Wooden Ocarina Project

This project has evolved quite significantly. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I guess clay is just not for me. Wood is something I trust and like to shape.

So I turned around, as planned, and switched to an in-line, wooden model. Here are the steps I took in detail. Please feel free to adapt to suit your needs if you undertake such a challenge.

1- Jointing / planing a piece of 2-in material. Here, I used sapele, in part because I like its appearance once oiled, but in greater part simply because I had some available… The length here, 14 inches, is to work safely with my planer. The safety rules say 12 in. or more, and I figured I would make some extra either to repair my mistakes or else to make two ocarinas of different sizes.


2- I then resawed the front and the back of the board into 3/8 in. thicknesses to make the top and bottom of the ocarina. I planed all uneven surfaces and marked them to know the grain direction.



3- I measured and marked all pieces, taped all three into one block and cut the outside shape.


4-After drilling a hole in the central piece to thread my jigsaw blade, I cut the inside of the central piece.


5- I taped all three pieces together again and shaped them on the belt sander.

6- Next it was time to glue the bottom and center sections together, clamp and let dry.


7- Then came the fun part. At least for a total newbie like me. Cutting the holes for the voice. I started by cutting from the top, with the recommended 45 degree angle ramp leading to the labium.


8- Then I worked on the underside to create a slight slope (windway), squared all over, leading to the windway exit. Gosh I was eager to test it. No sound. File, cut, sand again. Nothing. Then I noticed that the slope I had cut on the underside did not align perfectly with the labium. How could it, seeing as I had had to carve it to make the air come through? So in an act of half despair, I started filing the windway on the underside while filing way past the top vent. Always a little at a time. Always testing for sound every minute or so. This is what I ended up with:


Notice the lines that extend past the windway exit in the top. I worked my way, with patience, to what some refer to as the “sweet spot.” And voil√†! There was the ocarina`s voice at long last! I filed further and further until the sound was nice and clear.

9- I taped all three pieces together again and shaped the mouth piece on the belt sander.


10- Next came tuning. I am absolutely no expert in music, and thus all constructive advice is welcome here. I used a chromatic tuner to determine the ocarina`s base sound. It gave me something very close to an F minor, so I added a bit of material in the sound box and sanded this material until the instrument gave me a clear F minor.


Note here that I first drilled two holes in the bottom of the ocarina. I thought these were necessary to produce the sound, given that at first the instrument was silent (I know, duh… but that`s the learning curve!). When I was in the midst of the tuning process, I found that the bottom holes would be unnecessary for this instrument–it already plays 8 notes–so I glued plugs into the holes. When my son plays it, I will tell him that I put those plugs in to indicate where to place his thumbs. ūüôā

Back to tuning… After I had traced my fingers where they would hold the ocarina comfortably, I drilled eight very small holes. I taped them all but one, and then drilled it wider and wider until it produced the desired sound. Then, I uncovered another hole and made the necessary adjustments to hole size for the next sound to play, and so on and so forth. It should be noted that I looked up the notes for a key in F minor. Those are the notes I used.


11- After much testing, drilling and testing again (heck, I must have taken a 3-mile walk in my garage going back and forth between the drill press and the table where I worked), I was happy with the sound. I then sanded the center block and the bottom of the top part, oiled the inside thoroughly with food safe oil (carefully avoiding all future glue surfaces) and then glued the top onto the bottom section.


I now need to let it dry for 24 hours, after which I will finish sand it until my knuckles bleed. I am currently wondering whether I should decorate it with woodburning prior to oiling. What are your thoughts on this? Would pyrography make the piece appear to be too charged with detail? Comments welcome!



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