Category Archives: Kantele Construction

Filling Joints

Picture of glue and sawdust filler applied to joints.

Glue and sawdust filler applied to joints.

Small gaps between the joints of the glued-together walnut pieces were filled with a mixture of walnut sawdust and wood glue. The joints were sanded smooth after the filler set and dried.

Picture of swdust and glue filler on additional joints

Sawdust and glue filler on additional joints – countersunk drill holes visible – these will be filled with walnut plugs

Picture of kantele while waiting for the filler to dry before sanding

Waiting for the filler to dry before sanding

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Shaping the Front of the Sound Box

After the sound box pieces were glued, I decided the front of the sound box where the long side connected to the pin block needed to be cut off and rounded to make the design more pleasing and unified. The curve at the front of the instrument would repeat the curves at the back of the instrument and the instrument would also be more comfortable to hold. The straight front of the sound box was cut off at an angle with a Japanese pull saw and then sculpted by hand with a file and sandpaper to smoothly join with the curved front piece.

Picture showing curves at the back of the instrument.

Curves at the back of the instrument.

Picture showing aligning the parts for shaping.

Aligning the parts for careful shaping, after the front angle was cut off and roughly shaped

Picture showing filing the front end

Filing and shaping the front end before the round part was glued on.

Picture of checking the smoothness of the shape by feel.

Checking the smoothness and accuracy of the shape by feel.

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Gluing the Soundbox Frame and Soundboard

Gluing and clamping the pin block and small

Gluing and clamping the small side to the bottom of the soundboard after the pin block has been attached. Two clamps are still attached to the previously glued pin block (on the right) because it hadn’t dried for 24 hours and I didn’t want to stress the joint (per instructions on the glue bottle).

The pin block (the wood piece that holds the tuning pins) was glued first because it only needed clamps to connect the top glued surface to the soundbox. I didn’t take a picture of the just the pin block being glued.

Picture of gluing and clamping the small side to the sound box

A second view of gluing the first side piece. The pin block is the piece of walnut being held with two clamps on the left in this image. It is dry, but the clamps are keeping the glue joint from being stressed while the small side is being clamped and glued.

The two side pieces of the sound box frame were glued after the pin block. See pictures above and below. Each of these two parts had to be glued on the top to the soundboard and on the side to the pin block. It takes a bit of moving and adjusting to get both of these joins to properly align because there is a tendency for the wood parts to slip around on the wet glue. On the small piece, clamps were used to hold the top glue joint to the sound box while countersunk screws were used to pull the side together with the pin block. The long side piece was glued to the instrument last. In addition to using clamps for the top join and countersunk screws to pull the side together with the pin block, a large clamp was needed to adequately hold the side joint together.

Picture of gluing the long side to the bottom of the soundboard.

Gluing the long side to the bottom of the soundboard.

Picture of gluing the long side of the frame to the side of the pin block with large clamp to ensure a good glue joint.

Gluing the long side of the frame to the side of the pin block with large clamp to ensure a good glue joint.

The gluing process can be messy – glue seeps out of the joints when they are pressed together. This should happen – it is an indicator that there is enough glue if a little bit squeezes out all around. If it doesn’t in places it means there may be spots where the two surfaces are not attached. The excess glue needs to be quickly cleaned up with a wet rag or paper towel before it dries up. A bowl of water to clean fingers and a small screwdriver to push the rag into the corners are helpful tools to have on hand during this process. A lot of care is needed when cleaning because any missed spots of glue that may not be very visible on the unfinished wood become quite noticeable when finish coats are applied.

One of the many issues that held me back on this project was access to woodworking tools, in this case clamps. I did have some small ones but they were too small to use for this project. I did not want to buy new ones outright because the ones found in local big box stores run about $13 – $15 each for the size needed. As you can see in the pictures, quite a few are required, and I didn’t want to spend around $100 for 7 or 8 clamps I wouldn’t use very often. I was looking to borrow some but was relieved when my brother found an extra good deal on the clamps you see in the pictures – they were purchased for $3 each. My brother and I each bought 4 and 3 of them respectively. He wanted to have some on hand in the future so this saved me some money.

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Rounded End Piece

A picture of the rounded end piece is show in closeup with the ponsi before they were both glued to the kantele.

The rounded end piece (right) is show in closeup with the ponsi (left) before they were both glued to the kantele.

In addition to the ponsi, a second “sculpted” wooden part was required for the kantele. This rounded end piece was created to be attached underneath the soundboard and allow the soundbox frame shape to relate to the shape of the top of the instrument. It was cut out with a circular saw and jigsaw and shaped by filing and sanding. The angle where the piece attached to the frame was hard to get right so it was also trimmed by hand with a Japanese pull saw.

Creating the Ponsi

Picture of the completely shaped ponsi shown on the workbench

The almost completely shaped ponsi shown on the workbench

A ponsi is a curved wooden block that holds the kantele’s varras (see previous Varras post on 8/15/2015). Together these two parts connect the strings to the soundboard of the kantele.

Picture of the ponsi pattern taped on top of the wood block.

Ponsi pattern taped on top of the wood block.

Creating the ponsi involved a number of challenges. A wood block of the appropriate size was cut out of a walnut plank. The ponzi shape was drawn on tracing paper using the original printed plan as a reference, transferred to the wood block using transfer paper, and then darkened with a Sharpie. The hole for the varras had to be drilled slightly off center on the 7/8” side width through the 5+ inch depth of the wood block. Since most drill presses only drill 2 – 2.5 inches in depth, we had to start this hole on the drill press and then finish with a long bit in a hand drill.

Picture of the jig created to hold the wooden ponsi upright for accurate drilling.

The jig created to hold the wooden ponsi upright for accurate drilling.

My brother constructed a jig to hold and center the wood block on his drill press, and we drilled the first half of the hole. It was challenging to find an economical drill bit long enough to drill a 5+ inch deep hole. Most hand drill bits are only a couple of inches long. After looking in numerous big box stores and home centers we finally found an economical 5/16 inch drill bit that was 24 inches long at Harbor Freight and used this to complete the hole. This was an awkward tool to use due to its extreme length, but the job was successfully completed through teamwork. My brother operated the drill while I steadied the block.

Picture of the successfully drilled ponsi with pattern still attached. The center line for the drill hole is drawn on top of the wood block.

The successfully drilled ponsi with pattern still attached. The center line for the drill hole is drawn on top of the wood block.

After the varras hole was drilled, the curved areas of the ponsi shape were cut out with a jig saw. It was then sculpted with files and sandpaper into the final shape.

Picture of the ponsi shape that has been cut out with a jig saw and is attached to the workbench, ready for shaping with a file and sandpaper.

The ponsi shape has been cut out with a jig saw and is attached to the workbench, ready for shaping with a file and sandpaper.

Picture of the Ponsi being shaped by file and sandpaper.

Ponsi is being shaped by file and sandpaper.

Varras

Picture showing a lableled varras

Varras Diagram (Photo by Susie Engle)

Kanteles have a metal bar called a varras that the strings are attached to at one end of the instrument. After looking at several kantele plans and instrument examples, I determined I would use a 5/16” width metal rod for the varras of my instrument. A 36 inch long steel rod was purchased at Home Depot. This was a lot more than needed for my short 5” varras, but was the best option we could find. I have enough left over for about six more kanteles of this size.

Picture of sparks flying from the grinding wheel while beveling the end of the metal rod used for the varras

Sparks fly from the grinding wheel while beveling the end of the metal rod used for the varras

The varras was cut to correct length with a hacksaw. Burrs were removed and the edges smoothed and beveled with a grinding wheel. The entire varras was cleaned and shined up with silicone carbide sandpaper.

Picture of Finnished Varras - cut, beveled, and shined up next to original steel bar

Finnished Varras – cut, beveled, and shined up next to dirty, original steel bar

Walnut Parts

Picture of walnut pieces left over after cutting.

Walnut pieces left over after cutting.

I love the look of Walnut and decided to use it to make the frame, pin block, and ponsi of my kantele. When finished naturally the color reminds me of milk chocolate. I was lucky to find a slightly damaged 8-foot x 5” x 7/8” piece of rough sawn walnut at the Woodcraft store in Roanoke, Virginia. It was on clearance for about $20. They let me exchange it for a 3-foot length of similar width and depth milled walnut the Woodcraft store in Virginia Beach sold for 30+ dollars. I got almost 3 times the material for 2/3 the price. I also used a 3 foot x 2” x 2” length of walnut to create the pin block (the part of the instrument that holds the zither pins used to tune the instrument). I have enough walnut left over to make another kantele or two.

Cutting the sides and pin block of the kantele body was pretty straightforward. Since the kantele sides would be 2 inches high, the 5-inch wide plank was cut into 2-inch high strips with a circular saw. The lengths and angles of the two sides were measured and cut. Great care was needed to accurately measure and cut the angles of the pin block to make the parts of the triangular-like shape of the kantele meet up accurately. Some of these angles can be seen in the left over pieces in the image above. Curves at the back of the two side pieces were cut out with a jig saw. These will be visible in future posts.