Ceilidh's Germanic Rote (her first instrument)

Here's a sound clip from the instrument, with the Luthier playing.
Neat thing lesson of the day - The button is an image of a 7th century Germanic annulet, or bracteate. 
Gold bracteates commonly denote a certain type of jewelry, made mainly in the 5th to 7th century AD, represented by some spectacular gold specimens.

There are certain things little girls have to have, and it doesn't matter if they are looking at a folder for school or a 2.5 million dollar yacht.  Things have to have lots of color and shine - muted warm natural woodtones and matte oil finishes are for boring grown-ups.  You have to have kittens and flowers and fishes, and sparkly shiny things.  And what's wrong with that?  This will be a very authentic Rote, based on the remains of an instrument excavated from a 7th-century Alemannic nobleman’s grave in Oberflacht (south of Stuttgart).  The remarkably intact pieces of oak clearly show a thin, hollow corpus with no soundholes. Like a similar instrument unearthed at Sutton Hoo in England, there are strong indications, supported by contemporary iconography, of six gut strings, a tailpiece and a free-standing bridge.  But of course, in the land of Pavel and Marcus, volume is important.  So a soundhole was added to this design.  And it is a seahorse.  And the whole thing is gloss aqua, with shiny brass tacks.  You got a problem with that?  She doesn't.  And I think the warrior whose body rests with the remains of the original wouldn't either.

We found some very nice photographs of recreations of this style Lyre, printed them out in a size about 20 percent of the original, and drew centerlines and section lines all over it.  Then I taught Ceilidh how to use proportional dividers to transfer the design to a plank of oak.  We sized the instrument to her hand fitting in the neck cutout - it is about 27 inches long.

Dad is not cruel, but also really want's this project to be Ceilidh's work.  So Dad rough cut the body blank and the peghead on the big resaw bandsaw, then turned Ceilidh over to the oscillating spindle sander to shape and smooth the body.  Proper safety gear is mandatory for the little ones - mask and goggles for the dust-making tools.  Dad, well, not so much.

The body is then hollowed out with a forstner bit set on the drill press to go not quite all the way through the wood.  Again, this is a tool and process that is within the physical strength and dexterity limits of an 8 year old, and she did every bit.

The body, hollowed out and recessed for the soundboard.  A twist-lok auto body sanding disk in the drill press at 3200 rpm made quick work of smoothing the bottom of the hollow.

A quick lesson in the scary-sharp (fine grit sandpaper) method of sharpening a chisel, and how to use a carvers mallet, and it was time to clean up the edges of the soundbox hollow.  Again, Ceilidh has the strength and dexterity to do the job safely, and so she did.  So far, dad is the only one to shed any blood on this project.

The soundboard is the only part Dad has to take credit for doing any finish work on.  Ceilidh used the scroll saw to cut the soundboard out fo the plywood sheet, but the fine motor control wasn't there to do the seahorse cutout, and she was getting frustrated.  So Dad stepped in and cut out the seahorse, and she went on with the project.

Lots of clamps  LOTS of clamps.  Even though the fit was nice, lots of clamps.  The original had a soundboard held on by brass tacks, not glued, but this one will be both glued and tacked.  LOTS of clamps.

Rounding and smoothing, sanding and finishing.  Repeat the mantra - "Sharp edges are where splinters come from".  Repeat the mantra - "Trust your fingers, not your eyes".  Sand with 80, 200, 500 grit - make it nice and smooth, raise the grain with water, sand it again.  Sit under a shady tree with a nice breeze - what could be better?

So a turquoise / agua / green-blue it will be.  How to do that without sending out for analine dyes and waiting and mixing and all that?  Easy.  Find the right color Sharpie marker, pull out the wick, and flush rubbing alcohol through it into a jar.  This is a permanent dye that is very transparent.  Holds up pretty well to sunlight after being sealed.  4 coats, rubbed down with scotch-brite between coats to remove the dried solids residue on the surface.  But it is alcohol based, and dries quick - a good thing for a little girl who is getting impatient and excited to play her instrument..

To seal the dye, and to give it the kind of shine and depth of color that she really wants it to have, several coats of Bohning's blue-clear arrow shaft lacquer were applied, sanded between coats (200, 500, 1200, 2000 grit paper, then 0000 steel wool).  This blue-clear formula is designed to enhance colors, and if it is durable enough for arrowshafts, it is good enough for this instrument.  I provided extra hands to hold when necessary, but again, Ceilidh did the work.

The original rote soundboard was held on by medieval brass tacks.  These were made by hammering a strip of brass somehting like 1/16" thick and 1/2" wide, then using a cold chisel to cut off thin triangular pieces from the edge, alternating the point end as you went.  This made a thin-headed nail that held surprisingly well, but when you really want visual appeal, the head wasn't quite enough.  So we used commercial tacks, after drilling pilot holes for them.  Dad set up the drilling jig on the press, and let Ceilidh go to it. 

The tuning peg head is held into the arms with mortise and tenon joinery, and dowel pins through the outside of the arms.  A little overkill, but the 6 strings on this instrument can put substantial tension on the peghead, so better safe than sorry.  The mortises were cut with a 1/4 inch keyway cutter (metal lathe tool for cutting slots in round stock) mounted in the drill press at about 400 RPM.  Set the table for the right depth, and let the cutter do the work.  Flip the lyre over and work from the opposite side, a mortise (with rounded ends like a biscuit joint).  Dad removed the majority of the tenon waste with the band saw, but Ceilidh cleaned up the joint with a chisel and rounded the ends of the tenon to match the mortise on the oscillating sander.  Some glue and 'Voila!".  And for the dowel pins, well, she is becoming quite the master at all the uses of a drill press - drilling a few 1/4 inch holes?  No big deal.

Preparing some old-growth 'toxiphilus palletus' (pallet wood, in this case some slitch-cut hard maple with nail and screw holes throughout) on the surface planer.  This will become the bridge and the tuning pins.  The tailpin will be oak.  The tailpiece was already cut from a piece of remnant hard maple from the small scrap box.

Maybe Dad is the only one to shed blood, but Ceilidh has been initiated into the ranks of 'tool wounded' - the thumbnail sanded on the power belt.  I'll accept this one for an 8 year old - a lesson learned in tool respect.

A bunch of mishaps later (none dangerous, just time-wasting) and some missed photo ops.  But after some executive decision making (the peg heads should be the right shape to carve the Saxon warrior heads later on) the pegs are installed and drilled for strings.  Now is time to put it all together.

The tailpiece and the bridge are made of hard maple.  The tailgut is a piece of harp string from Natalia.  The tailpiece is lacquered, but the bridge is left natural.  Both pieces are the simple versions, so Ceilidh could do them herself.  The bridge was the piece responsible for the thumbnail abrasion.

Here it is - the shot worth all the money in the world to this dad.  I snuck in with a little sound recorder while she was just playing around and caught the sound clip that is at the top of the page.  We still have to paint the inside of the sound box behind the seahorse in gold, but other than that, it is done enough to call good.  I am very proud of my daughter for sticking with this project.  It is really more than anyone expected, and looks and sounds terriffic

Both girls were bugging me about maybe taking their instruments to some kind of contest, so I decided to let them enter one of our SCA Arts and Sciences competitions.  In fact, I decided to let them enter the biggest and most serious competition of they year - the Kingdom Championships and Tri-Levels tournament.  Of course the girls didn't enter the Kingdom Championship - that requires too many entries and too much work, but the same judging and environment is used for the Tri-Levels (judged in either novice, intermediate, or advanced).  They both entered in novice - they had never entered a contest before.  Here Ceilidh is studying her documentation before judging.

Her judges are all recognized artisans and craftspeople in our region, and they were VERY serious about judging.  They didn't approach these projects with any less scrutiny than they would have judged one of mine - although they were very kid-friendly in their approach and language, they pushed for information and didn't go easy on the girls - they made sure the girls had an understanding of what they had built, why they did things certain ways, they made sure the girls could justify their entries.  And the girls did fabulously - perfect scores.

Click Here for Ceilidh's judging sheet
Click Here for Ceilidh's comment sheet.

I am so very proud of them - they were told in no uncertain terms that they were never to enter in novice category again!  It was just too cool.  And throughout the day they got more visits from more people than just about anyone else - all because everybody really thought their projects were very worthwhile, as well as just plain neat.