Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

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Month: August 2008 Page 1 of 2

Woodworking Without A Workbench

I have great admiration for the traditional woodworkers around the world who create beautiful work with a relatively small number of tools in a simple shop.

Tools and techniques appropriate to different cultures developed enabling the woodworker’s entire body to become involved in the work.

Japanese carpenters


bow lathe


bowsawing on the floor

I would be delighted if I could take my work outside on a beautiful day, lay a board on the grass to use as a bench and use my feet as a vice.


fludd scary pipes

A Bagpipe That Plays Itself?

Robert Fludd was one of the Renaissance men who viewed the micro-cosmos as an expression of the macro-cosmos. Fludd viewed all aspects of being as interrelated; the sciences, the arts and mysticism all flowed from one source and these outpourings could be followed back to their source.

Fludd wrote about everything from medicine to music. Like many brilliant minds of the Renaissance Fludd was also an inventor.

Robert Fludd's self playing bagpipeWhile looking through a volume containing some his inventions I stumbled across what appears to be a bagpipe that plays itself.

I do not read Latin so I present what I extrapolated by studying the illustration.

It appears that water pours into a vessel causing air within the vessel to be expelled into the blowpipe of a bagpipe. The melody is produced in a similar manner to a music box; a rotating wheel with pins opens and closes keys covering holes on the chanter.

The illustration does not show how the rotating wheel is set in motion. Perhaps there is another machine on the opposite end of the axle, or perhaps someone is turning a crank. Depending on who you are this could be a dream job or a nightmare!

I wonder if this contraption was ever constructed. If so I wonder how it was received.

Anyone out there want to build one? Let me know how it turns out!

Steamed Walnut and Garnet Shellac

steamed walnut backIn my  post titled “Why Would Anyone Steam Walnut?” I wrote about my disappointment with the effect steaming has on the color of walnut lumber.

I have read of various options for enhancing the color of steamed walnut. On this dulcimer I decided to try garnet shellac.

I sealed the grain with 1lb cut blond shellac and then applied a coat of 1lb cut garnet shellac. The garnet shellac brought out brown tones and vastly improved the coloring.

I was still disappointed; the sapwood was still obviously darker than it should be and the subtle colors the wood had before steaming could not be replaced.

I had taken care to apply  the garnet shellac evenly to avoid blotching.

I wondered if intentionally thinning the garnet shellac in some spots would help adjust the depth of color in some areas.walnut-garnet-varnish

While sanding the shellac in preparation for the next coat I sanded a little heavier over the sapwood and a few other areas. This added a little contrast and also gave the piece a little bit of an antique look.

After applying the first coat of clear finish I’m thinking the results are looking promising.

When given a choice I still prefer the color of natural, unadulterated  wood.



Of Dulcimers and Dervishes

mevlevi dervishIn 1998 I participated in a recording called  “You – New Sufi Music.”

From the publishers web page:

“This recording is an attempt to share the spontaneous heart-music of the Sufis. Such expressions of love may often disregard the formalities and glossy varnishes of the conventional world. Yet, Sufi music is essentially a music of luminous inner intention and transmission.”

Some of the participants were seasoned musicians, some were members of the community who did not consider themselves to be musicians.

Here’s a track:

La ilaha ilallah – [audio:zhikr.mp3]


“You” is available from Pir Press.


Hide Glue, A Heat Gun and A Hot Time!

Hide glue has a relatively short open time compared to modern woodworking glues. I consider this an advantage most of the time but there are times when I find it to be problematic.

I have read about several methods of extending the open time of hide glue. Adding a small amount of urea to hide glue will extend the open time. I haven’t tried this yet but plan to experiment with it soon.

heat gunAnother trick is to warm the pieces being glued before applying the glue. I have tried this by using a heat gun to warm the wood and it does help in some situations.  Unfortunately there were still situations where the glue would gel before I had everything assembled.

Then I had an idea , gave it a try and it worked! I imagine someone else may have thought of this already.

Keep in mind that I am working with thin wood and exposed joinery.

  • Keep the shop relatively warm
  • Warm the surfaces to be glued with a heat gun
  • Quickly apply glue, assemble and clamp the joint
  • Brush hot water from the glue pot along and into the joint (both sides if possible)
  • Warm the joint once again while clamped up with the heat gun

I can’t take pictures of this process in action because I am moving fast. I plan my assembly, have all the clamps ready and get moving

The hot water and heat soften and moisten the glue and effectively extends the time it takes to set up.

This is similar to the technique I use when disassembling a joint made with hide glue.

Hide glue is great stuff!

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Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers