I had an amazing experience this past weekend. I participated in a workshop to build an Angel Harp, also known as a kantele.
The kantele is a wonderful folk instrument, tuned in pentatonic. The tutor leading the workshop, Dennis, had sourced a beautiful maple wood from the Czech Republic, where he resides, for the body of the harp.
The starting point was to rough out the middle of the harp and then smooth any ridges. This was done with a chisel. I really enjoy woodcarving (this was more woodwork territory as we weren’t making any designs), and found it very therapeutic. The thing I love most about woodcarving of any kind is the difference in thought process to many other kinds of arts or craftwork. With perhaps the exception of lino printing, arts and crafts most often involve building upon or adding to a base. Woodcarving on the other hand, requires the ability to see the negative – to see what is there and what to remove rather than what is there and what to add.
Chiselling away the wood requires patience and to really assess the grain of the wood and work with it. I always feel like it is alive under my hands. I found that as I was solely focusing on making the wood smooth, it was different to other woodcarving I had done before where the aim was to gain a particular shape of an animal or object. It was good practice for me as I got to focus more on my technique and to really understand the wood better as I worked on the same area with the same objective for three or so hours. The chisel wasn’t as sharp as many I’ve used before and the wood was more dense, so it was more of a challenge for me and one that I enjoyed. I felt the ridges of the wood and slowly chipped away. Once a piece of wood has been taken off, there is no going back!
After carving, the wood was sanded down and the tuning pins added. It was very hard work hand tightening the pins in and my wrist is definitely worse for wear the following day, but it was worth the effort! I found this part really tested my patience and found myself getting quite stroppy after an hour or so of working the pins. Thinking back mindfully, I was not very in the moment or process, rather than worrying about the time and whether I’d finish the harp by the end of the workshop.
Next came the waxing. Dennis had made a lovely beeswax with olive oil mix, which was smoothed onto the body of the instrument and left to dry. After all the work with the pins, this part came as a very welcome relief – the wax feeling soft against my chafed hands and some much needed time to recover from the ache in them.
The strings were then added and roughly tuned with Dennis’ help, then the bridge slid in and I fine tuned the strings when I arrived home.
The finished result – a beautiful pentatonic Angel Harp, which sounds as heavenly as its name 🙂
If you’re in the UK or Czech Republic, you can make a lovely kantele too if Dennis is in town 🙂