Thursday, November 19, 2009

Welcome to My Workshop—Part 3

It always seems that during the two to three weeks in October I’m set up for the Open Studios Art Tour, and my work slows down so as not to dirty things up too much (and sit around waiting for customers), I not only think of new things to work on, but also on how to improve my workshop/studio.

One thing I’ve always wanted to do was improve dust collection. I already have a filter to capture the dust as I carve, but my power tools never had permanent hookups to a dust collector. In the near and distant past, I hooked a shop vacuum directly to my power  tools. This method, even though it worked, constantly clogged up the vacuum’s filter, and I had to clean it almost every day.

Well, this year at Open Studios, I decided to connect all my power tools to a central vacuum and dust New vacuum systemcollection system. Since my workshop is so small, a regular dust collector with 4” hoses would take up so much room, I wouldn’t have space to work. Fortunately, a company known for industrial dust collection, Oneida,  invented a small cyclonic separator that fits between a regular shop vacuum and the power tools. So now I’m connecting all my tools with 2” to 2 1/2” hose and blast gates to my new separator and vacuum. (A new vacuum, by the way, since my other one died a couple of weeks ago.)

On another shop tool front, as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, I got a bed extension for my mini wood lathe. To install New sharpening station-72it, I had to move my scroll saw to where the sharpening station sat, and then I had to make a new space for the sharpening  station in a lesser used space on one wall. My workshop is evolving little by little.

Meanwhile, On the Workbench

I’m not spending all my time trying to improve my shop, I’m actually working on several concurrent projects. My main goal is to have my new dulcimer, “The White Lady”, finished for the KPFA Crafts & Music Fair in San Francisco’s Concourse Exposition Building, December 12th and 13th. No pictures yet, she has some surprising carvings I’ll show when she’s completed.

The Starnina Harp is coming along. I’m adding segmented binding Starnina-in process-72to the both ends of the body. Once the binding is complete, it will be time for me to lay out the top for  soundholes and strings. This has been another long project that changed from one style to another then to the current style in the two years since I started planning it. I think this is the one that’ll go. In the meantime,  I still need to finish carving the lovely lady who’s adorning the front of the peg block.

The Chapter House Portative Organ is also coming along—Pipe holders in processslowly. I started laying out and fret sawing the first of three pipe holders, but it’s a slow process.  Like I said, there’s three of them to do, and the outside two are much more intricate—and with some of my infamous carvings. Stay tuned.

One of my new directions is the study and making of medieval furniture. My first effort is coming along nicely. I’ve turned several test pieces for a three-legged stool, and I’mTurning stool parts planning other styles of furniture. Hopefully, I’ll have a couple of  new items to show and to compliment my medieval instruments at the Scottsdale Arts Festival next March.


The Holidays are almost upon us, and there’s quite a bit happening and possibly about to happen with me and Ron Cook Studios: gallery shows and newsworthy tidbits. More on this will be in my Holiday Newsletter, which will be popping up in your e-mail box in a few days. If you’re not on my e-mail list, and want to receive my quarterly newsletter, go to my website and sign up at the bottom of the home page.

Today is sunny and a little cool, but perfect for being in my workshop with the door open to our garden.

No fog this time of year to be onward through…

Friday, October 30, 2009

Birthday Boy

Like  Jack Benny said when asked how old he was, I’m still 39—again. Another year’s gone by, and I’m thinking more and more about Grecian Formula. I’m also thinking a lot about (time to get serious, folks) my life, and how to complete everything that’s on my “do-before-I-croak” list.  Hm-m-m. I had an early mid-life crisis, maybe now I’m having an early later-life crisis.

Well, it is my birthday today. I missed being born on Halloween by almost six hours. (Thanks Mom.) I celebrated by getting up at my normal time, seeing my wife off to work, and carving/sanding  in my studio all day. (My wife is taking me out to dinner tonight. Yum!)


A lot is going on in my studio. I recently got a bed extension for my Jet Mini Lathe, so I can turn longer pieces. The reason I got it is that Mini lathe w-new bed extensionI’ve decided to make some medieval furniture to go along with my medieval instruments.  The first piece I’m working on is a medieval-era 3-legged stool. There’s several visual references to 3-legged stools in mid- to late-medieval and renaissance paintings. Remember, floors weren’t flat like today’s. In fact, many homes had dirt floors, or unevenly sawed planks, that a four-legged Sanding 3-legged stool spindlestool would rock on. Three legs mean the stool sits stable. I’ve already turned the legs and rails for one stool so  far. The wood is salvaged urban forest wood, poplar logs given to me over a year ago. They’re pretty dry, but turn easy like green wood. I sand them while the lathe is turning, and they turn out quite polished and ready for a finish.

I’m still working on a Mountain dulcimer (“White Lady”), Chapter House Portative Organ, and Starnina Harp. Off and on, in between New spoons and spurtlestints on the instruments, I work on spoons and spurtles. I finished two today, and four more to sand down tomorrow. 

On the restoration and repair front, I’m working on a 1927 Kumalae “Royal Hawaiian” ukulele, and a Hawaiian guitar, a sort of inexpensive Weisenborn copy. I just started on the guitar, so Kumalae Royal Hawaiian Ukethere’ll be more info on that later. On the uke, I still have to put a few “cleats” on the inside to the top to help strengthen the cracks, similar to the cleats on the back crack repairs in the photo.  After that, it will be time to glue everything back together and start working on matching the old finish.

That’s about it for now. We just got back from my birthday dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants. My grilled Alaskan salmon and pumpkin pie desert were fantastic.

Time change this weekend. Onward through the fog…

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Open Studios Time - 2009

I’m exhausted! I spent most of last week getting ready for the first October weekend of the Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour. This is my 9th year, and you’d think everything would be second nature to me and very easy to set up. I say “ha”!

When I got to arts or crafts festivals, I go with just enough exhibit panels and pieces to get by. For the Open Studios Art Tour, I set up everything I have: tour panels (11 of them), old peg board OS09-Exhausted after a week of setup-72panels (from my first shows), and the canopy. Plus, I have to trim the hedges, weed, pressure wash walkways and patios, and generally clean everything inside and outside. Yes, as you can see from the picture, I’m exhausted.

Before I got too exhausted, earlier in the week things started off with a bang with the Open Studios reception at the Santa Cruz ArtOS09-reception-The inside crowd-72 League. The Art League hosts the Open Studios preview exhibit where people can get an idea of what all the artists do, and which ones they might like to go see. The place was packed, pieces sold, and a good time was had by all.  There was food, wine, and good entertainment, as well as all the artwork. The next picture is me by my exhibit piece, the Epinette des Vosges I call “Philip and OS09-reception-me with instrument-72Clement in the Confessional”.

The first weekend of Open Studios was for the artists in North Santa Cruz County, which is the area north of the yacht harbor. We had around the same number of people come through on Sunday as we did last year, but Saturday was fairly light.  There was a lot going on around the county on Saturday, and I think some people might have had event overload. This Saturday and Sunday, October 10 and 11, is for the South County artists, and the following weekend, October 17 and 18, is the encore weekend, which is for all of us who signed up for it. This will be another chance for all of you who are in the area to stop in and see my art and studio. 

Since I have two weeks between the Open Studios openings of my studio to the public, I’m working on another antique instrument Top shot-72restoration project. (Can’t dirty up my work space until after Open Studios.) By the way, it’s not a zither this time. It’s a Kumalae Royal Hawaiian Ukulele.

This Kumalae uke is from around 1927-30 and was labeled and  sold at the big new pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which opened in 1927. It’s very similar to the Kumalae Style O model, but with three decorative rings around the soundhole instead of one. I believe this to be one of the first to be sold at the hotel, because the peg head still has the Kumalae Hawaii decal, and the label is oval with the Royal Hawaiian name and a picture of an Back with label-72outrigger canoe riding a wave,  with Diamond Head in the background. Later Royal Hawaiian ukes had a Royal Hawaiian decal on the head and a round more colorful label inside. Also, when I removed the back and looked under the label, which was partly loose, I saw a round area of glue where another label once was, probably a Kumalae label.

There’s lots of cracks to repair, and, unfortunately, a lot of big  globs of glue to remove that someone spilled all over the sides to  try to “fix” the side cracks. This is the second Kumalae uke I’ve worked on, and the first had pretty much the same types of cracks in most of the same places. It’ll take time, but it will be beautiful and playable again.

Anyway, that’s what I’m up to at this time. Soon I’ll be repairing an old copy of a Weissenborn guitar and getting it in good playing shape. Then, after Open Studios, it’s back to work to try to get several more new instruments and sound sculptures ready for the KPFA Craft & Music Fair in San Francisco December 12th and 13th.

Next time, I might have some very interesting news regarding my future in arts and crafts. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sausalito and Beyond

Most people take that final vacation of the Summer over Labor Day weekend. My “holiday” was an intense 10 to 12 hours a day from Friday through Monday setting up and showing my crafts to many of those vacationers and locals. mainentrancephotoThe weather was great (perhaps a little too warm on Sunday), and the aisles were packed as were many of the artists’ booths. 

My booth was in a single row of booths Ron at Sausalitoin the side and back of the main area. It was, unfortunately, facing the sun a lot, so we got an umbrella to help shade the instruments. The upside was that it was far away from both the music venues, which made it easier to demonstrate. If I get juried in next year, I’ll request a booth facing away from the sun.

I’ve been home a few days, and I’m still exhausted. However, there’s no time to sit back and relax, the Open Studios Art Tour is only three weeks away, and I’ve got to get a few more pieces done for it. Plus, I’ll have to clean up my studio and yard the week before Open Studios.

On the Workbench

Today I really got back to making sawdust again. After selling so many dulcimers last Steambending White Lady sidesyear, then only completing one more for the shows I just did, then selling another in Sausalito, my stock is, once again, depleted.  I have to get cranking on my next one, the “White Lady.” The head carving is nearly done so I figured I’d better Clamping White Lady sidessteam bend the sides and clamp them up to dry.

Steam bending is a process that took me years to master, and years more to learn to be patient. When I first started bending wood, I would boil it in a long pan on a pair of hot plates, then clamp the wet and pliable wood in a form until it dried. Now, I use a hot iron (top photo) to bend dampened wood. I still clamp it in a form (bottom photo) for a few days until the wood is totally dry. It take patience. Try to bend to fast and the wood can snap.

I’ve also been working on my Chapter House Portative Organ. Just before I left for Sausalito, I made all the 1” pins that the keys Pipeorgan-key pinswill press. These pins open the airways so each pipe will play. The next step is to do some carving on the fronts of the keys then install them.

I’ve also been carving the gothic-style decorations on the sides.Carving pipeorgan sides I still have a lot of smoothing and sanding to do.

The pipes are working well, but not tuned yet. I also want to carve faces at the top of the front rank of pipes.

Today I also cut out 9 more spoon and spurtle blanks. My spoon stock is also low, and I need a few more for Open Studios. So enough writing, I need to head back to the studio and work, work, work!

Onward through the fog.


Monday, August 24, 2009

San Francisco and Beyond

Last week, we had another fun American Craft Council Show at San Francisco’s Fort Mason. This year we actually seemed to have made a profit, which is great in this still-weak economy. It was a little cool and windy on setup day, but it warmed up during the three-day show quite nicely to short-sleeve weather.

Ron setting up-72 I’ve done this show seven years now and this was the first time my booth was in the back of the exposition hall. All other times I’ve been very close to the front of the buildings. This used to be sort of a “dead zone”, where people didn’t quite make it to, but the new arrangements with wine tasting and “Alt-Craft” artists in the back really drew everyone to the area. We did have a lot of traffic.

Now it’s time to get ready for another big show, the Sausalito Art Festival, booth 121. That will be over Labor Day weekend, starting Friday evening and running through Monday.

Shop News

Once I get home from a show and unload, I try to take a day or two to decompress, to relax a little before jumping right into carving and creating again. Sometimes it’s hard to get myself back into a creative mode again, but I do finally get the energy Thrasher1-72flowing, and I did a couple of days ago. I finished another little fun birdhouse project that I’ve tentatively titled “Thrasher.”  I started doing a few “folk art” birdhouses a few years ago to use up some logs and branches that have been cluttering up my side yard for years. These were pieces of wood I couldn’t use for my instruments or carving, but I didn’t want to through them away. So, the idea came to create a few birdhouses to see if they sold. Little did I know that there are quite a few birdhouse collectors, so a couple of them sold right away. They’re fun pieces, and people really get a kick out of them.

Recently, I got into a research mood when I accidently came across a reference to the Trossingen lyre. The Trossingen lyre is a Germanic-style rote discovered in an 8th century grave (c. 785) in Trossingen, Germany. If was found being clutched by the body of a soldier. What made this find so exceptional is that the instrument had hardly any decomposition. It is the most Trossinger Lyre-drawing2 complete instrument of that type and from that period of any yet found. All other lyre discoveries so far have been highly decomposed. None of my early music magazines or online resources ever mentioned the 2002 find, which came just one year after the English Prittlewell discovery, so I just had to keep searching to find out all I could about it.

Well, I did find a poorly translated (from the German) preliminary report on the lyre. It gave most, but not all, of the dimensions, types of wood used, and distinguishing features, like the use of sound holes and leather strap hooks. It was enough to allow me to draw up my own plans. There are a couple of luthiers in England who have already made copies, but I really want to make my own, as close as possible to the original as I can. More news on this as it progresses.

Meanwhile, time to think a little, carve a little, and create a lot. No fog. Onward anyway.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Barbara Allen

“In Scarlet town where I was born,
There was a fair maid dwellin'
Made every youth cry Well-a-day,
Her name was Barb'ra Allen.”

The other day I completed another Mountain dulcimer in my Folk Legends series, Barbara Allen. She’s black walnut, with a walnut and pine fingerboard and maple tuning pegs. Even though most of my dulcimers have upside down heart soundholes, they are more Dulcimer-Barbara Allen3-72significant in their representation of “hard-hearted Barb’ra Allen”.

The song, “Barbara Allen, has been played since at least the 1600s. One of the earliest references to it is in one of Samuel Pepys Diaries in 1666, calling it the “little Scottish tune”. There are countless versions of Barbara Allen, some called Barb’ry Ellen, Barbara Ellen, and Bonny Barbara Ellen. Its origins are somewhere in the British Isles, and both Scotland and England both claim it. The author is unknown. Other versions are found as far afield as Italy and Scandanavia, but there are over 98 versions found so far in Virginia alone. In the late 1800’s, Francis J. Childs compiled and published several volumes of folk music sung in the British Isles. Often, even today, old ballads and folk music is described as Child Ballad number such-and-such.

Dulcimer-Barbara Allen-detail3-72Barbara Allen is Child Ballad #84. For lyrics, and a MIDI example of the music, go to For lyrics to three different versions, mainly Scottish, go to My lead-in first verse above is the start to the most common version, made famous by Joan Baez on one of her first albums in 1960-61. Here are first verses to three other versions that show not only age, but possible location of origin.

Version 1:
IT was in and about the Martinmas time,
When the green leaves were a falling,
That Sir John Graeme, in the West Country,
Fell in love with Barbara Allan.

[Martinmas-St. Martin’s Day, around 1st week in November][West Country, the far western peninsular region of England, ending with Penzance]

Version 2:
IN SCARLET TOWN, where I was bound,
There was a fair maid dwelling,
Whom I had chosen to be my own,
And her name it was Barbara Allen.

[Scarlet Town is not a town, now, but might have been then. This was a place where cloth was dyed. The city of Lincoln was one such place where cloth of scarlet and green were dyed in medieval times.]

Version 3:
IT fell about the Lammas time,
When the woods grow green and yellow,
There came a wooer out of the West
A wooing to Barbara Allan.

[Lammas today is August 1st. In medieval times, and up into the Renaissance, Lammas was celebrated around the end of July or the beginning of August. It was a time for the early harvests, fairs, and markets. Baking bread from the first wheat harvest on Lammas Day was a custom, and still is with some Christian cultures.]
[West. Again, West Country, or perhaps Wales]

Back in our West Country

I’ve made quite a few dulcimer ancestors and “hybrid” dulcimers this last year, but it’s been well over a year since I made my last Mountain dulcimer, Matty Groves, which was another in the Folk Legends series. Other Folk Legends dulcimers I’ve made and sold in the past are Lily of the West, My Creole Belle, Ol’ Black Joe, and Anna Thea. Examples of these carvings are in the book, “Ronald Cook, Craftsman”, by Stella Sexmith. (Available through me, or you can order through booksellers. Ask for ISBN #9 780615 275796.)

On my bench about 75% carved is the headpiece for my next Mountain dulcimer, “The White Lady”. This will be part of my mythological series of dulcimers. The name refers to a type of female ghost that legend says appears in rural areas, and who is supposed to have died or suffered trauma in life. White Lady legends are found around the world. Common to many of them is the theme of losing or being betrayed by a husband or fiancĂ©. They are often associated with an individual family line, as a harbinger of death.  The Irish Banshee is one such White Lady. (Maybe I’ll have it done for Halloween. Br-r-r.)

Show Time!

Coming up this weekend, August 14-16, I’ll be exhibiting at the American Craft Council Show at Fort Mason, San Francisco. (Booth 729.) Two weeks later, over Labor Day Weekend, I’ll be at the Sausalito Art Festival. (Booth 121.) I probably won’t be able to update this blog until after I get back. However, I should have several photos to share of both shows.

Anyway, onward, yes, through the fog.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Baulines Craft Guild at Garry Knox Bennett’s

It was an exciting weekend! My wife and I were invited to spend Sunday afternoon in Oakland at the home and studio of woodworking legend Garry Knox Bennett and his wife, Sylvia. This was a party to benefit the Baulines Craft Guild, which I am a Master member of, and Garry is an honorary member. Also in attendance were many other Baulines members as well as their guests. SCWs with Garry Knox Bennett-72

Three of the Santa Cruz Woodworkers, all Baulines Master Members, were there. In the photo, from left to right, are me (Ron Cook), Garry Knox Bennett, Roger Heitzman, and Michael Singer.

Over the 50+ years Garry has been creating his artwork, he has amassed a fine collection of furniture Art Carpenter desk-GKB chairand artwork by many well-known crafts people and artists. This photo is an iconic desk design by one of the founders of the Baulines Craft Guild, Art Carpenter. The chair is, of course, by Garry Knox Bennett.

It was a wonderful Sunday afternoon. Meeting Garry was an honor, and he and Sylvia were incredibly generous to open their home and studio to the Baulines Craft Guild and their guests. Their warmth and good nature made for a good time had by all.

Meanwhile, back in the studio:

All of the mini hog-nose psalteries are done. (Whew!) Finishing them up all at the same time was three day process. Putting 105 strings of 7 Six Mini Psalteriesinstruments took a lot of wrist action. I only strung up two instruments at a day to save my wrist. It was a lot of work, but they all turned out sounding very good and with a lot of resonance.

Birdhouse-Howdy Taking a break from my “Sound Sculptures,” I took a little time to carve another of my “folky” birdhouses. I haven’t settled on a  name for it yet, but it’s a fun little piece made from salvaged poplar and birch logs and branches.

It may be a while before my next update. In two weeks I’ll be at the American Craft Council Show in San Francisco (Fort Mason), then over Labor Day Weekend, I’ll be at the Sausalito Art Festival. (Follow the links for more info.)

Onward through the fog…

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One Down, Six to Go!

The pile of mini hog-nose psalteries is slowly going down. I finally completed the first of the seven, have four more to polish, and two just getting their first coatings of tung oil. Whew! 

First mini done The mini hog-nose psaltery I finished yesterday is the one that’s larger than the others. It’s a full 2 inches wider, so it has longer string length and a bright resonating tone. The top and back are ziricote, which is a highly figured hard wood found in Central America, from Southern Mexico to Belize. I usually don’t use exotic woods, unless they’re salvaged, but I bought this beautiful stuff around 15 years ago thinking I’d use it on a guitar. (I stopped making guitars nearly 8 years ago.) The frame, bridges, and binding are maple. I’ll be recording some sound clips after I complete a few of the standard-size mini psalteries. I also plan to try stringing one with brass and perhaps another with gut, just to hear what they’ll sound like. If I’m happy with the sound, I’ll also record them.

Meanwhile, in the shop:

Clamping bridges on last miniI glued the bridges on the last of the seven mini hog-nose psalteries the other day.



Hung out to dryYesterday, I put the last coat of tung oil on four more of the mini psalteries. Today, I put the first coat on the last two.



Busy workbench

Waiting in the wings are several other instruments in the middle of construction or nearing completion. My newest dulcimer, which is nearly done, is “Barbara Allen”. She’s all black walnut with a pine and black walnut fingerboard. Her pegs, which still need carving, will be maple. In the background in the above picture is the “Chapter House Portative Organ”. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the pipes are done and voiced, but not yet tuned. The body is together, but I still need to carve the tall side walls. Not in the picture is another instrument based on the Chapter House wall paintings, the “Chapter House Harp”. There has been a lot of carving to do on it, and there’s still more. It’s taken a long time to finish it up. One of these days…

In the back of my mind are several ideas for new instruments and sound sculptures. (That’s probably why I have a headache.) However, I really need to finish most everything that’s in process before starting on something new. But who knows? I might just have to jump right into working on one of those ideas right away. Anything’s possible. As I always say, “onward through the fog.” (Or, as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, “it’s always something.”)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Psaltery after psaltery after psaltery…

I finally completed the third and final Hans Memling-style hog nose psaltery. Where my others had 21 to 22 strings spaced approximately 5/8” apart, Memling #3 has 29 strings at 1/2” apart. It is a full 4-octave diatonic instrument. Because of the high Memling3-b-72tension of the strings, I used steel strings instead of nylon. It has a very full rich tone and is capable of being played in all the modal scales. It has a salvaged redwood top and black walnut back. The rosettes are maple and black walnut. As I mentioned, this is another psaltery Angels Making Music-Hans Memling-lowbased on the painting by Hans Memling, “Angels Making Music”, the image is a detail of the full altar painting, which is quite wide and narrow and looks almost like medieval Cinerama. Because this is a Flemish painting, the detail is quite exquisite. You can actually count the strings on most of  the instruments. I haven’t made plans, yet, to do any other instruments depicted in the painting.

One psaltery down, seven more to go. Or rather, seven smaller ones to go.

My mini hog-nose psalteries have been very popular for several years, and I completely sold out in 2008. Also in 2008, I picked up quite a bit of salvaged lumber and sale pieces from my local Mini-Hog-Nose gluedhardwood dealer, so I ripped and cut enough last week to put together seven more of the little instruments. It’s taken a few days, but I now have all of the frames made and the backs sanded and glued on. My small workshop was wall-to-wall psalteries yesterday.

Meanwhile, I have another dulcimer about ready to sand down and complete—probably in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

Yes, it’s been very foggy. Onward through it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Making Sawdust

There are times when I feel I make more sawdust than crafts. That may be true or not, but I do fill up the dust filters and containers every once in a while. At least I use it for compost.

The Summer Solstice is here, and the weather is almost Summer-like. It’s been in the 70’s off and on for a few days, a little windy, and dry. Actually, it’s good weather for putting finishes on instruments, which I started doing on the new Hans Memling psaltery.


Just yesterday I did the last step of assembly on the Memling: gluing the bridges. This is a time-consuming process due to the amount of preparation. I first have to place the bridges and temporarily clamp them, then use painter’s tape to mask the areas next to the bridges so glue won’t smear or leak on to the soft redwood top. A small bit of glue on the redwood would show as a light spot when the finish is applied. Today, with the glue set and the weather so nice, I did a final light sanding and cleaning and started applying tung oil. I’ll put on 3 or 4 coats, then it will be ready to polish, put on the pins and pegs, string it up, and play away.

On the other side of the shop (actually, a few feet to the left), I’m working on Barbara Allen, my new black walnut Mountain dulcimer. It’s another hour-glass shaped instrument in the style of the J. Edward Thomas dulcimer I saw at the Smithsonian many years ago. However, this one is a little larger than my other designs. The larger size allows for a little more volume.

Last week I steam bent the dulcimer sides and clamped them in Bending form-72one of my bending forms for a few days. While the wood was drying, I built a new assembly form for the larger dulcimer size out of old MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard). When I finished it, I transferred the sides from the bending form to the assembly form. Within two days,

Glue kerf strips-72 I prepped and glued the head and tailpiece to the sides and started gluing in the kerf strips (lining on the side edges that add gluing surface for the top and back).

Meanwhile, instead of watching the glue dry, I started cutting wood (making more sawdust) for several new mini hognose Mini-hognose-frames72 psalteries. Up to last year, I had several in stock, but after the 2008 show season, I had none. They are popular and easy to play, so it’s time to make some more. Seven more.

The “Chapter House Portative Organ” is now on the back burner for a short time until I can obtain some leather felt custom made specifically for the tracking systems on organ pipes. While I’m waiting, I’ll finish up the Memling psaltery and “Barbara Allen.”

No fog outside right now, but onward through it anyway.




Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hans Memling is alive and well…

Uh… well he was 500 years ago. I’m referring to my Hans Memling inspired hog nose psaltery, which is number 3 in a series of three. Hans Memling painted a very detailed altar piece called “Angels Making Music”, in which many of the heavenly winged-ones are playing a lot of the instruments of the time, including a very graceful hog nose psaltery. The first one I Working on Memling3_edited-1created several years ago and was sold to someone who fell in  love with its design and harp-like tone. I started numbers 2 and 3 earlier this year at the same time, but got side-tracked on to other projects after completing number 2. Well, I’m back to carving again, and finally finished the rosettes for number 3 and glued then onto the soundboard. It should be ready to finish and string up in a few more weeks.

Another pair of projects that have been sitting on my bench for an eternity (actually, a couple of months), are two more  Mountain dulcimers, one black walnut and one figured maple. Head carvingsI’ve had the head carvings for both at about 75% completion for months and today started working on them again. (I’ve had too many ideas for new works lately, and it’s kept me from continuing on my older projects.) I hope to have these two dulcimers finished by August.

Meanwhile, back at my organ…. I mean my Chapter House portative organ. This is one of those projects that’s kept me from working on the pieces I mentioned above, because I’ve done so much research and planning on it. It’s actually coming along Organ sides ready to carve nicely, though, with all the pipes done as well as the pipe (wind) chest. I’ve cut and shaped the side pieces and laid them out with a Gothic design, so now they’re ready for my carving tools. I’ve also cut and shaped all the keys and the pallet pieces, which are the internal workings that control the air flow to the pipes. Whew! Lot’s of pieces.

Well, once again, onward through the fog. (It’s actually rather nice out right now, but the fog will be back in the morning.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Put that in your pipe…

Fog, fog, and more fog. It’s been cool, breezy, and there’s been very little sun for over a week. Time for a change.

Well, there are changes in the shop. Projects are proceeding, little by little,and they do seem to be getting done. I’ve finished all the Pipes in processnew pipes for my Chapter House Portative Organ and voiced them so they all have a nice, recorder-like sound. They still need to be tuned yet, and that will take a little time. Next I need to make the keys and all the interior mechanics. That has to be done just right so no air escapes and only goes through the pipes. Then there’s the bellows. I have several pieces of thin leather for the bellows, but I still need to come up with an efficient design. I have some reference material that shows how to build bellows, but they’re more for the larger organs than Rosettes in processsmall portable ones.

My second Memling Hog Nose Psaltery is kind of on the back burner, while I’m working on the organ, but I am finishing up the pierced rosettes that I’ll soon mount behind the soundholes.

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Sam Maloof. I was fortunate to have met this very friendly, wonderful man at the Sam Maloof-April-2005Good Wood show, April of 2005, at the Pasadena Museum of  California Art. Sam was a juror for the show and had accepted one of my mandolins to be on display. I took this picture of Sam as he was trying out a chair made from a roll of newspapers and some twigs. (He actually said it was comfortable.)

We will all miss him.



…and onward through the fog.













Monday, May 18, 2009

The Pipers are Comin’ (again)

Heat. Cold. Heat. Cold. Mother Nature can’t seem to set her thermometer to the right temperature yet. We just had three beautiful warm days, in the 70s and 80s here (90s to 100s over the hill), and today the fog came in and it didn’t get up past 55.

I’m in the process of finishing up another of my “Memling” psalteries. Today, I polished the first of two and got it ready so I can start stringing it up, which I’ll do tomorrow. I want to have it all done for the Santa Cruz Art League 90th Birthday Art Fair this Me at SCAL-Art previewMemorial Day Weekend, May 23-24 (10-6pm each day). That’s me in the photo at the Art Fair Preview section of the Art League 90th Birthday reception with my newly completed small medieval-style harp.

One of my “long-term” projects, which is my final “Chapter  House” instrument, is a portative pipe organ. I’ve been working on test pieces for over a year now, and got several wood pipes of both hard and soft woods to make sweet “tooting” sounds. A few months ago, I found a self-published booklet on how to make small portative pipe organs. I purchased it and immediately started re-thinking my own designs.

Gluing pipesI’ve now started on a complete new organ, in, of course, the medieval style, with 16 pipes tuned in a diatonic (major) scale. The pipe block (on the left in photo) is cut and sanded and laid out for drilling. I’m making new pipes (in clamps in photo), using the measurements from the book I got, all out of thin pieces of maple.

I do have a few other projects going (actually, 4 or 5), so the pipe organ will be filling in time as the glue or finish dries on my regular stringed instruments. However, I do want to have it completed before the year is over.

If any readers of this blog are in Santa Cruz on Memorial Day Weekend, stop by the Santa Cruz Art League’s 90th Birthday Celebrations and Art Fair, 526 Broadway, Santa Cruz. It’s just off Ocean Street, which is the main drive to the Beach and Boardwalk Amusement Park. I’m in Booth #1.

Again, onward through the fog.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Harping on It a Little

Whew! After a few weeks of rain and cold that kept me out of my partially-heated studio for most of the time, we’re now experiencing our more typical May weather of sun, some fog, and some warmth. (Warm in Santa Cruz is anytime the temperature is over 65 degrees.) The warmer days make it better for glues to set well and for finishes to dry more efficiently.

Because of the nice days, I was able to finally finish the small, medieval-style harp I’d been trying to complete for the last month. It is approximately 75% salvaged wood. The back is coopered, like old wooden barrel and tank staves, and made from Harp-5 strips of poplar and black walnut. The soundboard, post and peg “beam” are maple.  I call it “Mercury, The Winged Messenger.” It has 15 nylon strings, tuned diatonically, two octaves, in a C-major scale.

The poplar came from a friend who had been contracted to remove the tree, and he gave me several good two foot long logs that I milled and let dry a few years. The black walnut strips and binding are all scrap from previous projects. The maple soundboard is also scrap. I re-milled some small pieces of maple to 1/8 inch thick, and glued it top-to-bottom, so the grain runs horizontally. Harp-head1

Just yesterday, I finished a small stand so the harp can be displayed upright. Actually, I finished it just in time to take everything to the Santa Cruz Art League to put on display for the 90th Birthday show and Art Fair, May 23 and 24th. I’ll be exhibiting at the Art Fair in Booth 1. Hope to see you all there!

Warm weather beckons. Time to head back to the studio.

Onward through the fog!