Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: March 2009 Page 1 of 2

Simple Shop-Made Tools

More great ideas from the past that work well in the present.

vibrations of a metal rod

Elementary Lessons On Sound – Circa 1879

Once again The Internet Archive provides a gem from the past. “Elementary Lessons On Sound”  by W.H. Stone was published in 1879.  The author demonstrates and explains the physics of sound using the technology of the time; metal rods, a bench vise, vibrating plates, tuning forks, etc.

I have to admit that I have looked at the pictures more than the text.

You can download your own copy here.

Click the thumbnails for a larger image. Enjoy!


Dulcimer With Fretting Tools

Here’s a bench shot of a dulcimer just after installing the frets. Scattered around the dulcimer are the tools I use when installing frets as well as some random stuff that tends to live on the bench.

dulcimer and fretting tools

Speaking of random stuff; I’ve been told to live by the rule, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Well, it seems that the place for everything is on my bench!

I fret the dulcimer after the body is completely assembled. I wrote about leveling the fingerboard in a previous post.

Fretting once the dulcimer body is complete dictates that I can only hammer so hard on the fingerboard without damaging the instrument.  This is remedied by slightly filing down the barbed tang of the fret.

Below is a diagram of a piece of fretwire showing the tang. Or maybe it’s a mushroom?


I file a slight bevel on the top of the fret slot to assure the fret seats well against the fingerboard. This bevel also helps avoid splintering the fingerboard should the frets be removed for refretting in the future.

The fretboard is finished with oil and paste wax before installing the frets. A small amount of superglue is placed in the slot and the fret is hammered in. Any superglue that squeezes out  is easy to clean off the waxed fingerboard using a small scraper.

When I’m in a hurry I use the tool shown below.

Steam powered dulcimer fretting hammer

Vintage Books on Varnish

The always wonderful Internet Archive has numerous volumes from the day when many people made their own varnish, paint, etc.a few notes about varnish

Here is a link to books tagged Varnish and Varnishing. If you search the texts section for “varnish” you’ll find even more books.

Some of the volumes lean towards the scientific while others towards the more practical application of knowledge. I think I’ll be doing more experimentation  with mixing and modifying spirit and oil varnish after digging through these a little more.

end of log

Dulcimer Making and The Weather

wooden jack planeThe first sign of Spring coming was noticing my wooden jack plane now has a twisted sole. Ah yes, the weather is changing!

I keep the humidity in my shop relatively stable by using a humidifier during Winter and a dehumidifier in the Summer. A  hygrometer helps me tweak everything to keep the environment between 45%-50% humidity.

Humidity control is very important in many woodworking shops but it is critical when making musical instruments. The thin wood used in stringed instruments can warp or split easily with changes of environment. Some slight movement in  a fingerboard can cause an instrument to become difficult to play.

By building instruments in a environment of 45%-50% humidity the final instrument will be fairly stable in more humid environments and won’t react too quickly to somewhat lower levels of humidity.

end of a log showing checking from drying out

Still, it is important to use a humidifier if you live somewhere with low humidity or if the air in your home is very dry. You can keep the instrument in a case with an instrument humidifier or keep a room for your instruments at the proper humidity.

Some early signs of an instrument drying out are:

  • The ends of the frets feel sharp (the fingerboard has shrunk)
  • The action suddenly feels different (the fingerboard has moved)
  • Noticing buzzing on frets that wasn’t there a few days before (see above)
  • Humps, warps and other distortions in the top, back etc.

If caught early returning the instrument to proper humidity will soon reverse the problems. If the instrument is not returned to a proper environment damage can very likely occur. You’ll notice major warping, cracks, etc.

Now I am off to true the sole of my favorite wooden jack plane, check the humidity of my shop and get back to work!

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Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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