Category Archives: Heavy-handed humour

A visit from the Top Joint Fairy

My workshop is quite small. I’ve developed a system where I use specially designed plywood worktops that clamp into a pair of Triton Superjaws – for each new part of construction I swap the worktops around. Today I had my shooting board in one Superjaws and a jointing table in the other, which is what I do when I’m joining two panels along the centreline to make a back or top plate.


Triton Superjaws clamp (the red patch isn't blood - just some dye I spilled)

Triton Superjaws clamp (the red patch isn’t blood – just some dye I spilled)

Sometimes the joints fit together like magic, but today wasn’t one of those times. I was putting together  the top plate for my new baritone guitar and getting no cooperation at all from the pieces.

Jointing table

Jointing table

I was considering sending them to stand in the corner until they were ready to behave respectfully.

“King Canute,” said a voice from behind me. I spun around. Siting on the shooting board was a small female personage with gauzy wings. She was wagging her finger at me. She was impossible, so I didn’t see her and spun back again.

“Tried to turn back the tide by ordering it not to wet his feet,” said the fairy. “Thought that words could make the world behave itself.”

I turned back to her slowly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said.

“Yes you do.” She looked around my workshop. “Messy,” she said.

“Well, at least it exists,” I said cleverly.

“Whatever. Don’t you like want to know why I’m here? I’ve been watching you make a mess of that top joint,” she said. “I’m the Top Joint Fairy.”

“Never heard of you. Any relation to Tooth?”

She was tapping her foot. “Do you want some help or not?”

“You’re not mentioned in Gore & Gilet.”

“Like, daaah! They can actually make good top joints, so I didn’t need to help them. Now you…”

“I do a pretty good job, I think.”

I do a pretty good job,” she mocked. “Is that what you like think guitar making is about? Hit and miss – good one day, horrible the next?”

“What do you know about it?”

“I was around when Orpheus got the idea of popping a tortoise and stringing it up. Okay, so maybe I’m, like, a minor deity” – she made inverted commas with her fingers – “but I’ve seen more top joints made than you’ve had hot dinners. I know when someone’s making a hash of it.”

“I’m not making a hash of it,” I whined. “Look, I’ve got a shooting board and a jointing table. I’ve got a sharp jointing plane, and another one with sticky sandpaper on the bottom for the fine work. I had to send away to Stewmac for the sticky sandpaper. And I got a flat steel fingerboard leveller and stuck sandpaper to that too…I spend hours…sometimes the wood just won’t behave…”

The Top Joint Fairy was examining her fingernails, as if there might be some tiny flaw in their perfection. I was boring her.

“Whatever,” she said. “You’re missing the point. I, like, wouldn’t be here unless you’d already done all that.”

“So what am I doing wrong? In your opinion.”

“Whoah, touchy! I’ve like got a simple technique that’ll allow you to get it right every time without all the fiddlefaddle you get up to. Put a slight concave curve in the fitted edges.”

“Is that all? I learned that in high-school woodwork! It doesn’t work very well with wide, thin panels because they don’t bend together when you clamp them. And I know all about what Gore & Gilet say about the risk of the joint opening from the ends if it isn’t slightly concave to start with.”

“So let me like finish, Einstein. Put a slightly concave edge first, so that the ends are together and the middle is like very slightly apart, maybe a hair wide. Then, to get a perfect fit, ease off some wood at each end until the joint becomes like invisible. It works every time. Use your sanding tools very gently and the joint like disappears when you glue and clamp it. The panels don’t have to bend – the grain at the contact points crushes a tiny amount under sideways pressure. And there you have it.”

Okay, I didn’t really get a visit from the Top Joint Fairy. But this method works, so I may as well have.

Why the Balrog in Moria got really cranky

The Balrog who lived in the basement of the Mines of Moria wasn’t usually a cranky type. Indeed, he was having a quiet few centuries off after ridding Moria of its dwarf plague.

Always a believer in self-improvement, he’d decided to use the time constructively and build himself a guitar. His brother had taught him some way cool riffs you could play on the E string, and so he was humming “DANT DANT DAN,  DANT DANT DA-DAN, Smoooooke on the waaaater...” quietly to himself as he worked on the new Super Oliphaunt model.

Of course, his brother’s guitar had elf-gut strings, which everybody knew were the best if you could get them. Troll-gut wasn’t bad, but it was best for basses. Man-gut never lived up to its promise, he deemed. He’d have to settle for orc-gut – you couldn’t even get dwarf-gut these days. Oh well, he thought, they’d had to be got rid of. The greedy bad-tempered little sods with their lousy folk songs and their axe competitions and their horrible hairy little faces (to say nothing of the males).

It hadn’t been easy working out how to make the Super Oliphaunt fire- and slime-proof, but perseverance always pays off, and now he was just about to…

“…Pippin felt curiously attracted by the well…Moved by a sudden impulse he groped for a loose stone and let it drop…then far below, as if the stone had fallen into deep water in some cavernous place, there came a plunk, very distant, but magnified and repeated in the hollow shaft. “What’s that?” cried Gandalf… “Fool of a Took!…Throw yourself in next time…!” *

…and now, as the Balrog was just about to…PLUNK!!!!!! 

” What’s that?” cried the Balrog, nearly dropping his whip. The little team of orcs in front of him quailed, and nervously shifted their grip on the sweaty leather ropes that attached them to Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld. The Balrog had borrowed it from the Chief Nazgul, who had sniffed and hissed at him from under its black hood and told him to have it back inside a week. Or else – there were big plans for Grond. The Chief Nazgul really should get something done about its breath. It was, like, whoah!

So the Balrog was under pressure, no doubt about it. He took a deep breath.

Forget the plunk, he told himself. There’s no time to worry about plunks.

“Heave!” he called to the orcs. “Not too far…now, let go!” Grond swung toward the Super Oliphaunt’s bridge section and connected with a satisfying tap, followed by an echoing -tom.  Moria really did have nice acoustics. “Again! Let’s keep it uniform!” he roared. Tap-tom, tap-tap, tom went the hammer.

This guitar was going to be great! So resonant! The coupled Helmholtz resonance was awesome, and the T(2,1) cross dipole was singing. Singing! If only he could get hold of an elf, or even a few dwarves for a set of strings. (Dwarfs! Dwarfs! Not “dwarves”! he chided himself. He always forgot what the correct plural form was. Or was it dwarrows?)

And many levels above…

Gimli’s like: “That was the sound of a hammer, or I have never heard one.” 

“Master!” squealed a breathless orc as it skidded to a halt at the bottom of the Endless Staircase.”The upper levels…there’s…there’s…a wizard, an elf, a dwarf, two humans, four little guys with hairy feet, and another creepy little guy with bug eyes following them!”

“Be cool,” said the Balrog. “An elf, you say…and where did you say I can find our visitors?” A wizard, eh? Perhaps he’d make a wizard set of strings! “Keep tapping, lads, while I go and see to our visitors.”

“Yes, sir, whatever you say, sir!” cried the orcs. They drew back on Grond and let fly with a couple more big taps. DOOM! DOOM! the Super Oliphaunt roared.

“Not so hard, you idiots!” shouted the Balrog, and burst into flame.

Now I’m not saying that needing a set of strings is a good reason for attempted murder of a wizard. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Getting between me and a new set of strings is like getting between a cruise-ship passenger and the smorgasbord, so I do sympathise. But Gandalf could have let him have the elf. Just saying.

And I know when I get interrupted while tapping I get pretty cranky too. The Balrog never got to play Smoke on the Water for Sauron on his awesome Super Oliphaunt, once Gandalf had finished with him. So was the Balrog evil? Perhaps, but I blame society.

* The Fellowship of the Ring, JRR Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin NY 2002