Archive for October, 2011

A Ma Vie

Monday, October 31st, 2011

hermine1When I did the laser-etching on the keychest, I promised to do a post on what the phrase A Ma Vie meant. So, finally… voilà!

It is associated with Brittany and the ermine, which I also used on my hurdy-gurdy, especially for the soundholes. You can see the whole ermine to the left, as well as the symbolic fur tufts like I used for the soundholes, and the phrase A ma Vie.

More precisely, it is associated with Duchess Anne of Brittany. As the postcard says: “The ermine,  emblem of Anne of Brittany, wife of Louis XII.”



This postcard gives more clues, the French text explaining the “devise” [motto]: “As this emblem is also that of purity of manners, it is believed that the motto A ma vie signifies I will remain pure all my life.” [or ‘in my life’] So, A ma vie [“ my life”] is an abbreviated slogan for this larger concept of purity. But what’s this got to do with ermines?

As with the French fleur-de-lis [lily], these weasel-like animals are a symbol of purity.  Their winter coats are snow-white, except for the black tip of their tails.


Anne of Brittany, r. 1488-1514

There is a legend about them that explains the Breton motto. One version is that the Duchess Anne of Brittany was on a hunt with her court when an ermine was being chased by the hunting party. When the ermine came upon a swamp, it turned to face certain death from the hounds rather than escape and muddy its pure white coat. Anne was impressed by the creature’s courageous attitude and asked that it be spared. She adopted it for her emblem. It has been used widely as a symbol for Brittany on various coats of arms, and even on their modern flag.

A longer motto of the Duchy of Brittany was Plutôt la mort que la souillure. [“Rather death than defilement”] A ma vie is a variant of  this same sentiment, according to Wikipedia.


Ermines with “A ma vie” scrolls carved in stone on an old mantlepiece

I don’t  know why they had so much difficulty portraying ermines back then. They are rather cute, contrary to the old representations.


Keychest bottom sanded

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

As mentioned last time, to get the head adjusted onto the body accurately in relation to the keychest, I needed to first sand the bottom of the keychest so it would match the curvature of the soundboard.

The keychest was run back and forth along its axis over two sheets of sandpaper on top of the soundboard.


Sanding the bottom of the keychest to match the soundboard curvature

The four pieces of the keychest were not perfectly aligned on the bottom when I assembled them, and there were some small beads of dried glue coming out from the joints. So, all that is leveled as well as curved. The two end pieces required the most curving, due to their width and perpendicular orientation.


Front of keychest after sanding bottom

It should be good enough now to finish adjusting the head. It definitely looks much better.

Head – neck notches 2

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Now that the tuning peg holes are drilled, I can go back to getting the head to fit in the notches I made in the neck of the body. The bottom edge of the head needed its final curve to be able to fine tune the notches. Plus, the angle on the two little feet needed changing to make them perpendicular to the angle of the keychest-mounting edge, which is mainly why I wanted to drill first, since the piece would have to sit on those for that operation, and might have dented them.


Chiseling the curves to their rough outlines

[You can see in the above picture where the wood chipped out some on the right-most hole.] After chiseling came the sanding by hand. Leonard lent me a coarse-grained tube from an oscillating sander, and I used a wood dowel wrapped with fine sand paper to complete these curves.


Final smoothing of curves and flattening of feet

The head-shaping that relates to the neck  is completed, but I’m still adjusting the neck to get a good fit. It’s almost there, but the head’s ‘yoke’ still doesn’t quite fit flush against the soundboard. Part of the problem is that the soundboard isn’t completely flat on the neck, so I will work on that.


Upside down view of how the head fits into neck notches

Another thing I need to do before finalizing these head adjustments is sand the bottom of the keychest to match the curve of the soundboard. This will lower the keychest some in relation to the head, which will then require the head to sit lower, too.

I have been worrying throughout the design of this that the head won’t fit in the notches right so that it will not match the vertical end of  the keychest to make a good joint,  but this seems to be working out okay.


Test fit of the body, head and keychest for proper alignment

After this will probably come the final shaping of the top curve of the head where the peg holes are, and narrowing the sides to the width of the keychest.

Head – drilling peg holes

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Before I do too much shaping of the head piece edges, I thought it a good idea to drill the peg holes. I wanted them spaced the same, so I drew long center lines between the first two pairs until they intersected, and made the second two the same angle.


Figuring out even spacing and equal angles for the tuning pegs

This head pattern was then glued onto the side of the head and the angled lines were projected across the top of the head piece. Each pair of pegs has their centerlines 1  3/8″ apart. This will put the inside edges of the pegs 1″ apart, the same distance as the chanter strings. The peg shafts are 3/8″ in diameter.


Hole positions marked; testing jacking method to get holes vertical

When drilling the holes, I will jack up the head end of the piece with a scrap of wood until the angled line is vertical for the drill press.


Drilling the tuning peg holes with a 3/8" bit

It was hard holding the piece still on the wedge while operating the drill. No real problems, however. Slight chipping out on the inside due to the angle of the grain. The drill bit just barely fit into position where the thickest part is to the right.


Completed holes — whew!

The holes will need reaming to create a tapered hole. I am hoping to borrow one of those. The top edge needs final shaping, and the width will be reduced by 1/4″ on each side.

Head – neck notches 1

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

I’ve really been dreading doing this…

The original wide peg head for the HGC Monarch kit flared out from the keychest, so it easily fit over the neck. But I wanted to carve my own head and for it retain the keychest width, which causes a problem. The keychest is only about 1/4″ wider than the neck, meaning the sides of the head would only be 1/8″ thick — no way! So, I didn’t have much choice but to carve notches into the sides of the neck for the head to fit down over it — a complicated operation.


Neck almost as wide as the keychest, leaving no space for head sides


Showing how far inward the neck has to be notched for the 'yoke' to fit


Reverse shape from the head pattern glued to the sides of the neck

Pencil lines were drawn on the top and front, and the pattern was glued to the sides. The first steps were cuts with the miter saw. The one on the right side didn’t remain parallel to the centerline and angled in a little, but that will be hidden by the head.


Top cuts with miter saw


Side cut with miter saw


Initial rough chiseling of the needed shape for 'yoke' of the head

Before the size and shape of these notches can be finalized, the head needs its bottom curve put in.

Head – tenon

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

The head piece needed a ‘tenon’ so it would fit inside the recess in the end of the keychest. This gives the joint between these two components extra strength.


Completed tenon from bottom

I did this on my router table using the 3/4″ straight bit. The piece was stood on its end when it went through the router. One side chipped out, as you can see below, due to the direction of rotation of the blade. Thankfully, the width of the head hasn’t been reduced yet, or this would have been disastrous.


Top view of completed tenon

The two sides were done first, then the top, which was needed to allow clearance for the lid. There was a lot clean up of the edges with sanding sticks to get a good fit.


Test fit showing the bottom of the joint


Test fit showing the top of the joint with nut parts added

I’m pleased with the alignment of the chanter string holes in relation to the other components: nut base, nut spacer, and lid.


Test fit of joint showing keychest lid in place

The head will eventually be the same width as the keychest.