Rebuilding the Æolian Orchestrelle
58-Note Player Reed Organ, 1912 Model "W"
by Richard Vance
Copyright (C) 2001 by Richard Z. Vance
rev. A, 12 December, 2001

Chapter 19.4 - Preparing the Pallets

    Each rank had several different kinds of pallets, depending on the size of the valve hole to be covered.  Although the overall length of the pallets was the same for all, two different widths were used; 5/8" and 3/4".  The part of the pallet covered with felt and leather varied in length from 1-1/2" to 2-1/4", in 1/8" increments.  None of the ranks used the same combination of widths and lengths, so the pallets were kept apart by rank.  The first step, before cleaning off the old seats, was to mark the points on the side of every pallet, indicating the end positions of the seat.  Then a scale was made to easily measure the seat lengths, and the tip of the pallet was marked with a number, the second digit of the number of eighths; "2" = 12/8 0r 1-1/2" and "8" = 18/8 or 2-1/4".

    The old seats were pulled off.  At this point, the old link wire staples were pulled out, and new staples with new leather tabs, were driven in.  This is the subject of a later, separate chapter.

    To get the last remnants of felt and glue off the sticks, the bottom of the pallets were immersed in a shallow pan of water, and left face down on the tile counter top.  After about 20 minutes, the surprisingly stubborn ridges of glue softened, and could be cleanly scraped off without cutting the wood.  Needless to say, sanding or dry scraping is impermissible here; the precisely made, absolutely flat surface of the sticks must be preserved.

    To replicate the old valves, OSI Item 6101,.03 9/64" white wool pallet felt, and Leather Supply House  Item CGD, 2-2.5 oz Degrained Goatskin was selected.  The felt and leather was cut into 1/4" oversized strips, for each different valve width required.

    A composite of leather was made.  First, the leather strip was taped nap side down, to a paper towel covered cutting board.  Then hot glue was brushed onto the flesh side of the leather, and the matching felt strip was stuck on.   While the glue was still warm, the strips were clamped between two strips of wood (not shown) to assure full adhesion all along their length.

    When dry, the strips were accurately trimmed to the six different widths required.

    When the seats were originally glued to the pallets, the stick face was not glued all over.  Apparently some type of heated roller wheel was used to apply two narrow lines of glue near the edges of the stick surface.  There is a good reason for this; the same reason that vacuum reed organ felts are applied to the pallets with only a few drops of glue.  Hot glue is an hygroscopic complex, just like wood.  It can absorb atmospheric water and swell, but not necessarily at exactly the same rate as  wood.  A layer of glue covering the entire width of the pallet might swell or shrink differently than the wood due to changes in ambient relative humidity, causing the stick to warp or bow widthwise.  In order to get two narrow lines of glue on the sticks quickly, I finally puzzled out this trick.  Strips of sticky paper, made from Avery file folder labels, were cut 1/8" narrower than the pallets, and stuck on as shown.  Then a thick coat of hot glue was brushed on, and the sticky paper was quickly pulled off.  This left two narrow, but heavy streaks of glue on the edges of the stick.

    The glued pallets were quickly laid down on the composite strips, using the pencil marks on the edges of the sticks to guide them into correct position.  (The pencil lines seen on the pallets are marks indicating which of the six ranks the pallet belongs to.)

    Notice that I separated each pallet with a segment of snap-knife blade.  I know that this is not "correct"; one is supposed to lay the pallets on the strip side-by-side; but there was a problem with that.  The width of the pallets is barely 3/32" wider than the valve holes; there is no allowance for the leather being even a bit narrower than the stick.  Examining the smoke marks around the valve holes, I could see that some of the old valves barely covered them.  To avoid any potential problem here, I wanted the valve leathers to always be at least as wide as the sticks.

    When the glue is dried, the pallets are cut apart by inserting a snap-knife blade between them, held perfectly vertical, and hitting the back of the blade with a hammer.

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