Folc harps are hand made. Not only are they hand made they are made almost entirely with hand tools. Power tools are
used for a few of the gross milling operations. Sometimes a circular saw reduces the ten and twelve foot planks to
workable billets. Some of the broader parts are sized using an electric thickness planner and some of the pieces are
roughed out on an electric bandsaw. But once these rougher pieces of work enter the inter sanctum of the shop, that's it.
No more power tools!
Not only are no electric sanders used to shape the parts nor finish the harp,
almost no sandpaper is used at all. Sandpaper is only used when the scraping
tool feathers a curious spot in the wood where sandpaper would smooth it out.
Otherwise all the wood is finished with the edge of a specially shaped piece of
metal that gently shaves off the surface of the wood.
Straight cuts, as in this side piece to the right, are done with Japanese
reverse tooth saws. When done properly and with patience, it leaves a
smooth cut the first time that requires no other dressing or fitting.
Straight edges are made with hand planes and curved surfaces are
shaped with spokeshaves. No electric sanders are used to shape the
wood. It is all done with planes, shaves, knives, and chisels.
Why make harps this way? Is it some attempt to make the more authentically in the spirit of ancient instruments? Not a bit of
it. I began making harps with all manner of power tools, great bellowing disk and belt sanders, whining drills and routers,
snarling saws for every purpose. Two things happened. Along of my great patriarch's beard, no mask would keep out the very
fine sawdust from the sanders. The fine dust would send me into choking fits, especially the black walnut dust. Then holding
the orbital palm sander in my right hand during the finishing gave me an inflamed tendon and wrist joint that put me in a wrist
brace for a year and half.
So I was provoked into looking into hand tools. Much to my delight I found that the efficiency and speed of modern power
tools for such work is largely hype. Modern tools most often are a substitute for skill, not an enhancer of skill. Since then I've
been making harps in blissful silence or else to the sound of harp music on the MP3 player.
The unlooked for benefits of hand work came as surprise. Because the wood is worked by hand and rubbed to a finish with
natural oil by hand the jointry is smooth and organic rather than laser beam perfect and glassy finished. It looks and feels as if it
were made by human being and made of once living wood.
There's no practical ramifications of that. I just thought you might find it interesting.
What this construction method does mean, however, is that it would be just about impossible to mass produce these harps.
Alas, it seems to me that considerations for mass production do enter into some harp designs. When a Folc harp is made,
each piece is fitted one at a time to each other piece. An assembly line would not speed up nor enhance this process.