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Packaging a nyckelharpa for shipping

by Bart Brashers

If you need to ship a nyckelharpa, here’s some tips on packaging it so it won’t get damaged. I’ve shipped many properly packaged nyckelharpas, without any problems.

In short, you want the nyckelharpa to be shipped

  • inside a hard-shell case
  • loosely but tightly held in place
  • with plenty of padding outside

The first point is pretty obvious, but since soft cases exist I thought I’d point it out. You always want to keep a nyckelharpa inside a case, and preferably a hard-shell case, so you might as well send one with the harpa. If you also want to own a soft case, that’s fine, but I’ll bet there’s still situations where you’ll want a hard-shell case as well.

The second point is perhaps not so obvious. If you just place a nyckelharpa inside its case and wrap it up, the harpa could have room to move (slide) around inside during shipping. That means that if dropped, the harpa will hit the inside wall of the case with the same force as the package hits the ground, which could cause damage. It’s the same reason we wear seatbelts when driving. During a frontal collision, although the car is decelerating rapidly, you are still moving at the same speed. The occupant’s body hits the dashboard at nearly the same speed as the car was going. Bodyslamming the dashboard at 60 mph is not good for a body! In the same way, a non-secured harpa hitting the inside wall of the case can cause damage. So always wear your seatbelt, and put plenty of padding around your harpa inside its case.

I prefer to use Bubble Wrap, the kind with the 1-1/4 inch (3 cm) bubbles, not the kind with the 3/8 inch (1 cm) bubbles. The larger bubbles are also taller than the smaller bubbles, and seem more squishy. The idea here is to hold the harpa firmly, yet loosely, in place. Any forces are absorbed by the Bubble Wrap and not transfered to the harpa, yet the harpa cannot move (much) around inside the case. Of course, if it’s held perfectly rigidly, then all the force of being dropped is transferred to the harpa. Most damage will still be likely to occur to the case, but it’s better if some of the force can be absorbed by the Bubble Wrap. The harpa should be able to move, but only a little. Loose, yet rigid.

Take some Bubble Wrap and cut it into pieces small enough to work with. Try to get some on all 6 sides of the harpa:

  • Under the harpa as it lies in its case
  • Between the sides of the harpa and the walls of the case
  • Between the tailpiece and the end wall of the case
  • Between the peg head and the other end wall of the case
  • On top of the harpa, the last thing before you close the case

Tip: Make little rolls of Bubble Wrap, the same width as the depth of your case. For example I usually put two small rolls in the corners on either side of the tailpiece, rather than a sheet between the tip of the tailpiece and the case. That helps keep the harpa from moving side-to-side as well.

Tip: If the case has an internal box or compartment that has a lid (often used to store a bow, rosin, etc.) you need to make sure the lid stays closed. Some have a little latch, others don’t. If yours doesn’t, make a roll of Bubble Wrap that’s the same diameter as the distance between the top of your compartment’s lid and the inside of the top of the case when closed. Tape the roll to keep it from unravelling, and place it on top of the compartment. If the diameter is right, it will prevent the lid from opening, and keep the bow from floating around inside the case during shipping.

Tip: Make the that the harpa can’t move around enough to contact the corner of the interior bow box. If it does, that corner could rip a piece of the top off the harpa, since the top has an over-hanging lip. Make sure the harpa body is securely away from the corner of the bow box, and that the harpa can’t move around enough to get caught up on it!

Now that you have the nyckelharpa securely yet loosely held inside the case, close and lock the case (assuming it has locks on the latches). Attach the keys to the handle with a rubber band. Pick up the harpa-in-case and shake it a bit, and/or turn it over and around, and listen to hear if the harpa is moving inside the case. If it is (or perhaps the bow is), open it and fix the problem.

Next, measure out a piece of Bubble Wrap about 20 feet (6 m) by about 48 inches (120 cm). It should be about 8 or 10 inches wider than the harpa case is long. You may have to use several pieces and tape them together side-by-side to make one piece. If you have the 24 inch (60 cm) wide Bubble Wrap, you’ll need two pieces — 4 pieces for the 12 inch (30 cm) wide stuff. Roll up the harpa case in the bubble wrap, and you’ll find that it makes a layer about 4 or 5 inches (10 or 12 cm) thick. Seal the ending edge with packaging tape, the whole width of the harpa. Treat the ends as if you were wrapping a birthday gift, and seal with tape. You might have to pucture a few of the bubbles to get the corners to work right, since there’s so many layers overlapping right in the corner.

Finally, you’ll want to wrap the whole thing in some paper. If you can find a big roll of Kraft or butcher paper that’s at least 55 inches (140 cm) wide, you can use that. If not, get creative with a bunch of grocery bags or something. The paper will help keep sharp objects from popping too many of the bubbles, and give you a nice surface to write the addresses on.

Be sure to insure the harpa when you mail or ship it. Typical cost for mailing USPS with insurance is about 30 USD (March 2000).

On-line Bubble Wrap (and Kraft Paper) sources: