Ceilidh's Jouhikko (her second instrument)

The Jouhikko 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".

Little 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 pretty too.

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 rasps.

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 her smile.

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 as advanced.