Doug Berch

Dulcimer Maker And Musician

cropped Dulcimer Builders and Makers 1 23

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What’s On The Bench – April 16th, 2019

Curly walnut dulcimer by Doug Berch

On the bench is a curly black walnut dulcimer with a zircote fingerboard. I rarely find black walnut with this kind of figure.

I was going to set up this dulcimer a few days ago but decided it could use another coat of finish. Today I will rub out the finish and start working on the setup. By the weekend this dulcimer will be ready for shipping to its new home.

Zircote has become one of my favorite woods for fingerboards. It is similar to ebony but weighs less and is very strong and stable when quarter sawn. Some pieces show extraordinary figure but a plain looking piece also makes an excellent fingerboard.

As I finish up this dulcimer I’m working on several others. The photo below shows a zircote fingerboard over Spanish cedar (another of my favorite woods) and the raw materials for two more Spanish cedar and zircote fingerboards.

A dulcimer fingerboard and the raw materials to make another

As I always say, the trees do the hard work!

You can see more frequent photos of dulcimers in progress by following me on Instagram.

Music I’d Like To Hear #165

Malagasy musician with a valiha.
Malagasy musician with a valiha.

Shaping A Dulcimer Peghead Support Block

Preparing to shape the side of a dulcimer head block.

I don’t always know what to name certain parts of dulcimer anatomy. I glue a block to the end of the dulcimer, shape it, and then glue the peghead to that block. I sometimes refer to this part as the head block but that could also be the name of the end block in the peghead end of the dulcimer.

For today I will refer to the part in question as a peghead support block,. Why not?

In the photograph above I have already shaped one side of the block and have prepared to shape the other. The dulcimer is clamped to the bench and some cardboard is taped to the side to protect it from the edge of saw used to made the cut as shown below.

Sawing the dulcimer head block to shape.

After sawing away the waste I clean up the work with a block plane, scraper, and file.

Cleaning up the dulcimer head block with a block plane and scraper.

There is still carving and shaping to do before the peghead goes on but the rougher aspects of the work are now complete.

Music I’d Like To Hear #164

Music Id Like To Hear


Further Adventures In Hand Planing

Planing dulcimer fretboards to proper dimensions.

I once wrote about developing the skills to accurately plane parts to proper dimension. I have recently been making some changes to my planing technique to accommodate the capabilities and lack of capabilities of my body.

Some physical issues make it challenging to do as much planing as I have done in the past. I thought I might have to get a thickness planer and jointer to do some of the work I enjoy doing by hand. After further thought I chose to reconsider my approach to using hand planes.

Until recently I got rid of lumps and bumps, hills and valley, Satan’s minions, and anything else in the way of a smooth, square, flat surface by using a jointer plane early in the process. Using that wonderful, big, long, and heavy plane repeatedly does not make some of my body parts happy anymore so now I take out the lumps and bumps, hills and valley, Satan’s minions, and anything else in the way of a smooth, square, flat surface by relying more on smaller planes and then finish up with the jointer plane.

Either approach has long been in use by woodworkers and luthiers but the latter works better for me now.

I also recently acquired a skewed low-angle block plane with a fence that makes getting the sides of the fingerboard assembly square to fingerboard much easier. I used to leave my fingerboards a little wide so I could true them with the jointer plane and have enough wood to remove in order to get the surface both straight and square; this usually involved some trial and error and the extra wood provided a margin for error. Now I mill my fingerboards a little narrower and after getting the sides straight with the jointer plane the skewed low-angle block plane with a fence lets me square the surface using light, delicate cuts.

All is well in the tiny, happy part of the world that is my workshop.

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Doug Berch & Dulcimer Makers