Those of you who follow my posts know that during the last few years I have dealt with some boring health issues. Slowly but surely I’m returning to being a dulcimer builder on a regular basis. As I am able to do more I have to remind my self not to do too much more; not the easiest thing for me to do. I love my job and I like to work. I’m catching up on orders and hope to have some inventory on hand in a few months.
This past Thanksgiving I realized that on Thanksgiving the year before I was using a walker and now I use a cane. This was a good reminder of how far I have come along and these moments are helpful to remember when having a day when I am unable to work as much as I had hoped I would. And speaking of using a cane:, several people have told me using a cane makes me look distinguished. Who knew it was so easy! I would have bought a cane 30 years ago!
I mill all my lumber by hand and I enjoy the process. Planing is a full-body experience; my lower body is as involved as my arms. When planing a long board I step along with the pushing of the plane. I am still not able to plane as much or for as long as I would like but I am able to do what needs to be done in multiple short sessions.
In the photograph above is a piece of walnut that earlier today was a rough piece of lumber. After several sessions of planing it is now ready to be sawn and shaped into parts for a some of the dulcimers I am working on.
This piece of walnut had some areas where the grain was moderately wild and changed direction here and there so for the final smoothing I used a high-angle plane to avoid tear-out. The plane shown below is a Chinese high-angle smoothing plane. When set for a very fine shaving this plane will smooth just about any wild grain or figure. It also can be used both pushed away and pulled towards the user. The crossbar is removable but I usually keep it in place as it provides a variety of grips that add versatility to the plane’s use. Sometimes I take the crossbar out if I am planing small parts.
Like all wooden planes I occasionally have to true the sole of this high-angle plane. If the blade is freshly sharpened and I have trouble getting a fine, thin, shaving it usually means the sole of the plane needs to be trued. I check the sole of the plane with a straight edge and true it up with a scraper or another plane.
Though being a dulcimer builder is known to cause one to have a life filled with excitement and adventure there are the occasional lulls one must cope with.
But today was a day of excitement; shaping back braces and gluing said back to a custom sycamore and spruce dulcimer!
Here’s a shot of the back braces in the early stages of shaping:
For those of you who are interested in tools, the chisel is a 1/2 inch Stanley 750 and the plane is the ubiquitous miniature rosewood plane found in many tool catalogs. It is a handy little plane and on this one I beveled the edges of the sole so I can get up close and personal with the edges of braces. In the background is a $10 baby crock-pot that I use as glue pot. This pot has no settings but fortunately was built to keep it’s contents at 140° F throughout the day, This is just the right temperature for hide glue. Hopefully the manufacturer won’t read this post; if this information got into the wrong hands we could end up seeing this crock-pot in catalogs as a specialty tool for 5 times the price!
After finishing up the braces and remembering to put in a label (yes, I have forgotten to put in the label) I glued the back to the dulcimer:
Woodworkers and luthiers have a saying, “You can never have too many clamps.” This is true, but in the case of gluing on this dulcimer back I used more than necessary. The back fit the dulcimer very well but I like to get even pressure all around the instrument and I kept reaching for another clamp and things got a little out of control. Still, if I had more clamps I could have glued something else up at the same time.
I’m currently working on a few custom dulcimers and one will feature snakewood binding.
Sometimes when I have bought snakewood it has been labeled as lacewood. Both names are descriptive of the figure. The scientific name of what I am using for binding is Brosimum Guianense.
Once finish is applied snakewood binding reminds me a bit of the tortoise or celluloid-tortoise binding used on many vintage instruments.
Snakewood is beautiful to look at but tricky to work. It is very hard and splinters easily. When using edge tools the figure can easily tear out leaving a pitted surface. I often use a file rather than a scraper when trimming and cleaning up snakewood binding to avoid this.
In this photograph I’m planing snakewood binding to a thickness of .090″ prior to bending. I’m using a low-angle block plane set for a very light cut with a freshly sharpened blade to help prevent tearing out the grain. Snakewood is hard on an edge so I usually end up stropping the blade once or twice before the job is finished.
A yardstick clamped across the work board serves as a bench stop.
I could just sand the snakewood but this way there is no nasty sawdust and I get to make fine, fluffy shavings.
I’ve started work on a few custom dulcimers and took a few photographs of one in the early stages of construction.
Once the sides are bent to shape I trim the to length using a bench hook and saw. It may be time for me to make a new bench hook. This one has a lot of mileage on it!
The sides are glued to end-blocks and kerfing is glued in place. The kerfing stiffens the sides and provides a larger surface for gluing on the soundboard and back.
When the glue has dried the clamps are removed and I plane the kerfing flush to the sides. Most of the planing is done with a 101 plane. The tiny 101 plane gets a lot of use in my shop. After planing the kerfing flush with the 101 i switch to a jack plane to true up the surfaces and assure everything that should be flat is indeed flat.
I found these guys hanging around on the lawn. I figured with hats like these they probably know something about woodworking and lutherie so I put them to work.