Though the basic pattern is the same, each dulcimer peghead I make is a little different from the others. Sometimes the size and shape of the peghead may vary and/or the more subtle details, like the shape or bevels on the edges, may be unique.
This is in part because I work on the peghead until it looks right to me on the particular dulcimer where it will spend its life. It is also because I thoroughly enjoy working with edge tools and files, and shaping the edges of the peghead present the opportunity to have fun!
For the long edges of the peghead, I begin the bevels with a block plane, on shorter straight sections I begin with a chisel, and on curved areas, I start with a knife.
A small scraper and a file clean things up and round or soften the edges as needed.
I regularly post photos of my work in progress on Instagram.
Sometimes a tool is a toy and a toy is a tool. This new tool is a bit of both!
I don’t feel the warm and fuzzy feelings for power tools that I do for a good hand tool. Though I appreciate the functionality of power tools, I feel a few steps removed from the work I’m doing when using machines. An exception might be when I use a bandsaw to resaw wood. That’s a lot of fun! Otherwise, there is noise, sawdust, and scary sharp things moving very fast, and that doesn’t make me happy in the way a fine chisel or plane does.
Still, machinery has its place, and I do have a few basic woodworking machines that help with some tasks.
Though remarkably versatile and practical, table saws are not tools I enjoy using very much. I have a portable table saw that makes a few tasks easier, but it is too powerful, loud, and scary to fit in my comfort zone.
To make life less scary and more fun, I have considered buying or making a miniature table saw for a few years but never got around to it. My thinking was that a small model makers table saw would be perfect for making binding and a few other tasks.
Recently, while researching the two brands of miniature table saws I was considering, I learned of a third called Jarmac. The Jarmac table saw was made of mostly aluminum and steel rather than plastic, and that appealed to me.
After shopping around, I saw one on eBay and decided to place a bid, and I won!
It is a nice little machine, though I have not yet thoroughly road tested it. The saw takes a 4-inch blade and the arbor of the saw is half an inch; an uncommon size blade. The blade that came with the saw was not in good shape, though I think I can sharpen it and make it usable again.
I found a 4-inch carbide blade that fits the saw and works well for crosscutting, though it is not very useful for ripping. I just found a source for a thin, hollow ground blade that should work better for ripping and have it on order. The motor on the saw is rated at 1/16 horsepower, and such a small horse will be happier turning a thinner blade!
Changing the blade was an adventure. A previous owner had overtightened the nut that holds the blade on. The nut is proprietary to the saw and made from aluminum, and removing it without ruining the nut or the saw was not easy. I had to buy two new wrenches in sizes I didn’t have, use some WD40, and gently but firmly try to free things up. After an hour of thinking, tinkering, and occasionally uttering words not suitable for print, I got the nut free, and though the nut looks a little rough around the edges, it still works.
This is a fun little machine that I can put on the bench when needed and put under the bench when not needed. I placed a dime in front of the miter gauge to give you an idea of the actual size of the saw. Perhaps the next mouse I catch in the live trap will be interested in apprenticing, and I can have it make binding in exchange for peanut butter and cheese.
I frequently post about dulcimer making, music, and other stuff on Instagram, so please follow me on Instagram if you want to keep up with my thrill-a-minute lifestyle!
I make blog posts about the adventurous life of being a dulcimer maker far less often than I used to. There are several reasons for this.
Like many who have been blogging for years, it has been more difficult to find something to write about that I have not previously written about. Often, when writing a post, I’ll see that I have already used the same title in the past, or I have previously covered the topic in another post.
There are times when revisiting a topic makes sense. I am constantly modifying the design of my dulcimers and my methods of work continue to evolve, so sometimes there is something new to be said about it
While working in the shop, I have found it easy to take an occasional photo, and since my camera is my phone, it is easy to add a brief description and post it on Instagram.
I will be continuing this blog, and I plan to make more music related posts in the near future. I now have a decent video camera, and I plan to post videos of my dulcimer playing, dulcimer tablature, instructional videos, etc. There will still occasionally be posts here about dulcimer making, but if the day by day thrills and chills of making dulcimers is of interest to you, I invite you to follow my posts on Instagram.
As the year comes to a close, I have several dulcimers in the home stretch. My dulcimer design continues to evolve, and I have recently begun preparing to build a new model or two or three in addition to my standard and baritone dulcimers.
Over time, I have learned that I was not made for embracing mass production, and I no longer worry about how to make more dulcimers in less time. Instead, I am continually taking steps towards older technology and methods of luthierie, woodworking, and finishing techniques that have stood the test of time. The older methods work well, but some of them (not all) take more time and require skills that appeal to me more than the skills required to use modern technology.
In the coming year, I hope to be using primarily old-school, non-toxic finishes. Tests on wood samples are beautiful visually, and I am near completion on the first dulcimer that will be the test for how a new “old” finish sounds. As I carried the dulcimer across the workshop the other day, I could easily feel voices from the radio resonating in the dulcimer, and that is always a good sign!
I am also honing the skills to leave more wood surfaces as they look and feel straight from a hand tool rather than how they look after sanding. This is common in violin making, but less often seen in modern fretted instruments. Sandpaper will still be a part of my life, but it is not needed as much as one would think. Scrapers and files can leave a lovely surface and are quiet and far less messy.
This is how I like to work. It makes me happy.
I wish you all a happy and healthy Holiday season. Please keep yourself and others safe.
I regularly post about dulcimers in progress on Instagram and you can follow me there for thrills and chills!
Fall will soon arrive, perhaps my favorite season, and it seemed like a good time to take on some tasks that are easier outside the shop rather than inside the shop.
The front steps of our house is a perfect place to flatten waterstones. I can enjoy a beautiful, sunny day and splash water without trying to avoid making a mess!
Flattening waterstones is a general maintenance task I need to do every few months. The stones become concave after a few weeks of sharpening, and though not a problem for honing an edge, a concave stone doesn’t lend itself to polishing the back of a blade very well.
It just takes a few minutes to flatten waterstones. I draw a few lines on the stones with a pencil, add water, and rub the waterstones against a hard, coarse, flat surface until all the pencil lines are gone.
For years I relied on a cinder block as the hard, coarse and flat surface and it worked well, but a few months ago I bought a stone made specifically for flattening waterstones and it does leave a nicer surface on the stones, though I don’t know if that really matters.
Now it’s time for coffee and a trip back into the dulcimer mine.
On the bench is the setup I use for making dulcimer soundboard braces.
I use several small, light braces to help control stiffness, tonal response, and protect the area around the soundholes from developing cracks.
I usually use spruce for the soundboard braces regardless of the type of wood used for the soundboard. Spruce is light, stiff, and strong. This is why spruce is often used for making soundboards, boats, and airplanes!
The spruce I use for soundboard braces comes from soundboard off-cuts.
The braces are narrow and thin and get shaved down further after being glued to the soundboard. I have no standard dimensions for bracing; I determine the final size and shape of the braces by how flexible the soundboard feels in my hands and what kind of response it gives when tapped in different areas.
I split the stock for the braces with a knife or chisel. Splitting, as opposed to cutting, assures the grain will run the full length of the brace, making the brace stock as stiff and strong as possible. Some of the braces could be confused for large splinters, so having long, straight grain is, in my opinion, essential for them to do their job well.
After splitting the brace stock, I carve away any rough spots preventing them from being rectangular with a knife or chisel and finish them up on a plane clamped upside down in a vise. The braces are simultaneously cut to length and beveled on the ends with a sharp chisel.
While writing this post, I remembered I had written about this same process before, but over the years my methods have changed and evolved. Such is life, and that’s a good thing.
I’ve been busy, so there have been several dulcimers on and off the bench!
Shown is what will become dulcimer#184. I have been saving some interesting pieces of reclaimed wood and decided to use a few for this particular dulcimer.
The back and sides came from a beam that was once part of a barn. A friend who used to have a sawmill nearby knew I was always looking for quartersawn wood, so he gave me a few slices straight from the beam. We were not sure what type of wood it is, possibly birch, but it is light, stiff and pretty in a slightly rustic way.
The soundboard is redwood that came from an old shelf given to me by another friend. It is perfectly quartersawn.
Using reclaimed wood is a way of recycling wood that might have ended up in a fire or a dump. It also is a way of getting one’s hands on old growth timber and/or species that are sometimes no longer available.
Working with reclaimed wood poses some challenges. It is not uncommon to be surprised by a nail, a staple, archaeological remains of an insect civilization, and other oddities while working with it. Sometimes the traces of these oddities add to the unique beauty of the wood, other times they render the wood unusable. I expect more surprises when using reclaimed wood, though any piece of wood tends to yield its mysteries while working with it.
There is history in the dulcimer before it is even built, and that makes me happy.
I regularly post photos of my dulcimer making in progress on Instagram.