EOL 4: Kavals and Dzamares (Tammer)

2. Making Kavals

Wood for kavals is cut in spring and summer from the trunks of small ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) growing on the Skopska Crna Gora mountains of the region near Brest, just a few kilometers from the Macedonia-Kosovo border. The trunks are cut approximately 50 mm in diameter, a meter long, and are taken from the top of a tree which is about ten years old. If trunk sections are taken too low on the tree, the kaval will become crooked again after the wood is straightened. The best wood is taken from trees which grow in the sun, as the wood is somewhat harder and drills cleaner. The wood is left to dry about one month after cutting. If wood is not left to dry somewhat, it will shrink after boring. The wood must not be left too long after cutting, however, for it will become too hard to straighten and bore.

1. Fixture photo thumbnail plate 1
Fixture in a
crook of a tree

The workspace for making kavals is entirely outdoors, in Liman's side yard, making this an activity which would not be engaged in during the winter months. The only fixed apparatus employed in the process is a device made from the crook of a small tree which has been attached to a metal pole in the yard (plate 1). Liman starts by making a fire in a low tin pan about 50 cm in diameter. Large beech chips are used for the fire. Two ash trunks are selected for a pair of kavals. Liman decides how long the kavals are to be. If kavals are made to order, the traditional player would determine a length by placing his fists, one over the other, along the length of a stick. He would ask for a kaval of 8 1/2 fists, for instance. Liman would mark the point and make a set a kavals to this length. Nowadays most kavals are made in standard lengths of roughly 69, 71, 76, or on rare occasions, for old players, 82 centimeters. The two ash sticks, which do not appear to be particularly straight, are rotated often and pulled slowly through the fire (plate 2). The bark becomes black and charred, and steam from the moisture in the wood is seen exiting at the hot end. The wood is thus steamed internally and softened. The whole process of heating takes abut forty-five minutes. Now the wood is hot, must be handled with gloves, and has become soft enough to straighten. Straightening is done very carefully, and takes about thirty minutes for each stick (plate 3). Liman explains that if the wood is not completely straight, the drill will wander off from the center of the wood, ruining the work.


Heating photo thumbnail
plate 2

Heating the
ash sticks


straight3tn.jpg (8688 bytes)
plate 3

the sticks

Secured photo thumbnail
plate 4
Secured in a horizontal position

After rough straightening, the charred bark and any irregular wood surface is removed with a drawknife to obtain a uniform round, smooth cylinder. Final straightening is completed at this point. Then the wood is set down for a few hours to cool. After cooling, one end is cut cleanly, straight across with a backsaw to reveal the annual growth rings and the dark pith in the very center of the trunk. The other end is shaped to a dull point with an adz. The pointed end is then pounded into a hole in the tree-crook fixture, and the wood is thus secured in a horizontal position for drilling (plate 4).

Drilling photo thumbnail plate 5
the bore
204 KB

Liman has three drills, all made in the same style, for boring the hole, the diameters of which are roughly 15, 16 and 17 millimeters. The different diameters are not used for different length instruments, but are selected at the request of the player. Some players enjoy the ease with which a smaller-bored instrument can hit higher notes, while others appreciate the more powerful low notes of a wider bore. The point of the drill is now carefully placed in the exact center of the stick--which is darker, and where the wood is very soft--and Liman starts to rotate the drill (plate 5). For every four turns, the drill is pulled all the way out of the bore to remove the chips. As the drill is re-inserted into the bore it is thrust firmly home to seat the screw end of the drill. The drill must be very carefully aligned to the stick if the drilling is to proceed smoothly and on center. This is done entirely by eye. Before drilling, a small piece of thread is placed on the thin stem of the drill as a depth marker. Liman stops drilling when the marker reaches the entrance of the bore. Thus the drill does not go completely through the stick. If the inside of the bore is somewhat rough after drilling, as is likely to happen when the wood is soft, it is cleaned up with a stick to which a small piece of sandpaper has been glued. This cleaning is perfunctory, and does not widen the bore. Other than this sandpaper stick, no tool is used in the bore after drilling.


Trimming photo thumbnail
plate 6
Trimming with a drawknife

The trunk is pulled out of the fixture after drilling, and the pointed end is now cut off with a backsaw to reveal a hole of about 3 millimeters diameter created by the point of the drill. Now the wood is trimmed with a drawknife (plate 6) in the following manner: A flat area is whittled away parallel to the bore on one side of the stick. As the whittling proceeds, Liman looks carefully into the bore to gage the thickness of the wall, according to the sunlight seen from inside the bore. More light means a thinner wall. For every stroke of the drawknife, he inspects the bore. While inspecting, he runs his finger up and down the outside of the wood to get a clearer impression of any wall thickness variation. Once one side is cut, another flat area is cut on the opposite side. Once two sides are cut, two opposing sides are cut at 90 degree angles to the first pair to create a square cross-sectioned stick of uniform thickness. Next, the corners of the square are cut to make an octagonal cross-section, uniform and concentric with the bore.


Cutting photo thumbnail
plate 7
Cutting the mouthpiece with an awl

At this point the closed end of the stick is trimmed clean across with a straight-razor to which a wooden handle has been attached. Now the small hole is enlarged with a very thin awl. The inside is tapered to meet the bore, while the very end of the bore is kept smaller (plate 7). This will become the blowing end of the kaval. The handle of the awl used for this purpose is made from the shall casing of a Martini-Henry rifle, of which many were used throughout the Balkans in the late 1800s. Liman referred to the rifle as a "Tursk Martini" (Turkish Martini). The shell casing is used as a gage to produce the correct mouthpiece size, and to make sure it is round. The shell should just drop in the mouthpiece, resulting in a mouthpiece diameter close to 14.5 mm.

Next, the wood is ready for final thinning, which is accomplished with the straight-razor knife rather than the drawknife. Liman uses both hands to guide the razor smoothly across the wood to prevent gouging. The distal end is not cut quite so thinly: for a few inches the flute is kept in the original octagon shape produced by the drawknife. Again, Liman looks carefully into the bore many times to assure the walls are being cut concentrically with the bore. For the best sound, Liman tells me, kavals should be made with very thin walls. Final finishing of the outside is done by a perfunctory sanding with a small piece of sandpaper. A glistening, smooth (though not always perfectly round) outside surface is more the result of careful whittling than sanding. Once the kaval is thinned, the finished length is determined by use of a centimeter tape measure. Final shaping includes necking the flute down below the mouthpiece so that the mouthpiece end may stand out in relief. The faceted distal end is cleaned up and smoothed.

At this point the scratch ornamentation is carved into the flute. It takes about 4 hours to complete the ornamentation of the instrument. Ornaments consist of marks cut with the razor-knife into the instrument in the shape of rings, triangles, 6-pointed stars, thick snake-like lines meandering alternatively to the left and right of these stars, and leaf-like diagonals. Rings are cut holding the kaval in the lap and rotating it while pressing the razor-blade knife on the wood perpendicular to the axis of the instrument. Diamonds in bas-relief are cut around the circumference of the instrument in the area of the mouthpiece. The marks are made to stand out by rubbing sheep-fat blackened with soot into the cuts. A small piece of uncarded wool is dipped into this mixture and rubbed on the wood.

Next the fingerholes are cut with a thin awl. The center of the kaval is found, and this becomes the second fingerhole for the instrument. Fingerholes are placed along the bore at even distances apart. The gage used for determining the distance between fingerholes is the thickness of Liman's own first finger. For a longer kaval, Liman will press harder on the kaval with his finger, creating a wider finger area, and thus creating a greater distance between holes. It is interesting to note that Liman uses his first finger, while his father Islam, a physically smaller man, used his thumb for spacing. All hole spacing is done by eye, though a centimeter scale is handy. The finger holes are small and ovoid, shaped with a small pointed knife to a size of 8 mm long by 6 mm wide. Small tone holes and a tapered mouthpiece demonstrate that a characteristic tonal quality with a large noise component is more important than loudness or purity of tone. The fingerholes are undercut severely, producing a very thin edge where the holes meet the outside diameter, and this may lead to cracking of the instrument between fingerholes. This completes the instrument. A single set of kavals, complete with holder, takes three days to make.

Playing photo thumbnail
plate 8
Playing the kavals

Next section: 3. Details of Kaval

Contents of "Kavals and Dzamares"

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