Thursday, August 15, 2013

Restoring a Reed Organ, Part 13: Recovering the Bellows and Exhausters

 After we stripped the cloth off the reservoir and exhausters, we sanded them down so that they were nice and clean with no glue or material residue remaining
The bellows had been recovered in 1905 and the restorer had left a penciled note on the inside of the reservoir.  The exhausters, however, were original. They were "harmonium style", that is, with large ribs with leather hinges and leather gussets. The conventional wisdom as that novices like us should not attempt to recreate these on the first go-around.  We decided we would just recover the exhausters using bellows cloth (more on that, below).

We cleaned off the old ribs and sanded them down so that we could use them again in the exhausters. We then set them aside while we moved to work on the main reservoir.

We rehinged the bellows board to the movable reservoir board (for some reason I didn't take any photos of that) and then while waiting for the hinge to dry we cut the bellows cloth.  When the hinge was dry, we used a dowel to prop open reservoir to its original 8" opening and then glued on the cloth using hot hide glue.  This was our first time using hide glue.  It think I applied a bit to much at first. It takes a while to get used to using it.

After it dried we collapsed it.  All seems to hold together nicely. We temporarily sealed the valve holes and tested for leaks.  It seemed pretty tight. Not bad for a first try.
Next, we carefully replaced the exhauster boards in their exact location and rehanged them.  While waiting for the glue hinges to dry I decided to attempt the leather gasket where the bellows board joins to the foundation board. It was previously glued, nailed and screwed, with no gasket. We are not going to reglue it, but instead apply a gasket and then rescrew it.
I found a deerskin leather that I thought would make a good gasket.  I temporarily taped it in place and affixed it with hot hide glue.
When it dried I used a scalpel exacto knife to cut out the airholes and screw-holes.
Next we moved on to the exhausters. When exhausters are recovered, usually the cloth that attaches to the bellows board is turned outward.  These large exhausters were done the old-fashioned way. They also take up most of the surface of the bellows board and there is almost no room to turn the cloth out to glue it (either along the edges or between the exhausters) and certainly no room to apply a batten to hold it.  I figured that perhaps it would be better to turn the cloth inward.  I made a small paper pattern of what the exhausters would look like, with original ribs glued to the interior of the bellows cloth and cut it apart, and folded it, to see if our plan would work.  It seemed to, so we proceed to do it with the real exhausters.  We pencilled in where the cloth would turn under...

We carefully measured out the bellows cloth and pasted the ribs to the inside using hot hide glue...

We weighted them down and let them dry overnight.  A few of the corners didn't quite take (I think this was an issue of learning how to use the glue and keep it at the right temperature), so we re-glued, applied more pressure, and "presto!"
And while we were waiting for the glue to dry we cut our valve leather to size.

... and attached them to the bellows board (exhauster interior)

When we were ready, we glued the cloth to the base of the exhauster...

I think it didn't turn out too badly for our first attempt, and for having to improvise on the exhausters. 
We realized that we had a bit of leaking around the exhauster hinges.  We figured this was the result of the cloth turned inward and not having enough of a tight seal around the bottom corners.  We applied some extra bellows cloth around the bottom corners of the exhausters.  I was not that happy about how it looked, but it certainly eliminated the leaking.
When we reattached the bellows system to the foundation board and reattached the side braces and springs we tested the vacuum.  At first I was quite disappointed as we were only able to hold a vacuum for about 45 seconds.  We wondered if it was the deer skin gasket. Remember, this is the piece of wood that we splintered and had to repair.  I wasn't sure whether it was the deer skin leather, or whether our repair was uneven.  I taped along each side of the join with masking tape to discern if that is where air was getting through. Sure enough, that sealed it up and we got just over two minutes of vacuum before the reservoir fully opened. I think that is fairly respectable.  Rather than trying another gasket, or messing with the splintered end of the bellows board any further, I think we will just apply some bellows cloth along the seal where I used masking tape to test it.  That way, if the bellows ever need to be removed, the cloth can simply be cut along the seal and when unscrewed, the whole system will come apart with no trouble at all. 
We learned a lot doing this.  There are several things I would likely do differently next time, but it was a very good learning experience.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Restoring a Reed Organ, Part 12: Cleaning the Keys

A while back, I had the opportunity to work on cleaning the keyboard.  There are a few front ivories that are missing and the keys are very dirty and yellow.  You can also see some of the red felt stains on the treble end of the keyboard that was caused by water being spilled on the keyboard at sometime in its past. 
I removed the mount upon which the stop levers are located and this allows for the removal of each key for cleaning. 
On the underside of the stop mount, the number 307 was written in pencil.  Is this the part number for this stop action?  I found 303 written in several other places on the organ. I know that M and H used "300" numbers as style numbers for some of their organs.  There is still no overt sign of a serial number or style number.

A few more pencil markings were found on the keys: "#49"
The letter "H"

I gently sanded the sides of the keys to remove any finger gunk.  I then used warm water and a small amount of light detergent on the ivories.  Finally I used "0000" steel wool to buff them up.

I think they ended up looking pretty good.

There is still a fair amount of discolouring, but I am told that with some sunlight exposure, they will whiten up a bit more.

Here is a before/after picture after the top octave was cleaned. Quite a difference, but you can still see the extent of the yellowing, especially on the high "C".

I will have to track down some ivories fronts for the half dozen that are missing. 

The black keys are generally in pretty decent shape.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Restoring a Reed Organ Part 11: the Octave Coupler

The Octave Coupler:
The octave coupler is an interesting mechanical device that allows you to play two notes, an octave apart, while playing only the lower of the two keys.  The device is engaged when the "octave coupler" stop knob is pulled, engaging a linkage that is attached to a rod underneath the coupler system which slightly elevates the coupler bed so that an angle rod (the coupler rod) can activate the corresponding key an octave higher.  

It is a great place for collecting dust and bits of debris, including this missing stop face!  Clearly, too much dirt and debris will affect the way the coupler mechanism works.  After retrieving that Melodia stop face and vacuuming the coupler, we dismantled the entire mechanism to get an idea how it works and what needed to be done to return it to its original functionality.

The mechanism has a couple of strips of wood to hold it in place, as well as felt in several places that keep the couplers from hitting each other and making noise.

We removed the wood braces and the couplers revealing the felt bed.  Clearly this one has been redone.  You can see the original red felt in between the pegs that that keep the couplers in their proper working positions.  The previous restorer has taken the easy route and placed green felt below the pegs, rather than work around the pegs and punch holes in the felt.

The underside of one of the braces shows the remains of more original moth-eaten red felt.

You can see that I taped down all the coupler rods in order from bass to treble as I wasn't sure if they were all exactly the same or not.  I did not want to get all 45 of them out of order and have the mechanism improperly calibrated.  I thought this was the best solution until I got around to cleaning the coupler rods.
This is the underside of the coupler bed.  It has a two little brackets (one is seen on the right hand side) by which it is affixed to the top of the reed cells.  The two vertical cross beams are what the activating rod pushes upward to move the coupler bed into position when activated.  You can see all the old felts removed and resting on the coupler rods.

One by one I cleaned the coupler rods with 0000 steel wool.  They were quite dirty and had some corrosion where they came into contact with the old felt over the years.  After cleaning, I placed a little piece tape on the end of each, with a number of the rod (1 through 45) and placed them in a coffee tin until I was ready to re-assemble the whole mechanism. It was a long and tedious job, but book how nice and shiny they are now!

The next order of business was to cut new felt for the coupler bed and braces. When I tried to punch holes in the felt, I just couldn't get a nice clean hole punched.  It was then that I realized why the previous restorer had taken the easy way.  I'm told the organ had functioned quite nicely for several years until it had essentially been abandoned, so I decided to follow the previous restorer and simply place the felt strips alongside the pegs, rather than try to punch holes in them.  I think it worked out just fine, and when I reassembled the whole mechanism, it appeared to work very smoothly.

Here are the coupler rods going back on...

 And here is the fully restored mechanism with braces in place.  All in all, I think it worked out very nicely. 

The sub-bass is activated by a similar coupler system, except with only 13 notes.  It is slightly more complicated as each coupler is held in place by a small individual wood brace with a felt bushing.  I have not gotten to that yet, but am thinking of bringing that one home with me (as it is a nice, small mechanism) so that I can work on it in my spare moments.