A Brief And Gentle Reentry Into The Dulcimer Workshop

Luthier's razor blade scraper

Today I did a little work in the shop for the first time since having back surgery on February 5th. It was wonderful being in the shop again!

I did some work on a curly walnut dulcimer that was left close to completion in February. I leveled, crowned, and polished the frets and started working on the nut.

This was gentle work with small tools but after about half an hour my body told me it was in my best interest to stop and to my amazement and surprise I listened! Slow and steady wins the race. A stitch in time has a silver lining. A dark cloud gathers no moss.  I’ll stop now.

It will be a month or so before I can begin to work in the shop part-time with some regularity. My body is healing well but there is still a long way to go.

In the photograph is a small piece of micarta that will become the nut for this dulcimer. I use the indentation in the side of a razor blade as a scraper to rough in the rounding of the top of the nut. Add this to the long list of cheap luthier tricks!

That’s the news from here.

The Adventure Continues

Curly walnut dulcimer - Doug Berch

It has been six weeks since having a bi-level lumbar fusion and this morning I entered the shop for the first time since then. The bench was as I had left it with a curly walnut dulcimer awaiting a nut, bridge, tuners, and setup. Also on the bench are some sets of tonewood I resawed before having surgery. These will become the back, sides, and for some, the soundboards for some of the next run of bespoke dulcimers I will be making when the time comes.

It will probably be another 6 weeks before my body is ready for light work. Healing is going well. The surgeon said if I worked for someone else he would have me take three months off but since I am self-employed and can take all the breaks I want I may possibly start a little sooner. I’ll find out for sure in early April.

One large obstacle is getting into the shop itself. My shop is a small room at the top of a steep staircase built before ergonomics were strongly considered when designing houses. At the moment stairs are difficult for me and these stairs are more difficult than others.
My workout for the day.

Here’s the view one sees while climbing the stairs:

Where does the shop begin and end?

Almost to the top of the stairs.

I am thankful for the patience of those waiting for me to make their dulcimers. The good news is that when fully recovered I should be able to spend a lot more time working in the shop than I have been able since this adventure began.

I love my job.

The Latest Adventure

Resawing wood for dulcimers

Just saying hello.

I had back surgery two weeks ago and recovery is going well. I now have two non-adjustable truss rods and some other hardware supporting my lower back.

I’m taking it easy, catching up on reading, watching some series and movies I would normally not have time for, gently exercising and occasionally feeling bored. I’m also reading a lot about lutherie and doing thought experiments about new designs, methods of work, and possibly some new instruments to make.

It will probably be two months or so before I can begin to do some work in the shop. Before surgery I did some of the rough work to prepare for the time I’ll be back at the bench again. In the photograph above is cherry, walnut, and curly ash resawn for some future dulcimers.

Full recovery will take up to a year but if all goes as planned I’ll able to work longer hours making dulcimers than I have for about 5 years. I look forward to that time! I love my job!

My Happy Place

Dulcimer builder's play room.

When I first converted a small bedroom into a workshop my wife Cynthia referred to it as “Doug’s playroom.” She’s right. I have spent many happy hours there.

Loving what you do doesn’t mean there will not be moments of challenge and/or frustration. That’s how life tends to go but if passion fuels the journey you keep on going.

I’m working on a few dulcimers at the moment. Two will be strung and set up next week. In the photograph is a dulcimer that probably won’t be completed before I have back surgery in a few weeks. I’m doing the “heavy lifting” now so I can do the less physically demanding work on the dulcimer when I am able to start working again.

I’ll also be resawing some beautiful cherry, walnut, curly ash, cedar, and cypress for future dulcimers.

Deep Winter has finally come to Central Michigan. Sap has gone to the roots and birds constantly visit the feeder during daylight. Deer and the occasional rabbit leave tracks in the snow outside the house. Cold weather and snow bring quiet to this small piece of the world. I’m happy.