Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

Month: July 2016

More Exciting Adventures Of A Dulcimer Builder

Wood warping, winding, and shrinking. Don't let this happen to your dulcimer!

The air conditioner in my shop died a few days ago.

Aside from keeping the shop from feeling like a literal sweatshop the air conditioner also removes excessive humidity from the Summer air.

Wood is hygroscopic and it is best to make dulcimers in a stable, humidity-controlled environment. The humidity level in my shop is kept at around 45% year round. A dulcimer built at around 45% humidity should remain stable when exposed to higher and lower humidity within reason.  Even so, a dulcimer will be happier if it is kept as close to the conditions of the environment in which it was made.

It is important to use a humidifier to keep your dulcimer happy during the dry Winter months when the heat is on or all year round if you live in a desert.  A simple instrument humidifier kept in the case is all that is needed.  If you like to keep your dulcimers out of their cases then a room humidifier will make both your dulcimers and sinuses happy.

Wood loses moisture much faster than it absorbs moisture and a dulcimer can dry out, crack, warp, and scream for mercy relatively quickly if kept in an overly dry environment. High humidity is usually not as much of an issue on a short term basis but extremes should be avoided.

As a general rule, if you are comfortable then your dulcimer is comfortable.

Last night my wife Cynthia and I bought another air conditioner. When we got home I was too tired to help with installing it. Today Cynthia came home during her lunch break at work to do the heavy lifting of getting the new air conditioner into a window. Cynthia has a good back and I do not.  She knew I wanted to get the shop back in working order as soon as possible. Talk about selfless acts of love!

I am a happy and lucky man.

Music I’d Like To Hear #114

Swiss hammered dulcimer playerMusic I’d Like To Hear #114

What’s On The Bench – 07/9/2016

Walnut dulcimer back being thicknessed with a toothing planeI’ve started work on several dulcimers as the finish cures on another. A finish “drying” and a finish “curing” are two very different things. Many craftspeople learn this difference the hard way at some time in their careers; what seemed to be a dry finish turns out to be dry to the touch but not really hard and permanent. One finds fingerprints in the finish after handling or worse, finish sticks to the inside of a case, rubbing out the finish produces a gummy mess rather than the expected level of sheen, etc. It is one of the initiatory experiences that comes with learning a craft.

In the photograph is a toothing plane on a walnut dulcimer back. Toothing planes have a serrated or “toothed” edge and the blade is set at a very high angle. The toothing plane scrapes and cuts many small shavings and can be pushed with the grain, against the grain, and across the grain without tearing up the wood. Toothing planes make quick work of leveling and flattening wood with tricky grain and figure. They are also very useful when planing thin wood. The serrated lines left on the wood serve as a map showing which areas are flat and which need more attention.

After flattening the surface with the toothing plane I take down the ridges with a smoothing plane or a scraper. On historic instruments traces of a toothing plane having been used can sometimes be seen inside the body of the instrument. This indicates that the outside surface was smoothed and then the thickness was taken down on the inside surface where tool-marks would not be obvious and did not matter.

I do use some common woodworking machines to relieve the drudgery of some tasks and to help prevent wear-and-tear on my body, which is showing signs of wear-and-tear. Still, I do as much as I can by hand because it is how I prefer to work. Sometimes I thickness wood partly by hand and partly by running it through a machine. Sometimes I choose one method or the other. It keeps life interesting.

Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers