Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

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Month: November 2007 Page 1 of 2

Thickness Sander – Make Your Own

thickness sander

I have received more inquiries about my shop made thickness sander than I have for any other post! Go figure!

Though a thickness sander saves time I must admit that I love thicknessing thin stock the old fashioned way. I use a toothing plane, a number of bench planes and a scraper. It works well, it is quiet, it produces shavings instead of dust and it keeps my upper body in shape!thicknessing wood by hand

Here are a few more pictures to assist anyone out there who is thinking of cobbling a thickness sander together. It is a very simple and inexpensive device and it works well.

There are several improvements I would make if I were to build another thickness sander but this one works well enough as is so it will probably be some time before I get around to replacing it.

This device is used for thicknessing tonewood for musical instruments that is finished to less than an eighth of an inch in thickness. It would be just as easy to build a machine to work thicker material.

thickness sander parts

The heart of this thickness sander is a 3 inch  by 6 inch sleeveless sanding drum with a half inch shaft. These are available from a number of woodworking tools suppliers on the web for about $30.00. The drum is designed to receive ordinary sheets of sandpaper cut to size. I usually use 60-80 grit paper.

The drum came with a coupler that fit on to the shaft of a 1/3 horsepower motor I salvaged from a cheap drill press that was falling apart.

Since the drum is only mounted on one end I can sand a piece of wood up to 12 inches wide by making two passes.

Someday I’ll make a press for installing frets out of the rest of the drill press.

The base of the thickness sander is an end table I didn’t know what to do with. When I put it on top of my bench it sits at a very comfortable height. I use a bench dog to keep the thickness sander from sliding around on the bench while pushing wood through it.motor and dust cover

The dust hood is a wooden box with a slot cut to allow the motor shaft to pass  through. there is also a large hole drilled in the top of the dust hood fitted with a connector that goes to the shop vacuum. The machine produces a lot of dust but almost none of it escapes using this setup. I would not recommend running this machine without dust collection of some kind.

tableThe table consists of two plywood boards with a hinge at one end. The thickness is set by turning a threaded knob that raises the other end of the table. The two lid supports are tightened so the table doesn’t flex from side to side. These supports are very flimsy but they work well enough.

There are various wedges and screws that hold things together and allow for some tweaking to keep things lined up and square.

I take light passes and move the wood through slowly. Sometimes it is helpful to slightly angle the wood as it goes under the drum so that the sanding drum is working the wood a little across the grain.

To bring everything to final thickness I first wipe and vacuum as much grit from the wood as possible. Then I use a scraper to clean up the coarse sanding marks.

Feel free to ask questions.


Quotes – Man Ray

manray“It has never been my object to record my dreams, just the determination to realize them.”

“An original is a creation motivated by desire. Any reproduction of an original is motivated by necessity. It is marvelous that we are the only species that creates gratuitous forms. To create is divine, to reproduce is human.”

“I have been accused of being a joker. But the most successful art to me involves humor.”

An Interesting Dulcimer



I find Google’s patent search to be a good resource for inspiration and research.

While searching for things dulcimer I came across this very interesting patent.

Aside from the foot pedal mechanism what interests me most about this design is the dulcimer itself. The wide hourglass shape, the modified scroll and the use of f-holes are features I have considered to be relatively recent developments in the design of dulcimers. This patent was filed in 1933!

On another note, European dulcimer player John Molineaux made a dulcimer with pedals for fretting extra bass strings similar to this design in the 1970’s.


Thoughts on Recording

I just got home from an afternoon in the studio. I will soon have some sound bites of what I’m up to on these pages.

The process of recording always leaves me with mixed feelings; on one hand I find wav - Copyit creatively inspiring, on the other hand I am sometimes uncomfortable with the thought of freezing a moment of musical time into a musical still life.

During a live performance an occasional small mistake is of little consequence if the overall performance is good. A small mistake in the studio can seem like the audio equivalent of having a portrait photographed with spinach on my teeth!

There is also the balance of capturing a performance that is passionate yet technically excellent. It can sometimes require several takes to get a balance of both.

My playing and listening skills always evolve during the recording process.

I am constantly surprised with how different it can be to hear myself play as a listener rather than listening while I am playing. I often can’t really know how successful a take was until I listen back to it. I have been surprised in both directions.

phdulcimer thumb

Hammered Dulcimer – Keeping It Simple

When I first began playing hammered dulcimer around 1975 the most common instruments had 12 courses over the treble or center bridge and 11 courses over the bass or left bridge. Hammered dulcimers are often described by the number of courses over the various bridges. The dulcimer described previously would be referred to as a 12/11.

I first learned on a 12/11 and it proved to be a versatile and intuitive instrument. phdulcimerThe lowest note was G below middle C and it played easily in D, G, C, F, A and all the modes and relative minor keys based on those scales. The various scales offered enough notes that could be borrowed to get most of the accidentals I needed and in a pinch I could retune one or two courses to give me a note outside the usual pattern.

I played a number of 12/11 dulcimers through the mid 1980’s. During this time most other professional players were playing dulcimers that were 15/14, 17/16 and the various chromatic dulcimers that often had a few extra bridges.

I began to follow the trend and played a 17ChBlkH&Swonderful Cloud Nine 15/14 for a few years. Then Michael Allen of Cloud Nine made me a fully chromatic dulcimer that went down to G an octave below middle C. I loved the extra bass notes and these instruments inspired new directions in my playing.

Over the years I have developed some back problems that are aggravated by playing the hammered dulcimer. In my search for ways to overcome this I occasionally would play a smaller dulcimer, usually a 13/12.

At first I missed the lower notes but I soon found a physical and musical comfort that had escaped me for a cimbalomwhile. Playing a smaller dulcimer had an ease and familiarity that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The lack of lower range caused me to be more creative with harmony and chord voicing. There is an intimacy I feel with the instrument that escaped me when playing a large dulcimer; there is less distance, in a manner of speaking, between myself and the instrument.

I also appreciate having less strings to keep in tune and less weight to haul around.

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Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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