A Sympathetic Nail Violin

As a hacker community, we are no strangers to beautiful and unique musical instruments. A sympathetic nail violin built by [Nicolas Bras] is a welcome addition to the eclectic family. Working up from the simple idea of a nail in a piece of wood and adjusting the pitch by hammering the nail farther into the wood, [Nicolas] expanded the idea. With careful planning and tuning, the nails can have sympathetic properties. These properties mean that when one nail is played via a bow, it causes other nails to sound, creating harmonies and sustains.

With a bit of careful woodworking and a scant touch of metalwork, an instrument was crafted. It offers vast flexibility as it can be played by bow, by plucking with your finger, or by strumming. There are several levels of nails, each level having a paired sympathetic nail. This allows for a diverse and versatile instrument.

Here at Hackaday, we seem to have a thing for tiny violins, whether physical or virtual. While the nail violin may not look like your traditional violin, we can certainly appreciate the wonderful music it creates.

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Making A Mediaeval Nail

If for some reason I were to acknowledge the inevitability of encroaching middle age and abandon the hardware hacker community for the more sedate world of historical recreation, I know exactly which band of enthusiasts I’d join and what period I would specialise in. Not for me the lure of a stately home in Regency England or the Royal court of Tudor London despite the really cool outfits, instead I would head directly for the 14th century and the reign of King Edward the Third, to play the part of a blacksmith’s wife making nails. It seems apposite to pick the year 1337, doesn’t it.

The woman blacksmith forging a nail depicted in the Holkham Bible. British Library (Public domain)
The woman blacksmith forging a nail depicted in the Holkham Bible. British Library (Public domain)

Why am I so sure? To answer that I must take you to the British Library, and open the pages of the Holkham Bible. This is an illustrated book of Biblical stories from the years around 1330, and it is notable for the extent and quality of its illuminations. All of mediaeval life is there, sharply observed in beautiful colour, for among the Biblical scenes there are contemporary images of the people who would have inhabited the world of whichever monks created it. One of its more famous pages is the one that caught my eye, because it depicts a woman wearing a blacksmith’s apron over her dress while she operates a forge. She’s a blacksmith’s wife, and she’s forging a mediaeval carpenter’s nail. The historians tell us that this was an activity seen as women’s work because the nails used in the Crucifixion were reputed to have been forged by a woman, and for that reason she is depicted as something of an ugly crone. Thanks, unknown mediaeval monk, you really don’t want to know how this lady blacksmith would draw you!
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Nails And Some Blacksmithing

Here’s a blacksmith turning 4 inch framing nails into buckles. In the clip after the break he starts by heating and bending the nail around a square form. Next the excess gets cut off and both sides of the square frame are ground flat while in a vise. A smaller nail serves as the prong and a flat piece of metal is shaped so that this can be connected to a leather strap. This ends up as part of the support system for a full suit of armor.

We’ve seen a lot of great welding projects over the years, but today’s blacksmithing video leaves us wanting. If you’ve got a favorite project that involved this kind of work tip us off about it and we’ll see if we can get some more hacks for the Smithies out there.

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