Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 17

Working With What You Have To Work With

This post isn’t about the various tools or materials I use when making dulcimers. It is about working with the body I have to work with.

I was part of a panel discussion last week about how disability affects one as an artist or artisan, and before the event, I was interviewed by a local public radio station.

You can listen to the short interview or read a transcript by following this link.

A Sharpening Stone Known By A Variety Of Names, And What I Like About It

A sharpening stone known by many names

To be clear, it is a type of sharpening stone I will discuss that is known by a variety of names. The two examples of this type of sharpening stone in the photograph are known by the names Gabriella and Giuseppe.

Only kidding. Or am I?

But seriously, these two stones, depending on various times and places throughout history, have been referred to as Turkish Oilstones, Levant Sharpening Stones, names referring to different locations in the historic Levant, such as Syria, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, parts of Turkey, Greece, etc.

The stones in the photo were mined in Crete, and though there are varied opinions whether these Cretan sharpening stones are identical to historic Turkish Oilstones, I have read many have found them to perform similarly. Having not had access to any other stones of this type, I have no opinion on the matter.

I only learned of this type of sharpening stone about a year ago. Though once in common use in many parts of the world, these stones are currently little known in the United States. I was only able to find one source carrying them in the United States (the small one) and the larger one was shipped from a tool merchant in Europe. I wonder if a customs agent was perplexed as to why someone would ship what looks like a worn old cobblestone across the Atlantic!

Here is a reference to this type of stone from “Turning And Mechanical Manipulation“, by Charles Holtzapffel (1856)

“The Turkey Oilstone can hardly be considered as a hone slate, having nothing of a lamellar or schistose appearance. As a whetstone, it surpasses every other known substance, and possesses, in an eminent degree, the property of abrading the hardest steel, and is at the same time of so compact and close a nature, as to resist the pressure necessary for sharpening a graver, or other small instrument of that description. Little more is known of its natural history than that it is found in the interior of Asia Minor, and brought down to Smyrna for sale. The white and black varieties of Turkey oilstone, differ but little in their general characters, the black is, however, somewhat harder, and is imported in larger pieces than the white.”

The examples of Cretan sharpening stones I have both contain fissures, small voids, cracks, and other irregularities. From what I have read, this is typical for this kind of stone. These are natural stones, so rather than thinking of them containing flaws, I think of them as a remarkable substance produced by nature with all the complexity of anything else produced by nature.

These stones are porous, and traditionally, a new stone would be soaked in olive oil for several days to permeate the stone before use. In modern times, some prefer using mineral oil rather than olive oil.

This type of stone also works very well with water as a lubricant, and that is how I choose to use them.

A remarkable quality of these stones is the ability to serve as a moderately coarse sharpening stone as well as a stone fine enough to produce an excellent working edge. I can bear down hard with a chisel, plane blade, or knife without damaging the stone, and the bite of the stone removes metal very quickly. Lighter pressure produces a finer edge.

In addition to how much pressure is used, the surface of the stone can be quickly abraded using another coarse or fine stone, and this both changes the quality of the sharpening surface and creates a slurry of stone particles and water of different consistencies. In the photo, sitting patiently on top of the two Cretan stones, are two small Arkansas stones I use as slurry stones, one being a coarse Washita stone, the other a Hard Arkansas stone. I also occasionally use a diamond sharpening plate to true the surface of the stone and/or to create a slurry.

Being a natural stone, the exact grit is irrelevant, but depending on technique, the surface, slurry, and amount of water, I can quickly get the results I would expect using an 800 grit synthetic waterstone through to about a 4000 grit synthetic waterstone. With a little extra time and care, I can achieve a more finely polished edge like that from a 6000 – 8000 grit synthetic waterstone, but I will often just switch to a finer stone when that need arises.

I still consider myself in the learning stage of using this type of stone, and as happy as I am with them, I look forward to discovering more of what they are capable of. In my day-to-day work in the shop, it is typically my go-to stone for maintaining edges.

I post far more often these days about dulcimer making and the tools of the trade on Instagram, so please feel free to follow me there.

Stay healthy and safe!

Once Again, I’m Back To Work, Slowly But Surely

Dulcimer builder at work

Since I last posted, I’ve spent a lot of time resting, which is contrary to my nature, but combining that with lumbar injections and physical therapy has helped the game of Jenga taking place in my lower back recover well enough to let me return to working at the bench sporadically.

I have to be careful and not push myself too far, which is also against my nature, but slow and steady wins the race.

During the downtime, I rearranged the shop to make working easier, and in the process, I discovered some tools and parts that had gone missing as well as some I had no memory of ever bringing into the shop!

The people waiting for dulcimers have been wonderfully understanding and patient, and I appreciate that immensely. I made it clear that I am working slowly and sporadically and that I can’t give a firm deadline as to when their dulcimer will be ready, should they need or want to get a dulcimer elsewhere and sooner, but they all chose to wait.

So that’s the news from here. I hope you are all staying safe and doing well.

I regularly post updates about work in progress on Instagram, so you might enjoy following me there.

Just Saying Hello

Dulcimers hanging around the shop.

This is a quick post to say hello and let you know why I haven’t posted much lately.

I’m dealing with some lumbar issues once again. Why? Because everyone needs a hobby!

But seriously, I have congenital issues that cause problems with my back, and I have had to rest my back for the last 2 months. The good news is rest has been helping and symptoms have become milder. I had steroidal injections a few weeks ago and will get another in 3 weeks. The hope is that rest, combined with injections, will work well enough to avoid having another back surgery. So far, so good.

Folks waiting for dulcimers have been very understand, and I appreciate their patience. The dulcimers in the above photo have been patiently waiting for me to get back to them, and that will be the first thing I do when I get back to work. I appreciate dulcimers that wait patiently; sometimes they can be impatient and rude when not getting enough attention!

Only kidding. Or am I?

I’m not a person who is wired to sit around and do nothing for extended periods of time, so during a break from making dulcimers, I have been working on the design of a new model of dulcimer. I’ll share more about that when I am able to start work on the prototype.

Another project has been rearranging things in the shop as I am able to help prevent my having to twist and bend as much while working on dulcimers, as that will make it possible for me to get back to work sooner than later.

I miss working in the shop; it is my happy place. But life is big, and life is full, and I am enjoying the ride.

I hope you are doing well and that you are happy and safe.

Having Fun With Edges Of A Dulcimer Peghead

Detailing the edges of a dulcimer peghead.

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.

Detaling the back of a dulcimer peghead.

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.

A New Toy, I Mean Tool, In The Dulcimer Shop!

A tiny little table saw.

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!

Instagram Ate My Dulcimer Blog

Dulcimers on Instagram

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.

If you don’t use Instagram, I mirror my Instagram posts to this page on my website.

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