I’d seen Ad Vielle Que Pourra’s albums on ebay, but wasn’t sure what they were like. It has hurdy-gurdy, accordion, bagpipe and other folk instruments playing French and Breton music. What more could you want? Even their name refers to a hurdy-gurdy:

Ad Vielle Que Pourra is a Quebec group full of surprises. Its hallmark is traditional French instruments, but Ad Vielle plays music on them that, as the liner notes state, “is not indigenous to the regions where the instruments come from.” They intermix Parisian waltzes, Breton sea songs, bourrées, gavottes, schottisches, and original compositions with abandon. the name Ad Vielle Que Pourra is a pun–a play on the French expression advienne que pourra (“come what may”). The vielle is from vielle à roue, a French instrument commonly known as the hurdy-gurdy.

The founding members of Ad Vielle are Brussels-born Daniel Thonon, a luthier who plays an intricately carved hurdy-gurdy he built himself; Alain Leroux, born in Brittany and a fiddler specializing in traditional Breton, Scottish, and Irish melodies and songs; Clement Demers, an Ontario-born accordionist who learned Québécois tunes while living in Quebec and Cajun tunes while travelling through Louisiana; Luc Thonon, a multi-instrument musician who plays the rare Flemish bagpipes; and Gilles Plante, a Montréal-born flute, recorder, and bagpipe player who went to Brittany to study the music and culture of his ancestors.

The subtitle [of their first album] is “new French folk music”, but could easily read “some of the most stirring and emotional traditional music that you will ever hear”. With this, their debut album, Ad Vielle Que Pourra rocked the folk music scene with interpretations of French and Breton music with an intensity that is rarely heard. With combinations of diatonic accordion, bombarde, fiddle, hurdy-gurdy, Flemish bagpipes, etc., you cannot help but be moved by their bourees, polkas, waltzes, and so much more. A Gallic feast.

The second album from Montreal’s Ad Vielle Que Pourra [Come What may] transports you to another place and time. You’re in a Breton village, then in the heart of old Quebec, Cajun country, or a medieval court. There are waltzes, schottisches, polkas, and several French and Breton dances, all served on hurdy-gurdy, bombarde, accordion, Hungarian and Flemish bagpipes, flute, and various stringed instruments.

I’ll have to keep my eye out for their other albums. Below is a  sample: Andromadère, the last track on their Ménage à Quatre ablum. See what you think…

You have to use your imagination

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

This big block of mahogany is going to be the head of my hurdy-gurdy. I decided to try my hand at some carving, instead of using the ready-made head that normally came with the kit. So, Mel gave me this nice piece of wood instead. You have to use your imagination. I’m not sure where to begin!

The photos were sized in Photoshop to the same size, one that would fit the available space.


Block of mahogany that will become the instrument’s head

Of course, I wanted the head to match the Brittany theme and have the same costume as the girls on the keychest. There are many different costumes in Brittany, with their own headdress or coiffe. This one is from around the town of Auray on the southern coast.


MORBIHAN – Jeune fille d’Auray

Antique postcards of these Breton costumes were very popular. I was happy to find two images, on eBay or somewhere, of the same girl, one a front view and one a side view. This will be great for carving purposes, to be working with the same face.


Morbihan is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on March 4, 1790. It was created from a part of the Duchy of Brittany. It is the only French department which has no French name and which has kept its original name. Morbihan is Breton and means small sea, referring to the prominent gulf along its shores. [Wikipedia]


Auray is west of the Gulf of Morbihan between Vannes and Lorient, just above Carnac, where all the roads come together on the above map.

Being part of Brittany, Morbihan’s coat of arms [blason] naturally has ermine on it!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

This ermine, a symbol of Brittany —which is the Celtic part of France— has changed its coat to wish you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.


Keychest side glued on

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

The other keychest side is now glued on, forming the complete box, minus the lid. And I even remembered to insert the chanter lifter before gluing it together!


Leonard’s three clamps can now finally go home.


Peghead will fit into recess on back end of keychest.


Keychest front needs sanding again, so all three pieces will be flush. Top of front needs beveling to match sides

Keychest mounting holes

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

KeychestFront16Before gluing on the decorative side of the keychest, closing it in and making it awkward to work inside, I wanted to drill holes for the two mounting screws [or dowels] in the base of the keychest front.

[Yes, the base is a mess due to having to reduce the height of the keychest after originally making a stronger overlapping joint for the foot.]


The other advantage to doing this before enclosing the keychest was I could get the angle I wanted if I could see the base. The bearing brace near the wheel opening, that the keychest screws attach to,  is slightly in front of the front of the keychest, requiring angled holes.


The holes are not their final diameter, but at least I now have them in at the right angle and can enlarge them later from the bottom with an electric drill.

Hopefully these holes are aligned right and the base is strong enough.

Keychest etched

Friday, March 11th, 2011

We did it! Finally, the decorative side of the keychest is finished. I went over to the Texas Wood House Thursday. It was a bit of a drive in rush-hour traffic. Then some very tedious work getting set up. It was hard holding my breath for two hours. But it was worth it! Sherry was very careful in making sure everything was right.


Adjusting the height of the laser based on the wood thickness

First, we did the test exposures on a piece of the same veneer as the faces. We also exposed the text on an extra piece of holly that the scroll was made of. Then Sherry did all the careful alignment necessary to get the etching right. We got off to a slow start in our initial approach — things were not lining up as we expected them to. Once we changed our technique, things went smoothly. It was interesting seeing the process. The etching is done from Corel Draw, a program that I am very familiar with but have never seen used for something like this.


An “action” shot of the laser during a test for proper positioning

The original face artwork is a continuous tone grayscale image. But a laser cannot print continuous tone, because it is either On or Off. It has to print a halftone with dots, like in a  newspaper, to simulate gray by changes in dot size. At a normal distance, the dots aren’t noticeable. I wanted a very subtle image, not something too dark. Thankfully, the woman doesn’t look like she has a beard!


The happy couple on the left with their new faces

The guinea pigs were the couple on the left. The main concern here was making sure the shadow of the woman’s cheek near her ear where it meets the corner of her cap matched up correctly. I didn’t want any of the dark etching showing up on the white cap. It came out great. It probably could have been nudged down one click, since the shadow above the man’s collar is slightly high and runs onto his hat brim. But that is splitting hairs and it really isn’t noticeable at all, being a dark area already. What was important was getting the woman’s face correct.


The right-hand couple can finally look at each other

Because of the large separation between the couples, we naturally etched them individually to have greater control over the alignment. We experimented with different exposures for this couple, but ended up using the same setup. The  main concern here was getting the dark shadow on his forehead to match the edge of his hat. It would have looked unnatural with a lighter gap there. This side went much quicker, since we had the process smoothed out. And the alignment is perfect!

It would be interesting if the actual Breton people whose photos were used to do this artwork could see themselves immortalized on the side of my hurdy-gurdy! They are blissfully unaware of all that has transpired to make them so “famous.” [The couples were created from separate photos composited together. The men were not originally dancing with those women.]


Etching the French words “A Ma Vie” on the scroll went quickest of all, since there weren’t any critical edge alignments. The burning of  the wood creates a smoky brown residue on the surface. This wipes off nicely with a slightly damp cloth.

I probably should explain in a separate post what the story is with the Breton motto “A Ma Vie”…

Keychest brace

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

I had a scrap of mahogany left over from making the front end of the keychest. It was the same width, so I decided it would make a good brace for the middle of the keychest, under the keys. This will give the whole assembly extra strength, having extra gluing surface for the sides, as well as help keep the sides from warping, or whatever. This is something not called-for that I’m adding. Probably not necessary, but I doubt it hurts anything, either.


Central brace glued into position