Sitar peg fitting tips

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Sitar peg fitting tips

Post by StVitus » Fri May 26, 2017 9:38 pm

After spending some time fitting a set of surbahar pegs that had been chopped out and barely filed with some kind of corkscrew device I thought I would post some tips about peg fitting.

First, consider where you’re starting from. Some Indian instrument pegs have literally been hacked out a chunk of lumber with hand tools. They might not be straight or remotely even. If you’re afraid of ruining a finely cut piece of wood, look at it and see if it’s a disaster. When I showed a peg from my surbahar to a violin/cello luthier he said “This is hell.” and refused to work on it. If you have a low-end instrument you might have nothing to lose. You can always buy more pegs from Rain City Music.

Use the proper tools. Chain hardware stores do not sell woodworking files. They sell general purpose metal files. They might have a 4-in-1 wood file, but using that is like using a chainsaw for surgery. Find an independent hardware or woodworking store and buy files made for working. You need a coarse file—not a rasp—and a fine file. Almost no hardware stores sell the file brushes you’ll need to clean sawdust off the file, so either order one or use a stiff dishwashing brush.

File slowly up or down the peg diagonally to the length of the peg. This will preserve the existing taper of the peg. Don’t rub back and forth; only file in one direction at a time. You’ll need to file from different angles as you go to smooth off rough spots and bits of varnish. Hold the peg head in your off hand, the file in your dominant hand, and rest the tip of the peg on your knee. Prop your knee on a box to keep it steady. Start with the coarse file to get an even shape and then smooth with the fine file.

If your peg has a ridge from finishing or burnishing you need to file it off. Pressure from the ridge can crack the wood around the pegs.

Don’t try to get a glassy finish with sandpaper or extra fine files. That can make the peg slip.

Clean off chalk before you start. A small stiff toothbrush and microfiber cloth will work. Clean the peg hole too. You might need to use a q-tip dipped in acetone to clean out old peg dope if somebody used too much, but don’t get acetone on the finish.

Use peg dope (the lipstick kind) to check for even fitting. Many people recommend chalk, but peg dope works better. First insert the peg, and turn ten times in each direction while applying pressure. Don’t shove harder than you do when tuning; you’ll crack the wood around the hole. Remove the peg and apply a conservative amount of peg dope all the way around the burnished area—the smooth and shiny spot created by the turning. Repeat the turning. Now look for spots where the peg dope hasn’t been smoothed. Carefully file away the burnished area and turn again. Keep repeating until the peg dope is smooth all the way around the peg. If you have a big blob of peg dope then you might have to do a lot of filing to get the peg smooth. Take your time. Don’t apply more peg dope unless you finish the job and the peg sticks.

Don’t expect perfection. As already noted, you probably aren’t smoothing a beautiful lathed peg. Get as close as you can to even burnishing. An engineer explained it to me this way: in a round friction joint there will only ever be three real points of contact. There’s no way to make contact all the way around, especially with wood. And the shape of the wood will change over time anyway.

Don’t try to do all your pegs at once. Do it one or two at a time, wait a day, be conservative, and learn as you go. You’ll know how to do it well by the time you get to the last peg. You can clean up the first pegs after that.

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