Category Archives: Music

Thoughts on Smoke Stacks

Sometimes I think I was born 70 years too late.  70 years too late to participate first hand in the excitement of the industrial age.  Every day, though,  I touch work that was created decades ago, and have the opportunity to behold the  craftsmanship and industrial techniques of piano manufacturing. The work that I do today, rebuilding old instruments, is the same work that was done by original craftsmen decades ago.

As I work, I frequently run across lithographs of piano manufacturing facilities – sometimes stenciled inside a piano lid, and sometimes in historical marketing materials and ephemera. Always, I find these industrial lithographs to be ironic when viewed against today’s  environmental strictures.  All of the representations of factories show very active smokestacks. It would seem that the smoke, which could have been edited out, was prominent because the smoke implied industrious productivity!

12274573_10206406547257388_5109520132201307650_n

Sometimes I think I was born 70 years too late!  But I did come along at the back end of the industrial age. From Riverdale elementary school in Raymond, Washington when I attended from 1958 to 1962, the expansive south-facing windows provided a fine view of the Weyerhauser mill across the river. I could freely daydream from my hard wooden desk watching the smoke patterns against the occasionally blue sky.

11110256_1127900220568866_2043560513214697446_n

Later, when I was in high school, I washed the sidewalks of soot and sawdust in front of The Dennis Company every Saturday morning. One of the old timers in town came by one day and asked if I knew what I was cleaning up! “Sure,” I said, “dirt”.

“No,” he said, “that’s Pay Dirt!”. I learned something about industrial era economics and attitudes from the old guy. He knew, even though I did not, that all that soot and sawdust meant paychecks for everyone in town.

New Musical Fun

Once a barbershopper, always a barbershopper? It could be.

A new barbershop chorus formed in Davis County, Utah in 2014 … but they forgot to let me know. Well … I found them anyway, and I’m ready for some old fun repeated and some new fun with new friends.

The chorus is the North Front Sound. You can visit their website, or have a look on Facebook

Last night was my first performance with them. We shared a venue at Northridge High School in Layton, UT. For me it brought back many fond memories, and it was just plain fun to be a part of an enthusiastic and talented chorus.


Throw-back Thursday? The photo below was from a “few years ago”.

ThatOldQuartetOfMine

Key Leveling Blocks

I recently decided to upgrade from the crude key leveling blocks I had been using, and enjoyed making these blocks.

Key Leveling Block

Key Leveling Block

Key Leveling Block

Working with small pieces like this can be a wood working challenge.     Here’s the techniques I used:

I selected a a good long piece of stock (I used walnut) and milled it to 9mm X 25mm.  I cut a 4mm X 10 mm slot in each end of the stock with a vertical cut on the tablesaw.  With long stock and a tall fence this can be a comfortable, safe operation.  This could also be done nicely on the bandsaw.  While the stock was still long, I bored the countersinks for the nuts and the concentric through bores for the bolts at the drill press.   I bored the countersink slightly smaller than the cross dimension of the hex bolt, so that it could be tapped in for a snug fit.  I bored the through hole slightly smaller than the threads of the bolt, so that the wood block would act as a locking mechanism on the bolt.   After boring, I cross cut the ends of the long stock to form the 25mm X 30mm blocks.  Finally, I secured the nut in the block with a bit of super glue.  The bolt I used was a #8 machine screw.

A jig for notching piano key tops

Result from keytop notching jig

After having done it the hard way, it is such a delight to find the easy way by virtue of someone else’s good thinking! Such is the case with the wonderful jig described below. When applying new key tops to piano keys, the notches surrounding the black keys present a significant challenge. Except for the notches, the sides of the keys can be trimmed flush with a flush trimming router bit, in much the same manner as one would trim plastic laminate on a counter top. But obviously, a flush trimming bit cannot do the notches. When I did piano rebuilding in the 80’s, this issue was handled with a hand held file. It was very tedious work.

In the June 1991 issue of the Piano Technicians Journal an article by Bill Spurlock describes a router jig for cleaning the notches. The jig below is an implementation of his excellent thinking.

Piano key top notch cutting jig

The jig is used once the sides of the key top have been trimmed flush using a flush trimming bit. When trimming, the notch is left untouched, and a perfect notch is acheived with this jig. The router bit is a 1/2" spiral bit. The stop is 3/16" steel. When I first fabricated the jig I had no steel in the shop and tried a stop made of 1/8" brass. The brass flexed resulting in inaccuracies. The 5/8" hole in the stop was drilled to accept a bench dog for clamping. When I replaced the 1/8" brass stop with the 3/16" steel, I found that clamping was no longer necessary.

Piano key top notching with router jig

Overhead Router Jig for Planing Piano Keys

More photos at FlickrPreparing an old set of piano keys for new key tops is a critical operation. I designed and built this router jig to perform the operation of keytop planing with accuracy and speed. To preserve the geometry of the piano action, 1 mm will be planed from the key to account for the difference in thickness between the old ivory key top and the new plastic key top. This also produces a good flat glue surface for the new key top and a nice square notch at the rear for a professional appearance. The old ivories needed to be replaced because of extensive cracking, chipping, and missing pieces.

More photos at Flickr
The photo to the right shows the key after exiting the jig. Note that the clamping mechanism is a simple, quick lever which holds adequately and keeps the process moving. The loose plate between the key and lever is coated on the lever side with some beads of hot glue, to provide gripping surface that would not be present in the hard maple. The router bit is a 1-1/2 diameter flat cutting bit. Since the key is less than 1 inch across, this diameter provides a cutting surface for both left side and right side of the key. Order of operation is:

1) With jig against right shoulder insert into about 1/4 inch. move to the left to plane the front edge of of the key (and the existing key front).
2) Slide the sled in to plane the left side of the key.
3) Move the sled to the right, forming the nice edge at the back of the key.
4) Pull the sled out to plane the right side of the key.

This order of operation will provide for proper rotation orientation of the cutterhead and produce a splinter free surface.

The objectives of accuracy and speed are met. This set of 52 keys was planed in 45 minutes.

More photos at Flickr

Adjustable height workbench / assembly table

In my early years of woodworking and cabinet building, I spent a lot of time assembling things on the floor. I’d never worked in a professional shop, and I didn’t have the room for an assembly table. When I went to work in the ML Bigelow organ shop, our primary assembly table was a dead flat surface of 10′ X 5′. What a difference! With a dead flat surface, assembling cabinets to square is so much easier. With the work off the floor, assembly requires a lot less expressive language.

For my new shop, and especially for piano action regulation I wanted a nice assembly table, but also I wanted it to be adjustable in height. The pictures below show my creation.

The adjustable height will allow me to do action regulation work comfortably in both sitting and standing positions. The table top is 3′ X 5′ and the surface is dead flat within 0.5 mm. The flat table was constructed in as a torsion box, pretty much as described by the “Wood Whisperer” in this article. It features an oak apron which sits 1/4″ proud of the table top. This allows a 1/4″ piece of masonite to lay inside the apron. When the work surface becomes marred, it can easily be replaced. That’s a nice feature!

I created the adjustable height mechanism by adapting an adjustable height cart sold by Harbor Freight. I removed the wheels and handle from the cart and fitted it to the base. The table top is fastened with lag screws and plenty of construction adhesive. There is a small amount of side play in the mechanism, so the table wouldn’t be suitable for much pounding and hammering, but that’s not what I had in mind. At all heights it is very stable vertically. The table has plenty of mass (about 300 pounds), which enhances its stability.

Adjustable height workbench and assembly table

Adjustable height workbench and assembly table
Minimum working height of the table is 24 inches.

Adjustable height workbench and assembly table
Maximum working height of the table is 48 inches.

On the path to RPT

The Piano Technicians Guild offers the Registered Piano Technician (RPT) to individuals who have passed a series of tests demonstrating professional competence in three areas of piano technology: tuning, regulation, and repair.

Last night at the Salt Lake City chapter meeting, I took the first step to certification. I took and passed the written exam! Ahead of me in the next year are two skills tests:

  • Regulation and repair
  • Tuning

    I’ll be practicing the skills I need for the first of these as I complete the rebuild of the Stieff Grand for Syracuse Arts Academy. The tuning exam, for me, is more intimidating. I hope to have enough aural tuning skill to take and pass the tuning exam next summer.

    On the road!

  • Whew. February 15

    Each year, my quartet, Sound Accord, delivers singing Valentines. It’s always a joy! This year since Valentines Day was Saturday, we sang on both Friday and Saturday. We delivered songs to 21 sweethearts on Friday and to 11 on Saturday. It was two days of tears, laughter, and kisses. What a love fest! We sang for teenage sweethearts and for octogenarian sweethearts. We sang before hundreds, and to just one. Each of the 32 events was unique, but each was a clear expression of love. I just plain love being in the middle of it.

    Singing Valentines in Utah County

    Sound Accord Quartet Singing Valentine

    Once again my quartet, Sound Accord, will be delivering singing Valentines for the big day. We will schedule our biggest day on Feb 13, so that we can deliver to schools and businesses. We will also be available mid-day on Feb 14.

    If you are a man who would like us to sing to your girl friend, wife, or other female significant other, please call Duane at 801-830-5858. If you are a woman, who would like us to sing to a man, well … NO. We did that a couple of times early in our career. It just doesn’t work! (At least not for us!) We will be singing in Utah County only. (Provo UT, Orem UT, Lindon UT, Pleasant Grove UT, American Fork UT, Lehi UT, etc.)

    We deliver 2 love songs and a long stemmed rose as your Valentine for a fee of just $45.

    More about the quartet is here: SoundAccord.com