Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: April 2014

What’s On The Bench – 04/29/2014

Last night and this afternoon I found myself bracing the back of a custom walnut dulcimer. I turned around and there I was. It was kind of strange and startling but at least I was getting some work done.

But seriously folks, here are some photographs of a cute little plane I use to rough shape braces.

Shaping dulcimer braces with a cute little rosewood plane

Curly shavings!

I love those little spruce curls!

I don’t have a set bracing pattern for dulcimer soundboards and backs. I also don’t have a standard thickness for tops and backs.

Thicknesses of tops and backs and the number and sizes of braces depends on the particular pieces of wood I am working with. As a dulcimer comes together I make decisions and adjustments to achieve the resonance I desire.

I enjoy this process immensely.

After shaping the back braces I glued in the center reinforcement; a brace that strengthens the center joint of the book-matched back and adds stiffness to the back lengthwise.

A place for everything and everything is someplace.

A few hours later the back is ready to be fitted to the dulcimer.

Dulcimer back waiting for a label.

Note to self: Don’t forget to put a label on the back before gluing it to the dulcimer! (Yes, it has happened!)


Music I’d Like To Hear #73

Congolese musicians - two marimbas and drum


Staying Sharp

A few years ago I had written about my adventures in sharpening.

Not much has changed since then. I have thankfully acquired enough sharpening paraphernalia to keep my tools sharp, shiny, and happy for many years to come.

This does not mean I am not occasionally tempted to get my hands on new sharpening toys but I really do not need anything else in order to keep all my tools sharp.

In the past few years I have learned the following:

1) Diamond bench stones may not be as flat as advertised. Check a diamond stone with a straight edge before assuming it is flat enough to flatten the back of a plane blade accurately. Yes, there is a painful story here.

2) Glass makes a wonderful flat substrate for abrasive papers but don’t drop it! There is a story here too but thankfully it was not physically painful.

3) Getting tools as sharp as possible can become an end unto itself. These days I get a tool sharp enough to work well and then get back to work!

I still use a grinder to hollow-grind some of my tools and I still hone my hollow-ground tools freehand. A few occasional seconds of stropping and I can go weeks before needing to hone the edge again.

Sometimes I will use a honing guide to reestablish the bevel on a blade rather than hollow grind it again. It usually depends on how much metal needs to be removed or the mood I am in. 

For plane blades with high back bevels I usually use a honing guide. I used to think that after being able to sharpen freehand going back to using a honing guide was backsliding. I am over that bias now. I do what works.

I work in a small shop and everything happens on the bench. This old bench hook holds a fine grit and flat (I checked!) diamond stone, a 4000 grit waterstone, a nagura stone for creating a slurry on the waterstone, a spray bottle of water, one of the honing guides I sometimes use and some other sharpening paraphernalia. This is the stuff I reach for 90% of the time when the need arises to hone an edge.

Honing tools of a sharp dulcimer builder

When it is time to hone some tools I take this bench hook off the shelf and put it on the bench and I am ready to go.

For a strop i use a piece of an old leather guitar strap charged with compound. I lay the strop down on a flat surface for stropping straight edges and use my hand to hold the strop in various shapes as needed for gouges, etc.. 

If and when I need to create radically different bevel angle I usually go to the grinder or use a coarse diamond stone to save time

When an edge becomes so bad I that I am ready to give up i wait for this guy to come around.

A happy man at the grindstone

Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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