Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: July 2015

Music I’d Like To Hear #97

Music I’d Like To Hear

The Fascinating World Of Dulcimer Back Braces

Yes, the life of a dulcimer builder is filled with action and adventure.

This afternoon I made it most of the way through the process of bracing the back of a curly walnut dulcimer. I have no standard pattern for bracing; the number and dimensions of top and back braces depends on the particular dulcimer. This is more a matter of feel than science, but it works for me.

On this particular dulcimer I wanted a fairly massive center brace. On a guitar this would be where the center seam reinforcement strip would go but this is a dulcimer, not a guitar. This brace will strengthen the center seam in the back and will also significantly stiffen the entire dulcimer lengthwise. I sometimes use this kind of center brace when using a very light or thin soundboard.

First the center brace is planed flat on all surfaces.

Planing the dulcimer center brace.

After planing the brace gets glued to the back. I use a warped board as a clamping caul. By putting the convex side of the warped board face down I can clamp the entire length of the brace with one clamp at either end. Forcing the warped board flat assures plenty of clamping pressure along the entire length of the brace.

Ain't this a clever idea!

The next step is cutting through the center brace to make way for the cross braces. This dulcimer will have two cross braces. I was too busy sawing and chiseling to stop and take a photograph.

Next comes beveling the edges of the center brace with a small plane. You can see the space for one of the braces just ahead of the plane. This photograph was taken just as the work began and there were plenty more curly shaving by the time I was done.

Artsy lutherie photograph.

In this last photograph the two cross braces are fitted and ready for gluing.

Dulcimer back braces fitted and ready for gluing.

After the braces are glued they will be shaped to final dimensions and the back will be ready to go on the dulcimer. I won’t forget to put the label in first. I won’t forget to put the label in first. I won’t forget….



Music I’d Like To Hear #96

Gnawa Musician With Gimbri

Random Musings

Work has been progressing slowly but surely. Dealing with boring back and shoulder issues  has slowed me down a bit but dulcimer builders are made of strong stuff.

Having to work more slowly is not all bad. I get to savor each step in making a dulcimer a little more. Last night I was working on the tail-end of a fretboard. I sawed the taper with a dozuki saw and finished shaping and cleaning it up with low-angle block planes.

Tail-end of a dulcimer fingerboardThough this ramp is a simple part of the dulcimer, making it involved cleanly planing a bubinga fingerboard, a poplar neck, and a zircote end-cap with the grain running crosswise to the fingerboard. Bubinga is very hard and often has grain that is a little resistant to being planed. Poplar is soft and planes effortlessly. The cross-grain piece of zircote at the end would like to stop the plane dead in it’s tracks!

There once was a time when making this little ramp by hand would have made me shiver with fear. Now it is something I look forward too. Maybe I need to get out more?

Layout lines were made and followed by saw cuts. It took about twenty seconds on a fine Japanese waterstone to get the plane blades up to task. Wispy tricolor shavings came off the planes. To get from layout lines to the finished surface took about 15 minutes.

I do have a funky old disc sander in the basement and this entire operation could have taken a loud and dusty minute or so but what would be the fun in that?

In other news, I have 3 dulcimers under way and wood sorted for the next three. I’m also designing a new dulcimer model and will share news of that journey as it develops.

A few days ago I sorted through wood in the attic and found these two boards of curly walnut. They will soon be resawn and eventually become dulcimers.

Future curly walnut dulcimersThe mosquitoes in the Greater Lansing, Michigan area are gathering with plans for world domination. Wild turkeys, rabbits, deer, and groundhogs visit our yard. Nights are quiet again now that we are a week or so past the 4th of July and happy Americans have grown bored with setting off fireworks.

I am married to a wonderful woman and grateful to share my life with her. We live indoors. We eat everyday.

Life is good!

Music I’d Like To Hear #95

Eight fiddlers, one with a walking stick fiddle.

Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers

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