Reed Organ Repair: A generic approach (3)


Before starting to strip the lower action further, take some time to inspect what you see carefully. Note especially which strips of rubber-cloth overlap which others: this will give you a clue as to the order these parts were wrapped in. Make some sketches of how the ends were done.

Lower actions tend to be of three types, with various hybrids. Some builders took considerable care with them, others "slapped them together". Your objective will be to re-do what you see before you in a manner as close to the original as possible.

Early instruments tend to have exhausters with ribs of wood or cardboard, all hinged together with leather strips and with leather gussets (the corner pieces). These are the toughest to do and make work right. As the pressure developed to make ROs cheaper, the style evolved that used a single piece of rubber cloth, often with ribs inside. As time went on, the ribs got smaller, until in some late instruments there were none. This rib-less design is the third style, and it really does not work well: I usually *add* inside ribs to this design.

In any case, you will want to *try* to save one exhauster "wrapper" to use as a guide. This means loosening up the glue joint, although if the cloth is not too rotten you can sometimes just pull it away from the wood and it will come off easily. An iron, not too hot, will usually soften the glue enough to let you remove one exhauster cover as a single piece. A heat gun can also be used, with great care.

Once you have this, the rest of the material can be taken off willy-nilly. There may be strips of wood glued and nailed to the divider, and sometimes along the edges of the exhausters and reservoir as well. If you can successfully remove these without destroying them, label them for re-use: otherwise, make new ones to match the old.

With the cloth all out of the way, use hot water on a rag to remove excess glue wherever you find it. A plastic pot-scratcher helps in the stubborn spots. You won't remove *all* the glue - just the excess. In good light, you can see where the glue remains because it is slick-surfaced. You want to get down to clean wood *everywhere*!

This done, inspect the hinges of reservoir and exhausters: ofttimes these are in fine shape, but they may be utterly rotten. In the latter case, replace them for sure! Heavy leather, woven canvas, or whatever - try to match it reasonably well; glue it using hot glue, and be sure to keep the parts in their original relationship to one another. Avoid swapping the exhausters left for right - mark *everything* unobtrusively: letter punches, discrete pencil marks, whatever works for you. Heavy canvas or twill hinges need a *lot* of glue - work it into the fabric so it joins the coating of glue laid on the wood first. Then let it dry thoroughly (overnight is best). 

The order of re-covering will be dictated by what you learned in your inspection at the beginning. I find most organs had the reservoir cover laid on first. If this is not the case with the one you are working on, return to this section at the appropriate time.
The *width* of the reservoir cover is determined by the maximum opening of it, *plus* the material glued to the divider, *plus* any material that is folded over on to the face of the reservoir (Mason & Hamlin, usually), *PLUS* some "trim" - at least half an inch. The *length* of the piece to cut is the sum of the length of both sides *plus* the width, and again some "trim" - refer to your notes to see how much. **Measure twice, cut once!** Cut this strip of rubber cloth, and mark it's exact center end-to-end.

Put the action flat, exhausters down, on a work table. The next step is to fabricate a temporary arrangement, the exact details of which will vary, but the objective of which is to hold the reservoir *firmly* at its proper full-open position. Affix this to each *end* of the reservoir; a scrap of wood nailed with a *small* nail, and resting on the divider, is sufficient.

Now put a scrap of masking tape on the face of the reservoir, next to its bottom edge, and mark the exact center of the reservoir's bottom. Make a similar mark somehow to guide you on the divider board.

Have ready: plenty of un-interrupted time, hot water, some rags, hot glue, some push-pins, and a smooth flat hard-wood "stick": a piece of half-inch dowel sanded flat and slightly rounded works well, but almost anything will do. It must be smooth! 
 
Working from just beyond the center mark out to the ends, quickly apply a goodly layer of glue to the divider (non-movable) board where the material is to go. Using your marks as guides, place the strip of cloth over this glue, holding the extra out of the way temporarily with push-pins, (Note 2) and quickly work the material down into the glue with help of the stick; dampening the surface helps reduce friction. If enough glue was put on, some will squeeze out from beneath the cloth as you work it into place: remove this with a rag dampened in hot water. Watch for bubbles of air and work these out to the edge carefully. When this joint is made well, fold the material inside the open reservoir and lay an old towel over it and into the inside of the reservoir (to catch glue drips), apply glue to the edge of the movable part of the reservoir, remove the towel, and again using your marks as a guide, place the cloth in position. At this juncture you can shift it a trifle one way or another to avoid wrinkles. (Many builders were not averse to using small carpet-tacks to hold the rubber cloth until the glue sets: on the long parts, no more than one in the center and one close to each end. If any more tacks are need than these, the glue is not working, probably because not enough has been applied). When all is well, pin the excess cloth out of the way and work the joint down with the stick as before. There will be excess cloth beyond the edge of this joint: if this is just trim, leave the squeezed-out glue alone. But if this is to be folded over on to the face of the reservoir, take out the excess glue with a rag and hot water, taking care to leave the actual glue joint undisturbed.

Once this joint is well made, you will do the ends of the reservoir, except in this case you have to prepare *both* surfaces for glue at the same time - you will see why when you do it! Read part 4 before moving on!

Note 2: Pin through the "selvage" (material that will be trimmed off), not through an area that will form the working part of the reservoir! 

Continued in Part 4. 

Revised 01/2001; Copyright 2001 James B. Tyler