Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

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Month: October 2008 Page 1 of 2

A Near Miss In The Shop

If you work with tools and wood then you probably know what I mean by “a near miss.”

warning sign

For a brief moment some of my deeply ingrained shop safety rules went out the window. I was very, very lucky and was not injured, not even a scratch.

I was resawing at the bandsaw. The blade was getting a little dull but I only had a few more boards to resaw. I had already resawn walnut, maple and cherry and all that was left to resaw were a few pieces of  butternut.

I didn’t want to change the blade and recalibrate the fence, make test cuts and spend all that time to make a few cuts in a relatively soft wood when I was so close to being finished.

This was not a good idea but so far so good.

The butternut sawed well, maybe too well. I was able to feed the wood into the saw at a quick pace.

On the very last cut the waste was about 1/16th” thick. For a moment, a very brief moment, I was distracted. In that same moment I felt something touch a finger and I instinctively pulled my hand away.

The blade had wandered (probably due to being dull and/or worn) and broken through the waste. What had gently kissed my finger was the saw blade.

In my momentary lack of attention I had let the hand holding the wood to the fence follow the board up to the blade. This is something I usually never do. I know better but I had briefly been distracted and that was all it took to momentarily break a very good habit.

It didn’t leave a scratch. Talk about lucky!

I felt that payback for my luck would be to share the experience and use it as a warning to all the other folks who do this kind of work.

There are many articles about shop safety and using tools properly. The X-factor is you and your willingness to follow the rules of safety.

I’d also like to remind you that hand tools are dangerous too. My most serious woodworking accident happened with a hand tool many, many years ago.  Once again it was due to my lack of following my own rules. I was working when I probably should have been sleeping.

So be careful and have fun, have fun and be careful!

nelson mandela voting

Please Vote!

Nelson Mandela Voting

Nelson Mandela Voting

I would like to encourage you to vote regardless of your opinion about who or what will be best for the United States and the influence the United States has over the rest of the world.

I know many people who are discouraged from voting because they feel their vote won’t count or because of the possibility of corruption and/or error in the tallying of votes.

Your vote may change the world.

Voting has brought about remarkable change.

You might make the difference. Please vote.

Incremental Progress In The Shop

I found this photograph both inspiring and comforting. It illustrates the way most  projects seem to go.


I currently have 5 dulcimers in the works and all are near completion. They start out as a trip to a sawmill and hours of sorting through wood to find lumber that appeals to me. Then comes milling the lumber, resawing and thicknessing the wood. Each dulcimer uses stock in a variety of thicknesses anywhere from 2mm to an inch thick.

It is a somewhat lengthy process but I enjoy every stage of the work though some I enjoy more than others.

The work progressively moves from rough to fine. I start out hand planing rough lumber in preparation for milling and resawing and end using small scrapers, files, brushes and rags.

I am always amazed when I play a completed instrument for the first time; a part of a large plant has become something that makes music.

Here is walnut board that has been squared up with hand planes and ready for resawing next to a dulcimer that is nearly complete

walnut board and a dulcimer

A tree and a song would show the process from beginning to end!

Body Symettry for Dulcimer Players and Woodworkers

Physical therapy is a wonderful thing. It has helped me continue to play dulcimer and hammered dulcimer as well as standing at the bench and working with hand tools.

I have a chronic physical challenge I have to deal with but many aging musicians, woodworkers and luthiers face a similar issue; doing something you love causes or aggravates physical discomfort.

symettrical dulcimer playingWorking with a good physical therapist taught me how to use my body in ways that work better. At times the learning curve was frustrating. The switch from playing hammered dulcimer standing up to sitting down and having the instrument at a steep angle was awkward at first. Over time I found I can play longer and with less pain.

I’m still experimenting with the height of my workbench.

My style of playing slower tunes on the hammered dulcimer often involves using my hands independently. As a result my left arm is extended more than the right. The muscles in my left arm and shoulder work much harder than those in my right arm.hammered dulcimer symettry

When hand planing wood I have the opposite problem. My right arm gets a wonderful workout but the left arm does not.

A physical therpaist will evaluate and treat each person’s unique situation as needed. A common theme is to help people use their bodies symmetrically.

One exercise I do is to simply reverse the way I do things so the other overworked side of my body gets to relax while the weaker side gains some strength.

At the hammered dulcimer I have worked up some pieces and exercises where I lead with the right hand instead of the left.

At the bench I have been learning to do some left handed planing (I’m right handed). I would not do anything critical at the bench leading with my non-dominant hand at this point. I have found planing scrap lumber left handed entertaining, amusing, humiliating and a great work out for the weak muscles on the left side of my body.Symettrical planing

Give it a try!

How To Make Stringed Instruments Circa 1907

zitherPaul Nooncree Hasluck wrote books and articles about a wide variety of handicrafts around the turn of the last century. If you look him up at Google Books or The Internet Archive you’ll find many of his books available as downloads.

Violins and Other Stringed Instruments – How To Make Them” is available from Google Books. The largest chapter is dedicated to violin making but he also covers making basses, cellos, violas,  guitars, zithers, mandolins, banjos and hammered dulcimers.

The instructions are geared to the home craftsperson who would like to make instruments in the average home shop of the time. The book offers many useful ideas and explains the basic skills needed to design and construct stringed instruments.

The section on making a hammered dulcimer shows how to make a style of instrument popular 100 years ago.

hammered dulcimer pinblock layout

Many of the specialized tools of instrument making are illustrated and there are instructions for making bending irons, thickness gauges, etc. Hasluck goes as far as explaining how to create the patterns to cast your own luthier’s planes.

thickness calipers

There is a lot of useful stuff here!

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Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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