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.
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.
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.
On the bench are two dulcimer fretboards in cherry.
The one on the left has had the strum hollow cut and refined and the location of the position markers laid out. It also has an ebony end cap in place. An inset of Spanish cedar is inlaid in the fingerboard just ahead of where a bridge/pickup will go. I find using a softer wood or shim ahead of this type of pickup makes the amplified sound more natural. This fretboard is chromatic up to the 7th fret/first octave and diatonic the rest of the way.
The other fingerboard is fully chromatic. The layout lines for the strum hollow are in place and this one will also have position markers and an ebony end cap
On the right is the glue pot that keeps hide glue warm and happy. The Erlenmeyer flask holds water for adding to the glue as necessary. I picked up the Erlenmeyer flask at a salvage sale because I thought it would be more difficult to knock over than the glass jar I previously used. This has indeed been the case but I still manage to knock it over now and then.
On the bench is a curly walnut dulcimer having its head attached with hide glue.
It is important to attach a head onto a dulcimer, because if you don’t, it will go searching the night to find a head and the one it chooses could be YOUR HEAD!
But I digress.
This dulcimer is one of three I am currently working on. The other two dulcimers are ready for final preparation before receiving the finish and tomorrow this dulcimer will be ready to join them.
I wait until I have 3 or 4 dulcimers ready to go through the finishing process at the same time. I put the woodworking tools away, clean the shop, and dedicate the space to finish work for about a week.
After all coats of finish are applied the dulcimers hang on the wall for several days so the finish can further cure before being rubbed out.
While the finish is curing I start work on the next 3 or 4 dulcimers.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
You can see my work in progress by following me on Instagram.
I don’t really need to use clamps when gluing up a dulcimer peghead assembly but I feel better knowing the clamp is there. Hide glue added to a clean and well-fitting joint grabs and pulls the joint together as the hide glue sets up.
Clamping the parts together at an angle is tricky but in the photograph you can sort of see the peghead and the block beneath it are pressed up against an angled block of wood covered with wax paper. The peghead is clamped to the work board and there is wax paper on the work board as well.
This arrangement keeps parts from sliding when downward pressure is applied to the joint. They probably wouldn’t slide anyway since I’m using hide glue but I feel better knowing there is no chance of a rude surprise.
The wax paper prevents someone from getting a dulcimer with a work-board and an angled block of wood stuck to the peghead. That would make the dulcimer difficult to tune and it would be hard to find a case that fits.
After everything is clamped up I clean up the squeezed out glue with a rag and warm water. This is another benefit of hide glue; it cleans up with warm water and a rag.
I’ve written before about my love of hide glue. Hide glue works well as an adhesive but it also has unique properties that allow assembly techniques not possible with modern glues.
Hide glue is excellent for making rub joints, a joint where after applying glue the parts are rubbed together a few times until the glue begins to stick. No clamping is required because hide glue pulls the joint together as it dries.
Above is what my bench looked like earlier today while I was gluing up some pegheads. Some of the things in the photograph have nothing to do with gluing pegheads but they were lonely and asked if they could be in the picture. I didn’t have the heart to say no.
In the foreground towards the right, next to a partially shown shopping list, are the two parts of a peghead just after being glued. In the background is the mini-crock-pot that serves as an electric glue pot. Peeking out of the top of glue pot is the white lid of a small jar containing, believe it or not, hide glue. The jar sits in a bath of hot water. It is a filthy little jar and does not get to watch TV before bedtime if it refuses to take a bath. Hide glue also needs to be heated in a double boiler at around 140° F to melt and become usable. That is another reason the jar is in a bath of hot water.
Also on the glue pot are two brushes; one for applying glue, the other for adding hot water from the pot when cleaning things up, adding a little more hot water to the joint, etc.
In front of the glue pot is a flask of water used for replacing water in the glue pot and the glue jar as evaporation takes place. I found the flask at a salvage store and thought it was less likely to get knocked over than the glass I had used before. That ended up being true. The flask also looks cool and makes things look more impressive and scientific than they really are.
On the work-board are some peghead parts, a template, and a flat sanding block used for lapping the surfaces of the joints for a perfect fit. On bigger parts I do this with a swipe of a plane, on smaller, odd-shaped parts it is sometimes easier to lap them.
And now, for no particular reason, is a picture of a cute duckling.
Slowly but surely I am recovering from back surgery and lutherie has commenced in the form of cleaning and organizing the shop in short installments.
While cleaning out the shop I ventured into the quagmire of the closet; the dark, scary place where useful things mingle with forgotten somewhat-useful and mostly useless things from the past. Within this portal of doom lurk dead cans of finish, expired bottles of yellow glue, useless tools of questionable manufacture, parts of tools I do not own, mysterious objects that somehow made their way across time and space and into my workspace, etc.
And among these many things I found a small treasure; a box with 3 pounds of dry hide glue. This stuff is probably 3 years old and as good as the day I bought it.
And why, you might ask, do I consider this newsworthy?
Well, I also found a leaky box of very old epoxy that made an 8 inch round toxic puddle on one of the shelves. I have not used epoxy in years and I have no idea how long this oozing abomination has tainted the fine particle board shelf upon which it resides.
It is neither solid nor liquid but something in-between, something not of this world, something evil.
Hide glue does not do this! I’m adding this fact to the list of reasons I prefer hide glue.
Luckily most of the stuff I pried loose from this resinous swamp was going to get tossed anyway.
The real reason for this post?
I am avoiding going back upstairs to cleanup this awful mess!
It’s a thrill a minute here today! Let it not be said that a dulcimer maker doesn’t lead an exciting life!
For several years I used this little water boiling contraption as my glue pot. I measured the temperature with a candy thermometer and marked the spot on the temperature dial that kept the water at 140°. It worked very well.
Recently the thermostat had become very unreliable. The thermostat had a mind of it’s own and the temperature would often fluctuate wildly, usually towards suddenly boiling the water surrounding the little jar of hide glue inside. This overheats the glue and ruins it very quickly.
I can’t complain as the pot cost me $1.00 at a yard sale a few years ago.
Of I went hippity hop to the local big supermarket that sells everything one needs to live, depending on your life style.
And behold, I found this little crock-pot for $5.00. It takes a while to warm up but holds the water stable at about 135°. This is a little cooler than what I prefer but I haven’t noticed any significant difference when working with hide glue.
It is also heavier than my old glue pot and sits more securely on the bench so it is less likely to get knocked over.
My wife and I live in a 100-year-old farm-house. What once were fields around us are now house-farms, but that is another story.
It is a challenge keeping the house comfortably warm but that too is another story.
My shop is in what once was an upstairs bedroom. Since I spend a lot of time there during the day I keep the heat set low in the rest of the house. If I’m doing lots of planing and sawing I like having the shop on the cool side because I get heated up pretty fast from the workout of using hand tools.
When doing glue-ups I use a space-heater to warm up the shop. When using hide glue I heat the shop 70 ° F. If the room is much cooler than 70 ° F hide glue will being to gel before I have time for proper assembly and clamping.
The hide glue cooks in a double boiler at 140 ° F. The combined heat of the space-heater, the glue-pot and a halogen floor lamp quickly bring the temperature up to 70 ° F. This is one advantage of having a very small shop!
I have written other posts about why I love using hide glue. It is my glue-of-choice for assembling many parts of the dulcimers I make. I do use other adhesives where the qualities of hide glue are either not optimal or necessary.
But I love hide glue for its workability, strength, reversibility and most importantly the quality it adds to tone.