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Old 07-09-2011, 08:46 AM
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Poto Poto is offline
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Location: San Diego, CA
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Default What I did on my summer vacation...

You may have noticed that I didn't post much for two weeks, ending last weekend. I was fortunate enough to be on vacation - Sharon and I got 8 blissful days by ourselves at my parent's cabin ("The Shack") in the woods north of Toronto.

I had been very impressed and inspired by that Japanese video of the giant xylophone that played Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring in the woods, using a ball rolling down the xylophone to strike the keys:

YouTube - ‪Lights Out.Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring,Touchwood SH-08C‬‏

So I decided to make my own in the woods around The Shack. I decided to limit myself to the tools available at the shack: axe, splitting maul, 2 wedges, small hammer, Japanese saw, 3/4" chisel, really crappy Mastercraft block plane, some nails, Japanese sharpening stones.

I decided to have it play a 7-note arpeggio that is our family's whistle, handed down from generation to generation (I'm at least the 3rd - maybe 4th generation). It's really helpful for finding people in crowds (we're short people). If you know solfeggio, the tune would go "soh soh soh mi mi mi doh".

The first issue was making some boards to support the keys, and some keys. I decided to make the boards by splitting a 4 foot cedar log. I used the axe, splitting maul, wedges and hammer to split the log in half, and then into quarters. Each quarter was triangular in cross section. I then took the two straightest quarters and flattened them into long boards by planing off the wide-end corners, and planing them to the same dimensions. That took about 2 days....

Here are the leftovers of the board making:



The leftover quarters are near the top of the picture.

I needed something to hold the wood while I worked it with the plane and chisel, so I improvised a work bench:



It was the stump - about 2.5 feet across - of an old cherry tree that had been cut down. I hammered big galvanized nails into it to act as bench dogs. It was quite liberating not worrying about ruining the surface of the bench! It worked really well. Way better than some expensive Roubo...

I made the keys out of a maple branch that I split lengthwise into half-rounds. I tuned them by cutting them to length, and tapping them with a stick to hear what note they were playing. They made a lovely "tock" sort-of sound.

I then cut a staircase pattern in the two support boards to take the keys. I was worried about how fast the ball would roll down the ramp, but I didn't have time (or the wood) to experiment much. I then mounted the two support boards between two small maple trees up the hill behind The Shack:



I mounted the keys by drilling holes through the keys into the supports (I forgot to mention that I had a set of drill bits and a big brace - the bits DID NOT fit in the brace. It was quite a challenge...). I then put a bamboo skewer through the hole into the support to hold the key steady. I could still resonate, but wouldn't fall off.



The top key has a little "V" cut into it to locate the ball at the start. I was stumped about what to play the keys with, until I saw a bunch of used golf balls at the village hardware store - 12 for $0.99. Good deal - I got 4.

I mounted the whole thing to the trees with 4 long nails, which I left sticking out of the boards. That allowed me to pull a nail out to give some adjustment to the height and angles of the boards. That way I could make sure that the ball rolled down the center. Sort of.

Okay. Here's a video of the whole thing. Sharon was rolling the ball, and it happened that she was in a bad mood at the time (we were about to leave - the end of our vacation, and I had made her walk up the hill in her Berkenstocks...), so the balls didn't get released quite as gently as one might have liked. But you can get an idea of what was supposed to happen...


The second ball is probably the best one.

My admiration for the gigantic Japanese xylophone kept growing. Controlling the ball speed requires some very precise angles, which I could not achieve.

I'll have to try again next summer...
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I don't have as many Festools as Fred. Or Marcou's, or Brese's, or Lie-Nielsen's, or Lee Valley's, or Blue Spruce's, or Harold and Saxon's, or...

Last edited by Poto; 07-09-2011 at 08:52 AM.
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