Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: July 2009

Balancing Instrument Making and Instrument Playing

I find instrument making and playing to be intimately linked together. I enjoy doing both equally. Sometimes I lean more one way than the other for a while but  the focus always swings back and forth and more or less balances itself out.

I also find myself focused on different instruments as well and the same principal applies; sooner or later they all receive my focused attention.

A musician with too many instruments to carry comfortably

Lately I have been spending a lot of time in the shop making some dulcimers to show at a few festivals.

at the bench

Sometimes someone will find  a dulcimer that is exactly what they want, other times they get an idea of what I have to offer and order something more specific to their personal preferences.

I also play and/or teach at these festivals and that gives me inspiration to keep my musical skills well honed.

Playing some sensitive, beautiful music

And then there’s the rest of my life that occasionally deserves some attention……

L’art du Luthier by Auguste Tolbecque – 1903

At times like this I wish I had paid more attention during French class in high school.

L'art du Lutherie

Their are lots of badly scanned yet wonderful images of instruments of the violin family and the tools and methods of making them.


violin planes

You can download your own free copy courtesy of Google Books: L’art du luthier by Auguste Tolbecque

Tools Work Better When They Are Sharp

Perhaps a better title for this post would be “I Do Better Work When Tools Are Sharp!”

The other day I found myself enjoying working at the bench less that I usually do. I was having a hard time clamping a dulcimer firmly enough to the bench so that I could plane the fingerboard flat.

At that moment the “smart fairy” (or perhaps the “stupid fairy” depending on how you look at it) whispered in my ear, “Hey Doug, don’t you usually hold the dulcimer on the bench with one hand and plane the fingerboard with the other? When was the last time you sharpened that plane?”


“Hmmm,” I said. “This plane sure stays sharp for a long time, but how long has it been since I last sharpened it?”

Out came my benchtop sharpening rig; a bench hook that holds a fine diamond stone and a #4000  waterstone. This is what I usually use to keep edges honed between regrinding.

benchtop sharpening station

And it had been a while since I had sharpened that particular plane.  And lo and behold, after sharpening the plane I could easily hold the dulcimer with one hand and plane the fretboard with the other and take finer shavings to boot!

I figured that as long as I had the sharpening station on the bench I may as well sharpen a few other tools.

And they all lived happily ever after. Well, at least so far…..


P.S. I had some trouble with my camera so the picture of the sharpening stuff looked better in B&W. It reminds me of pictures from the early issues of Fine Woodworking.


Less Sandpaper, More Edge Tools!

Sandpaper is an amazing and versatile tool. With sandpaper  I can round edges, sculpt smooth, curved surfaces and fix the occaisional “oops” left behind by an edge tool.

Sandpaper also is great when prepping for finishing. It has set the modern standard of what people expect a surface to look like, for better or for worse.

There is  another aspect of sandpaper that I am not as happy about, to put it mildly. This is best illustrated by the photo below:

sandstorm - the result of too much sanding?

Sandpaper is a dust-producing monster! It blows plumes of fine dust from it’s nostrils that end up in mine. I covers me with a patina of grit and makes the room look like an impressionistic painting as dust covers my goggles. It requires the sound of a vacuum and a dust collector that drowns out the birds singing outside and the radio I usually have on in the shop.

And the dust always seems to get on to a piece of wood that looks clean but then leaves a scratch in the sole of a plane or dulls a chisel.

I am increasingly finding ways to avoid using sandpaper, partly through trial and error, partly through improving my skills with edged tools, partly by wanting to avoid sanding till I get to the finishing stage of a project.

I have recently tried my hand at truing fingerboards without using sandpaper. I used a high angle plane and a scraper. It worked very well! The plane does most of the work and any necessary touch-up  was accomplished with the scraper.

scraper and high angle plane

I used to follow this step wth a massive, straight sanding block to assure the fingerboard was true. I am happy that I have been able to get the surface the way I want it to be without sanding.

Shavings not dust! Shavings not dust!

Dulcimer Making Article from Popular Science – 1973

Article on dulcimer making from Popular Science Magazine, Decemeber, 1973


But wait, there’s more!

To see the entire article just click this link!



Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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