Building a pedal board

In order to play organ music, a pedal board is pretty much required. Without a strong bass line, the organ will sound weak. And you shouldn’t add 16 foot ranks to the manuals – that produces an awful growling.

There are some alternatives out there. But just a few companies makes pedal boards suited for a huge pipe organ. Depending on which standard you’ll shoot for, pedal boards usually has 30 or 32 notes. As far as I know, the european standard is 30 notes, while US standard dictates 32. Personally, I went with 32 notes. I believe that it is better to do it now, than to be sorry later for not having the full compass.

A good pedal board radiates as well as it is concave. This means that the pedals is spread out in a fan-like form in front of you, and the center pedals is lower than those on both edges. This makes it easier when you play, since the distance to each key remains about the same. The radiation prevents twisting of the foot when you play the highest or lowest notes.

This is the AGO (American Guild of Organ builders) standard pedal board:

And that’s what I am going to build.

Starting out

My initial plan was to build the framework and the main parts of the pedals from plywood. Cheap, strong and very little chance that the pedals will be bent out of shape over time. I planned to add solid wood on top of the pedals to get a nice and strong playing surface. This turned out to be a bad idea, but it gave me valuable experience none the less.

I started out by cutting 64 strips from plywood, then I glued them together to form one pedal.

I used clamps and two L-shaped metal profiles to get a good pressure on the parts. I used regular wood-glue for this. By doing it this way, you get a VERY strong bond. One pedal can easily support the weight of one person – even us who are a bit padded…

This is a quick setup that I did to visualize how this will look. And believe me – I got really exited just from the look of it! Keeping motivation high is important when you do projects like this.

At this point it became clear that I didn’t cut the pieces correctly – most of the pedals looked like a banana! I could’ve solved this relatively easy, but it would take a long, long time. Too much work, and I started to doubt that this was a very smart idea in the long run.

By doing a little research (that means: actually going to a store that have hardwood in stock), I found that the cost of all-wood pedals made from hardwood didn’t cost as much as I thought (as a matter of fact, about the same!). I gave up on the plywood idea, and went for the all-wood approach.

I purchased a bunch of planks made from Ramin (toxic, can irritate skin and eyes and cause asthma attacks. Keep the dust under control!). This is an easy-to-work-with hardwood with a clean and beautiful surface. I got the wood cut at the store, in lengths of about 90 cm.

I  straightened the sides with a plane, then I cut the planks with my band saw (use hardwood saw bands, or it takes a looong time to do just one pedal!). Then I used the plane to smooth the sides:

After a lot of work and sore hands (if you’re not a carpenter, use gloves…), I had finally made 32 pedals and 19 top-pieces.

The pedals consist of two parts: the base and the playing surface:

In the picture above, one octave of the pedal board is laid out to demonstrate the concept. The next step is to use a huge electric plane (table model), and then a thicknesser (kind of an electric planer) to get the correct dimension on all the pedal parts.

As a little motivation, I placed all the pedals on the previous rig to get an idea – now with all the pedals in place:

This gives a good idea what we’re talking about! This was a very good moment – and things are starting to evolve here.

Update 02.11.2008

All the pedal parts are now ready for assembly. By using a planer / thincknesser, all the parts have the same dimensions. This could be done by hand, but it would’ve taken me a VERY long time to get right – the power tools took only two hours… Here’s a pile of pedals and playing surfaces for the naturals:

I also ran some Ramin planks through the planer / thicknesser so that I could make the concave parts of the framework:

I cut the piece with my band saw, smoothed the cuts and sanded everything off to a smooth finish. I used sanding paper grit 60 and an electric oscillating sander for this. The result is smooth, yet rough enough for the varnish / lacquer to adhere.

For the base of the frame, I intend to make a “ladder” from square steel tubes. I will get them welded together and then mount the rest of the frame to the “ladder”. This way, the “ladder” will carry everything and be a stable and strong foundation for the pedal board I plan to add rubber feet to the frame to protect the floor under it.

The two white pieces are the steel tubes running front to back. I cut grooves for the tubes in the front and back concave parts of the frame. I will add two “steps” in the “ladder”, one step underneath each concave parts. This will stabilize and strengthen the thinnest part of the curved pieces.

I’ve mentioned this earlier, but it can’t be said enough: It is important to keep your motivation up, and to get an idea on what the end result will look like. This enables you to think ahead and plan for unforeseen obstacles. I placed all the pedal parts on the frame to get an idea on what it will look like. I tried as best as I could to get the correct spacing – at least as good as eye-balling it could get me! 🙂

Here you can get an idea on the concavity. To the right, the playing surfaces of the naturals are placed roughly in the
correct place (they form a circle with a radius of 8 feet 6 inches at the back, 9 feet at the front).

In the picture above, my trusty band saw is in the back. Fantastic piece of power tool! Make sure you buy a high-quality one…

The base of the pedals is probably a bit too thin – about 20mm. Should I’ve done this over, they would be 30 or 40 mm in height, for strength. But since this pedal board is intended for home use, I doubt I will ever break a pedal. Another reason for thicker pedals is that it will be easier to eliminate twisting or sideways rotation. My plan is to use the playing surfaces to aid this – by letting them extend to the tip of each pedal.

As you can see in the image above, the pedals are too long. I found that it was a wise choice to do that, because you’ll always get some of them with cracks or other faults. This way, I can use the best parts of each pedal.

I am not sure whether to use two guide pins, one on each side of each pedal, or to make a “fork” at the front of each pedal and let the pedal slide on one single guide pin. I will have to investigate this when I figure out the exact placement of each pedal.

To make the toe boards at the front and back of the pedal board, I will laminate plywood to form the concavity of the pedal board To do this, I purchased some huge pinewood floor beams and cut them to shape:

The process is fairly simple: Place a sheet of plywood on the templates, add glue, then another sheet of plywood, glue and so on until you finish with the top sheet of plywood (which of course won’t have any glue on top of it). Then press the plywood into the template by placing the upper parts of the template on top and press together. Use a lot of strong clamps to press everything tightly together. When the glue has hardened, the plywood will stay in the shape forever. Then all there’s left to do is to cut the shape, sand off and varnish.

Update 10.11.2008

I’ve made the hinges at the back of the pedals. I got some pieces of stainless steel sheets cut to size (20x150mm). I made a “template” from a scrap piece of wood by drilling the holes at the correct positions, and used a screw to mark the alignment:

All I needed to do was to place the template in the vice so that the hole in question lined up with the drill bit. From there, it was 32 x 3 times “press for instant hole”:

After all the holes were drilled, I grinded the pieces to a smooth surface:

I marked the placement and pre-drilled the screw holes to prevent the pedals from cracking:

I made one pedal as a template, and used it to adjust the placement of the hinges. Here’s a shot of the template and all the pedals:

And after a lot of work, this was the result:

I also drilled the hole for the screw that will fasten the pedals to the aft frame. Initially, I didn’t plan to have that much “overhang” on the hinges, but as it turned out it was for the best. More on that later.

The next job is to screw all the pedals to the framework in order to mark the exact placement of each pedal on the foremost frame.

The idea to use a steel plate as the hinge came from Raphi Giangiulio’s organ. He reports that this method improves on lateral stability and the overall “feel” on the pedals. The only drawback is that the pedals won’t be strong enough to stand on, but there’s really no need for doing that, I think. At least not on my organ.

After a LOT of hours in the workshop, this project is now well under it’s way. The best part? I can already see how it’s going to be, and when the pedals are finished and hooked to my Hauptwerk computer, I’ll be instantly rewarded. How nice is that?

Update 11.11.2008

You’ve got to have good knees and a strong back – if you’re tight on space! I had to use my living room to get the placement of the pedals right. I made a tool to mark the different arcs (I used it to mark the concavity on the frame as well). One end has a hole for a bolt, the other end has three holes where I can insert a pencil:

This way, it is simple to mark the three main arcs on the pedal board: the front and aft end of the total playing surface, and the aft end of the sharps (viewed from the player’s position).

Each pedal should “meet” at a point 9 feet from the front of the sharps. On the image above to the right, you can spot the markings where the sharps will be placed. The distance between each natural (for example C-D, D-E) is 2.5 inches (6,35mm). This measurement should be from the center of each pedal, but you can simply measure from one side of, say, pedal C1 to the same side of the D1 pedal (C1 being the leftmost pedal). Each octave should be 17.5 inches (44,45mm) – this distance must be maintained.

A quick run-through of the measurements (32 note compass, CCC to G, AGO standard):

(8’6″ means eight feet and 6 inches)

  • Concavity: 7’6″ to 8’6″(both at the front and at the back – i used 9′, but I’ll go with it anyway)
  • Radiation: 8’6″ to 9’6″ (i went for 9′)
  • Length between toe board and heel board (or playing surface of the naturals): 27″
  • Length of playing surface of sharps: 6.5″
  • Height of sharps above naturals: 1″ at player’s end, 1.5″ at the other end (foremost)
  • Width of playing surface: 7/8″ to 15/16″ (I used 22mm)
  • Radius of curve of sharps: 8’6″ at players end, 9′ at the other end (foremost)
  • Depth of touch: 0.5″ at the front line of sharps.
  • Weight of touch: 2.5 to 3 pounds
  • Point of speech: midway between top and bottom of travel of the pedal key
  • Placement in relationship to the keyboard:
    • centered under the manuals, middle E is in the center
    • 29.5″ from playing surface of keyboard to the top of the middle E
    • Front to back: Pedal DD# (or D2#) front end (at players end) 8.5″ to 10″ from plumb line dropped from the front edge of keys on the lowest keyboard for 2 or 3 manual organ. 11″ for a 4 manual organ.

After a back- and knee-breaking evening on the living room floor, this was the result:

Since I didn’t want to mount the pedals with screws just yet, I bent 32 nails and secured the pedals to the frame by putting a nail through the hinge and into the screw holes of the aft frame. The middle E is placed at the center of the pedal board, so this will be your starting point. I laid out all the pedals in relation to the middle E and marked the position on the front of the frame. The holes for the screws at the back of the pedals is placed 26mm apart. This distance is not really important. The most important is to keep the distance between each pedal equal throughout the pedal board in front of the sharps, since this is the playing area.

This start to look GOOD! The next job is to adjust the framework (as you can see, the metal support bars are placed way too wide). I will raise the back of the pedals about 20mm. to get a slope downwards to the front of the pedals. Initially, I thought I could use one metal dowel on each side of the pedals. This won’t work since there’s not enough space. Instead, I’ll use one dowel through the center of each pedal. When the frame is done, I’ll get on with that job – not a good idea to do it before the distance between the two concave frame parts is set for good…

As mentioned earlier, the naturals will be topped with a piece of Ramin wood. The sloping playing-thingy’s on the sharp keys will be made out of Ramin as well. All the playing surfaces will be mounted using wood dowels and glue.

That’s it for today. Now I’ll go play some organ!

Update 12.12.2008

I’ve purchased some musical wire (piano wire), gauge 2.38mm (0.094″) to make the pedal springs. I made a simple tool for the process, based on Raphi Giangiulio’s idea. Slightly modified, and it worked like a charm.

The tool is made from Ramin leftovers. I think it is necessary to use hardwood because of the forces involved making the springs. It would be bad to wreck the tool in the middle of the process…

The wire is held in place between two washers. You might spot a piece of piano wire going into the tool at two places. I placed one piece above the fastening bolt that tightens the washers. This gives an even pressure on the wire being bent, preventing it from getting loose. The other piece is placed between the washers and the round wooden piece. It’s mission is to prevent the wire from being bent out of shape in the process, and gives a straight “leg” on the spring.

The round, wooden part I made from Ramin as well – I used a “cup saw”, which is kind of a cup-formed saw with a drill bit in the middle (often used by electricians and plumbers).

The other arm on the tool has a steel screw inserted. I cut the head off to get a “pin”. NB! That particular part must be very strong! It carries all the force while bending the spring, and we’re talking about a lot of force on that pin!

All I had to do to make a pedal spring was to turn the tool two revolutions (plus a little extra to adjust and make uniform springs). And this was the end result:

Voila! A pedal spring partially made! You might spot a pile of springs in the background.

I made one spring and tested it in a temporary setup I made. I found that the spring had perfect resistance, and I made all the other springs according to the template.

And here’s the end result:

(Sorry about the cigarette package…)

The long arm of the spring will be inserted into a hole in the foremost frame, and the short arm into a hole in the pedal. I will make a small slot in the pedal which the short arm will rest in, preventing the spring from twisting while playing.

Update 10.05.2009

Time flies! During the last couple of months, I haven’t managed to build anything. Work, stress and little motivation. Guess I’ve had the usual winter blues. 

However – the spring is here, and so is my energy and the motivation! I’ve spent a lot of time doing research and watching youtube videos. In addition, I’ve purchased the full version of Hauptwerk. I’ve tuned the Skinner organ so that the naturals and sharps comes from different side – the naturals on the left and the sharps on the right. This lifted the whole experience to a completely new level! You get more fidelity and spacious sound that way.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to building-wise:

I wanted to do a trial on the assembly of a pedal. I prepared the playing surface piece and the pedal (more on how I’m doing this further down), and glued everything together using a glue that expands a little when it cures – fills up any gaps and imperfections nicely. I used a lot of clamps, which helps keeping a straight and flush mounting. Even a slight curvature on one of the pieces will be straightened this way:

I also started on the top-pieces for the sharps. According to the AGO standard, the sharps should be one inch higher than the top of the naturals, and 1.5″ at the back (facing away from the player). The playing surface, or the top, should be six and a half inches long. How to get the correct measurements? Divide the piece in two: one square and a triangle for the top. Then use Pythagoras to figure out the measurements (remember? A^2^* B^2 = C2).

Here’s a couple of pieces that shows different stages during “production”:

The topmost piece shows the raw piece after cutting from the board. The top is planed to remove unwanted saw-marks and to make sure it is flat and at a 90° angle to the sides. In the middle, the edges has been rounded with a router and a rounding bit – just a tiny amount to help making the right curvature on the edges. The tip at the front is well rounded too. The brown piece shows the finished product (needs a few strokes of varnish/lacquer though). I’ve sanded the edges and rounded off the “nose” of the piece, so that my shoes will glide more easily over the sharps when playing – not good to have sharp edges where your feet are constantly getting stuck… I’ve added two layers of stain, and will add two layers of clear lacquer with UV-resistant components to prevent fading colors. The color is a blend between dark oak and walnut – the overall look is more walnut, I think.

Here’s two images of one octave with the sharps in place (Note the lighter color of the D, F, G and A sharps, as they have only one layer of varnish):

Looks great!

Mounting the playing surface to the naturals

The playing surfaces will be glued to the naturals using a glue that expands slightly during curing, filling any gaps and imperfections. Three wood dowels per pedal will help stabilize the pedal in addition to strengthen the bond between the playing surface piece and the pedal piece.

Here I’ve placed all the pieces and marked three positions for the wood dowels:

Then I used my caliper to mark the center of each pedal – using the sharp “knifes” on the back of the caliper is great for such jobs. Just press down into the material, then mark with a pencil afterwards so that is is easier to see the spot when you’re drilling holes:

Here’s a great little tool for marking the center of the holes in the bottom piece:

Just insert into the existing hole, align the playing surface with the bottom piece and press together. All three holes marked in no time! Then simply drill the holes in the bottom piece – the hole will be in the correct position according to the top piece. Note: unless the holes are spaced exactly the same distance from each other, the playing surface won’t mount both ways. Better decide which end of the playing surface goes where before the holes are drilled!

Then insert some wood dowels into the holes, check for alignment and you’re ready to break out the glue!

I am using 6x30mm dowels, thus the holes are 6mm wide. I drilled 15mm into the playing surface and 17mm into the bottom piece. That way, there is a little room for expanding glue on each end of the dowels. Should you find that the dowels are very snug, you might want to cut a slot in the dowels. This can be a pain-staking operation, so here’s my advice: Drill a couple of holes that the dowels will fit into (but not so snug that you can’t pop them out with your hands) along the side of a scrap piece of wood. Insert dowels into the holes and use your band saw to cut the slot in the dowels. Then replace the slotted dowels with un-slottet dowels, and repeat the process. Saves you a LOT of time – and possibly some fingertips…

The next step will be to cut the slot where the guide pin will fit into the tip of each pedal, then glue all the pedals. After that, I’m going to make the last sharps (bought less Ramin wood than I actually needed). When all the pedals are glued, I’ll sand them off and add two layers of clear lacquer with an anti-UV component to prevent aging and getting that nasty yellowish color over the years. Then there’s the frame, the mounting, the electronics… A lot of work, but I think it is safe to say I’m about half-way finished with the pedals. Can’t wait to play them! I’ve a couple of pieces I want to learn – the Boëllman Suite Gothique, Lefébure-Wély’s “Sortie” and a couple more. Dozens, actually… 

Update 23.05.2009

I’ve done quite a lot today. I drilled the holes for the wood dowels in the naturals and slotted the toe ends of each pedal. The tip of the pedal will slide over a steel dowel, which rides in that slot.

Messy business! I bought a plunge router and a router table – this makes it SO much more easy to get exact cuts! I used a straight 6mm router bit with cutting tip. I then ran the pedals over the router bit as shown in the image above. I used 5 passes, each time I removed about 5mm of material. It is NOT a good idea trying to do it all in one! You should always use your router in increments like that.

I pressed the pedal against the table and the guideboard, pushed the pedal forward to the correct depth (I marked the pedals where I wanted to stop the router), then – while keeping a firm pressure – dragged the pedal back until it was clear of the router bit. This resulted in very clean cuts. Since my router bit is too short to go through the whole pedal, I re-adjusted the guideboard and routed the pedals from the top side (flipped the pedals over).

As you can see, a very clean cut. Some light sanding and filing, and they’re ready. Here’s the whole lot:

Note the holes in the naturals (I haven’t worked on the sharps yet). you can also see the curve that follows the radiating pedals.

I wanted to visualize how things look so far, so I placed the pedals in their correct position on the frame parts I’ve made so far:

This turned out to be a very good idea, since I’ve made a mistake and marked two pedals D1 (note D in the first octave). I quickly figured out where I messed up, and re-positioned the pedals and re-labeled them. When doing projects like this, always test your setup throughout the process, so that you can spot errors and make adjustments before it is too late. By the way, three sharps are missing because I ran out of material when I made them. Haven’t done anything about it yet, since I’m not working on the sharps at the moment.

In the image above, the C# 1 has two layers of walnut/dark oak varnish. This is the color I’m going for. The naturals and the bottom part of the pedals will be lacquered with clear lacquer The frame will be made from oak, and varnished in the same color as the sharps. All the playing surfaces will have 5 or 6 layers of clear lacquer to protect them from wear and tear.

Here’s a shot down the sharp alley: 

In the image above, you get a better feel of the curvature of the pedal board I used some bent nails to keep the pedals in place – I didn’t want to use screws yet (too much work..). I am considering swapping the back hinges for thicker ones, as the ones I’m using now bends too easily. Another option is to make another frame part and mount it in front of the one you see in the image above. I will mount 5mm felt on the top of the new frame part so that the pedals can move slightly at the back. This might be an easier way to solve this issue. Anyway, it will be forbidden to stand on my pedal board! 

I want to say thank you to my friends over at the Crumhorn Labs forums and to a few guys I’m exchanging emails with. Thank you for your kind words, your encouragement and the good advices and ideas! This gives me motivation, and is in no way a small contribution to make my dream a reality. Which goes to show: any hobby tastes best when shared with others!

Thank you very much! I hope I’m able to motivate someone to do the same thing – if I can do it, so can you! I got a compliment stating that my level of craftsmanship is on a professional level. To that I can only say: Thank goodness I’m only using the camera on my cell phone when I’m working on this (there is NO WAY I’m going to bring my expensive Canon SLR into the workshop!). Masks all the errors nicely! I’m trying to be as accurate as I can, but since this is breaking new grounds for me, I can promise you this: There’s a LOT I would’ve done different if I knew then what I know now! Perhaps on pedal board Opus II…

Saying that, I must stress another thing: Buy. High. Quality. Tools! You do not need to invest in professional grade equipment, but spend a few bucks extra going from the cheapest piece of crap you can find to the “serious hobbyist” merchandise! That is – unless you really love to spend vast amount of time doing things over and over, sanding, adjusting and so on…

The next task is cleaning out the slots on all the pedals. Then I’m going to make the frame so that I can verify that everything is ready. After that, I’m going to make the rest of the sharps, varnish them and then start gluing the pedals to the playing surfaces. By then, it’s time to break out the clear lacquer and finish the pedals (can’t wait!). Then I’m going to build the case around the pedal frame. And from there? I’ll know it when I’m getting there. You can only plan ahead so much…

Update 27.05.2009

I had two mishaps with the router while cutting the slots in the toe end of the pedals – two pedals got a nasty dent in the slot because of lack of focus. Keep your focus and concentration while working with power tools! In the worst case scenario, you’ll get injured. In a not-so-bad-but-still-frustrating situation, the router is an unforgiving beast that tells you instantly when you mess up…

…which results in some extra work. I decided to cut away the wood at the same depth as the dent and fill in the cavity with a slice. I simply grabbed a scrap piece of wood, used my band saw to cut the slice and glued it in place, secured by a quick-made wedge. After the glue was cured, I used the band saw to cut away excess wood and smoothed down with a file and sandpaper. Almost invisible!

I also adjusted all the slots to exactly 7mm width, which seems to be a perfect fit for the guide pins (steel dowels) after I’ve glued some leather into the slots.

The next task was to round off the top of the naturals’ playing surfaces. I did this by routing with a rounding bit.

By adjusting the depth and running the cogwheel along the top of the playing surface, I got a very nice curvature on the playing surfaces. I also decided to make a 45° cut at the back:

Time to break out the file and the sanding paper. I removed the burnt wood (I used the router for the job. Not a good idea – use a table saw for such jobs! Oh, well…) and sanded the edges. By running the sanding paper across the piece while gradually working my way down the length of it, I got a very satisfying profile without any sharp edges. You need smooth edges on the pedal board so that your shoes / feet won’t get “caught” while playing.

I made two finished playing surfaces before I came to the conclusion that it would be MUCH more easy to do the sanding AFTER the playing surfaces was mounted to the pedals. So I grabbed the glue bottle and started the gluing process. I can only glue two pedals at once, so this process will take a while to finish. I’m going to continue work on the sharps’ playing surfaces and the frame, rounding off each evenings work with two more pedals being glued.

It has been a lot of work up till now, but that’s only to be expected while breaking new grounds like this (new ground for me, at least). Hopefully I’m documenting this process in enough details so that others may benefit from it. I will post a lot of measurements when the pedal board is finished to help you minimize the amount of wood you need for this.

Did you know that Champagne was discovered by accident? Seems like any accident or mishap can be a good thing in the end – when the router taught me a lesson about keeping my focus, I found a solution on how I can mount the reed switches for the electronics. I plan to make slices of wood, about 2mm thick, cutting a slot in them for height adjusting and then mount the reed switches onto the slices. Then the slices will be mounted to “something” with two screws, making height adjustment a breeze (which is crucial for adjusting the point of speech).

A quick note about the wood: Use hardwood. Oak, Ramin (which I use), poplar, beech, or other fine-grained hardwoods will do fine. If you have access to it, birch is a semi-hard wood which have a great structure that will be beautiful if you give it a slight varnish (honey-colored varnish will be stunning). Use several layers of lacquer intended for use on floors – this will keep your pedals nice for years!

I can clearly see the end of this project now (at least the pedal board part of it). I’ve decided to postpone work on the organ bench until I know the exact height of the pedal board You just can’t rush a project like this…

Update 31.05.2009

While the pedals get their playing surfaces glued on, I’ve continued work on the sharps and the frame. I can only glue two pedals at the same time, so naturally it will take some time since the glue have a 24-hour curing time. I am using a PVC glue that expands slightly during curing so that any gaps will be filled, resulting in a very strong bond. As a bonus, all the pedals will be completely straight because I clamp them to the workbench which is straight. This takes care of any uneven pieces that could result in bent or misshaped pedals.

I’m using clamps spaced evenly throughout the pedal. These clamps can produce up to 150 kg’s (330 lbs) of pressure force. More than adequate for such a job! I end each work-session with gluing two new pedals, so that I can use the workbench for other jobs during the time it takes for all the pedals to be glued.

I’ve also shaped, sanded and painted the sharps:

I bought some more ramin planks, and will get them adjusted and dimensioned so that I can make the last sharps.

Construction of the frame has commenced too. I’ve cut the curved front- and back pieces to their correct length, with the correct angle on the cut to match the angle of the side panels. I have abandoned the idea of a “steel ladder” and opt for a solution with two wood beams running along the gap between pedals EEE and FFF, and E and F (E and F in the lowermost and uppermost octave). This solution won’t interfere with the springs underneath the neighboring pedals, and will have a pleasant visual appearance too. I plan to add a board underneath each curved frame part, creating an L shape. This board will help keeping the pedal board straight, in addition to creating a perfect base for some rubber pads as floor protection. All in all, this should make for a very solid and reliable construction.

I placed the CCC, EE and G pedal on the frame to check for alignment and correct spacing between the front and aft curved frame piece. Notice that the CCC pedal has its playing surface mounted.

The wood beams and the curved frame pieces have “interlocking” cutouts, creating a very rigid bond when they’re mounted onto each other. The back frame piece., however, won’t have a cutout. Instead, it will rest in the cutouts on the wood beams. This will result in a downward slope on the pedals from the back to the front, which is essential to get the correct height difference between the naturals and the sharps when you’re playing.

As soon as I’ve got the newly bought ramin planks adjusted and made ready for use (and the oak side- and back panels are bought), the work on the frame should get a real leap forward. I’ve also spotted some material for the toe boards. I was thinking about using plywood, but wasn’t too thrilled about that since the edges would get an unwanted layer-look. I’ll investigate more on that.

Getting the correct width on the frame was a real milestone for me – finally, I could picture the end result! A great motivation for sure! And as I’ve stated many times over: visualizing along the way is essential – both for avoiding errors and to get a motivation boost.

As a personal side note, I can only recommend a project like this! It gives great pleasure watching the work of your own hands and mind come to life before you. I get a very good feeling when I see that my ideas and solutions is proven right – and I love the fact that I am learning woodworking along the way. I started out on this project with just basic skills – skills that almost everyone should have, given they’ve ever touched a hammer or a piece of sanding paper! Of course I have an advantage in some areas, since I’ve worked in a furniture shop for many, many years. Therefore I have some knowledge about which type of joints I should use for different areas, and some knowledge about wood (albeit very limited).

Nobody should be scared of doing something like this. If you set your mind, will and motivation to it, there’s very little you can’t do. In some cases, one might not have access to a workshop like I do – but that only means that you will have to create the drawings so that you can get someone to make all the parts for you. The assembly and the finishing is something you can do in your living-room (especially with the water based products available today).

Do not get me wrong – there’s NOTHING wrong with ordering plug-and-play products from Classic organworks or similar companies, and there is nothing wrong with their products. But think about the rewarding feeling you can have, playing some Bach, Vierne or Purcell on a pedal board you’ve made with your own hands!

Update 06.06.2009

I’ve done a decent amount of work today! I started by sanding the sharps for the final coat of brown varnish, and drilled holes for wooden dowels similar to the playing surfaces on the naturals.

I did a fair amount of work on the frame too. I decided to add a board underneath the front and aft curved piece in order to accomplish more sideways stability, gaining height above the floor and something to mount rubber or felt pads to for floor protection. This solution turned out great! The front and aft parts are now L-shaped. I installed wood dowels to give more strength to the joint – and the dowels will make sure the curved piece and the plank underneath line up perfectly when they are glued together. I also used the miter saw to cut the angled ends on the boards:

This tool is great for cutting exact angles. Just remember to secure the saw to the workbench, and to secure the wood to the saw. One hand clamps are fantastic tools! I use them all the time. Be sure to buy good quality ones, since the cheap products often doesn’t give you enough pressure – and they wear out fast.

As you can see: a very clean cut. You won’t have to do a lot of filing and sanding here…

Here’s an image of the aft part, showing the dowels:

I placed the dowels so that they do not interfere with the screws that hold the pedals. For the front piece, I stayed away from the areas where the steel guide pins will be fitted. I thought it would be a bad idea placing a wood dowel so that it would collide with any screw or guide pin – those better be mounted in uniform wood.

And in the image above, the aft L-shaped frame part is completed. I haven’t glued them together yet – I will only do that after I’ve finished off the frame parts. There’s always a modification or adjustment needed…

At this point, I needed to check whether my assumptions were correct. I therefore placed the frame parts on the floor and adjusted them so that they lined up perfectly:

As you can see, there’s two wooden beams running from the front to the aft portion. These beams are inserted into slots in the front curved piece, and will be secured by wood dowels, screws and glue. When the side panels are mounted, the frame will be very sturdy – I doubt there will be any sideways “play” in it!

Here’s a cross-section drawing of this setup:

And then I placed all the pedals on the frame to check how things are coming together:

Do I have to tell you that this was a remarkable milestone for me,
and that I was like a kid in a candy store?

The curvature is clearly visible.

In the above image, the radiation is very clear. Also note the slots in the front of each pedal.

Finally, you can clearly spot the L-shaped frame parts.

Folks, let me remind you how this pile of wood did look like before I started working:

I think I’ve earned the right to be very proud of myself at this point! I started with nothing but some measurements, some tools and what you see in the image above. I did not have any woodworking skills apart from the very basic – I knew how to use a file, how to drill a hole…

The feeling of accomplishment is great! The thing that matters most, however, is that my father is proud of me and what I’ve done. To get his approval – not in so many words, but there was no doubt when I looked at him while he studied the contrapment in the images above – means a lot to me! Dad, this is for you: If I become only half the man you are, I have done well!
At this point I probably should say that I also knows that he, deep inside, would like to have something similar!  Well – he now knows how to do it! 

Another milestone was reached just before I ended today’s work – I glued the LAST NATURALS!

19 naturals ready for the final sanding and adjusting! The sharps will be glued next, but they should take less time since I will be able to glue more than two at once.

The next on my list is to finish off the frame, cutting the steel guide pins and drilling their holes in the front frame part. After I’ve mounted everything together one more time, I am ready for the most boring part: varnishing and getting the desired finish. I’m also looking for some thin oak for the toe boards.

Update 08.06.2009

The support bars running from the aft L frame part to the front L frame part is finished – had to adjust a little here and there. I placed the frame on the floor and adjusted it so that everything was placed correctly. The next job will be to drill a few holes for wooden dowels, and the frame is ready for the sideboards.

I have glued seven of the thirteen sharps today – the rest will be glued tomorrow. Then all the pedals are ready for the last sanding before I break out the brush and the can of lacquer!

I started by drilling the holes in the pedals for the wooden dowels

I applied glue to the playing surface, which I also did with the naturals. That way, the glue gets exactly where it should, and not outside the playing surface area on the pedal – which means easier cleanup afterwards! Notice the “C#2” on the playing surface – you better mark all the parts so you know what goes where! Remember, all the pedals are different! I used the center marking tools on each playing surface which I mated to the individual pedal. I sorted the playing surfaces so that each group had the same form – I did not manage to form all the sharps exactly like each other, but I doubt anybody will notice – and it won’t matter anyway.

Here’s a shot of how an assembled sharp pedal looks like:

I used a single clamp to press the playing surface to the pedal during curing. This proved to be more than adequate:

Here’s a two images of all the sharp pedals, placed in the correct order:

The pedals looks like they are bent and warped, but that’s just because they rest on a pile of cutoffs, tools and other thingamabobs in the workbench. 

And finally a shot ca. directly above the sharps. The aft of the pedal was aligned in this image, so you can easily see the curvature on the sharps as well as the inverse curvature on the tip of the pedals. The sharps needs another coat of walnut/dark oak stain, and then they are ready for the lacquer

That’s it for today – Hopefully, I am writing in such a way that you can follow the progress – and hopefully, copy some of my ideas. Should you have any questions, just send me an email and I’ll give you the best answer I can.

I got an email from Alex, India, today. He asked me if it wouldn’t be a better idea to make the pedals from one single piece, and if the steel hinges won’t break due to metal fatigue.

By making the pedals in to parts, you will almost eliminate any twisting or warping of the pedals over time, as the wood dries, expand, contract and so on due to changes in humidity and temperature. In addition, should one of the playing surfaces be damaged, it is a LOT easier to replace the playing surface instead of making a new pedal. Should any of your pedals be out of alignment before you glue them, you can correct it by clamping two pedals on top of each other to a straight and level workbench. I experienced a few “bananas”, but all the pedals are now straight as a drill sergeant!

As for the hinges: I am considering swopping’em for thicker ones, but that is only because the ones I have now tends to bend easily. Should this be a problem I will exchange them for thicker ones – but I think they are good enough. Certainly not a big job to replace them, should I need to. The concern about breaking due to metal fatigue won’t be an issue for at least 20+ years. This pedal board will not be used as hard and as much as a “real” one in a church. Plus, the actual movement at the back is tiny. 70 cm forward, and the total movement will be just 18mm.

Onwards and upwards – at this point, I can see the end of this project clearly. A few weeks, and it should be finished…

Update 28.06.2009

Since the last update, I’ve cleaned up excess glue from all the pedals, sanded and given them the final shape. I’ve also done quite a lot of work on the frame – and I had a very good moment when I checked if the front and aft portion of the frame lined up center to center:

I placed the frame vertically so that the aft part could move freely from side to side. Then I placed a large square on top of it, checking if the center of the front and aft part lined up. This is the result:

It lined up within a millimeter! I am VERY pleased with this result, and it proves that working with accurate tools pays off in the end! If you apply metal-working accuracy to a wooden project, you can’t expect the end result to be 100% accurate – but you will get very close!

All I have to do is to fill in some gaps on the wooden thingy’s that runs from the aft to the front part of the frame, and the frame is ready for the side panels.

As for the pedals, I mentioned that I’ve sanded and shaped the pedals. I also “wet stained” them – this is a process that makes it much more easy to get a perfect finish in the end. I applied water with a sponge, making the wood grains raise from the surface (this happens when moisture is applied). The process goes as follows: Sand to a smooth surface (and hardwood will be VERY smooth, almost like metal!), apply water (do not soak), let dry. Repeat 1-2 times, and you are ready for the final finish (staining / lacquer).

In the image above, you can see that the leftmost pedal is drying up pretty quick. The sponge is not wet nor just moist. You should get a very thin “film” of water on the surface when doing this.

By wet-staining like this, you avoid a time-consuming job when adding lacquer The wood grains are “pre-raised”, so there should be very little sanding required after the first layer of lacquer And since water is free, you save on the amount of lacquer needed! If you do NOT wet-stain like this, you will have to sand off the first layer of lacquer almost completely to get a good finish without bumps.

I added the final coat of dark oak / walnut stain to the sharps after I glued the playing surfaces. By doing it this way, I got rid of some sanding marks from when I removed excess glue. I used masking tape to prevent the stain from messing up the finish of the pedals bottom piece. After a few coats of lacquer, the sharps are ready for installing the leather in the slots at the front, and they’re finished!

I decided to do a test to see if my ideas and calculations were correct in regards to the pedal action. I therefore mounted a steel dowel in the front frame part, mounted one pedal and added a spring to it to check how the pedal action will be.

I used a scrap piece of wood to mimic the toe board where the pedal will “rest” when not played.

In the picture above the pedal is depressed fully. The clearance between the spring and the “floor” is adequate, which was one of the primary concerns for this test. The spring is inserted 10mm below the top of the front frame part. This proved to give a very good “touch” on the pedal – not too firm, not too loose. I placed bits of leather under and over the tip of the pedal, and the rattling became much less audible. The planned 5mm felt should be perfect, I hope.

One week to go, and then I have summer vacation for 3 weeks. Hopefully the pedal board is finished by the end of the vacation! The testing of the pedal certainly gave me a solid kick in the rear to finish off this project. Can’t wait to play on the pedal board. I do not mean to brag about myself, but I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished here! I had no woodworking skills to speak of from before, but I’ve learned along the way. And hopefully proved that this is something that anybody could do, given access to a modest workshop and some tools. There’s a few things I would’ve done differently, but since this is plowing new grounds for me (and to some degree re-inventing the wheel), minor hiccups is accepted.

Update 11.07.2009

Summer vacation! Sadly, it started bad for me – the last week, I’ve been almost knocked out by some stomach problems, and have slept a LOT. Hopefully it’s over now, so that I can enjoy the beautiful weather. Some work has been done though.

I have painted / varnished all the sharps to their final color. All the pedals are now ready for the last sanding and clear lacquer.

I started by masking the main piece of the pedal so that I could paint the playing surface without ruining the rest of the pedal:

Just some household masking tape placed precisely along the edge of the playing surface. Then I could work with the paintbrush focusing only on getting the varnish evenly distributed.

After the varnish had dried and hardened, I removed the masking tape – and the result is perfect! A little fine adjustment by sanding paper, plus a very light sanding with extra fine sanding paper all over (to give the clear lacquer a surface it can “grab”), and the only thing left to do is to add a couple of layers with clear lacquer.

The playing surfaces will get 4-6 coats with clear lacquer in order to build up a wear-resistant finish.

I glued the curved front frame piece to its base, using wooden dowels to strengthen the bond (just like the aft curved frame piece). I used a lot of clamps for this:

As described on page 3 (at the bottom), each pedal is guided by a dowel pin at the front. The dowel pins runs in the slots I made on the front of each pedal. I used rods of 5.6mm (.22″) piano wire (musical wire) for this. I cut each dowel pin with an angle grinder with a cutting wheel, and formed each pin to the required length (I used 70mm) with the table grinder.

I made 33 pins – one extra in case I would do something wrong in the process. That’s one thing I’ve learnt: make at least one extra of every piece there are more than one of! One extra playing surface, one extra pedal… Should anything go wrong, you will have a spare piece ready to go. And it is MUCH faster making an extra piece while your tools are set up, than making a single piece later on!

I grinded each pin to the correct length (most was off by .5mm or more due to the eye-balling cutting with a beast of an angle grinder…) and rounded off the edges to make the pins slide into the frame easily – and to prevent anything from being damaged at the top of the pin should there be a situation where it could happen.

33 dowel pins ready to go! And the leftmost pin is too short – good thing I made one extra!

These pins are made to go 20mm into the frame. I will make a tool to get the exact depth when I’m hammering the pins in – simply a wooden block made to the correct length with a hole through it. When the top of the dowel pin is flush with the top of the tool, every single dowel pin will be exactly the same height above the frame. Simple and effective!

I also made a tool for drilling the holes for the dowel pins. Each pin needs to be at exactly 90° to the curved frame (at each pin position) so that the vertical pedal movement follows the arc in the frame. The tool consists of a wooden block with a hole for the drill bit – i used the correct drill bit then sanded the hole slightly larger – and a support plate on each side. I also drilled a hole so that I can check where the tip of the drill bit will hit the frame, and in addition the wood chips have somewhere to go.

The side plates are glued and screwed onto the wooden piece. PS: the wooden piece is a scrap piece from other areas of the pedal board. Never throw anything away – you WILL need it later on! Great way to save money!

Here’s an image of how the tool will work:

I will adjust the tool to its exact position, then clamp it before I start drilling. The drill bit will have a depth-stopper attached so that every hole is drilled to the same depth.

The dowel pins will just be hammered into the wood. They are 5.6mm, and the drill bit is 5mm. Remember the “proof of concept” test I did on page 3? That dowel pin was too short and I needed to remove it. I had to clamp it into the vice and use a lot of force to remove it from the frame! They won’t go anywhere unless I really want them to…

Next up is to drill the dowel pin holes, assemble the pedal board (without the dowel pins – they go in after I’ve added lacquer to the front frame piece) and adjust the length of each playing surface on the naturals, as some of them are a bit too long. Then I’m going to break out the paintbrush and the lacquer for real! I am using water-based lacquer, and it dries within 30-45 minutes depending on the temperature. That means that I could get a lot of layers per day! The first layer needs to be sanded and adjusted though.

Not THAT much left to do. I can’t wait to start using my pedals! But remember: It is soooo easy to rush the final steps just because you can see the end of a project. Just don’t do it – you do not climb to the top of the mountain just to take a quick peak before you return!

Update 13.07.2009

Today I bought a new toy – a combined jointer / planer, so that I can mill my own stock. The only tool I miss now is an electric miter saw. Oh well…

The main task for today was to drill the holes for the dowel pins in the arched front frame piece. In addition, I sanded it down and added the first coat of lacquer. I let the first coat dry and harden over night, before I scrape and sand the surface smooth for the subsequent coats.

I started by drawing the centerline, a task I simplified by making a small jig. I made a square cutout half the width of the arched frame piece, and cut a small dent / slot in the front so that the pencil tip was halfway embedded in the jig. Then I just had to drag the jig / pencil thingy across the arched piece, and the centerline was established. Since the position for each pedal was marked on the piece from back when I got the final placement of all the pedals (see update 11.11.2008), I could just find the center for each pedal and mark it on the centerline with the caliper. I then traced a line 90° across the curved piece to aid the alignment of the drilling tool I made the other day (see the image just above here).

I then hooked an adjustable depth-guide to the drill bit* so that each hole is exactly 20mm (.787″) deep. All I had to do was to fasten the bit in the drill, center the tip of the drill bit on the line I marked and drill down until the depth-guide hit the drill-guide tool. Simple and effective!

*Note: a simple way to set the depth-guide in this situation is to insert just the drill bit into the guide, align with the mark and tap the top of the drill bit with a hammer until the tip of the drill-bit is embedded in the wood. Then use the caliper to set the desired depth for the depth-guide.

32 dowel pin holes drilled – the only thing left is to drill the hole for the pedal spring, which I will do when the pedals are mounted. That way, I get the exact placement and angle for the spring holes in the curved frame piece. Remember – every pedal meet the frame at different angles.

The last task of the day was to apply the first coat of clear lacquer. I use a water-based lacquer meant for hardwood floors. It dries within an hour, so that you can do many coats per day. And – there are no toxic contents, nor does it smell bad!

The first coat is applied – note that I rest the piece on triangular pieces of wood. That way I can coat the whole piece, and the support pieces only leaves a tiny line in the finish, which I can remove pretty easily. To remove the sanding marks from that process (makes the surface opaque), I simply use a paper towel with a small amount of lacquer and wipe the sanded area. Dries in minutes and leaves no trace!

Tomorrow, I will add two coats of clear lacquer to the piece, and it is ready for the dowel pins. In the meantime, the lacquer does its job drying and hardening while I sleep. That’s my favvy way to work…

Update 16.07.2009

The jointer / planer is a fantastic piece of equipment! I bought some 100mm (3.93′) floor moldings made from oak for the toe boards. I jointed one side and one edge and then ran the pieces through the planer. They started out about 8mm (0.315′) and ended up being 5mm (0.197′). Since I stack three of them, the toe boards will be 15mm (0.59′) thick. Should be very sturdy!

The curved toe boards will follow the 9″ radius of the curved frame pieces. I made a simple jig for the glue-up by cutting the curve in three pieces of floor beams (buy the cheapest wood you can find). I glued the three pieces together, then smoothed the jig so that there is no ridges or bumps.

Tip: make a template from MDF or similar, then use the router and a copying bit to smooth the curves (you need to rough-cut them first). Saves you a lot of time!

I applied glue to each joining side of the three toe board pieces, stacked them and placed them on the jig. Then I used a clamp to press them into the jig at the center (be sure to mark the center of your jig, and the pieces being laminated). I continued adding clamps until the pieces was firmly formed to the jig. Remember that when you’ve added a clamp to the left of the center, you need to add a clamp at about the same distance from the center on the right side. This ensures that the pieces can slide on each other. Since the top piece has a slightly smaller radius than the bottom piece, it will slide out over the end a bit.

I used scrap pieces of wood to protect the wood from the clamps – and to distribute the pressure over the whole width of the toe board. I really need to invest in more F-clamps (the metal ones that looks like an F) since they can produce FAR more pressure than the quick-clamps. You can clearly se why in the next image:

See the squeeze-out under the F-clamp? I solved the problem by using a F-clamp to press the pieces together at all the quick-clamps, then squeezed the quick-clamps as hard as they would go. Should do the trick.

As you can see on the above image, the end grain of the wood lines up so that the curved toe board will look like it was made from a single piece of wood. That was the primary thing that got me to buy hardwood instead of plywood. A lot more expensive, but the result should be VERY nice! You can of course use plywood, but the sides will show the stripes very good. An option could be adding veneer strips or painting the edges black as a decorative element. That’s entirely up to you. I want a consistent look, so… Oak it is!

Can’t wait to see the end result! I have never laminated wood before, but I am confident that this should work nicely. The jointer / planer is a crucial tool in this process, since I can make perfectly square, parallel, straight and true surfaces on the pieces. Note: I roughed the surfaces with some 80 grit sanding paper and a sanding machine so that the glue will get a good grip. The jointer / planer makes a VERY clean surface – almost ready for varnishing!

I did not do anything to the last edge, since the toe boards will be cut to follow the radius of the pedals.

Tomorrow, I will make the front toe board. And I am going to borrow a load of clamps from my uncle – I do not have enough clamps for the wider piece. Guess there’s something to the woodworkers saying “you will always need more clamps no matter how many you already have”…

Update 20.07.2009

I’ve started work on the bench while I let some ideas mature – plus, I really needed a break from the pedal board!

But – some work has been done! The front toe board is glued and turned out great. I used a lot more clamps, but still got a few gaps. Which proves that bending wood should be done by bending over a form, not into. Oh well, one learns…

Here’s an image of the three strips of oak I used for the toe boards:

These are 5mm thick, which means that the toe boards will be 15mm thick – about the same as the side panels. Should be more than strong enough!

I also mounted all the dowel pins – the inner frame is now completed!

Now I need to mount some felt and some big wooden dowels. I will screw the toe board to the wooden dowels to secure it in place. There will be some felt underneath the toe board as well, which should dampen the noise from the pedals very good.

I still need to do the final sanding on the pedals, and then finish them with clear lacquer. I keep putting that job off for some reason… 

Be sure to check out the organ bench I’m building as well!

Update 24.07.2009

The main focus now is to complete the bench, but I haven’t forgotten the pedal board! I added the first coat of clear lacquer to the sharps. I’m going to let the first coat harden thoroughly before I scrape and sand the surface in order to get a perfect finish. Here’s my high-tech jig for drying pedals:

Note the inverse curvature? That is essential for the drying process, since… Nah, just kidding. I simply used some scrap material – namely the cutout part of my toe board jig. I slammed a lot of nails into it and clamped it to a shelf in the workshop. I then added the lacquer with a VERY fine brush, and hung the pedals to dry. Simple and effective!

Update 07.08.2009

I haven’t done much on the pedal board lately. The bench has taken most of my time. But today I started on a job I’ve dreaded: the first coat of lacquer to the naturals! Not because it is difficult or anything – I just hate brushes!

Only 6 more to go. I am going to apply two coats on every side of each pedal, and then add 4-5 coats on the playing surfaces – should be adequate for the wear the pedals will get over the years.

I got to play on the organ in the local church, and I can assure you that I’m a LOT more relaxed about the pedal board! The organ’s pedal board had a lot of lateral “play”, but I did not notice it when I played it. I also found that the pressure from my springs will be about perfect!

Needless to say, I was like a kid in a candy store during those 90 minutes! This weekend will be spent on the organ bench – only the bench I’m talking about stands in front of a 42 stop Jemlich organ!

Update 15.08.2009

I’ve worked on the pedal board frame as well as I’ve added the final coat of clear lacquer to the pedals except for the playing surface of the sharps. The naturals now have 4 coats of clear lacquer. I will use very fine grit sanding paper to remove any errors, and then apply a last coat. I then will buff the playing surfaces with furniture polish to make them resistant to dirt – and to make them a bit slippery.

I’ve applied two coats to the sharp pedals (not the playing surfaces). The playing surfaces will be sanded due to some runs in the first coat of lacquer. Then I will add three coats (4 in total) and buff the playing surfaces with polish. The only thing left on the pedals are the holes for the springs underneath, the leather in the slot at the tips – and the magnets that will work the reed switches.

Back to the frame. It is constructed from solid oak boards. The boards is made of a lot of small pieces of oak that are glued together. This type of material is very form-stable, and won’t be malformed over the years. And as a bonus: they are really cheap!

I realized earlier that I forgot to make the aft curved frame piece high enough to accommodate for the “play” in the pedals (18mm / .078″ by AGO standards). I solved that by mounting two pieces of wood under the part:

I will add floor protecting felt to the pieces. I am also considering mounting height-adjustable feet, and the pieces of wood would be an ideal place for that.

I forgot to take pictures of the parts while I was making them, but they are pretty straight-forward to create.

I first made the side pieces. I marked the positions for the L-shaped frame pieces, drilled holes and screwed the panels to the frame. I then marked where the pedals would rest when fully depressed. The top edge of the side panels are slightly higher than the joint between the pedal and the playing surface.

As you can see, I’ve added a “step” in the side panel. The step is placed at the aft edge of the outermost sharps, in order to extend the circle that the playing surfaces of the sharps create. I also removed some material at the end where the aft curved heelboard will be mounted. All the cuts except the curved “step” and the area I removed for the heelboard, was done with the router, a straight-bit and a straight-edge. That creates VERY smooth cuts! Check the organ bench page to see how it’s done. I used a pull-saw to remove material for the heelboard. I then smoothed the edge with files and sanding paper.

And here’s the great part: After I made the first panel (remember: I smoothed all the edges close to the final result), i traced the outline from the first panel on the second panel board. I then used the band saw to remove the excess material, while keeping the cut about 1mm (.039″) from the line. I then clamped the two boards firmly to the workbench, and used a copying bit in the router to trim away the excess material. A light sanding, and the two panels are now identical! I love my plunge router!

I used a trimming plane to shape the aft edge on both side panels so that the edges lined up with the aft curved frame piece. I then cut another solid oak board to length and drilled then screwed the aft panel to the side panels. I traced the curve from the aft curved frame piece onto the aft panel, removed the panel and cut the curve in it (by keeping away from the line slightly).

Tip of the day: If you don’t own a oscillating spindle sander, buy a sanding wheel and mount it in your drill press. Adjust the table on the drill press so that it almost touches the sanding wheel. Clamp the vacuum hose to the “exhaust” side, and you’ve got yourself a spindle sander! And you will have perfect control over the work piece, sanding away the last material.

I then grabbed the plane and used it to adjust the square edges of the aft panel to the ~22.5° side panels. A light sanding, and the frame now looks awesome!

The next job is to cut the curve in the toe- and heelboard, so that they follow the radius of the playing surfaces of the pedals. Not an easy job, and I haven’t quite figured out how I am going to do it in order to get a good result. But I have some ideas…

Here’s a couple of images of the pedal board with the panels mounted:

(relax, that’s just some spilled paint. No crimes committed here!)

The construction ideas I had for the frame proved to work as planned. The side panels and the support “beams” keeps the whole thing very sturdy – there’s no sideways play in it. Pretty sure it is solid enough. In fact, it is way too rigidly constructed – but at least that means that it won’t fall apart! Shouldn’t be a problem popping it into a real pipe organ in a church (except for the pedals, as they aren’t constructed for tracker-organs).

A view from the front. The curve in the aft panel is clearly visible.

As you can see, I’ve extended the side panels forward of the inner frame. The panels extend about 12cm (4.724″). I am not sure if that’s the final length. I might reduce the “overhang” a bit later on, should it be necessary.

The idea is that I will make a box at the front to house the electronics. In addition, the box will be used as a mounting place for the crescendo and swell pedals. I am planning to build a console too, so the box will eventually be hidden. But who knows what the future brings – I decided to make the pedal board standalone should I ever need to use it without the console (like THAT’S an option I am ready to discuss…).

All in all I am pleased with the work done today. I am really looking forward to applying stain and lacquer to the panels. That will certainly be VERY nice! Oak looks good (and smells good, by the way) whether you stain it or you add clear lacquer to it. Depending on your taste, I recommend using at least a very lightly colored varnish (a hint of yellow or white) before adding lacquer. That will “pop the grain”, or bring out the lines and shapes in the wood. Some might not like that, but to me – that’s really what using wood is all about! If I want a plain surface, I use wood with the least amount of grains and lines – or I paint the thing!

The main focus now is to keep calm and not rush anything! There’s not much left to do before the pedal board is finished, but I am going to keep and to improve the level of craftsmanship till the end. I’ve spent about 6 months worth of work (I had a two month long “break” from the project in february-march), and now is NOT the time to start rushing. Besides, I’ve got a LOT of work to do before my own, self-made digital pipe organ console is finished. Good thing I can play the pedal board in the meantime…

Update 19.08.2009

I’ve worked on the toe- / heelboards today. I traced the arc that follows the pedals by using the same technique I used when I marked where the playing surfaces should be mounted on the pedals. I used the same tool, but drilled two new holes some distance from the ones already made in the tool. I then placed three pedals (C1, E2 and G3) at their locations, and used them to align the tool. I then placed the toe board and the heelboard on the frame, and traced a line by swinging the tool from side to side. Simple and easy!

I then used the band saw to cut away the excess material, then used my impromptu spindle sander (the drill press with a sanding wheel mounted) to get the final shape. VERY smooth and accurate!

To cut the width, I used a flush trim saw and a file. By holding the saw flat against the sides of the frame while the curved heelboard was clamped in place, I made the cut flush with the sides. I will use the same technique when I’m cutting the toe board tomorrow.

I accidentally cut too much material from the frame where the heelboard will be mounted, but that can easily be solved by a strip of oak glued in place. Once the finish is applied, nobody will notice.

In order to check my measurements and to see how everything fit together, it was time for another “dry assembly”. Success!!!

For each pedal I placed in the pedal board, my grin just got bigger and bigger! This looks AWESOME!

The color on the pedals are just great – the Ramin wood is beautiful with clear lacquer on it!

*Note: Ramin is actually an endangered wood. I did not know that when I bought it, but I won’t be using any more Ramin if I can avoid it. Sadly there aren’t many hardwood dealers here in Norway, so I’ll have to use what ever I can get. I will try to avoid using endangered wood species in the future.

Here’s a shot of the heelboard, and the area where I cut away too much material. Oh well, the bench will cover it up anyway…

Note the grain pattern in the heelboard. I chose that particular board to be the top one. Always plan such things in advance, once the glue is set there’s no turning back…

And finally, a shot of the front area. Note that since there’s no springs under the pedals, they are fully depressed in the image. Once the springs are mounted, they will rest higher in the frame. Can’t wait to see how the frame will look once I get some stain on it. Bet it will be gorgeous!

Update 01.11.2009

It’s been quite a while since the last update on this part of the project. In the meantime, I’ve finished the key stack and the organ bench. I decided to put the pedal board on hold for a while for several reasons. Firstly, I was kind of fed up with the pedal board and had discovered a few snags that I needed to figure out. I was also fed up with having three keyboards stacked on top of each other – the topmost kept sliding down when I played. And I needed a higher seat to play comfortably. Thus – I made the key stack and the organ bench.

While I was working on the bench and the key stack, I did some work on the pedal board. I didn’t take images of everything I did, since I mainly trimmed and shaped various parts to fit.

I made some L-shaped blocks for mounting the curved toe board to the frame. The blocks are fastened with a wooden dowel and a screw. The dowel goes into the frame much like the steel dowel pins. I did not glue the block to the frame since I did want to be able to alter the design should I need to at a later stage. In retrospect, that proved to be unnecessary.

Here’s a close-up of one block and how the curved toe board is mounted.

And that’s pretty much how the pedal board was left since the summer. But the work has continued!

I needed to complete the toe board and add a “step” to the frame so that I can rest my feet there – it makes playing the third manual much more comfortable amongst other things. I cut a thick oak plank to length, then routed a groove for a curved panel board to fill the gap between the plank and the curved toe board. I used the leftover piece of Ramin wood from when I made the curved frame pieces (never throw away cutoffs until you KNOW you don’t need it!). Another purpose for the foot rest is that it adds support to the curved toe board, which will hold the combined force from all the pedal being pressed up by the springs. In addition to the forces involved when the pedals slam up and down during playing.

I fastened the curved board to the oak plank with wooden dowels and glue. Before I glued the pieces together, I did a dry-assembly, marked the curve from the curved toe board on the ramin board. I then sanded the board to shape. Fits like a glove!

Here’s a picture of the foot support and how it’s going to be mounted. I screwed two scrap pieces from the pedals (the tips I cut off) to the frame and then simply screwed the foot support to the two pieces. Simple and effective! I’ll add an image of that later on.

I also routed a curved profile to the foot support. It covers two goals: it looks nice and the edge won’t be sharp to the feet (I do not play with shoes all the time…). Plus – a curve on the edge prevents the edge from being damaged or splintered during use.

I then whipped out the stain and stained the frame one coat. I still need to add another coat to get the color and coverage I want, then I’ll add a few coats of clear lacquer.

Time for another dry-assembly in order to see that everything turns out the way I wanted. Here’s an image of the whole frame assembled:

An image of the foot support/toe board:

Underneath the foot rest there’s now a little “room” where the electronics will be mounted. I also need to mount felt under the curved toe board and on the curved frame piece so that the pedals don’t make a lot of noise. I also need to mount leather in the slots at the tip of the pedals. I will do that at a very late stage – the workshop is not exactly very clean. Dust and wood chips everywhere, despite my best efforts to vacuum and clean… 

Here’s an image of the middle pedals. Note that I’ve mounted the springs underneath C2-F2. I needed to check how the pedal action will be. Turned out great – the resistance is perfect and there’s literally no lateral play in the pedals! When the leather is added, they will be very stable sideways. I also discovered that the springs makes much noise, so I need to address that.

If you look closely on the curved panel I made from Ramin wood, you’ll notice a lot of shading and color differences. Happened by accident, but turned out great! Ramin is a very “clean” wood, especially compared to the highly figured oak. When I applied the varnish, I needed to thin the varnish in order to get it to spread evenly. I grabbed a bottle and discovered too late that it was Acetone, not White Spirit. The stain can be thinned with White Spirit. Not Acetone! The result, however, was a nice and textured surface on the Ramin wood, which otherwise would have been very plain. Now it looks like it’s supposed to be like that.

Just like champagne – discovered by an accident!

And finally – the pedal board mounted! Note that C2-F2 is higher than the rest of the pedals due to the mounted springs. Can’t wait to get the pedal board home! It looks gorgeous!

It’s been a long road; a year has passed and a LOT of hours has been spent in the workshop. Take another look at the image above, and compare to the initial plan I had:

There’s not much work left to do on the pedal board now. What a relief!!! As soon as I get it home and have played my setup for a while, I’ll start planning my console. I’ll spend the winter playing and planning, then I’ll start building the console next summer.

I also need to make a few “cover pieces” to hide some mistakes here and there. Why not cover a mistake with a decorative piece? Cheating a little can be nice in some cases…

will rest higher in the frame. Can’t wait to see how the frame will look once I get some stain on it. Bet it will be gorgeous!

Update 03.11.2009

I’ve applied the last coat of brown varnish, and this weekend I’ll apply the clear lacquer. I also made a “compartment” at the front of the frame to house the electronics.

Here’s an image of how I fastened the foot rest to the frame:

The small piece of wood is screwed to the foot rest, then I drilled holes through the frame and the small wood piece. I counter-sunk the holes in the frame and screwed two screws from the outside. I used the same method to fasten a plywood sheet that I cut to size to form the “floor” in the compartment.

I screwed the plywood to two of the toe board supports. The middle toe board support was too low, so I cut away some material in the plywood sheet to make room for the middle support. I also used the router to make a groove for a long support thingy at the center. I plan to mount some fibre board to cover the back of the compartment once the electronics is installed:

The inside of the fibre board will be lined with some asphalt sheets I have from an old computer case modification (I used the asphalt sheets to stop the side panels in the case from rattling around). The asphalt sheets have tape on one side – very easy to install.

I haven’t decided on a method for mounting the electronics yet. I need to be able to adjust each reed switch in order to get the exact “speaking point”, which should be when the pedal is pressed half way down.

Not much work left! And boy do the pedal board weigh a lot! I haven’t weighed it yet, but it must be 50-60 kilos (110-132 pounds)! I could barely lift it up on the work bench when all the pedals was installed. Ah, well – that means it won’t move around when I play Bach’s Pedal exercitium…

Update 08.11.2009

Two coats of clear lacquer, and the pedal board is ready for the final assembly!

I started by adding felt strips to the curved frame pieces at the front. I used a special tool for making holes for the dowel pins. I first cut the felt strips to correct length, then I placed the tool on top of the first dowel pin. I then could position the felt strip accurately sideways. The holes was cut at the center of the strip, since I cut the strips to the same width as the curved frame piece. I then put the felt piece on the dowel pin, then placed the tool on the next pin so that I got the exact spacing. This turned out to be a very fast and accurate method.

I then applied contact cement to the felt strips and the frame using a plastic knife.

When the glue stops being sticky, it is ready. I slid the strip down the dowel pins, and pressed it in place. It is important to keep the strip level with the contact surface before the two glued surfaces comes in contact with each other. I then pressed the felt thoroughly to the frame, making sure that the whole strip had full contact. When the glue has hardened, the strip won’t come off easily!

I then proceeded with the pedals. I found that 5mm felt wasn’t enough to make the pedal board as silent as possible, so I added small felt pads on both sides of the pedal. That resulted in a very quiet operation, although a pedal board won’t be dead silent!

I abandoned the idea of using leather in the slots in the tip of each pedal. I cut the slots too narrow for this to work, and I also found that the resistance might be too big. And since there’s very little lateral play in the pedals anyway, I decided to opt for another route. I simply lined the inside of the slots with fabric from an old pair of jeans! The fabric is VERY resistant to wear. And since there’s a little room on each side of the dowels now, the fabric should last a long time.

I cut strips with the same width as the pedals are high, then inserted the fabric in the slots as shown in the image above. That gave me the length for each pedal. I then applied contact cement to the fabric strips and the inside of the slot. By holding the two ends of the strips with one hand, I could utilize the plastic knife to insert the fabric fully into the slot without making contact with the sides of the slot. I then pushed the fabric on to the sides of the slot and used the plastic knife to press the fabric thoroughly to each side of the slot.

I then trimmed the excess fabric, and glued some felt pads on the tip of the pedals:

This proved to be adequate for silent operation. However, if I could have gotten hold of some thicker felt, that would’ve been the best solution. Anyway, this method works too…

Here’s a shot of the felt pads “in use”:

I then mounted the pedal springs. I had pre-drilled holes in each pedal and in the frame piece, using a drill bit that’s slightly smaller than the piano wire I used to make the springs. I used a hammer to jam the wire into the holes, and they won’t come out unless i want them to!

I also mounted a felt strip under the heelboard, which press down on the pedals ever so slightly. This quiet the operation as well as stops the pedals from making contact with the heelboard.

You can also spot the screws used to fasten the pedals.

And that’s it! Apart from the back cover, the magnets and the electronics, the pedal board is now finished! I have to figure out the best solution for mounting the reed contacts, so I’ll have to play around with that a bit. I also need to glue one magnet to the tip of each pedal, and make the covers for the back. I also need to mount some felt underneath the pedal board, but I need to find out if that’s enough to dampen the noise of the pedals when they slam up and down.

But enough talk: Here’s the fruit of almost a years worth of work, splinters, glue, dust, sneezing, sore hands, blisters, stained fingers… In short, here’s the pedal board:

And here’s two images of how the pedal board looks when placed under the organ bench (yes, the bench is faced the wrong way, but that’s because it is faced the keyboards! The pedal board will go on the other side when the electronics are mounted!)

Now I have to find the best way to mount the electronics, and the pedal board is finished. Next up will be adding swell/crescendo pedals and some toe pistons.

Man, I hope I haven’t forgotten how to play pedals! 

Update 15.11.2009 – FINISHED!

Finally, the big moment arrived yesterday! I got to play my self-built pedal board! What a moment that was!

But let’s see the final steps. I glued the magnets to the tip of each pedal with epoxy (hardens in 15 minutes). I used a piece of tape to hold the magnet in place while the epoxy was hardening – and it helped keeping my fingers away from the sticky epoxy! The magnets are pretty strong, so they wanted to “jump” on to the steel dowel. The tape helped, plus I checked the magnets regularly and pushed them down if needed. A couple of minutes, and the epoxy had hardened enough so that the magnets stayed in place.

Then the big question: how to mount the reed switches? I’ve tossed and turned my brain for ideas on the simplest way to do so, but eventually I decided to use a proven method that I found at the forums – a simple piece of wood with holes drilled near the edge for the reed switches and some hot glue (using a glue gun with melting glue).

I initially mounted the piece of wood, then positioned each switch within the hole so that I got consistent “speaking point” on all the pedals. I then glued the switches in place with the glue gun. I squeezed a little glue into each hole, then added a nice blob of glue underneath. I also filled the holes on top so that the switches won’t move at all. Tip: drill the holes first, then use a table sander to make the wood as thin as you can (about 1mm from the edge of the holes should do nicely – thinner than that, and you might damage the wall in the hole). Some of the pedals was a bit longer than the rest, but I solved that by removing some material on the switch holders. In the picture above, the wooden holder is actually thicker beneath the curved frame piece since the pedals are a bit too long. If you make your own pedal board, make sure that all the pedal tips are even at the front.

I then mounted the mpc32xr card from (now replaced with the smaller mpc32xrs) to the thick foot support using screws. I also made four small wooden standoffs to hold the card off the surface. You’ll notice a black wire going under the card. I couldn’t find any power adapters with the correct tip, so I had to hard-wire the adapter to the board. Not an ideal solution, but it works just great. There are three contact points for the power plug on the card. If you need to hard-wire it, you’ll better use a multimeter to determine which contacts you should use (polarity doesn’t matter since this card can use AC as well as DC, and it fixes the polarity internally). On the mpc32xr card I have, the two contacts that sits opposite each other are the two needed. The one nearest the edge of the card and the one right next to it is connected to each other (you can actually trace the leads on the board).

And here’s an image showing the card and the reed switches in place:

I still need to fasten the wire with zip-ties, and I also need to make the back covers. I also found that the G1 needs a little tweaking since the magnet are a bit too high, which results in the note stopping if you press the pedal down hard. There’s a “sweet spot” on the switches if you move the magnet up and down the switch where the switch deactivates. Perhaps using longer magnets would fix this issue? I do not know. With the supplied magnets, the “speaking range” of each pedal is somewhat limited. It doesn’t matter that much, but could possibly be a problem on fast pedal passages. Time will show.

And now for the grand finale – the current setup I have! But first, let us take a moment and look at the original setup:

That was a pretty okay setup that proved to work just beautifully, but of course I was pretty limited by the computer, and the upper keyboard was WAY too high.

A year has passed, the computer is exchanged with a 8 gigabyte, dual core thing with three big organs. The keyboards are gone too, exchanged with a keyboard stack with three M-Audio Keystation 61 ES. The chair is placed back at the dining table where it belongs, and my self-built organ bench has taken its place. And finally – the pedal board has been put to good use. I also used a big desk to place everything on. During this winter I will plan my console, which will replace the desk.

This, ladies and gentlemen, fellow keyboard boxers and Hauptwerkians, is how my setup looks today, November 15th 2009:

A decent music stand is on its way, and the desk needs to be about 10 cm higher – but for now, I’m going to play all the organ pieces I haven’t played in a LONG time! In the image above, the Haverhill Old Independent Church Binns organ is loaded, and the score is Prière à  Notre-Dame by Léon Böellmann. Perhaps a Cavaillé-Coll organ is better suited for that piece? No problem at all! I do have a Cavaillé-Coll organ ready on the computer!

A BIG thank you to all the nice comments, emails and help I’ve got from all my friends around the world that have followed this project. You all are a part of this, and your contributions has made a life-long dream come to life! A special thank you goes to Brett Milan and his associates, for creating Hauptwerk. Without this remarkable software, my dream would perhaps never been a reality.

And with that, I am finished with the pedal board. It feels GOOD! The next task will be planning the console. The goal is to end up with something that looks decent enough to be placed in the living room. I think I’ve got a very good start!

Do you dream of having a pipe organ you can play whenever you want? Now you know how you can do that without spending a LOT of money! If I could do this, you can too! I didn’t know diddly-squat about woodworking (apart from a few basic skills everybody learns at school, at least here in Norway). But I’ve learned along the way, and I’ve invested in cheap, but good quality tools. I also found that using as high precision as possible and not rushing anything (building the pedal board took a year, but I haven’t worked excessively…) result in good quality. And – I’ve been way too pessimistic about the durability of my work. This thing could go into a church any day!

I try to stay humble about this, but… MAN, I AM PROUD OF MYSELF! Look at what I’ve done!

Now start your own project! But remember to share your work with the world. A hobby tastes best when shared!*

*In Norway we actually have a chocolate bar called Hobby. But the chocolate tastes best when you eat it alone! 

PS: I am in NO way a skilled craftsman. But I have imagination and the will to do this. By using the time I need and don’t rush anything, there is no reason why the end product shouldn’t look like a professional job. I spend a lot of time doing research and planning, and I try out concepts and ideas where I can to save money and labor. A good advice is to talk to professionals whenever you run into a snag. How to keep bolts from coming loose? Talk to someone that sells nuts and bolts to professionals (the answer was a Lock-Tite product). Which glue to use? Talk to someone that works in related fields, or someone that has a “woodworking hobby”.

There is no reason why ANYBODY couldn’t do anything they set their mind to if they are willing to invest time, labor and money into it. The limitations of mankind lie in every souls mind. And Mythbusters at the Discovery channel has proven that old dogs CAN learn new tricks… 🙂