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l) Tommy, Dave & Sharon Our Shop
In our home workshop in Corvallis, Oregon, Thormahlen Harps consistently produces some of the world's finest lever harps. As a craftsman, I appreciate a pleasant work environment. My assistant, Tommy Nunn, and I work in a well equipped woodworking shop. There are lots of windows for natural light, a wood floor for those busy feet and a centralized dust collector to keep the air breathable. We have 2 other rooms, one, we call our "studio" which is also our showroom. This is where we string and lever the harps, and store most of our lumber. The other room is called the "harp room" where we keep the harps safe and sound and pack the harps up for shipping. We would dearly love to have you come and visit us, get a tour of the shop and play some harps. It is best to make an appointment so we know you're coming and we are sure to be home. We'll also have the harps tuned up and ready for a workout. Hope to see you!
- Dave Thormahlen

On June 1, 2006, Oregon Public Broadcasting aired a 8 minute interview and tour of our shop on Oregon Art Beat. We were very happy with what they could show in 10 minutes after 4 hours of filming.

The Thormahlen Harps Workshop: The Making of a Harp

Oregon Art Beat, from the Oregon Public Broadcasting Television Station, came to our home and shop in October of 2005. They filmed 4 hours of what happens here at Thormahlen Harps and condensed it into an 8 minute video clip that aired June 1, 2006. We hope you enjoy learning about our harps from this video. Time: 7:48

The tunes played in this video are as follows:

22: Confluence (from the book Gossamer Gate book)

2:31 Song for a Whale (from the book A Rose In Winter)

6:33 Sunstream (from the book Gossamer Gate)


See the Art Beat crew filming our segment

Watching a Harp Come to Life - by Sharon Thormahlen
Watching a harp come to life is a pretty impressive process. I have been in awe of it ever since I watched Dave make his first harp in 1984. Let me tell you what it’s like. He starts with this “big ole” hunk of wood. Usually a board about 8 to 12 feet long, 6 to 12 inches wide and as thick as 3 inches. It has saw blade marks on it and jagged edges, as it has just come out of the mill. He lays out his plywood templates much the way some of us would lay pattern pieces on a piece of cloth to make an item of clothing. He attempts to get the prettiest parts of the wood in just the right places and at the same time getting the most out of each board. Using some big and loud machinery, that the cat runs away from, he begins to shape the harp into harp parts. Then he takes each piece and fillets them, opening them up like a book to get perfectly matched pieces to use for the back, sides, and neck. They call this resawing.

Dave on the band saw The next process is thickness sanding. Tommy, Dave’s helper, will stand at the thickness sander for hours, and sometimes days sending all the parts through many times, gradually thinning them to just the right thickness. He will set some old issues of the Folk Harp Journal, Frets Magazine or The Guild of American Luthier’s Journal on top of the thickness sander and read away as he passes the wood through the machine. Good use of time!

Dave and Tommy take about 2 weeks to make these “sets” which they will be using for the next 3 months for upcoming orders. When we have visitors in the shop, they almost always comment on the smells from the wood. Dave and Tommy are so used to it, they hardly notice the sweet smells of cherry and mahogany or the pungent aroma of redwood and cedar. Tommy’s wife, Tina, often can tell when they have been working with walnut, because Tommy comes home smelling like a barnyard and usually takes a lot of dark colored dust home with him. I try not to complain about the dust and glue that Dave tracks into the house. There’s usually a little pile of wood chips under his chair after he’s come in for lunch.

With each step the harp comes more and more to life. This next step is when it really takes shape. For the Swan, Cygnet, and Clare harps, Dave places the 5 staves on a mold and sets a piece of contrasting trim between each piece. (See photos below.) These 5 pieces make the soundbox. You really get a feel for the way the harp is going to look when this step is completed. He then braces the joints on the inside, cleaning up the glue so it looks as neat and tidy on the inside as it does on the outside. Tommy, in the meantime, is putting together necks, pre-sanding the neck and pillar and drilling all the holes in the neck that will later hold the tuning pins.

Dave plainingAnother step in the process is making the sound boards. Boy, what a job that is. Starting with a piece of wood that you could just as well throw into a fireplace, Dave slices it thinly like a hunk of cheese. He then edge glues the soundboard with these trapezoidal pieces of wood are anywhere from 8-16 inches wide, 4-8 inches tall and 1/2 inch thick. After the glue dries, he puts them onto a rack in the drying box to get the moisture down to 7-8%. This helps the instrument survive in lower humidity climates. However we must never forget that wood continues to dry out, and we must keep those humidifiers going and our harps away from heaters, air conditioners and sunny windows.

The soundboard then gets glued onto the box and the rest of the trim work goes on the harp. This sets off the contrast between the colors of the wood, and you really see the beauty of this new instrument taking hold. (See photos below.)
After the box is assembled, Dave glues the neck and pillar together and adds the T-brace on the pillar. This helps increase the strength of the neck and pillar which is forever being pulled by the tension of the strings.


When all this is done, Tommy takes these 5 harps worth of parts home for a week, sanding 1 a day for 5 hours or more each. When they come back, Dave goes over them with a fine toothed comb (or should I say a piece of fine sandpaper) and does his quality control thing. This has a direct relationship to the finished quality of the harp.

Oh boy, spray day! Have you ever taken a rock from the river that you think is so beautiful, put it in your pocket only to wonder what you saw in it after it has dried? Well, this is the opposite effect. When Dave sprays the wood with lacquer (at which time he is wearing a huge space-like helmet and suit) the harp's wood grain becomes something to behold. Every variation in color that the tree produced in its wood comes to life. The quilted clouds of the maple, the straight lines in the mahogany, the rich, bold color of the bubinga and rosewood, the dark walnut and the swirly cherry makes you think of the best dessert tray you’ve ever seen. What a treat!

Orchestrating all these steps is like a complicated dance. Dave is always trying to stay one step ahead of Tommy. In order to keep him busy, Dave has to get certain things done before Tommy can do what he needs to do. Dave has been known to get out of bed at 9pm (yes, we are in bed reading by then, if not sleeping) to do one more glue up, so that in the morning things are ready to go.

Stringing Day! One of our favorites. This is where I get to start helping with more than the office work, ordering, and phone calls. Dave rubs out the finish with steel wool of all things. I wouldn’t want to get very close to my harp with steel wool but believe it or not, that’s what woodworkers use when they are rubbing out the finish. Tommy sets in all the pins and pegs and just after lunch the harps are ready for me to start putting the strings on. It takes all day to string up 5 harps and about 2 weeks to get them to hold a pitch long enough to get to play them. Tuning, of course, is my job. Once or twice a day I give them all a tuning. Dave levering

One of the most fun parts
of tuning is when they do finally hold their pitch, I can play a little song on each one as I go through them. Sometimes this is the most practice I get in a day. I have even written a couple of tunes as I was “working” the harps. I wrote “A Mossy Glade” on Ziggy’s new harp, and “The Last Goodbye” I wrote on Varyanna’s new harp. It’s so great to see how each harp sings to us. I feel lucky to get to my hands on so many different harps every month.

After tuning for 2 weeks, it’s time for Dave to start levering. By this time, the strings have stretched and somewhat stabilized enough to regulate the harp's levers. He’s got this down to a science. He spends about an hour and a half putting the Camac levers on each harp making sure he is putting the levers in the right place. After the levers are put on, I go through each harp making sure the levers are working just right.

At what point do we feel that the harp is actually a harp? When is its birthday anyway? For me, the stringing day is probably the most significant step. However, it’s not really complete until the levers are on. Then it’s ready to ship out. By this time Tommy’s probably just bringing back the next batch of 5 harps that he’s sanded and Dave will be once again suiting up for spraying those harps and seeing the wood grain emerge. The process just keeps circling around, and it’s wonderful every time.

"Watching a Harp Come to Life"
Printed in Folk Harp Journal, June 2001
by Sharon Thormahlen

Check out the Thormahlen Harp family. Read about Dave or go directly on to the Lever options page.

Dave Thormahlen
Dave Thormahlen

Tommy Nunn

Thormahlen Harps | 1876 SW Brooklane Corvallis, Oregon 97333 | (541) 753-4334 | harps@thorharp.com