News and Announcements

--News & Announcements--
Upcoming projects:
Continuation of the Mandola project
Conclusion of bookbinding
Metallurgical Science behind Heat Treating

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Luthier: Part XII- Perfling and Bridge


Last time, I had just permanently attached the neck to the body, and at last the mandola was beginning to look like a thing with intent behind its construction. A slight oversight when cutting the depth of the external bit of the neck heel left it shorter than I would have liked. Although structurally and visually (later on) this will be a non issue, I needed to fix it anyway for my own peace of mind.


Fortunately, I hoarded all the scraps and cuttoffs throughout the project, so finding a bit of extra rosewood was easy. This post marks the beginning of my time, once again, without a shop to work in. As a result, progress happened much slower than before. Fortunately I was so near the end when I moved that most of the difficult or impossible-to-perform-without-a-shop tasks are behind me.

To fit the shim, I had to whittle it down. Ordinarily I would have used a plane for the task, but I have no bench to work on or clamp things to, so I quickly abandoned that effort and turned to a chisel. Because this will be hidden by the perfling anyway, perfect fit is not of the utmost importance.


Good enough. As it is not structural, there really only needs to be something to fill the space.


After gluing the shim in place, I carefully cut it as close to the shape of the neck's heel as possible. The less work with chisels and files to clean up the profile the better.


Three or four cuts with the saw and the rest was to the chisel to clean and round. At this point I had to pay special attention to the grain direction, as my previous experience with the rosewood left me weary. Nowhere near as bad as the cedar, the grain still likes to splinter and lift in inopportune places.


Perfling is, before I went into this, one of those things that I assumed would be easier than it actually turned out to be. For a long while I debated with whether or not to cut a groove in which to inlet it, but the longer I dwelt on it the less desirable that thought became. So, in the end, I devised a less sophisticated way of accomplishing something similar enough.

With the wood I ordered for the project, I had a few extra bits that I could not identify or find other uses for, so they turned into perfling. I suppose here is where I should actually say what that is. Perfling is, simply put, those bands of decorative trim that cover the seams of the top and back with the sides. They do add a bit of contrast and decoration as well, but that was not my primary intent behind them. If you will recall a few posts back where a weight slipped and fell on the sides, crushing a good portion of the fibres, the perfling will conveniently hide the imperfections of that repair.

Returning to those erroneous bits of wood, I used them to make my own perfling. I do have some ebony bands as well, but they were not long enough for the coverage I wanted. Paired with these ones I made, I was able to make a two tone band along the sides.


Using my wheel marking gauge and a scrap of the soft cedar, I was able to use it like a lacing tool to cut a bundle of thin strips of fairly even consistency. All in all, I cut until I was able to match the length of the ebony ones. 


I have seen a few luthiers use an elaborate string and wedge setup to affix the tops and backs and perflings to their instruments, but I didn't want anything to do with that so I used tape instead. One small bit at a time I used a small piece of the fresh cut perfling scrap to apply glue to the ebony. Once placed in the right position, I taped it and moved on to the next small bit. It was slow going and the corners were difficult to navigate, but it eventually worked out.


Top and bottom, the body had its first band of perfling. At the inner and outer corners, I started by cutting the strip and trying to match it on the other side. Its results were less than impressive, that slight shift that crept in during taping throwing off the line, so I began carefully bending the perfling instead. There were some visible broken fibres, but it was better than the alternative. In an actual shop with a proper place to work (and more importantly make a mess without worrying about it) it might have ended differently.


It is a bit hard to see in the above photo, but the second band is being glued there. Just below the ebony, the mystery perfling provides contrast for the black that otherwise blended too well with the rosewood.


With each small bit of length I pressed it tightly up into the ebony and taped, occasionally undoing the work to slide it up and close any devious gaps that opened when I had my back turned.


And here you can see the finished result. I am sure that there are easier ways to do this, namely getting perfling that is pre-cut. Now, to blend the difference in height of the two perflings and the body itself. The ebony is the thickest, then the stuff I cut, which sat about 0,5mmm above the sides. A bit of careful sanding blended the steps into a wedge shape. Not flush with the sides, it does protrude a bit and is only noticeable when looked at from an askance angle, but that is the least of my concerns at this point.


Shifting processes radically for the second half of this post, I'll be working on the bridge now. From here on out, a lot of things happened simultaneously, so I had to restructure some things out of chronology to make sense of it.

Although I ended making two separate bridges, this one sounds the best and is the more interesting of the pair. Late last year, a good friend of mine gave me some old ebony piano keys. In their former life, they probably made both beautiful and mediocre music alike. As ebony is decently hard, it made for an excellent material for the bridge, and combined with its past, this repurposed future drew me to it over all the other materials I have at my disposal.


A little worse for wear, the key needed some work before taking its new form. A combination of planes and sanding brought its sides back to flat and worked out some of the splintering from where they had been removed from the rest of the former piano's key assembly.


As I said earlier, a lot of things were happening concurrently here, and I already had the final width of the strings determined. With that information, I could then mark on the nut (white thing there on top of the ebony) against which the strings press. For the second bridge, I used the ebony alone. With this one, I carved a channel to hold the nut block.


Some maths later, I returned to the marking gauge and scribed lines for the channel. Ebony is, as I learned once again, very prone to splintering if some care is not taken. 


Having no chisels narrow enough to carve out the channel effectively, the terminations of the groove were a bit rough at first. Several laborious minutes or hours later and the visible edges were looking better.


Since I did not have any appropriate chisels, I remembered I have a router plane. As it would turn out, one of the blades for it is the exact same width as the nut block. What luck!


With that groove already started, the plane can do its thing. In the ebony forming and shaping process, I made it a tapered trapezoid, which is not ideal for the plane's fence, but the channel depth was already sufficient for me to guide it with my hands. 


Several test fittings determined that the groove was square and, above all, an extremely tight fit. This is important because I do not want to use any glue in it and the slightest of gaps or vibrations will ultimately distort the sound. Having never played guitars or other stringed instruments, I did not realize that the strings resonating through the bridge into the body is what really gives sound to the strings when they are strummed or struck. There is an incredible difference between what it sounds like with and without a bridge. At first, I was worried that I did something severely wrong when I plucked a few strings and it sounded like it was dying a quiet, quiet death. 


Anyway, with the nut seated I was able to determine the bridge's final height based on how far the strings are from the body end of the fretboard. Ideally, they should be closer than I initially expected. 


With that carving, planing, and sanding done, the bridge is ready to be seated with the strings. Next time, I'll be applying the finish, putting the tuning pegs in the headboard, the tailstock on the heel of the body, and stringing. Depending on if I am able to finish a few other final details that remain, it may at last be the conclusion of this project.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Introduction to Screen Printing


For some time I've been trying to figure out how to effectively carve stamps for ink printing on fabric without much success. A few weeks ago I remembered silk screen printing and, at a glance, it seemed to be the perfect solution. Because I am not well versed in the process and I would rather not become largely invested in the equipment, I did some figuring and came up with a simpler or smaller solution to parts of the process.


First off, I needed to make the patterns. These need to be printed on transparency film and act in a way like exposing photographs, except the paper will be a photo sensitive resist on the screen. Everywhere I have read, exposing the screens requires a bit of trial and error, so I came up with some designs of varying detail and size to work with.


Here is the first change. Usually the frames for screen printing are rectangular for obvious reasons (the silk and transparencies are both rectangles) but I found that the silks themselves without frames are significantly cheaper. So, instead of getting a frame, I used an ordinary embroidery hoop. Getting the tension was a little tricky but once it was set, I had no problems with it. One thing that can be seen are a few hard creases in the screen, which is an unfortunate result of the shipping. Ultimately, this had no effect in the print.


Next up, the screen needs the photo emulsion resist. This is, once mixed, a sort of light sensitive paint that makes the screen usable. Once exposed to high intensity light for a short period of time (or a lower intensity light for a long period of time), the mixture hardens and its washable characteristics are removed. Areas covered by the pattern are not exposed, and thus able to be washed away, leaving clean screen through which the ink can be passed.


In spite of the very obvious and boldly stated instructions that tell you to add water to the diazo (activator), a great many people complain that the diazo is dried out and does not work. Imagine my surprise when it worked perfectly when I followed the provided instructions.

From a weird blue to an even weirder green, the photo emulsion also changes consistency slightly when the two parts are mixed. Make sure that it is thoroughly mixed, or parts of the screen may not cure properly.

One thing that I could not find anywhere online before physically having the emulsion is the shelf life once mixed. After adding the diazo, it can be stored in a refrigerator for up to four months for later use.


Now then, to prepare the screen, I poured a line of the emulsion over one edge and used a squeegee to spread it thinly and evenly across the screen. Be aware that any uncovered place will allow the ink to pass through it, so covering as much of the screen as possible is recommended. Once I had the one side covered, I flipped it over and smoothed over the back with the squeegee. Removing excess is important, or the emulsion will pool in droplets while drying, which is undesirable for its inconsistency in curing when exposed.

Once the emulsion is spread over the frame, let it dry in a dark, not overly warm place. I shut it in a closet for a few hours, checking on it periodically to ensure there was not any pooling and, if needed, using the squeegee to gently spread out the emulsion again to correct it.


This was the first effort, which eventually did not survive due to under exposure, but the process here is the same. Careful to not tape over the middle (which would cause the emulsion beneath to be unexposed), I taped the negatives on the screen. If you have clear tape, problem solved. When placing the patterns, be cognisant of which side you place them on and in which orientation. The side of the screen that is flush with the frame will be down when printing, so in the orientation I have the stencils currently, the final printing will be mirrored. You can expose from either side depending on how you set up the light configuration, but this is the only side I could use, so I had to have my stencils flipped over because this is the 'underside' of the screen.


In order to keep the stencils flat on the screen, and since I do not have a lightbox, I had to improvise a little. I do not have any clear glassware in my kitchen and, I realized, virtually nothing made of flat glass at all. So, I clamped the screen to the door of my shower, which is why I had to have the negatives on the above side of the screen. Having a piece of flat glass or plastic would do just fine to keep the transparencies flat to the screen, really whatever works. Or, you could probably get away with just taping all the edges down with clear tape as long as the light you are using to expose it with is not overly hot.


Exposing the screen is where the trial and error comes in. I exposed three before getting it good enough to print, and it is still not perfect. As per the instructions of the photo emulsion, using a 250 Watt lightbulb requires 7~8 minutes depending on the size of the screen. This did not work for me, so I tried again at 9 minutes, and it was closer, but still not great. The third time I went for 11.5 minutes, and it was functional but a bit over exposed. The problem with this is the emulsion under the negative becomes harder to wash out and damages the exposed bits in the process.


After exposing, wash the screen. Almost immediately, the unexposed parts begin to appear as the emulsion washes out. Gently using a soft toothbrush, the pressure of the water, or your fingertips to clean the screen, wash until until all the areas to be printed are white again like the original screen.


Now, it's ready for printing. The squeegee presses against the screen, so the side of the screen flush with the frame needs to be down.


With a rectangular frame, it is a bit easier to print because you can use a squeegee that is the same width as the screen, but for a round frame it's not as smooth. Laying a line of the ink down on one side, press firmly on the squeegee and spread the ink over the entire area to be printed, bringing the excess off of the printed pattern. Then, just lift off the screen and there you go!


Once the print is made, it needs to be cured via heat. For cloth, the easiest way is to use a dryer on high heat. Note the ink needs to dry to the touch first or it will get everywhere. After curing, the ink is washable in ordinary settings. This was the first printing and turned out a little rough, but I learned a lot from the process and what to expect.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Great Divide


"Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world."
-Oscar Wilde


Two months and as many weeks ago I set foot from the southern lowlands towards a land which, unlike any other I have called home, lies across a vastness of unseen and unlearned land. Three thousand miles of open road across two mountain ranges and thirteen states with nothing but my thoughts for company opened to my mind both an adventure filled with opportunity and one of reservation. More than any other point in my life what lay ahead was met not with the welcome of open arms but that of uncertainty. There would be no place to mark the journey's end. No final mark to signify that a new home had replaced this long wandering.


In every state within whose borders I have lived, I have also sought to find its peak. As a natural deviation come too those nearby, spanning highway and river alike, the boundaries drawn on maps and those less definite which lie across the demarcation of society. In the North East there came New York and later New Hampshire, to the far west Hawaii. In the south that connected landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains I found North and South Carolina and again Georgia. As the unbound road West began to lay its course, so too did the opportunity to find something beyond the destination to give meaning to the journey.


First came Alabama, whose Cheaha Mountain stands a mere 2405 feet nestled in a crook of the Appalachians. Unlike the wilds of the north, there seems to be a greater sense of cultivation over these lands. Something that, as I saw in the White Mountains where early thinkers passed their days, gave perfect meaning to the drive of man to affix his mark here. Towers atop which the sprawling forests roamed free, houses to the public hospitality which lodge not only their feet but also the yearning desire for what lies beyond.


With naught but three days to complete the tremendous drive west, each morning began in the dark hours before dawn and ran far beyond the ever westward twilit approach. Hundreds of miles passed in a blur, each marker so resembling the last that I might not have moved at all. But slowly, gradually as I looked beyond the familiar I began to see a deep change in the landscape.


Soil became lighter, its loam unwittingly replaced with sand one grain at a time. Where there had been swamp now gave way to farmland, and in the blink of an eye another state lay behind me.


Arkansas, towering hardly an appreciable amount over Alabama, stood 2753 feet atop Mount Magazine. Buried within a park of winding roads and narrow bends, something else differed here. Below in the countryside, the green of vegetation reigned, yet here there was only the charred and ashen remnants of a forest before its sacrifice could harbour new life. In many ways, it was like the shedding of a veil over the world I had only just left behind. Cleared, but not passable without trial. Illuminated, but not yet revitalized.


Almost as an afterthought passed Mississippi some hundreds of miles prior. Alone at 806 feet in the southern corner of the country and fourth lowest of the lot, Woodall Mountain is more of a hill in the back yard of a radio beacon.


The south behind me the second great change overtook the land. Instead of the rolling mountains and lush forests, green bled to brown what vegetation studded the landscape took upon it the full colour of its host. There lies upon this land a vast emptiness on a scale difficult to understand until it has been forded in the depths of solidarity. It waits with a raw, jagged flatness suggestive of the distant towering peaks when suddenly from their foothills rise a twisted break in the earth. Thousands of changeless miles pass morning into evening and then back again, unrelenting and unforgiving of the wayfaerer's need.


Looking upon a map of where state boundaries lie might, without perspective of the geography, seem arbitrary. Oklahoma into Texas and Texas into New Mexico into Arizona, those lines prove significance to the governing but to nature there exists another form. Within minutes of passing one to the next, subtle differences give way to dramatic changes. Suddenly the buttes rise out of cleft plateaus, the brown of the earth grows red, grass weaves into scrub shrubberies, the sky takes on a different hue. It is, as though by those who once lived here long before our time, had too taken notice and passed through the generations a primeval division as it was made to be.



Having lived in the east for so many years and having never truly experienced the west, one of the most surprising changes was not the landscape, but rather the means by which it is navigated for our commerce. Trains spanning four miles in length or more raced past, hundreds upon hundreds of cars driven as one across that relentless desert. The first I saw caught my eye from the severity of its length, but then I passed another, and another, until they were, as many bound cars become one, individually beyond number.


As Arizona's border came and went, again changes came starkly around the bend. Ancient remnants of the Colorado River who thousands of years ago carved their way through this now arid state stood as a testament to nature's raw and unrivalled power.


Out of the endless daze a passing sign caught my eye, and of a sudden the face of the landscape represented a fundamental shift. I was, at long last, approaching those lands to the west of which my dreams wander. Mountains untamed and towering in their stature, jutting thousands of feet above the peaks of those I left behind. In the early days of westward expansion these mountains too represented something greater than simply a pass to be traversed or a summit to be conquered. In a word, it was the coming of a different life. Often assumed by all accounts to be better than the one being left behind, but certainly changed. Transcendent, perhaps, but it was entering into a territory unlike anything in the east.


Of the hundreds of parks and waypoints I passed, there was one in the shadow of the Divide that I could not pass without stopping. The Grand Canyon, whose depth is measured by miles, lay over the northern course like some mysterious beast of a thousand heads. Carved over so many years beyond our ability to fully comprehend, the rock at sunrise was thrown into a painted hue that gives voice to the elder south west legends. Purples and reds and yellows and greens mixed together in a stratified topography, shadows from the lingering night clinging to what lies below.



In spite of the brevity of my time there, the scene lingers in my memory as a testament to the impossibly complex beauty which lies in the corners of the world near and far. Yet it was this passing that led me to the final shift of the journey, the final course and one last calling. Passing into California again brought with it hints and shadows of the world I was born to explore.


Creeping up like a sleeping giant nestled between the folds of a wrinkled earth arose mountains steeped in green and blanketed in blue, distant in the shadow that stretched for leagues across an otherwise unsuspecting landscape. Turns of the road gave way to clouded views of far reaching summits whose heights I know I must one day reach.


Where there had been desert I now found myself walking over undisturbed snow. Where there had been heights measured below the surface I now had to turn my head skyward to see what lay about me. Where there had been roads to carry the body thousands of miles, I now came to the paths which carry the soul to far distant places that no machine can reach.


Standing there beneath the limbs of living things so many hundreds of years older than myself brings back the reflection of my final hours of the land I had left behind. In the span of a few short days I left behind one of the oldest living things in that world I had come to know in exchange for another. But so wildly different are they aside from the magnitude of their lives that it is no wonder that the landscape around them holds so many vast differences.


Of all forms which life has taken here in our world, I stood beneath the single largest. Thousands of years and as many hundreds of people have come to bear witness to the legacy of time forgotten, a single form becoming something enduring. I knew well that the Sequoia stand as giants in a larger land, but the tremendous scale of their perch cannot fully be appreciated or even generally understood until the whole of the trunk fills your vision and the canopy is swallowed by the sky.


All around me leapt out of familiar form a new and unexpected face which I have never seen. Trees whose bark, although at first glance the rigid protector, was in fact spongy. Or mosses clinging to trees like those of the deep south I had comet to know as home were really something of a stranger form with webs of lichenthropic roots and bulbous stamen. Pines and sequoia and redwood and the rocky formations of mountains that here stood as little more than foothills in a world of giants.



In spite of the warming springtime sun that followed my approach towards the west, temperatures approaching those of a calmer summer elsewhere in the world I grew up in, snow was no stranger here. I was, at times, forced into a reversion towards a decades infantile version of myself to crawl in places upon hand and knee less I sink my own height and half again into that cold blanket. Years ago I snowshoed up a mountain in the Adirondacks, and here again I was thrust into a desaturated ascent that seemed so out of place from the vibrant greens and copper browns not far behind my path. There comes a striking dichotomy of the radiant sunlight against an otherwise unforgiving landscape whose winter memories remind me that the temperate southlands never truly fade beyond an early autumn.

And there to have seen that dancing illusion, standing like a giant whose face behind parted clouds reveals the aspect of my desire. The pinnacle, in a sense, of all those places where I have lived. Fourteen thousand feet and more above the horizon stands Mount Whitney, the tallest of the mountains in the lower 48 and a voyage which I must, as a demand by something deeply seeded in my own desire to wander farther, ascend before finally I depart these lands.


Too often we find ourselves enslaved by the desire to do things with only a definite goal or imagined conclusion that, at the end of the road, all that which passed behind it is discarded and forgotten by achieving what was sought before it began. Yet sometimes, and more often than would be supposed, we need that wild and unravelling brought about by uncertainty. We need to be brought to the strange and fantastic places we might never have known existed. Or, perhaps in its simplest form, we need to nurture that piece of our soul which finds fulfilment through the natural course of all things. To be undistracted and unbound by persistent thought of what will be when we arrive. For, becoming lost is the fastest way to be found. Whether or not I traverse the summit or travail the heart of the forest or gaze distantly upon forgotten lakes does not matter; the elder places of the world will neither miss my footprints nor hold against me those impossibly beautiful sights which then lie only in the confines of imagination. As a wanderer and a wayfarer, as an explorer, as a conqueror not of the lands for my own kin but rather to be conquered by them, there comes no greater journey than along the winding path which leads to an unknowing home.