Archive for the ‘Things "Harpy"’ Category

Linrud “Tin” Harp Followup….

Monday, January 1st, 2007


Remember the “Tin Harp” entry some time ago? Out of the blue, the cousin of the man who built this harp found my site on the Internet and began corresponding about it. I referred her information to Pam, the owner of the harp, and here is the information they exchanged which we were so desparately seeking. This, I must tell you, is an all-text entry, but most interesting! A special thanks to Catherine Biggs for referring us to her cousin and harp builder, Earl Thompson. (I’m sorry it took me so long to get this all posted. I think you will find Earl’s history of the Linrud harps most enlightening. As it turns out, it is NOT a “tin” harp, but rather a fiberglass instrument!)
Catherine (Linrud) Biggs Says:
November 4th, 2006 at 11:58 am

Well I can tell you who made the harp!! My cousin Earl Thompson. He comes from a long line of instrument makers and musicians. His grandfather was a harp builder and his mother a harpist who even played for the Eisenhowers. His father made violins. I grew up playing this exact model plus a smaller lap version. Email me if you want his current contact information.

Dear Catherine,

I was so excited to receive the forwarded copy of your email to Lee. I am the owner of the Linrud harp that he featured on his web page. I bought it in a yard sale in Fairfax, PA about 5 years ago. It needed a little repair work as a crack had formed where the arm and column meet, so we fixed that, Lee helped me re-string and clean it, and now I am taking lessons to learn how to play. I just adore this lovely little instrument. It has amazing sound and it so easy to play. But I have so many questions about it. If you would not mind sharing some contact information for your cousin, I would be so grateful. If he would prefer, you can give him my contact info.

Again, thank you so much for responding to Lee’s posting.

Pamela (Last name deleted)
Hello Pamela,
My cousin Earl Thompson can be reached at the following email addy: (deleted for privacy).He currently lives outside of Adams, Oregon. I will forward this email to him as well.
I am glad you like the harp. I really loved playing when I was a kid and learned to appreciate the remarkable workmanship that went into making these instruments after playing a number of other designs. Like I said, there is a very interesting history of this harp and our family. He is not in the best of health so if you don’t get much from him feel free to call or email me.

I received two emails today from Earl Thompson. One came in response to my letter to Catherine, which she forwarded to him. The second in response to my letter that he received an hour later. I included a picture of the harp that you had taken to be sure he would recognize the instrument.

Here are the letters:

It’s good to hear from someone that has one of my harps. For some years, we lived in Clarksville and near the Triadelphia resevour out between Washington D.C. and Baltimore. I have made over 1200 of that model harp and near 1400 of the smaller one. That harp you have was made while we lived in Riverside California between 1975 and 1979. We moved up here to Oregon in 1979. I have not finished a harp since about 6 years ago. I am 79 myself now and almost 4 years ago I had bypass surgery and have not had any energy to do any work since. I have a nice shop building here I built myself and I wanted to build some larger, full size harps. But that never did take place. My Grandfather Linurd made 6 large full size harps. I wish I had one of them. Last I knew, there was one in Brooklyn New York. But I do not know who it belongs to now. I did have a lot of problems with the wood over the years. I have rebuilt several harps like yours. One fell out of a car? I do not know how that ahppened, but it was fixed while there in Clarksville. One of my smaller harps is in a 1982 movie, The Tempist. It was made while we lved in Riverside. One day in 1977 A woman went in to the Lyon & Healy harp salon in Hollywood and asked about a small harp. Mr Woldridge that was tne manager of that store for Lyon & Healy, told the woman about me. She calld and the next day came out to Riverside 60 miles and bought one of my smaller model harps and 3 years later someone told mur daughter that one of my harps was in that Hollywood movie. I have a copy of that movie and it is not available any more. It’s kind of a dumb movie and I was lucky to get a copy of it on the internet. Well, you said you had some questions about the harp. You are welcome to write to this address and ask the questions. But I really do not feel like doing any repair work right now. I have my mothers 85 year old Lyon & Healy model 23 harp here and it needs work too. But I will be glad to answer any questions you have. And I do have a lot of parts. If you would rather write by snail mail. My address is (deleted for privacy purposes….)

Your e-mail message just arrived, after I sent one to you. It is interesting to hear about the harp. As I said my my message to you just a while ago. The metal sound box, is not metal. The one piece fibreglas body was made for me in Cleveland for a while by a man that made fibreglas things for the governemnt. I made the bodys myself for some years. I started this work in 1954 after my mother had visited Melville Clark in Saricuse New York. He wanted to make an all fibreglass harp and made several. I have one of the first ones. The harps I made were made with hard maple wood, mostly from upper Pensylvania, and New York State. I tried several out of Western maple, and it is much to soft. That harp has a total tension on the strings of over 1200 pounds. So the harp has to be strong. Harpo Marx ask for and I sent him one of my first harps in 1956. He sent me pictures of him playing one and he died in 1978 I think it was, a year before we moved west. I didn’t get to meet him. He lived out in Cathedral City near Palm Springs and I wish I could have met him. He liked my harps. My mother was the one that promoted me makeing harps. I myself played the harp from my age of 6, until I was, well, about 8 years ago and I am 79 now. I have played in 6 different orchestras over the years. I have not touched a harp string now is 6 or 8 years. I just don’t feel like it. I had trouble selling an all fibreglass body harp for some years and was just starting to sell them well, while in Riverside. Orders were comeing in faster then I could make them. But I was tired of small harps and had some good ideas for a full size all fibreglass harp. Fibreglass is the best thing about my harps. How many wood bridges do you see now days? Wood is nothing but trouble. I spent a year here building a shop building, then things fell apart here and the fulll size harps never did get started. Now I am too old for it. And the money has run out. I used to know a lady in Seattle that bought over 175 of my harps. She could teach you, and did, over 100 and more people to play any tune on the harp and make money at it. She had one student Lloyd Lindroth, ops. I don’t know how to spell his first name. Anyway, he was in the navy band in Washington and in 1984 I think it was, was playing in Los Vagas Nevada and makeing over $150,000. a year. Edith was something. At one time she taught a 16 year old girl how to play a large harp and the girl went on to Hawaii and make $1200 a week playing in the restaurant in a hotel in the evening. $1200 a week and room and board in a hotel at 16 is not bad for a young girl. Edith was a good harp player. She could play anything Bach to boogie. And she could start on Bach and be playing boogie before you could realize it. She lived on North 50th in Seattle west of I-5 and always had a harp in her front window. She played in hundreds of weddings in the Seattle area. She died in 197??? Ops, I don’t remember. She was a fun to know woman. She owned over 300 harps in the Seattle area and rented out many of them. Time passes on! ! ! ! Best Regards, Earl T.

Vacuum Veneering Demo

Sunday, September 3rd, 2006

I was asked by fellow harpmaker, Al Winter, of Silvershell Musical Instruments, to join him in presenting a program about using vacuum to accomplish veneering and as very effective clamping device. We had presented it some time ago to our local woodworkers’ club, SAW-PA, and were asked to repeat it for the York club, the Susquehanna Trail Woodworkers’ Guild. As a hobbyist woodworker, I must admit that I personally felt a little intimidated by the task ahead, knowing that many of the York club are quite skilled craftsmen. I’ve learned that, at my age, one just barges ahead and hopes for the best. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the reception we received and the interest shown by the group!

The setting was just wonderful! The York group meets on Princess St. in York in the lobby of the Industrial Museum. Here is a photo of president, Ray Parson, leading the preliminary club business meeting.


It was a wonderful space for the meeting and the attendance was quite good. Early on, I noticed a man taking lots of photos. I learned, as the evening progressed, that his name is Bob Aspey and it just so happens that their club has an official photographer and HE IS THAT MAN! At the end of the evening, he offered to send me some photos by email and, with some arm twisting, he generously agreed to mail a CD of ALL his photos to me. A few days later, the CD arrived with 62 photos on it! Bob further gave me permission to use them here, so the remaining photos in this entry are thanks to you, Bob! I hope you don’t mind if I did a little cropping along the way to make the photos best fit my narrative.

Vacuum clamping is probably one of the most effective methods available for applying even, intense pressure over a given clamping area. Both Al and I have “gerry-rigged”, home-built suction devices that we took along. This was mostly a show-and-tell event, with Al and I sharing some of the devices and procedures we use in our own shops.

Here are photos of our vacuum pump setups, first mine:


and then here’s Al Winter with his ELEGANT vacuum pump (he takes great pride in telling how, at a yard sale, he only paid $5.00 for the little pump on the bottom — clearly worth many many times more than that !)


Here are Al and I about to get started with the demo – here, Al’s “spiffy” vacuum unit has not yet been lifted to the table. You can see some of the props we brought along for the demo.


To demonstrate the primary reason I have developed a vacuum veneering setup for my workshop, I brought along the harp I have built of eucalyptus wood which has a rounded back, formed with the vacuum bag technic.



In the “rough”, here is how the rounded back looks “right out of the bag”, so to speak, the “bag” being the vacuum bag!


What you see here is a fiberglass-covered foam form over which is formed a combination of two inner layers of 1/8 inch bending plywood and an outer layer of veneer of choice; in this instance the veneer is of PURPLEHEART wood, a somewhat rarely used wood from South America.

Here I am holding a photo which shows the various ‘layers’ that are necessary to perform a vacuum-veneered round-backed harp shell.


Before I permitted Al to have the floor, I described the components of a veneering operation and actually did a small demo veneer glue-up to show the group. It would be drying throughout the remainder of the demonstration. First, I showed them the components needed: a substrate, pieces of veneer, glue, waxed paper, a caul to make the surface flat, a piece of wire screen to permit distribution of the vacuum, a vinyl vacuum bag, a bag closure device and the vacuum pump connected to the bag with the white hose.


The blue tape in the photo above is used, in addition to veneer tape on the underside of the veneer, to keep the veneer pieces tightly together until the veneer is glued in place.

Here I am applying veneer glue to the substrate (plywood) over which the veneer will be applied.


A wooden layer (caul) is placed over the veneer to provide equal distribution of the pressure over the entire surface, thus assuring a very flat finished product. Since veneer glue is “squished” out from the pressure, a sheet of waxed paper is applied immediately over the veneer to prevent the caul from being glued to the finished product.

Here, the glue has been applied, all the layers are in their proper places, so the entire “stack” is then positioned inside the vinyl bag in anticipation of the application of the vacuum.


Using a special wooden closure device and Quik-Grip clamps, the vinyl bag is sealed, the vacuum pump is turned on, and the air has been evacuated from the interior of the bag. The vacuum applies, at 20 inches of mercury, about 1200 pounds of pressure per square foot, evenly distributed across the surface of the item being veneered.


At this point, I turned the program over to Al. Al described in some detail the components necessary to make a functional vacuum setup, including the valves, reservoir tanks, gauges, tubings, vacuum switches and, of course, the CHEAP VACUUM PUMP!

Another function that a vacuum pump is excellent for is that of holding one’s workpiece for other functions such as routing, sanding, etc. Some wood turners, I understand, are also using vacuum to chuck their wood to the lathe for turning.


Here Al is showing a vacuum system that does not use a CHEAP PUMP, but rather attaches to one’s air compresser and uses the Venturi (fly sprayer) principle to create a vacuum. This is probably one of the most inexpensive approaches to vacuum veneering, provided one already owns an air compressor. Here is a closeup of the Venturi device.


Al also described how one constructs the vinyl bags, the special vinyl glues one uses and the precautions one must take in doing so in an effort to prevent liver damage from breathing the fumes. He showed how leaks may be sealed in the bags by applying liquid vinyl glue to the leaking areas while under vacuum so that the vacuum will draw the glue into the leaks, thus creating a seal. A very complete resource for all supplies needed (and pages of very valuable advice) can be found online at Joe Woodworker, a supplier who is in the Baltimore area if I’m not mistaken.

Al then gave a very neat demo on the use of vacuum as general workshop clamping device. Here he has constructed a special vacuum jig which he uses in forming his harp necks. The plywood center has foam window stripping both on the perimeter of the under surface and, on the top, in the shape of the harp neck.


By applying vacuum to either of the brass fittings to the right of the photo, the board is “sucked” firmly to the table top and the harp neck is firmly drawn down to the top surface, all at the same time! When one side is completed (sanded, routed or whatever), he releases the vacuum, reattaches the vacuum tube to the opposite side, flips the harp neck over, and once again, draws the workpiece tight for finishing on the other side. This is very efficient and such a reliable and rigid clamping device!

Al also demonstrated a handled device he has made which, unlike the neck device which attaches itself to the table, holds the workpiece in a more portable manner, this way giving the workpiece a temporary handle for machining or shaping. Here he is with the workpiece firmly “vacuumed” to the handle:


Do you think it’s very tight? (Sorry, Al, I had to include this photo!)


There was considerable interest in the harp I had brought along, so I spent some time describing the challenges of building a harp that is both structurally sound enough to withstand the constant 1200-plus pound tension of the strings, yet to make it light and delicate enough to have a decent tone.


I described how the two narrow glue joints, one at each side of the soundboard, must be durable enough to remain intact with the string tension tugging at the center of the soundboard 24/7!


At this point, an hour and a half had passed very quickly and it was time to remove the sample veneer project from the vacuum press.


The blue tape had to be removed. In some cases, the tape, even though it is supposed to be a low-tack tape which comes off easily, took some wood fibers with it on removal. A man who was present who does veneering for a living told me afterwards that his shop never uses tape on the surface for that reason. Here is the finished product:


Both Al and I were most gratified by the way we were received by the Susquehanna Trail folks and received a great deal of enjoyment in doing our presentation. We learned much ourselves from those present. Thanks for the invitation and, once again, thanks Bob for the use of your photos.

Another regular feature for woodworker events is that the membership do a bit of show-and-tell. Here is an item that was brought in by Dean:


This is quite a work of art. Dean is a master wood turner (meaning he works on wood that is spinning around on a lathe). This piece began as a most interesting piece of 3/4 inch wood with a very unusual and unique burl pattern. Somehow, Dean managed to turn a 1/4 inch circle on each side of the wood, leaving the remaining center section 1/4 inch thick as well. He is most adept at doing lathe projects that seem impossible and we always look forward to see what he has along for each meeting. Thanks Dean for sharing your talents with us!

HE’S BACK! The Silence Is Broken!!

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

I received an email from a friend this week who happened to mention that he has not seen any entries to my blog recently! Well, I guess it is time for me to explain why.

First of all, there’s this matter of the local temperature:


I’ve purchased a new digital thermometer for the kitchen window. It didn’t focus well, but in the photo it is reading 101.8 F! (Okay, so what if the sun was shining on it and, if you will look above that figure, it says the maximum temp for the day was 115.9. Shucks, it wasn’t anywhere near that. It was only about 99.6 in reality!). SO, with temps like that, there isn’t a lot being done by this person who would prefer to find a cool place and wait for cooler weather. ALSO, wife and I have been enjoying cooler parts, having just returned from a couple of week drive thru Canada, more specifically, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. There, the weather was GORGEOUS!

I took hundreds of photos on our trip (and will not bore you with ALL of them), but for this entry will simply give you an overview with a few photos, hoping to revisit the various stops in detail at a later date.

Our trek began with a drive to Kingston, Ontario, where we revisited some old haunts we learned to love when we used to take our children there for a music camp. Beginning with Kingston and continuing throughout the trip, we were awed by the beautiful flowers everywhere.



In Kingston, Ontario, we joined up with good friends from Bermuda and enjoyed the remainder of the trip with them as a foursome. We enjoyed some excellent eating and shopping in Kingston, I managed a trip out to old Ft. Henry, where I got to see the goat:


lots of “toy” soldiers


a bagpiper


and some kite flying.


After spending two nights in Kingston, we proceeded on to Quebec City, Quebec. We spent three nights in the old city of Quebec, staying at the Alberge du Tresor hotel.


There we saw many wonderful sights, ate more delicious food, saw more “toy” soldiers at the Citadel, and enjoyed the craftspeople, musicians, actors, artists and performers who graced the streets of this fine city.

Here is a photo of the changing of the guard at the Citadel:


Here is a photo of the Hotel du Frontenac which was located just across the green from our hotel:


Up the hill from the hotel, there was a flattened area where street performers do their thing. This photo was taken, I would guess, on a Wednesday evening and, as you can see, this is quite the tourist mecca.


While in Quebec, there was again much good eating to be enjoyed, and one of our most enjoyable meals there was at the Restaurant aux Ancient Canada.


You’ll hear more about this later as well.

I have many more photos I could share with you, but will do so at a later date. From Quebec, we drove to Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, which is a lovely little fishing village sort of area, very quaint and picturesque.

Here is the famous Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, famous because it houses a real live post office in the first floor and people send postcards to their friends postmarked “Peggy’s Cove”.


We spent two nights in Peggy’s Cove, then continued on to Baddeck, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Here we stayed at a very lovely bed and breakfast called “Duffus House”, located right on the water in Baddeck, Cape Breton.


Cape Breton is a wonderful get-away island with the St. Lawrence Seaway to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. Here we enjoyed many more wondrous sights, more delicious eating (surprise, surprise), and some really unique experiences. This was the summer home of Alexander Graham Bell and we not only were able to visit the museum in his honor (hardly anything about the telephone exhibited there…) where I enjoyed seeing his huge, propeller driven hydrofoil boat:


Also, via connections of our Bermuda travelling partners, we had the honor of receiving a private tour of the Bell estates which are still used by the family and which are not generally open to the public. Our tour began with Bell’s first home, “The Lodge”,


and I will have much more to show of the tour later. We also drove the 180+ mile “Cabot Trail” which goes around the perimeter of Cape Breton and saw sights such as this:


From Cape Breton, we headed west once again, returning our friends to Ottawa where they planned to remain an additional week, spending time with friends there. In Ottawa we enjoyed seeing the Rideau Canal.


Along the way, we enjoyed some very good food, and some that was a bit more marginal. This, for one, tasted good, but was a bit lacking in quality and nourishment. Having heard about it from our son who recently “enjoyed” it in Montreal, I ordered a hot dog with POUTIN.


French fries with gravy and CURD? Sounds awful, but it really is edible. We had much better food at a lovely new restaurant in Peggy’s Cove called “Rhubarb”.


For my wife and I, it was a rather pleasant, however long drive from Ottawa to Pennsylvania. It took nearly 10 hours and, having been away for 16 days, it became immediately evident that my work was cut out for me on the home front, what with the grass being very tall and the weeds having had a real heyday growing while my back was turned. We did have some rains in our absence, so the corn was tall:


The tomatoes had gotten some size, however NONE were yet ripe:


My soy beans were ready to yield some delicious edamame:


The zucchini had grown a bit larger than it should have:


The cantaloupes were really looking good:


and the potatoes were overdue for digging:


Other activities that awaited our return were a lovely wedding:


Repair of a friend’s harp:


repair of a hammered dulcimer:


And repair of, yes, a didgeridoo! I was shopping in Kingston, Ontario, found this item standing upright , in a basket, saw that it was badly broken and, before I knew it, I was being told by a sales clerk that I was welcome to take it if I wanted it. I was not anxious to drag it along for the whole trip, but decided the price was right.


This week I used a bit of epoxy and some plastic wraps and, here it is, all ready for some Austrailian aborigine to play:


Remember the French Repro Harp? Well, there hasn’t been a lot of progress, but there has been SOME! I am attempting to give myself some feel for the perspective of the 3-D carvings by using modeling clay (a first attempt with chisels and wood helped me realize I have a few things to learn before wasting more expensive wood). Here’s my initial feeble attempt; I feel there may be hope.


French Harp – Neck/Pillar Sliding Dovetail

Friday, July 7th, 2006

Summer is not a good time to spend much time in the shop. The fact is that I’d really LIKE to spend more time there, but there are just so darned many other options for my time in the summer! That said, I really have been able to make a little progress.

The topic of today’s lesson is: the Neck Joint! Here is the part of the harp I’m trying to reproduce at the moment:


If you use your imagination here a bit, this is a sort-of rectangular version of the above which, as you can see, still needs a bit of work.


If you’re interested in this sort of thing, here are the steps I took in making that particular assembly.

First, I began by using epoxy to fasten two pieces of wood together to get the thickness I needed. This assembly is actually long enough to make TWO ram’s heads (in the remote chance I will screw up!)


I scratched my head a lot in deciding how best to design this joint. I’m not certain that my final decision was the best, but time will tell. Anyway, I chose to go with a sliding dovetail joint. I think this photo may show you what is meant by a sliding dovetail joint:


This joint consists of a dovetail cut on the end of the neck (harmonic curve) which slides into a stopped groove of the same shape that is cut into the yet-to-be-apparent ram’s head piece.

First, I decided to cut the dove tail. I carefully cut the end of the neck piece to the correct vertical angle (according to the blueprint). On this, I drew what I thought would be a good length for the dovetail and the angle of the dovetail sides that I thought might be best (don’t ask me for these figures – I simply do not remember. I would guess it is about 1 inch long, and I forget what angle I chose.)

Anyway, I placed a high, vertical fence on the table saw, angled the saw blade to the chosen angle, then after carefully setting the saw blade height and the distance from the fence, I ran the neck end thru the saw thusly, first cutting one side, then turning it around and cutting the other side:


Once that was done, I had what I had hoped for: A DOVETAIL!


Having done that, I then needed to have a groove in the “ram’s head block” into which to slide my dovetail. The first step for this was to set up a straight router bit to the exact depth of the dovetail length and cut, first, a straight groove down the center of the block.


Notice the dovetail shape drawn on the end of the groove. How does one make a dovetail-shaped groove? Had I owned a nice, long dovetail cutting router bit, I could have made both the dovetail AND the groove with that and done so with perfection. Since all my dovetail bits are only about 1/2 inch in depth, this was not possible. Therefore, I had to choose a bit more handwork in making my joint.

Since the saw blade was already set to the dovetail’s angle for the cutting of the dovetail, I kept the table saw blade at the same angle and, using a piece of scrap wood, cut a chisel guide to the same angle as the sides of the dovetail (that would be the piece on the right).


This cut was made by running the piece of wood thru the angled blade of the table saw like this:


Next, by clamping the correctly angled block of wood next to the still-vertical groove in the “ram’s head”, one can use the block to accurately chisel away the sided of the groove to the proper angle and width.


This must be done rather carefully with chisel and mallet, but it is very possible and here is what it looked like when finished.


You have a tail-shaped groove that is cut to allow the dovetail to slide into it — and so it did!


The tension of the strings will pull this joint firmly together. Only when the tension is applied will I know if my joint choice will have been adequate.

Anyway, the joint did fit rather nicely.



and it’s on to the pillar assembly.

French Harp – Liners, String Ribs, Soundboard Installation

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

(Please note: I assembled this page late in the evening. I will add links as indicated at another time….)

Much of what has been accomplished thus far with this harp is fairly standard operating procedure in harp construction and, even though I’ve done these things many times, even so, I come up with different ideas as to how I might accomplish each task.

By definition, the string ribs are pieces of wood that are glued to the outside and inside of the center of the soundboard which support the lower end of the strings. The soundboard outer edges are attached to the soundbox, and the strings are tied in a knot inside the string rib. Here are some photos of the string rib as represented on the bronze:

Bronze2.jpg Bronze-Soundboard.jpg

These are not great photos of it, but the ribs extend all the way from bottom to top in the center of the soundboard. As you might guess, these strips of wood are rather thin, and I chose to make the outer rib of equal thickness from top to bottom (sometimes they are tapered to be thinner at the top), but I did choose to taper the width, making the top narrower than the bottom of the string rib.

It isn’t always easy to work with power tools and thin wood pieces, so here is how I chose to fashion the outer string rib for this harp. Here is the formed rib just laying atop the soundboard.


To form this rib, I began by using a quarter-round router bit to round off the one corner of a walnut board that had been carefully planed and jointed to be quite straight.


Because I wanted to taper the width of it, I rounded over only one corner of the board. Next I cut the thin strip off the board with the table saw.


Having done that, I then applied several pieces of double-sided tape to the cut edge of the board and reapplied the thin strip, leaving the unrounded edge extend past the edge of the board at the desired taper angle.


This was then run thru the table saw once again with the cutting width set just to the thickness of the board, the end result was a thin strip of wood with a top-to-bottom taper.


Before releasing my tapered piece from the board, I ran it once again thru the router to round off the newly cut corner.


The outer string rib was completed:


The next challenge is finding a system whereby one can glue the string rib to the soundboard with a solid, reliable glue joint, but without having glue come in contact with the walnut veneer adjacent to the string rib. The veneer is very thin to begin with, and to try to sand or scrape wayward glue from the veneer would surely destroy the veneer. I chose to use wide masking tape which I ran down the center of the soundboard, carefully marking the width of the string rib and where it would lie when glued. I then used a metal straight edge as a guide, and with a carpenter’s knife, made knife cuts along those lines, making cuts in the masking tape. I then peeled back the center portion of the masking tape, leaving the outermost parts of the tape intact.


As you can see on the next photo, I then widened the outer margin of the masking tape by applying a strip of blue, low-adhesive tape to the strips of yellow masking tape. I then applied glue to both surfaces, the string rib and the soundboard, and used the frame and clamps as shown below to apply pressure until the glue dried.


When the glue had dried (it is always best to do this BEFORE the glue is totally dry), I peeled back the blue and yellow tape to reveal a perfectly glue-free surface on each side of the newly-glued-on string rib.


Next came the INNER string rib which is generally more rugged than the outer string rib. Each harp string passes thru a hole in the string ribs, and it is behind this inner string rib that the lower end of each harp string is knotted. Since this rib projects into the soundbox interior, and since I make it a practice to have this rib be totally attached to the top and bottom ends of the soundbox, it is necessary that a notch be made in the top and bottom to accommodate it.


As with my most of my recent harps, I have chosen to design the inner string rib in the manner that Musicmaker’s Kits have used in the design if their “Regency” harp. It is thickest under the lowest bass string, tapering to very thin at the top of the harp. Below is the inner string rib (I chose to use oak) laying diagonally in the notch I had just cut for it.


Here is a view of the inner string rib laying in both notches. This is where it will lie when the soundboard is glued into place.

At this stage, I glued the inner rib to the inside of the soundboard, using the same methods I have described above.

Another job that needed to be accomplished before installing the soundboard was to widen the gluing surface of the soundbox opening. This was done by installing what are called “liners” – a practice often used on guitars and other stringed instruments. The thickness of my soundbox material was 1/4 inch, so I opted to double the width by installing an additional 1/4 inch thick “liner”. Here you can see it after its having been installed:


The liners are actually two strips of wood that are the length of th soundbox that have been shaped to fit flush with the soundbox sides. Clamping them in place until the epoxy dried was rather low tech: I used common clothes pins to hold them in place for the required time.


At this point we were nearing installation time: the liners were in place, the inner and outer string ribs had been glued to the soundboard, so it was nearly time to actually install the soundboard.


One more thing needed to be done, however, before access to the inside of the soundbox was no longer possible. I use what are called “T-nuts” and stainless steel 5/16″ bolts to attach the harp base to the soundbox. I use the “T-nuts” that are attached with brads (there is a similar type that I choose not to use that come with downward projecting “points” which are simply driven into the wood).


Now it was time to install the soundboard, so I applied epoxy to the back of the soundboard:


Also to the edges of the soundbox…


Added a little extra-thick epoxy to the string rib notches:


Rolled it over on its face and applied some clamps:


I was particularly interested in seeing epoxy “squeeze-out” to be sure that I would have good adhesion around the entire soundboard:


My West System epoxy takes 4-6 hours to set up, so once that has occurred, it is time to clean up the edges of the soundboard. For this I used a combination of router trimmer, sanders, etc.


Because I was tired of balancing the soundbox with my piece of steel railroad tie to make it stand up, I decided to fashion a bit of a foot which I bolted onto the underside of the base. Having done that, here is where this project stands (literally) at the moment.


French Harp – Soundboard Construction

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

This being Mother’s Day, 2006, I’d first of all like to wish all mothers the very best and say thanks for being you! Without you, we would not be here! Not too profound, but nevertheless very true.

In a previous entry, I mentioned the varying degrees of “fun” that one finds in constructiing the various components of a harp. The soundboard is a part of the harp that isn’t terribly visible, isn’t a great deal of “fun” to build, but is probably one of the most important elements of the entire project! As with the speaker cone of a set of fine audio speakers, it is the soundboard of the harp that, in my opinion, primarily determines the tone and volume of the instrument! While many makers are using various woods and wood combinations to build their soundboards, I am still sticking with sitka spruce which is still, I think, the most popular of soundboard woods and with which I’ve had excellent results. Here is my small collection of sitka — probably enough to build several harp soundboards.


While sitka spruce can be purchased from many sources, I have found the “Bargain Bag of Spruce” from Aircraft Spruce to be a good source of quarter-sawn soundboard material. These packs sell for $25 (plus about $25 shipping), and are random-sized pieces of fairly clear spruce. Occasionally one must trim a piece “with the grain” to be sure the grain is running true and horizontal, but it is generally pretty nice wood and it works well. For harp soundboards with the grain running horozontally, shorter pieces generally work very satisfactorily.

First, one must resaw the sitka spruce to proper thinness. To do this, one uses a resawing blade with the bandsaw.


The sitka boards are passed carefully thru the blade yielding thin pieces of wood. As you can see in the photo, I have my thumb curved in; these blades will cut thumbs as well!!


It is somewhat difficult to work with thin material using a wood planer as planers will sometimes turn thin wood into splinters. Instead, a gentler thicknessing can be accomplished using the “thickness sander” or “drum sander”. Mine is the Ryobi sander which has a sandpaper covered drum which spins. Below the drum sander is a motorized belt that draws the material under the drum, sanding the material to a given thickness. Sometimes numerous “passes” are necessary to achieve the desired thickness as only a small amount of material can be removed on any single pass. Here is the sander with the cover open.

Here is the sander with the lid closed. The black knob on the right adjusts the speed of the motorized belt, thus determining how quickly the wood will pass thru the sander. The port of the top of the cover is attached to a vacuum to collect the sawdust generated by this process.


When the sitka has been properly “thicknessed”, it is then roughly cut into angled pieces which will fit the harp soundbox. (The photo below is not of the French harp, but rather the replacement soundboard of my friend, Celia’s, harp and is somewhat wider than the French Harp soundboard. )


The adjacent edges of all the pieces are then “jointed” for tight fit, glue is applied, and they are clamped together on a wooden frame (below) to dry. This system is all from the genius of my harpmaker friend and mentor, Rick Kemper, and is a WONDERFUL system! The round, white clamps are actually pieces of 4″ PVC drain pipe cut into slices, and the frame is the approximate dimension of the finished soundboard. At the lower (wider) end of the frame are two sliding wedges. With the glue applied and the joints kept flat with the ring clamps, tapping the double wedge at the bottom drives the joints together. (This photo is also that of Celia’s harp soundboard.)

Having used this same system with the French Harp soundboard, here is what the sitka looked like after having been glued up. Note how much narrower it is than the frame as used above for Celia’s harp.


My latest “secret” (again, probably STOLEN from Rick Kemper) soundboard design is to taper the soundboard core from top to bottom and also from side to side. My goal is to make the soundboard thicker at the bottom, tapering to very thin at the top and also to make the board thicker down the center where the strings pass thru it, tapering to very thin at the edges. Once the sitka has been glued together, I then take a sander and carefully perform the tapering as I’ve described it. (Note that I am wearing a coat in this photo. Once again it is a photo of me tapering Celia’s soundboard this past winter.)


Those I consider the “better” builders will choose to use only solid sitka for their soundboards. To make this work successfully, they must place the soundboard into a drying chamber for a time before installation so that, once installed, atmospheric humidity will tend to “swell” the wood. If this is not done (as I’ve learned from experience), soundboards will dry out in winter when in heated room conditions and will develop horizontal cracks! Rather than be a sitka soundboard purist, I have adopted a laminate approach to building soundboards. My soundboards are made of three layers: an inner layer of vertical grain veneer, a core of horizontal grain sitka, and an outer layer of vertical grain veneer. In this instance, I am using maple veneer on the inside, book-matched walnut veneer on the outside with a core of sitka spruce.


On the left you can see the roll of veneer tape which is used to hold the various pieces of veneer together until it is glued to the substrate material (in this case, the sitka core). You can see a single strip of tape holding the two halves of walnut veneer sheets together above on the right. In like fashion, the maple inner veneer is held together in the same way on the left. I use a fabric cutting wheel to do most of the veneer cuts. Here is the making of the inner veneer in progress.


The triangular “waste” pieces are then turned end for end and attached to the lower edge of the veneer sheet to make the lower end wide enough. With the three components of the soundboard prepared and cut to shape, I then use this “Better Bond” veneer glue from Joe Woodworker to attach the veneers to the sitka core. Better Bond is a powdered resin that becomes usable when mixed with water. While the container says “cleanup with water”, I’ve learned to use it with disposable containers, stirrers, spreaders and to wear rubber gloves when using it! Cleanup is nearly impossible as it sticks to everything!!

Incidentally, I am not a financial person and certainly not a “Certified Public Accountant” as stated on the photo above. Somewhere I have come upon a piece of foam board that has this writing on it. It makes for a nice, semi-soft work surface. By placing this on my cast iron table saw top, I find I cause fewer “dings” to my woodworking projects.

SO, after spreading the Better Bond glue onto the sitka core, I then let it sit for 15 minutes, place the veneer on the glue, and place it into the vacuum press to dry. What you see here is a plywood “caul” atop the veneer which evenly distributes the pressure of the vacuum over the veneer.


On top of the “caul” is a sheet of white fabric which serves to facilitate air flow to the suction tube in the center when the vacuum pump is turned on. To prevent the caul and other surfaces from being glued fast as well, I use sheets of regular kitchen Cut-Rite waxed paper. Here is another view of the vacuum apparatus showing the vacuum pump arrangement I have put together.


Better Bond takes 4-6 hours to dry in 70 degree temps. The vacuum apparatus has a vacuum-operated switch on it which turns the pump on and off as needed to maintain the vacuum for the prescribed time.

I have decided to make the thickness of this soundboard thinner than ones I’ve made in the past in an effort to compensate for the fact that this soundboard is considerably narrower than my other harps. This is an effort to get as much tone and volume as possible from the narrower soundboard. The board has been made only 3/16 inch thick at the bottom tapering to a mere 3/32 inch at the top. One can only hope that one’s choices will be appropriate and that the thinner board will withstand the harp’s string tension. Here is the outside, walnut veneer-covered surface of the soundboard after having been removed from the vacuum bag. Note that, even though the grain is not exciting, I have attempted to do what is called “bookmatching” to make the veneers look very similar on each side of the center line.


Here is an edge view of the soundboard, showing the three elements of the lamination. Below you see the maple veneer, in the middle is the end grain of the quarter-sawn sitka spruce, and on the top is the walnut veneer. Once the soundboard is installed, you will not be able to see these laminations. This edge will be covered by a strip of walnut trim.

Here is the soundboard standing against the “soundbox, thus far”.


The next process will be that of making and attaching the string ribs to the soundboard, installing “liners” to the soundbox to broaden the gluing surface of the sides, then actual installation of the soundboard.

French Harp – Building the Base

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

In any project, some aspects are accomplished because they must be done, others are actually great fun. The base construction has been great fun. Here’s what the base looks like on the original bronze. In reality, you’re looking at something that is probably an inch or less in width. As a point of reference, look at the size of the dust particles (just kidding).


The round “thingie” you see sitting on the base is called the harp column – the vertical stem that supports the front end of the neck and harmonic curve. On this instrument, the downward push on the column from the tension of the strings will be 1200 pounds plus! Imagine what over a half-ton of pressure would do to a flimsy base: it would snap it right off! SO, one attempts to design the base to be strong enough to support that kind of pressure 24-7, but light enough to keep the harp as lightweight as possible. I could have made it of a single piece of solid, 2-inch thick walnut, being sure to have the wood grain run front to back. This would have left me with end grain wood for much of the detail in the front of the base, so I decided to surround a walnut board with fitted strips of walnut, thus making the exposed sides with long grain exposed rather than end grain.

To begin this process, I made a plywood pattern of the shape of the base.


As you can see in the photo, I have prepared a notebook of photos which I am using in the workshop as reference for the various elements in building this harp. Using the pattern as a guide, I then prepared strips of wood to fit the outside of that pattern. Here they are, each piece cut to fit, laying in a line awaiting glueing.


Here are those same pieces assembled for a trial assembly.


Much like the assembly of the shell, masking tape is used to keep the pieces together when glue has been applied to each joint. Here is the base ring glued together.


In order to be sure it dried flat, I weighted it down with heavy weights.


With the glue dry, I had to see how my new base frame would look with the soundbox atop it.


Behold, a harp-like object!


Not bad. Next I prepared the other components of the base which look like this.


On the top is the pattern, next the walnut top with the grain running front to back (about 7/8″ thick), next the just completed outer base frame, and a thinner bottom piece that will be screwed in place, making access to the inside of the base assembly possible. I was so “into” the next process that I forgot to take photos of the base after the top piece was glued into place. Here is the next step: that of adding the detail to the outer frame. This began with drawing the shape onto the assembly using the plywood template as a pattern.

Having done that, it was time to cut out the detail using the bandsaw.


Once that was done and after a little cleanup, it was time to see how it looked with the shell in place. (Note how I use my trusty piece of train rail as a weight to keep it in place.)


Not bad. This is sitting on the bottom piece which has not yet been shaped to fit the base. When completed, the bottom piece will have to be a fraction of an inch smaller than the profile of the base in order to match the original bronze. There is still more detailing to be done on the base, and here is a trial sample I’ve done to try to duplicate it.


I’m still looking for a more precise means of doing this. My plan is to postpone this detail for the moment.

After having done the above, I decided to finish adding the horizontal bracing and inner supports to the shell. I’ve not had time to clean up the misplaced epoxy marks on the outside, but that will be a small job. This is the project to date. Not too bad for the short time I’ve been working on this, if I do say so myself!


Next will be attachment of the base to the soundbox and construction of and installation of the soundboard, string ribs, liners and the like. Stay tuned.

French Harp – Soundbox detail & soundholes.

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

Here is a view of the back of the bronze harp, showing what the details are of the back of the soundbox.


While it would be possible to duplicate the soundholes shown on the bronze, I have decided that tiny oval soundholes like those above would be quite impractical and would make dealing with the strings rather difficult. I have decided to be more conventional with the number and placement of the soundholes. Before beginning the soundholes, however, I decided to add some of the vertical lines one sees on the original bronze.


Cutting these details with a knife gives a bit less precision than were I to do so with a power tool, but I think I prefer that this harp have a bit more of a handcrafted look rather than a factory perfect look (great rationalization, anyway!) The knife line pictured here is a typical chip carving technic that one can find in the Wayne Barton chip carving books. The knife I am using is the Wayne Barton knife that I hone and use quite a lot. Moving on to the soundholes, I decided to use the same soundhole templates that I use on all my standard harps, spacing them to fit the length of this soundbox. One clamps the plywood template into place and then bores a starter hole for the router bit.


Notice the guide bearing above the red cutter. This follows the plywood template to create the shape of the soundhole.


The Festool router did a nice job of keeping the shavings and dust under control. Once all the holes were cut and the grooves cut with the chip carving knife, here is what the soundbox looked like.


I had also trimmed the top and bottom to fit the top and bottom inserts I had installed in the previous post, so decided to see if this part of the harp fit the drawing.


It was a fine time to check, but the soundbox is a tiny bit longer than the drawing. I’m sure I can make it work when I get to fitting the neck onto the soundbox. I have also completed the base, but will have to wait until later to post it. I found the base construction to be most interesting….

French Harp – soundbox top and bottom installation

Monday, May 1st, 2006

Having completed the shell for the soundbox, the next step is to install a top and bottom into the shell.


At first glance, this seems like a fairly straightforward thing to do, but the compound angles involved always amaze me. One has to fit a piece of flat wood into a space that is both angled backward and which tapers too. I use thickened West System epoxy which is a wonderful, strong gap filler, but my nature is that I feel better trying to make the pieces fit rather well before I begin to apply the epoxy. If mine were a production shop, I probably could not afford to be fussy in this respect. I’ve had some sycamore floating about the shop, drying, for quite some time, so decided to use sycamore for the top and bottom. It took quite a bit of trial and error with the belt sander to get the angles correct. Here you see the bottom piece shaped to fit and held in place by a piece of wood screwed to the top side. The angle of that piece of wood is the same as the bottom angle as it appears on the drawing of this harp.



Likewise, here is the top piece cut to fit and secured with a strip of wood and a clamp.


The next step is to prepare the thickened epoxy, a mixture of West System epoxy and some brown, filleting mix that is sold for the purpose of making the epoxy thick enough to remain in place until it hardens.


You will notice that I am wearing a blue, rubber glove. Epoxy is an inorganic compound and, for some users, can produce severe allergic reactions. It is recommended that one also wears protective clothing to use it, but I generally limit myself to the rubber gloves. Thus far, no allergic reactions….

Having prepared the epoxy mixture, one then applies (smears?) it to the desired surfaces


and lowers it into position.


It is then clamped and permitted to sit the required several hours until the epoxy has set up.


Notice the pretty, lacewood grain on the quarter-sawn sycamore bottom piece. Here is a photo of the smaller top end epoxied and clamped into place.


When the epoxy has dried, the ends are trimmed to be flush with the pieces just installed and it looks like this:


French Harp – first the soundbox shell

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Shall we get the process underway? Here’s a closeup view of the lower end of the soundbox. I will have to eliminate the screw. Can you imagine how large that screw would be in real life size? My guess is that the screw gave access in the sculpture for installing the wire strings.


For a couple of reasons, I have chosen walnut to be my wood of choice for this instrument. First, I think the dark wood will closely resemble the dark bronze of the original statue. Secondly, walnut is a pretty decent carving wood, and there will be lots of 3-D carving involved with this project. Interestingly, the “walnut” boards I had gleaned (and clearly labeled as such) from my late father’s workshop, when planed from rough lumber to smooth lumber, turned out to be CHERRY. So, with my designated wood pile being NON-WALNUT, it was necessary for me to seek lumber. I found a young man, Ben Hagenbuch, who does chainsaw milling and has a drying kiln way up in the woods near Mt. Holly Springs, PA and was able to procure the necessary walnut lumber from him for this harp. Here is one of the slabs I brought home, this is one of several probably 14″ wide by 7/8″ thick and about 4 feet long.


Having planned to make the thickness of the soundbox material only about 1/4 inch, it was necessary for me to size the material and to resaw it to the necessary thickness on the bandsaw.


Having done that, it was then necessary to cut them to size with beveled edges that would be glued together.


Laid face down, these boards were then taped together with masking tape.


Turned over, the “seams” were then spread with glue.


At that point, the assembly is “folded” into a “U” and clamps are used to hold it in position until the glue dries.


Note the heavy blocks I’ve clamped to each side of the assembly. These are there to assure that the edge pieces are vertical. See how easy that was? There’s really nothing to harp building! (Okay, I must “fess up”. My first gluing of the shell wasn’t a total success, so I had to separate the seams and redo it. This made the soundbox dimensions smaller than I had originally planned, but now it will be closer to the size of the original harp.)