Building a pedal board

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…