When I first acquired a Miller’s Falls No.9 smoothing plane, I found the feel in my hand, the weight, and the balance, to be very pleasing and comfortable, however, the seller on the online auction site where I found it did not mention it had been “improved” by cleaning the rust off the body using coarse sandpaper, possibly with a belt sander! The blade was also rusted and pitted, making it unusable. It was quite a mess!
I soon acquired another Miller’s Falls No. 9 plane, I think at an antique mall, with yet another rusted and pitted blade and some missing parts, so I cannibalized parts from both planes and created what some woodworkers refer to as a Frankenplane. In addition, I replaced the useless blade with a Hock plane iron and lever cap. After a little oil on the moving parts and some lapping to remove a slight twist from the sole, I had what has been one of my favorite smoothing planes for the past 20 or so years.
Every wooden part of the dulcimers I make has been touched by this plane.
I once wrote a post about another smoothing plane I referred to as a favorite. Well, when it comes to planes, I am polyamorous, and each plane has a function that is best for particular situations. When it comes to difficult hardwoods that want to tear out, I reach for this one.
I sporadically add a post to this blog, but I regularly document the thrill and adventure of making dulcimers on Instagram.
When I started blogging in 2007, it was easy to have something I thought interesting enough to inspire writing a post once or twice a week. As time passed, it was not as easy to come up with something I hadn’t shared before, so blog posts became less frequent.
Instagram has made it easy to share a random photo of a work in progress, and that platform seems more suitable for such things, and that has also made finding something to post here more difficult.
This is a common problem in any form of specialized serial media. I have let go of subscribing to most woodworking magazines because though often informative to some degree, there have already been many articles about sharpening a chisel or setting up a plane or learning about the latest and greatest tool or device I should run out and buy, and they no longer held my interest.
I chose not to write blog posts for the sake of creating content, as I am interested in sharing information about making dulcimers and playing music, rather than posting for the sake of promoting a blog.
All that aside, here’s an update on the latest adventures.
I recently reorganized my workshop, which was akin to combining the fields of archaeology, waste management, and ergonomics into a three-week adventure.
The primary reason for the reorganization was to make working in the 10-foot by 15-foot room “where the magic happens” easier for the parts of my body that do not work as well as they once did. Bending, twisting, and reaching aggravate my back and legs, which in turn aggravates me, and I am trying my best to minimize those motions in order to optimize the amount of time I am able to work at the bench, which for about 12 years, has been less than I would like it to be. My hope is that the new layout will allow me to have a few more hours a day of time in the shop, which I also refer to as “being in my happy place.”
This is also the reason that, at least for now, I am no longer taking advance or custom orders for dulcimers. I think I will be able to make more dulcimers by just making them as I am able, with all the choices of materials and design left up to myself. I enjoy custom work, but for various reasons, it always takes a lot longer. There are also new designs I have in mind for dulcimers and dulcimer-like instruments that I am excited about developing, and I need time for that as well.
Please know that if you are reading this and are waiting for a dulcimer you have ordered, you are indeed on the list!
For some time, I have wanted to post videos of the music I play, and I am almost comfortable enough with the technology to make that work; almost, but not quite! Sometimes, the video and sound quality come out well on the first try, and at other times, several hours of exorcising poltergeists seems to be required to create a simple, presentable video.
In other news, a lone tom turkey wandered through our yard this morning, most likely looking for love. Grass and wildflowers are growing, and days are brighter and longer.
My dulcimer making process is consistently inconsistent.
Maybe a better way to say that is my methods and design are in a constant state of evolution.
There are certain measurements and features that need to be precise; fret placement, fretwork, setup, action, bridge compensation, string spacing, etc., but when it comes to exact body shape and size, bracing, thickness or thinness of the top, sides and back, and just about every other detail, they are unique to each dulcimer.
My methods of work suit my temperament. I like to work by feel and intuition, and most of the work is accomplished using traditional hand tools. I like to get intimate and personal with my work, and I let the wood dictate a lot of where the final design is heading.
Because of how I approach dulcimer making, I don’t make parts in bulk. I tried that for a short time, and I found it creatively constraining. I prefer to make each part for each dulcimer, and the proportions of each part are based on all the other parts as the dulcimer comes together. Making a dulcimer is like watching a plant grow.
That’s how I do this. My methodology would be ineffective if I was trying to produce dulcimers in a more economically viable quantity, but anytime I have tried doing production work, even on a small scale, I don’t enjoy the process, as it feels like I am manufacturing rather than crafting, and it is the process of crafting I enjoy and love.
My blog posts have become infrequent, but I regularly post photos of the thrill and adventure of being a dulcimer maker on Instagram.
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.
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!