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What’s On The Bench – October 28th, 2018

Laying out a dulcimer peghead support block.

On the bench is a cherry dulcimer ready to receive its peghead. In the photograph above is the block that gets glued to the end of the dulcimer to support the peghead. Layout lines are in place to guide the process of shaping the block.

Dulcimer peghead in progress.

The block is shaped and the gluing surfaces are flat and true for a perfect butt joint. I said butt, huh, huh, huh… Also in the photograph is the blank that will become the peghead and a cardboard template with the basic shape I’ll be using.

I use hide glue for gluing this joint. I could get an excellent, strong joint without clamping just by using a rub joint but I’m using a jack plane as a weight while the glue dries overnight. It is not necessary but it couldn’t hurt. Rub joints are made by applying glue to two perfectly mated surfaces and gently rubbing the pieces together until the glue begins to stick. After the pieces no longer slide I hold them in place for a minute or two and the joint is complete. As hide glue dries it pulls the joint tightly together.

A glue up that is far less precarious than it looks!

Here you can see the completed joint and a good view of the sound port; a soundhole in the side of the dulcimer. I use sound ports to change the frequency of the air space within the soundbox, get a larger soundhole without removing more material from the soundboard than I prefer, and so the dulcimer can be used as a birdhouse should the need arise.

Preparing A Dulcimer Fingerboard For Receiving The Frets

Leveling a dulcimer fingerboard for optimal playability.

Custom dulcimer with ebony fingerboard by Doug Berch

On the bench today is a custom chromatic dulcimer with an ebony fingerboard. The spruce soundboard has been stained and lightly distressed to add some character. I’m a character and so are my dulcimers. So it goes.

Many dulcimer makers fret the fingerboard early in the construction process. It is much easier to install the frets when the fingerboard is separate from the dulcimer; one can hammer or press the frets in without any thought of possibly crushing the dulcimer beneath them!

I know several dulcimer makers who get good results fretting the fingerboard before gluing it to the dulcimer but I prefer fretting the fingerboard after assembling the dulcimer and applying the finish.

Experience has shown me that applying the finish to a dulcimer sometimes results in slight movement of the soundboard and fingerboard. By fretting after applying the finish I can level and/or add relief to the fingerboard and have it come out exactly as I prefer it to be.

I use a scraper and a few sanding blocks to prepare the fingerboard for fretting. The scraps of wood lying on the dulcimer prevent bad, scary things from happening to the soundboard while working on the fingerboard.

The movement of the fingerboard and the correction I am talking about is measured in thousandths of an inch. As a player I find these small increments can make a surprising difference in how much I enjoy playing a dulcimer.

Fretting towards the end of a build requires more work but I am often told my dulcimers are very comfortable and easy to play and this is a part of how I make them that way.