(her second instrument)
is a folk instrument of Finland, a bowed lyre. Having from 2 to 4
strings, traditionally of horsehair (the most common instruments, the
descendants of those still made today, had 3 strings), and a rounded
bridge, the jouhikko was a drone instrument, with the center string
being the drone and the other two outboard strings providing a 6 note
range. It was a secular instrument, used where a fiddle might be
used in other cultures. And here's a little known but neat fact -
the Jouhikko, because of it's haunting tone created by bowing horsehair
on horsehair, is being used as a major instrument in the Broadway
production of "The Lord of the Rings".
girls grow up, slow at times and fast at others, but one thing remains
constant - a little girl (whatever age) wants what she wants, and you
won't change that. Ceilidh does like her daddy, and that is a
plus for dad. So when given the choice of her next instrument, I
was not at all surprised to have her say she wanted to make a
Jouhikko. After all, I had just finished my first one. And
she does like to be like her dad.
But of course, not too much. Her idea was to build an instrument
that was WAY better than dad's, and of course, it had to reflect her
love of the reality and the myth of the ocean. That's a fancy way
of saying it had to have mermaids on it.
We went to the lumber store, and she ran around knocking on all the
wood until she found a board that sounded 'hollow', and we took it to
the saw and then to the counter. A piece of white ash, baseball
bat quality, with big swoopy grain waves. Not only a period
European wood that would have been used in building instruments, but
After much discussion about why instruments don't need to be dyed
fluorescent colors, and why sometimes just stain and wax is the best
way to show off your work, we decided on a compromise. Mermaid
shaped f-holes, and a dark stain and wax over the whole
instrument. And she is happy. After all, a 9 year old is so
much more cultured and sophisticated than a little 8 year old with a
fluorescent aqua lyre...
We started with unfinished wood
this time, so I had to teach her how to use the surface planer.
The idea was to get a F1S (faced 1 side) board to be able to draw the
instrument out on. As this is an instrument that was freeform in
design even in period, we decided to forgo plans and patterns, and
build to the wood.
Ceilidh was given the
measurements that had to be for the important parts - we needed at
least 1/2 inch for the 'handle' and the pegbar needed to be about 1 1/4
inch, and the whole thing should be around 5 1/2 to 6 inches
wide. She looked at some modern instrument pictures, and we found
a modern maker's guide to dimensions, and off we went drawing.
Then dad cut the body to rough shape on the bandsaw.
She went after it on the favorite
shop tool for these girls, the oscillating spindle sander. Not a
period tool, but a safe and effective one that does a fine job and
keeps the fingers intact. Note the mask, something we are now
insisting on for the girls since they are starting to work with some
exotic and potentially harmful wood dusts
Transferring lines for the beak and
the headpiece cuts. She did the layout, dad rough-cut the wood on
the bandsaw, she did the finish work with hand and power sanders and
Working very late into every
night, it is sometime appropriate to nap while standing up between
jobs. No, really, these projects are a forced march, the week
before A&S was the time we had to do them. And the girls were
real troopers, they really want to have the instruments.
Now the endless drilling with the
modified forstner bit to hollow the soundbox. She is a real pro
at this - got through the whole box without taking a break, and only
needing dad's strong arm to hold it in place a few times when the
previous hole was too close to the edge.
Chisel, chisel, chisel. She did a
bunch, but then we resorted to a sanding drum in the drill press to
finish it off. The ash didn't like being chiseled, and many tears
fell when the big crack in the heel of the instrument was discovered,
but judicious application of amber celluloid glue and sandpaper and the
crack is barely noticeable and the wood is strong.
Now sanding out the box, with a
auto-body sanding disk running at 3200 RPM in the drill press.
Does fine work and allows a quick finish sand.
Worn out, sweaty, 11 o'clock at night, but the box is hollow and the
handhold has been drilled prior to cutting. Scalloping the edges
of the handhold was her idea, to give it a more nautical theme.
With each project, I try to see where the
girls are and add a new tool. Their tool arsenal is sadly lacking
in sawing implements, but for this project I decided to introduce both
girls to the jigsaw. Here Ceilidh cuts the handhold. She is
comfortable with the saw. but I still had to get in and do the fine
detail of the 'mudflap mermaids' on the soundboard.
Back to the spindle sander to dress the hold. The instrument is
halfway done at this point, and she is getting antsy to hear how much
better than dad's it will sound, and see how much better than
dad's it will look.
Took the morning off work and decided to add a new type of tool to our
collection. We spent an hour building violin body clamps -
basically a 6 inch carriage bolt with 2 pieces of center-drilled dowel
threaded onto it, then a washer and a wing nut. Then it was time
to add the soundboard. It was cut oversize and glued on so it
could be trimmed when the glue dried. The body clamps give the
instrument feet to stand on when it is drying.
Trimming up the soundboard, and doing the final sanding. Such fun
making lots of dust.
Now the secret that covers a
myriad of sins - BriWax. Dark BriWax, to be specific. One
of the oldest commercial finishes in the world, it is just pigmented
wax. Slather it down, polish it off. a light, pretty,
durable finish that is actually rather period, and it really looks good
on ash. We decided on this look after seeing a few instruments
from the 1700s in some pictures from a museum in Finland.
On the lathe, to turn the tuning
pegs and the tailpiece dowel. I have this operation set up
with stops so the kids don't have to do any repetitive measuring, but
that is the preferred method even for professional machinists.
A tapered machinist reamer is the perfect
peghole reamer for projects like these. Regular violin pegs are
small and have a taper that matches a violin peg reamer, but the pegs
found with ancient instruments are larger, and the tapered machinist
reamer can make holes all the way to the largest pegs without changing
any of the lathe settings except diameter.
The strings are the soul of the instrument, the bridge connects the
soul to the body. A bridge must be light, strong, with good
latewood grain. There is very little you can do with power tools
except the final finish, because a good bridge is string but fragile
and power tools will usually break it. Here Ceilidh is sanding
the faces of the bridge blank smooth
The curve at the top of the bridge lets you bow 1 or 2 strings together
instead of having to bow all 3 at the same time. This curve is
sanded before the bridge is 'skeletonized' by cutting the feet into it.
After cutting the feet with a
jeweler's saw, the light paper on the 1/2 inch spindle finishes the
curves. Removing all the nicks and scrapes makes the bridge
stronger - cracks form at sharp edges, not in the middle of curves.
With all the pieces made, it is
time to put the horsehair strings on it. Separate out the number
of hair strands you need (in this case the 1st string is ~30, the
second string is ~50, and the 3rd string is ~25). Tie the end of
the bundle, divide the strands in half, and attach them to the tailbar
by pulling the knot under and around the top of the bar by putting the
end of the bundle through the loop formed by the two halves of the
bundle up at the knot. Then twist all the string the same
direction until the surface is smooth and even and the bundle is tight
Here's the little Finnish girl
with her instrument. Very cool. I live for these moments -
I get to spend time with her, and she gets to do something that makes
Being judged at Kingdom A&S,
Calontir Shire of Crystal Mines, July 12 2008. Entered in
intermediate category, and scored a very impressive 26 of 30 (better
than many of the other artisans, and this at only 9). Last year
she scored a perfect 30, but that was in novice category, and she
followed the directions of the judges who told her she shouldn't enter
in novice anymore.
I really enjoy these musical instrument projects. We have a lot
of fun, and she gets something to keep and play with and learn from out
of the deal. We have already decided what we are going to do next
- she wants a Vielle a'Roue (fiddle with a wheel - Hurdy Gurdy).
You can bet it will be there on the table next year, this time entered