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Thread: How feasible is it to drill a hole in a zither pin?

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    Registered User Appalachia's Avatar
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    Default How feasible is it to drill a hole in a zither pin?

    First off, this isn't mandolin related, but I thought I would post here to see if any of you can help.

    I'm working on an instrument design that is vaguely similar to a hammered dulcimer; it's trapezoidal and is played by striking the stings. The problem that has arisen is that there are strings that would need to attach to the base of some zither pins after they have passed through the pin block. This isn't normal at all; zither pins don't even normally go all the way through the pin block, but in this case they need to in order to keep the structural integrity of the pin block intact (the alternative would be twice as many holes and/or added thickness).

    I figure that there's enough threading on standard zither pins to be able to have them stick out the back enough to hold a string and still keep a firm grip, but there's no hole for the string on that end of a zither pin, so my question is, how feasible is it to drill a new hole in the steel zither pin?

    I have access to a drill press, which I assume would be pretty necessary for drilling into such a small radius steel cylinder, but I don't know if it would be wise, or if it would work at all, so any input would be appreciated. I'm also open to any low cost alternatives any of you might have.

    Here's an image to help you visualize it:
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    Default Re: How feasible is it to drill a hole in a zither pin?

    It shouldn't be hard if the drill press has a vise to hold the pin solidly; I would grind a small flat spot where you plan to drill so the bit will start easily and not try to slip off sideways. I doubt that the pins are hard enough for that to be an issue.

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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How feasible is it to drill a hole in a zither pin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Appalachia View Post
    ...is played by striking the stings.

    Ouch! Sting them right back!

    ...how feasible is it to drill a new hole in the steel zither pin?
    Very. You can drill a hole through a diamond, you just need the right tools.

    I have access to a drill press
    Good, you'll need it. And you'll need a good drill press vise, as Rroyd advises. To drill a respectable hole, you need that drill press vise to hold the pin.

    You need to use a center punch to start the hole, so the drill bit goes in exactly where it's supposed to go. The starter spot is more important than a flat spot. You use a very sharp hardened punch to mark that spot. Bap!: that is where the bit will make its hole.

    Then you use a nice sharp HSS drill bit intended for hard (not necessarily hardened) steel, and you set your drill press for a slow speed, preferably at or below 350rpm. You can also do this by hand with a hand drill if you're old-school enough to own one. And then you carefully bore that hole, exactly where you prescribed it to be.

    Then you chamfer the edges of that hole with a somewhat larger bit, so the relieved edge won't cut the string.

    Not rocket science. Funny you should just bring this up, as I just did something very close to it yesterday.

    The first pin you do will advise you of how hard the steel is. It's usually not that fierce. My job yesterday was with serious drill stock.
    Last edited by Paul Hostetter; Apr-25-2012 at 12:59am.
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: How feasible is it to drill a hole in a zither pin?

    Instead of a vise, a V-block can be used. Center the drill in the V and you'll drill the center of the pin, no measuring needed (That assumes a punched starting point).

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    Registered User Appalachia's Avatar
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    Default Re: How feasible is it to drill a hole in a zither pin?

    Thanks everyone! I'll move forward with this design now that I know that it's doable.

    I must say, Paul, that that is one of my funnier typos; it makes me think, if you struck the sting of a stingray if you'd get a note out of it; maybe if you plucked it like a mbira.

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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How feasible is it to drill a hole in a zither pin?

    .
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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: How feasible is it to drill a hole in a zither pin?

    John Hamlett's correct. Use a Vee-block along with it's associated screw clamp. It's the one sure fire way of keeping the pin tight enough not to move or rotate,not just to get the job done correctly,but as a matter of safety.You don't want anything slippin' or slidin' while you're drillin',
    Ivan
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    Default Re: How feasible is it to drill a hole in a zither pin?

    Appalachia-

    You didn't ask about this, but it's a little tidbit that goes along with zither pins-

    A zither pin should be driven into it's hole in the pin block, not screwed, the same way piano pins are done. Otherwise the pin will slip. Not to mention it's way easier to drive them in with a few firm raps than to try to screw them in. There's a special punch with a concave end used for doing this which I imagine could be had at a piano tuner's supply house.

    Standard zither pins require a 3/16" hole which is best done with a brad point bit.

    This little nugget was purveyed to me many years ago by a piano tuner and served me well for the 30 or so hammered dulcimers I made.

    It probably doesn't matter too much if your string tension isn't too high, and there aren't too many pins on the instrument. 40+ on a dulcimer, so driving them in makes a lot of sense.

    Pardon me for blathering if you already knew all this stuff.

    Rick

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    Registered User Appalachia's Avatar
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    Default Re: How feasible is it to drill a hole in a zither pin?

    Thanks Rick, I did already know that from a previous hammered dulcimer build. I just used a piece of wood with a shallow hole (that was slightly larger than the pins) and a rubber mallet to hammer them in; it seems to have worked just fine.

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    Default Re: How feasible is it to drill a hole in a zither pin?

    This is how I would make the holes, assuming no machine shop tools except for a center drill:
    - Clamp a pin loosely in the vise (smooth jaws). It should be resting on a thin strip of aluminum or hardwood so that it protrudes slightly proud of the jaws. Tap the pin against the support piece, then tighten the vise fully.
    - Put something pointy in the chuck and position the spindle axis over the pin axis by careful eyeballing. When you touch the pin lightly with a spinning drill point you will see whether the mark on center - if you have a clear view you can see misalignment to within .002", with magnification. Clamp the vise down when you've got it right.
    - Use a center drill to make a crater - this makes the center punch unnecessary. A center drill combines a stiff shank with a small tip. You want the size such that the tip is just smaller than your hole diameter.
    - Chuck up your drill, dab with cutting oil and drill the hole. Don't know the hardness of your pins, but if the oil smokes for more than a few seconds it's getting hot enough to break down the drill edges. Slow spindle speed helps, also back out intermittently to let things cool off.
    - The prep seems elaborate, but if you use an end stop each hole will be located and drilled in less than a minute.
    John
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