Harp Making

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Getting Started

Just occurred to me that y'all may want to get in contact with me or see some more of my work.
Web Site: www.woodworks-by-donna.com
Contact: donpbk@yahoo.com
6-8-07
I'm going to go backwards here for a bit to let you know how it came about that a carver and band saw box maker ended up planning to make a harp.
I like harp music, and the harp doesn't look all that difficult to play. Through the years I've tried to play both piano and recorder, with dismal results. I tell myself- how bad can a harp sound- after all angels play them.
So I had a catalog from MusiKits and started thinking about this very easy strumming harp called the Reverie Harp. Pictured at left below.
I was all set to order it when I listened to some harp music and realized that I'd rather have a 'real' harp. I settled on the Limerick Harp, which is a lap harp. Pictured at right. I'm going to make some design changes, since some of the decoration on this one isn't my style.
When I got the kit I was surprised to see a walnut back, since I had ordered one in cherry. I took this photo to show them that I really had the wrong back, and they sent me a new one in cherry. They went out of their way to make me a satisfied customer. Nice folk.
So I had an extra back- and I had a lot of scraps of walnut, so I decided to make a 'practice' harp in walnut first, and then make one in curly cherry.
Now I'll continue where I started this blog:
5/31/07
Here it is the last day of May and half-way through the year 2007. For my birthday this year I got a set of plans, instructions, and hardware pack for making a lap harp. I knew I had a lot of wood in the shop so I would be able to make the wooden parts myself and save about $370. I was going to laminate walnut with purpleheart or padauk, but found the cupboard bare of those colorful woods. Also, I needed just 2 laminations to get to the 1 1/2" necessary to make the frame. The box is made of 3/4" wood with fine plywood for the front and back. It took a couple of hours of sorting through my scraps to determine that they were mostly too short, not wide enough, or had too many defects and sap wood. (That is why they are called 'scraps'-duh.) So I dug out a couple of good walnut boards from my stock and with a little hubby-help ran them through the planer. Here I stand with the four boards planed to thickness and ready to be cut to length before lamination. The plan in my hand is for the top piece, called the 'neck'.
I cut the boards to lengths needed for each of the parts for the frame, and then laminated them. I had three laminations, the pillar, the neck, and the sides. I was careful to do a good job gluing everything together with lots of clamps and glue. Notice that there are 13 clamps so that it is well laminated. The pillar pieces are on the bench and not laminated yet. Below is a picture of the laminated sides- oops!, they were not supposed to have been laminated- what a dummy- they are to form the sides of the sound box! So I took them to the band saw and ripped them apart, planed them again, ran them through the joiner and now I have 2 side pieces that are somewhat undersized- Oh well- design modifications coming up.



What a mess!





Here are the boards after 'adjustment'.














On the right is the pillar rough cut with the band saw. Looks like a harp already- right? 6/8/07

6/10/07
Spent a couple of hours today cutting big boards into smaller pieces- always a fun task.
Here I am at my trusty 34 year old band saw. It is underpowered but it seems to have enough gumption for most jobs requiring curved cuts. Just behind my right arm is my newer and more powerful band saw. I keep a bigger blade on it and use it for big, straight cutting jobs.
Notice that my hands are carefully positioned to be aout of the danger zone in front of the blade. I will reposition my hands again and again so they are always in safe positions as I cut the piece of wood.

This funny looking set-up is the glue-up for the top piece. It took 3 laminations to get the required thickness for this piece that connects the neck/pillar assembly loosely to the sound box. The clamps will hold it securely until the glue is completely set up. I'll wait overnight.
The piece on the left is the base of the sound box. It will require cutting with the table saw- not my favorite tool, but if you want perfectly straight and even cuts it is the right tool for the job.

Now THIS looks like a harp! Five pieces have been rough cut: the pillar is on the left, the neck at the top, reinforcement of the neck is sitting on top on the right, the two (modified) sides are on the right. That is my table saw they are sitting on, so you can see about how large it will be.
I still have to shape the top piece and cut some reinforcing and finishing strips before I start to work on the final shaping of each piece. I will have to figure out which part to assemble first so that I can fit the other pieces to it. I'll have to modify the plans for the base since my sides are not according to the plans. The next steps will be very crucial to get right. I don't want to have to plane , join, and cut new pieces of walnut. I don't have much left.
6/13/07
Moving right along- the soundbox is taking shape and I haven't had a major mistake- yet.
I've placed the rough cut side boards with the laminated top pieces and the soundboard just to get a feel for how it will look. I'm beginning to get a feel for how everything fits together, but I'm not completely certain about some things.


One problem I had was how to cut both sides of the soundbox sides to the same angle and the same direction with a table saw that tilted only to the right. I thunk and thunk until it occurred to me that by turning one of the pieces around I would be generating my own taper jig with the complementary angle.
I stuck the edges of the boards together with double sided tape between and masking tape on top and they held together well. By putting one turned to the inside face and one to the outside face I was able to make both cuts with one set-up. I just flipped the assembly over to make the second cut. NOTE: this photo was taken after that time and the tape has been removed. The saw also is now set up for the dado cuts that will be done on the ends of these boards to accept the top and base pieces.
I hadn't used my dado set in the 6 years I owned it, so first I had to make the insert plate. It took a lot of nerve to run a dado set at an angle through a zero clearance insert plate.

Here I've fit the sound board into the sides, but the walnut veneered back board won't fit. It is too thick by just a hair- like 1/100". I'll have to decide whether to thin the wood along the edges a little, or make the grooves wider- knowing me and my love of table saws I'd put my money on the sanding solution.

This photo is just a cool view inside the sound box. If you listen very closely you may hear some music coming out of it already.



6/20/07
Well I ended up sanding a lot and finally decided to recut the grooves just a smidgen. Worked fine. Then I had to make the cuts on the side pieces at the top and bottom to receive the top piece and the base. These were tricky cuts, but I was careful and so far haven't done anything too stupid.
Now, I know these don't look too much different from the ones above- but the back fits now, and the sides are ready for the top and base pieces.

Making the top piece:
Here I get back to my trusty band saw. This is almost like making a band saw box. You really need to watch your fingers when doing something like this- with the blade guard raised so high. Notice that my fingers are well out of the way of the blade, and I'm using a well-worn push stick to apply pressure to the front of the block. I'm marking with sharpy and chalk on this dark wood because a pencil line just doesn't show well. I marked and remarked everything as I went along to remind me where the front and top were. I didn't want to cut something on the wrong side of the board.

Something is wrong with this picture- and this piece. Darn. I had made the top end of the sides wider than called for- not realizing that it would throw off the fit to the top piece. So, a little creative re-cutting made the grooves line up, but the front and back of the top piece are now a little delicate at just 1/8" thick.
This was such a difficult piece to make. Almost nothing is square, but off 5 or 11, or 18 , or 23 degrees. Some angles converge- like here front to back; but some other are parallel- like here the grooves are angled in the same direction. It took all the concentration I could muster to keep it all straight.
Still- so far, so good.
The picture on the right shows the top being screwed to the sides after a couple of days fiddling with the fit. I didn't want any big gaps that would have to be filled later on. It wasn't easy. The darned thing would come apart every time I moved it. I couldn't clamp it because everything was at an angle. Finally I came up with a solution that worked quite well- I taped everything together. (Blue tape) One note here: the kit can be purchased with the wood all pre-cut and drilled. In the instructions they talk about drilling through these holes in the top with a 1/8" drill bit. They DO NOT mention that you should drill the holes in the top and base pieces much larger so that the screws will slip through pull everything together. They assume you are a pretty experienced woodworker and know that. Took me a bit of thunking to realize that. It also took a very long time for me to determine what angle to drill, and where to start the holes. Remember, my sides are just 5/8" thick now.
Here I am looking happy that I finally have that soundbox ready for gluing together. No pictures will be made of the hectic attempt to glue everything together at the same time. Next, I will be doweling the neck and pillar together. It will be fun to work on making everything nice and smooth, then run it through the router to give a nicely rounded edge all over.
Lots more to do, but it looks like a harp to me already.

7-05-07
Finally made some progress on the harp. Sometimes 'real life' gets in the way of fun projects.
Here I'm cutting out the sound holes for the back piece using my DeWalt scroll saw. I had to turn the piece around a lot to make it work, but it did a great job. Notice that my fingers are well out of the way for even this small blade. I'm not taking any chances.
On the right is the back piece in place. Now I need to glue it permanently in, but that is such a big step I may have to wait a day.
Hubby commented that I'd done a really good job on getting the holes just right. I pointed out to him that I had the right tools- a $450 scroll saw and a $350 oscillating spindle sander and a $200 drill press. Heck, anyone could do a good job with all those great tools. . . and a lot of patience.

7/30/07
Long time between posts here. Worked on it, but not much to see for a while. Now the soundboxhas the back glued in and trim strip attached. The soundboard- the big white piece has the walnut reinforcing strip glued to the back and the 26 tiny holes for the strings have been drilled through both pieces. In the foreground, the neck piece has had the reinforcing doubler glued to the part that fits over the top of the soundboard.







Here I'm using my drill press to drill a set of holes
in one size for the tuning pins, and a corresponding
set in a different size for the guide pins.






This is a handy tool for drilling holes perfectly perpendicular for the walnut dowels that will be used to join the neck to the pillar. Here the pillar is being drilled.





On the right, the edges of the neck have been sanded smooth and they are ready for rounding over with the router in the router table. I obviously won't be able to reach all edges with the router bit, so I'll end up carving and sanding some of the shape. First, though, I've got to glue the neck and pillar together with two 1/2" dowels. Scary job. Hope the holes line up well.

8-6-7
Last photos for a while since I'll be gone for the next 3 weeks. Want to get these in here before I go though. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the holes lined up perfectly. I modified the walnut dowel I had by sanding it to fit the holes, sawing a kerf around the sides for glue and air to exit the blind holes, chamfering the ends, and cutting them to length- 2".












On the left is a photo of the set-up I used to glue the two pieces together. I used a screw clamp attached to the pillar to give a place for the big Bessey clamps to gain purchase. It worked well, and the joint is as tight as possible. Makes me glad I read all those books and magazines on woodworking, since otherwise I would never have come up with this solution


The photo here shows the carving gouges I'm using to complete the rounding of the edges. The neck doubler was in the way of the router bit so I'll complete the job with some hand carving. I'm a carver, so this will be fun for me. Get a look at that figured grain- this will look so nice when the finish has been applied.


On the left I'm Starting to carve in the area of the neck/pillar joint. I'm sanding as I go along, to 100 grit. Eventually I'll get to 600 grit just before finishing.








9/3/07
Finally finished my travels and I'm back home trying to get a bunch of projects finished before the next trip at the end of this month. Emily the Dachshund is proving to be the most difficult- since I don't know what I'm doing- but I'll keep trying. The harp is easier in some ways- I have instructions for it. I finished carving the edges where the router could not reach- that was no problem. Then I sanded the whole thing to 100 grit. Found voids in joints and in the wood itself- filled holes, sanded some more. Not too exciting, lots of hours, no photos- boring.
It was fun to come up with a design for the soundboard.












The pattern is on the left and the start of the burning on the right. Not to make it too easy for myself I tapered the braid towards the top of the harp and expanded it towards the center of the soundboard. That made it more interesting to draw.
On the left here is the corner knot partly done. On the right is the soundboard about half burned. I like the way it looks and I'm happy now that I agonized over the design as much as I did- with 3-4 revisions and redrawings. I will have to go over the corner knots because the center design was burned darker and I want them to match. It is hard to keep the temperature of the burner consistent when the window is open or the fan is blowing.
Now I need to decide if and how to add color to the design. I could use oil pencils or acrylic paints. I could use just one color, or two, or more. I have seen some very beautiful harps with very colorful designs. Decisions, decisions.
9/5/07
Here are some trial boards I made to see what colors I wanted to use.

I had a difficult time deciding whether to leave the soundbox just woodburned- classy and understated; or add some color to jazz it up.
I tried different materials and color combinations and finally decided that I wanted a very colorful harp- and so the 'Rainbow Harp' was born.














Here I am starting to apply the oil pencils in a rainbow pattern a little different from the trial piece, but I think this will look better.
Once I get the art work done I will be able to install the soundboard into the soundbox, a very big job. I will get everything ready so I don't mess up this most important job. Wish me luck!

9/9/07
Luck just ran out. Guess I needed more.
I had everything set to glue in the soundboard- BIG hairy job. Put the glue in 3 sides,and then redid glue so there would be plenty. Put the board in place and tried to set it all the way in to the groove in the top piece- wouldn't go- pushed harder- still wouldn't go- decided there was a problem with the groove in the top piece so decided to abort the mission, remove the board, clean off the glue, and then start over later.
Board would not come out. Had used Titebond 3 so thought the extended open time would help. Didn't. Hollered to 200 pound muscle man hubby to help pull it out. Couldn't budge it. Hardly any place to grab it to pull it out. Gave up. It was not going to move. Period.
Oh misery.
Went ahead and nailed the soundboard to the soundbox, then fit the small filler piece, glued and nailed it in place. Then glued the trim piece over it all.
Not the look I wanted, but I will soldier on. The corner Celtic knots are partly covered by the trim piece, but there was no way to avoid that now.
My concern now is that the lack of a secure bedding on the top part of the soundboard will lead to the board popping out under the pressure of the strings. Guess I'll have to deal that if it happens.
Darn.
9/10/07
I may have solved the problem by reinforcing the top of the soundboard inside and outside with some blocks of walnut. Here is a photo of the harp now, with the arc at the top being the bottom of the reinforcement piece. On the right is a close-up of the design and coloring.
9/20/07
The harp is done. Long live the harp. Here is what happened next:I sanded and sanded- and then sanded some more. I found voids in the wood and in the joints that had to be filled with a mixture of sanding dust and wood glue. then sand again, and fill again. Until it was as good as I could get it. Last sanding grit- 320.
On the left you can see the "WOW" factor in applying clear finish to beautiful hardwood. This is where the mistakes show up if you were a sloppy sander. I am not a sloppy sander. The result is on the right- three coats of Arm-R-Seal tung oil/urethane finish have been applied with rags.





Look how pretty she looks with some gold jewelry! The brass grommets are not only attractive, but they also protect the soundboard from the strings.




On the left the tuning pegs and guide bars are starting to go in. Look at that grain!
On the right is the finished hardware installation and the tools necessary to make it happen.

Stringing the harp took a long time. You have to tie knots and string pearls, and
apply glue. it is tedious- when I just want to hear it sing.
Finally finished! It was a surprise to me that it didn't make nice music right off the bat. Harps must be tuned many times before it will keep on pitch. I have done it every day for almost a week, (breaking a couple of strings in the process), and it is keeping tune much better now.
Now I just need to learn how to play it. I'm working on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star- so you can tell how advanced I am already. Here is a one minute video taken with our digital still camera. It isn't great but you can see how it looks and sounds. Donna video

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