Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: January 2015

Curchillo Knives

I am continually drawn to older, simpler, lutherie technology. There are several reasons for this but mostly I am attracted to the older methods because they work well and I enjoy the experience of using them.

With hand tools the craftsperson’s body and skill replace many jigs and machines. Working this way makes me feel like I truly accomplished something every step of the way.

For several months I have been studying and improving the skills of using knives as they apply to being a dulcimer builder. With knives I can cut out tops and backs with cleaner edges than I can with a bandsaw. I can fit parts, trim and clean up hard-to-reach areas, shape braces, relieve edges, and more.

I have long been aware of a style of knife developed and used by guitar makers in the Paracho area of Mexico. These “curchillos knives” have evolved specifically for guitar making.

Curchillo knives are often made by the luthier and I have intended to make one for several years. I just never got around to doing it.

Last week I was having coffee with my friend Paul. Paul is a musician, craftsperson, outdoorsman and all-around wonderful human being. He also makes barrels of sauerkraut every year to give away at Christmas.

I mentioned wanting a curchillo and showed Paul photographs of them in an issue of American Lutherie and he said, “I can make those for you!”

Yesterday Paul and I got together and he gave me these two curchillo knives he made for me from an old saw blade.

Curchillo Knives

I spent about 10 minutes with stones and a strop and both knives take and hold a very sharp edge.

The shape of the blade is perfect for carving and cutting out many dulcimer parts. I am a very happy dulcimer builder!

And I am thankful to have wonderful friends like Paul!

In the future I’ll be posting some of the work I do using these knives!

Music I’d Like To Hear #86

Music I’d Like To Hear #86

What’s On The Bench – 1/10/2015

Here is a still-life of what was in front of me earlier while fitting a peghead to the end of a dulcimer:

Dulcimer waiting for a peghead

I make most of the parts and do most of the assembly of my dulcimers on a solera. On the left of the solera is a dulcimer waiting for a peghead. On the right of the solera is a peghead waiting for a dulcimer. This could be a match made in heaven, but only if they fit together perfectly.

On the back corner of the bench is my glue pot with hide glue hot and ready for action. Hide glue works extremely well but requires tight joinery so mating surfaces must fit up against each other as precisely as possible.

I prepare both mating surfaces for gluing by making them flat and true. I use the file and scraper shown in the photograph to take down any high spots and check my progress using the blade of the machinist’s square as a short straight-edge. I also have some sanding blocks I’ve made that serve as fine files of specific shapes and sizes that sometimes come into play.

Since hide glue contains a lot of hot water the wood will swell a bit when the glue is applied. The peghead assembly also has a lot of end grain that will go into the joint and end grain can suck up enough glue to starve the joint.

I solve both problems by applying hide glue to both surfaces to be joined and let the glue dry overnight. This sizes the end grain by letting it soak up a lot of glue before the joint is assembled. Hide glue can be glued to itself so when adding fresh, hot, hide glue to the joint for assembly it will melt into the glue that sized the end grain.

Before I glue the joint I check both surfaces to see if moisture from applying hide glue the day before has caused any warping or swelling of the surfaces. If so, I level down those spots, add hide glue, put the joint together, and move on to the next adventure.

Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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