Saturday, April 28, 2012


Lomby the horse didn't make it to see the Winter in his 26th year, but he did see the prettiest, greenest and most bountiful Autumn that we've had here during this young century. On Sunday he was prancing and following me excitedly  up the boundary fence line  as I did some quick repair work, to keep the bull from taking his 'love' to the heifers next door. Lomby loved the action and thrill of a fast-moving ATV with some hay on the back, and he stayed with me like a well-trained cattle dog as I attended to these things- Little did I know that this would be our last  adventure together.

The day before, he grazed our clover/lawn at his favorite places with a halter and lead rope. Putting on the halter transformed him into the most responsive of animals, with an acute awareness of every new detail around him,  I really enjoyed walking him past unfamiliar objects and places- and it defies logic, but he seemed to love having things explained to him, and he would step forward confidently as if  what I said to him made perfect sense. Not many people are so generous.

I often wondered what it was that enabled me to spend and enjoy so much 'hanging' time with him, and how just being there with him made me feel happy. I'm really grateful that the weather and his surroundings were just so perfect for his last months, and I'm really grateful for the times he spent with Nina in particular. They became great mates.

I'm not sure what caused his death, it happened on one of only two days when he was here without us this week, and if I'd been here  I doubt there is anything I could have done except perhaps to make sure it didn't take too long. He seems to have fallen quickly as there is no evidence around him of a struggle to get back up, and I like to believe that his heart gave up and he fell  without complications or suffering.

It's easy to sentimentalize the death of animals because they can be so innocent of the things that sometimes trouble us about people, and the directness and simplicity of our relationships with them intensify our experience of them. The end of life becomes the only certainty of birth, so we shouldn't be surprised when it happens- especially in  a  world that is so cruel for so many.

But I will certainly miss Lomby as much as I would miss a friend, because on some basic level we respected each other and came to an unspoken understanding that I can't begin to describe. On one level I know that his last months were very happy, stimulating, social and comfortable, but on another level I will always feel that my part of the bargain was to keep him safe and happy and because of the nature of life itself, I couldn't come through on the deal. But that is the thing about real joy- it always comes at a price.

His last weeks were spent with mornings camped in the shade with the cattle- him standing sentinel and them gratefully relaxed and secure in his protection. Even the bull was happy to curl up beneath him (his mind was always on more earthy things than safety). So the cows are at a loss, and so are we. This animal that never actually did anything somehow eased his way beneath our skins, and the lack of him feels peculiarly powerful.

We all just have to be careful to put full value on our few days in the sun.

Monday, April 23, 2012

clutter in my workshop

 Above, an early 1850's hand-made nail rescued from the floor of our building, resting on a tool rack. It has been in this country for about as long as my family. We've been here as long as a bent nail.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

a fat slippery joint

 The neck-pillar joint is a tricky, long-mitred, much-end-grained, hard-to-clamp, slippery and very important joint so I took a bit of time to have the two mating surfaces nicely flat and keen to get together. This meant that assembly wasn't about placement or avoiding twist or other distortions, but simply about holding things where they felt comfortable until the glue set. Once you dispose of the need to apply great force to bring things together clamping arrangements can seem less daunting.

Above, the mortices were cut with a router and the tenon is a loose piece of hardwood machined to be a comfortable sliding fit. Note the grain direction on the tenon. The cross grain will resist splitting across the joint.

It all went together well and is held by four blocks, which are clamped to the work while another clamp on each face provides compression between the blocks. This provided enough pressure to close the joint and squeeze out enough thickened glue to satisfy me that the joints were fully wet. I used epoxy for this one, applied thin- especially in plenty around all that end-grain, allowing it to soak in before applying thickened stuff liberally.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

a particular sort of thing

 It is a particular gift to have someone invest in you, and this little harp project has involved a lovely bit of that. Despite my urgings and my research, the clients for this harp- who could have so easily sourced a cheaply produced imported harp- chose instead to pay more for something built especially with them in mind. They trusted me with their story and have trusted me also with their money, to come up with a unique object that will add something to their lives in a way that a product simply couldn't. This is increasingly rare.

Most people have been fooled into believing that simply having stuff is the same as valuing it. That getting a new thing will be as satisfying as keeping one that is good in and of itself. Things don't cut it. We live to be connected to stories. We need to feel connected to our needs, not just indulged in them. This isn't necessarily a spiritual need, in my opinion it is a genetic truth that is ignored by those who wish simply to treat us as markets.

So to have someone ask you to make a beautiful thing, capable of nurturing more than just their physical needs is the most important of missions to undertake, and I do so gratefully.

The other side of this is what happened when I researched my mission, and got in touch with a person who seemed to have  complimentary values to mine. A bit like the first email I shared with 'Doryman', my contact with Rick at Sligo harps made me feel connected with a generous spirit whose enthusiasm was shared in up-sized lashings, and that mutual respect was the only currency required in the transactions that followed. This is worth bottling. It runs completely counter to current 'best-practice' in business. Rick has put so much technical experience out there for free, and he gave me even more simply on the strength of his enjoyment of this blog. How much money would we need to earn to gain the sort of satisfaction that comes from that? I wouldn't bother even trying.

Anyway, I haven't been very good at expressing these quite subtle things lately, and I thought I should see if I could squeeze out a few of the sentiments that used to come a bit more fluently than they have for the last few months.

The pics relate to my fabricating a Western Red Cedar soundboard- that has cross grain structure, and is 1/8 of an inch thick at the treble end and 1/4 of an inch at the bass end, and if you thought the sound-box back was vulnerable you should pick this little treasure up and see it wobble helplessly about.

The other pic shows my roughing out of a rebate to take four laminations of bent hardwood that will reinforce the most vulnerable part of the neck- it is most likely to break along the shortest grain, so the laminations will give plenty of long-grain strength where it is most needed. These harp strings do generate big stresses.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

resolving the back of a harmonic box

Finally, this harmonic cone has me by the hair. It's good to have a creative problem beckoning, and I'm just now entering the 'flow zone'- where an unfamiliar set of problems is unfolding, but enough is coming together to tickle the right-brain cells into imagining the next phase with some excitement.

Above, the cone has been cleaned up a little, and although it is amazingly tough, the shape is at it's most vulnerable stage.

Below, the unit sits in the cradle being set up for the angled base and cap. These angles are pretty important and the fit is complex so I ended up making a jig based on Rick Kemper's one, and I found it very handy to check symmetry, and angles in all directions while fitting the 'bulkheads', and then when gluing them.

In the pic below, one of the linings are being glued in after the central bracing 'bulkhead' has been fabricated to fit between the middle and lower sound holes- and these were just cut and left rough at this stage.

And here the sound box leans provocatively on the jointer inviting me to enjoy the angles, staves, facets and taper. Those holes are still rough, and will be faired with knives and birdsmouth files when I'm in a mood for finer, more focussed work. The off-cut from the base angle can be seen on the saw bwnch behind the jointer- one of the more enchanting of off-cuts...I wonder what I could do...

Monday, April 2, 2012

making a tall dalek

The acoustic box behind the soundboard of this harp will be made from 10 staves, each having two tapered, angled edges. Re-sawing the 4 inch square board was done on the bandsaw, taking the boards down to a generous 10mm thick, for thicknessing to about 7mm.

 The tool for ripping the tapers is a fairly simple jig that holds a board while cutting the line obliquely. Given that we are trying to make over 40 feet of joints from over 80 feet of tapered, angled edges, to specific dimensions, the jig needs to be fairly accurate.

The tape holds the edges together while they are being glued and the whole caboodle sits in a cradle to hold it to the correct dimensions while the glue sets. This is a carvel hulled harp box!