Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: December 2009

Bringer of joy

Boing To The World!

Bringer of Joy

Many of my friends know that I have chosen two possible epitaphs for my tombstone that I feel succinctly sum up certain aspects of my life:

  • “No One Said There Would Be Math”
  • “He Played The Hammered Dulcimer But Never Made A Christmas Album”

In light of the second possibility I would like to share that I love this time of year and there is a warm place in my heart for things seasonal and festive.  On the other hand I do tire of the rampant commercialization of  this beautiful  time of year.

But enough of my rants and raves.

Here is my holiday gift to you all!

Boing To The World! – Arranged and Performed by Doug Berch

A performance for an appreciative audience

Leveling The Top Of My Workbench

To start off I would like to say that it is my firm belief that nothing is perfectly flat, straight or in tune. Everything on earth seems to always be a little bit off. This includes myself from what I have been told.

That being said, hand-planing the thin stock used for dulcimer tops, backs, sides and fretboards requires a flat bench.

I bought this bench several years ago for a very reasonable price. It is made of some type of tropical hardwood and the top was made by gluing up small pieces, often with finger-joints. It has a descent quick-release vise and a usable but less than desirable tail vise

The core of the top is about 1″ thick with a thicker skirt around the edges. I have leveled it before and I know that being laminated from many small pieces makes following any sense of grain direction just about impossible. Luckily it is a bench, not fine furniture. A little tear-out will not be a problem.

First comes the hard part; clearing all the crap stuff off the bench!

The #7 plane resting on the bench will be doing the brunt of the work. All the planes on this project have back bevels to achieve a 55 degree cutting angle. This leaves a clean and smooth surface but requires more effort to push the plane.

My #8 was the first tool of choice. I recently flattened the sole  but after putting a thicker blade it in is has become untrue. Another adventure for another day.

Bench before planing with the #7 that will do most of the work

Next came taking off the vise. This was very easy.

Taking off the quick-release vise

There are no action shots of me planing with the #7 plane. You aren’t missing anything other than watching a sweaty middle-aged guy get a good physical workout. Most of the planing was done cross-grain at varying angles.

I used a #5 plane for a while to clean things up a bit and then switched to a #4 to take down the odd high spot and remove most of the marks left by the previous planes. Again, it is a bench and is already pretty dinged up so I was not going for a furniture quality finish.

Cleaning up the worst of the plane marks from the #7 with a #4

The area near the tail vise was significantly lower than the rest of the bench. I did not want to take off too much wood from the top so I chose to scribe a line showing where the low area was. This was not absolutely necessary but there are those fuzzy days when a reminder of where not to go and what not to do can come in handy!

I usually put a piece of wood between the dog in the tail vise and the stock I’m working on so this will not be a problem in practice. The stock will still be over a flat part of the bench.

A mark scribed to show the low part of the bench by the tail vise

After that came a coat of oil, some sore muscles and a feeling of satisfaction.

Well, my bench will be out of commission for a good part of the day while the oil dries.  Now what do I do?

Maybe I’ll go for a walk.


I wonder as I wander

Field Book Of American Trees And Shrubs (1915)

The full title of this book is, “Field Book Of American Trees And Shrubs: A Concise Description Of  The Character And Color Of Species Common Throughout The United States, Together With Maps Showing Their General Distribution.” I guess they were into long titles in 1915!Field Book Of American Trees And Shrubs

Woodworkers and luthiers could not do what they do without tress. This book had beautiful drawings, painting and information about many species of trees including some that might now be scarce or gone.

This book in brought to you as a free PDF for download at the always wonderful Internet Archive.

Get your copy here: “Field Book Of American Trees And Shrubs ” by F. Schuyler Mathews (1915)

Making Dulcimers In A Small Shop

My shop used to be a bedroom, a small bedroom. It is what a realtor would describe as being “cozy and intimate.”

I work primarily with hand tools so most of my time is spent standing or sitting by the bench.

The bench - the place where all the magic happens

I tend to multitask so there are several things in the works in this picture; I am prepping a cherry dulcimer for the final coat of finish and sharpening a few tools.

Planes and planes and planes and bending forms and wood and stuff

Here you can see a bunch of planes, tonewood waiting to become dulcimers, some bent sides, bending forms and some other stuff. That $5 halogen light has made working at night much easier.

There is a wall I haven’t shown that is also covered with tools and a closet filled with supplies; glues, finishes, sandpaper, more wood, a small drill press, etc.

I am very comfortable working in my shop. In the future I may move it to a larger room so that I can work on a few more instruments at a time but for now this setup works well.

I have a bandsaw in the garage and a small tablesaw in the basement that are used primarily for resawing and preparing a few parts of a dulcimer. I don’t use them much in my day-to-day work so it is not much of an inconvenience to go to the machines as needed.

On the other hand, I think I might try the following method of making my machines portable someday.

I might try making my machinery portable someday


The Natural History Of The Musical Bow (1899)

Musical bows are most likely the original stringed instrument.musical bow

Some are played in a fashion similar to the Jew’s harp; the player’s mouth is used as a resonator and by changing the shape of the mouth different harmonics are emphasized to produce melody.

Some musical bows are designed to allow defining notes by fingering the length of the string, some are played with a slide, some are struck as a melodic percussion instrument and others are designed to combine these techniques.

musical bow with bells

The simplicity of the musical bow is the beauty of the musical bow.

Download your copy here courtesy of Google Books:

“The Natural History Of The Musical Bow by Henry Balfour (1899)

Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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