Celesta Workshop Day #2

I spent a few hours in the shop today with the intention of busting out prototype #2, but things didn’t go quite as planned. I made some modifications to the design with the intent of simplifying things, but unfortunately progress went into the other direction. I’m dealing with small pieces of wood (typically 1″ x 6″ x 3/8″ or so) and handling these on a table saw is a tricky, and occasionally dangerous, business. I need to come up with a different design and/or different tools that let me carve the necessary grooves and slots and tabs onto the pieces without putting my fingers into the danger zone.

To that end, my Dad will be coming down next week to give me an introductory lesson to the router he gave me for Christmas. Also, on my drive home tonight I came up with an alternate design for some of the pieces that just might make the grooves and lots and tabs unnecessary…

It’s an interesting challenge to keep in mind that whatever I do, I have to do 32 times (actually more like 40, so I have spare parts) in a consistent, repeatable, safe fashion. It’s a challenge I’m enjoying, because I’m hoping to go make more than one of these.

Celesta Action Prototype #1

I finally got the opportunity to get out into the garage today and bring some of my sketches into reality.  Here’s what about 3 hours of work got me:

Piano action prototype #1

It’s a prototype of a piano action — the part that hits the strings (or, in my case, bell) when you press a key.  It’s currently missing the mechanism for a damper (the part that silences the note when you release the key), the actual bell, and there are a few other things I’m still futzing with.

I need to figure out a better bearing for the movable joints (wooden dowels are too stiff).  Keeping things aligned on the balance pin is tricky, but once everything is lined up with the rest of the keys that might work itself out.  Figuring out where to put the balance pin is also tricky.  Right now, things are a little too heavy feeling.  And after whacking this one rapidly a few times I can see why so much effort went into developing repetition mechanisms a few hundred years ago.

Everything is build from 1/8″ and 3/8″ baltic birch plywood, because in order to fit all the mechanisms for all the keys the action can only be 3/8″ wide.

One of my goals for this project is to make it with simple, consistent, repeatable pieces, so I’ll continue to work with this design to get rid of some of the weird pieces that are harder to make.


I spent a lovely evening at one of my favorite bars doing more design work on the piano action last night:

Designing at the bar

Well, actually what’s pictured there is a completely different mechanism I came up with while running yesterday afternoon. It’s a reverse-left-off jack for a new type of instrument I’d like to build that I’m tentatively naming the mateallica. But that’s another story. First, I need to build that toy piano…

Speaking of names, yesterday I learned that what I’m building is actually called a celesta. They’re rare, but Yamaha still offers them for sale. The instrument I’m designing is essentially the same thing, although after reading through their specs I’m starting to think I need to add sustain and soften pedals…

Mood Inertia

For the past month or so I’ve been using an application on my phone to track my mood.  It’s called My Mood Tracker, and using it is straightforward: every few hours it pops up and asks how I’m feeling.  I slide a bar around to register a number from 1 to 10.

I started using this app because I wanted to gain some insight into how my mood changes: over short periods of time, over long periods of time, and in response to the events in my life.  Do I wake up happy? Am I cranky in the afternoons?  Does time with Ruby make me feel better?  What about time away from Ruby?  What about exercise, or alcohol, or the vitamin D supplements I’m taking? Are there regular cycles to my mood?

In addition to recording my “mood”, I’m also recording things like alcohol and coffee consumption, exercise, and time I spend at Ruby’s school.  Here’s what the last month looks like:

Last month's mood

So after a month, what have I learned?  Well, my mood is all over the place, but there’s been a nice upward trend.  I haven’t done the crunching yet to figure out any of the overall correlations.

But here’s an interesting thing I noticed: thinking about my mood on a regular basis made me realize how much my past mood affects my current mood.  When I was feeling cranky early in the month, that made me much more resistant to enter an 8, even if I was actually in a good mood.  In other words: a recent history of being in a bad mood made me not want to be in a good mood. And as my overall mood has improved this month, the opposite is also true: a record of higher numbers made me not want to recognize when I was feeling bad.   Even yesterday, after a full day with Ruby and feeling tired and hungry and pestered, I only clocked in with a low of 5 — and that quickly jumped back up to 7.

The inertia of moods is interesting. I think we want to hold on to how we’re feeling because it reinforces the correctness of our previous state of mind.  It’s a kind of personal confirmation bias that operates on a level we probably don’t notice.

I’m hoping to get in at least a full year of recording this info in case there are any annual rhythms I can tease out. And I’ll report back with more analysis in a few months.

Posted in me

Building A Boat

A wise friend once said to me: “Steve, you should build a boat.” She offered the advice as a suggestion for healing; it would keep my occupied, give me a purpose and a distraction.

So I did: I made a tiny boat for her and her husband as a wedding present:

Never Stop Bailing (a boat for Scooter)

…and then continued on making other things.

But now, I feel like it’s time for something intricate and ambitious and exciting. It’s time to build my boat…  except instead of a boat, I’m building a piano.

Ok, technically it’s a toy piano: instead of using strings (and requiring a giant cast-iron frame to hold them), the hammers will be hitting the bells from a glockenspiel. It will only have 32 keys. But everything else will be as piano-like as possible, from the keys to the action to (hopefully) the way it feels when you play it. I’ll make just about everything out of wood.

Right now I’m in the design phase: scribbling levers and blocks in a notebook and staring off into space on a regular basis. I’m hoping to start working on a prototype action (the action is the name for the mechanism that sounds a note when you press a key) this weekend. Stay tuned for updates!

Designing pianos at the bar