Building a pedal board

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…