This originally appeared as ‘Workshop News’ in August 2001

The main work on hand at the moment is completing the restoration of a large eighteenth-century Swedish clavichord.

Restoration work is both infuriating and fascinating. It constantly presents new problems which require special and unique solutions. For example, the bass end of the bridge of this instrument had come away from the soundboard. Absolutely essential to re-fix it, otherwise the sideways pressure of the strings on the top of the bridge would detach more and more of the bridge, with disastrous results. But to get a good, durable joint one must press the bridge and the soundboard surface firmly together, squeezing out glue.

How to do this? Simply pressing down on the bridge will not work, because the soundboard below it is flexible and unsupported, and would simply yield and perhaps eventually break. Some way had to be found of supporting the soundboard firmly at the point where pressure was to be applied. Bear in mind that the underside of the soundboard is almost inaccessible: the only opening is the window (or 'mousehole') in the belly rail, which is not very large, and is a good two feet six inches (800 mm) from the bass end of the bridge.

Eventually, after many experiments and much peering into the dark interior of the soundbox using a torch and mirrors, I found it was possible to make use of a brace which the maker had inserted inside the soundbox to resist the pull of the strings. It happened that this ran almost directly underneath the bass end of the bridge, and I was able to devise and make a special wedge which, when mounted on the end of a long stick, could be jammed into position between the soundboard and the brace, providing support at the crucial point.

This was a one-off solution to a one-off problem: I probably will never need to use this particular technique again. But preparing, testing, adjusting, and finally using the method took four full days' work. In restoration, one must abandon entirely the 'production' mentality that tends to rear its head when one is actually making instruments. Time must not, of course, be wasted, but tricky jobs must simply take as long as they take. If my patience runs out before the end of the day, I put the job aside and tackle something else - or simply go home.

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