Bending Beautiful Bubinga Binding

Though I have done it countless times I am always amazed when a straight. flat, piece of wood turns into the curved shape of a dulcimer. Heat and moisture make wood pliable. It’s that simple.

Today I bent bubinga binding for two dulcimers in the works. After sawing bubinga into appropriately dimensioned strips I clean and true the surfaces with a low angle block plane and trim them to length with a chisel. Here is beautiful bubinga binding before being bent. Can you say “beautiful bubinga binding before being bent” three times fast?

Beautiful Bubinga Binding Before Being Bent

A quick spray with distilled water and the beautiful bubinga binding strips are taped together so they are easy to manage when going into the heated bending form. Since these will all be bent to the same shape this is a quicker method than bending them freehand on a hot pipe.

Here they are in the bender. Though you can’t see them in the bending form I assure you there is beautiful bubinga binding being bent.

Beautiful Bubinga Binding Being Bent

And last but not least here is bent beautiful bubinga binding!

Bent Beautiful Bubinga BindingToday’s post has been presented by the letter “B.”


What’s On The Bench – 4/3/2015

My first “shop” was my parent’s kitchen table in our apartment in Brooklyn, NY, probably around 1973 or 1974. I grew up with very little knowledge of tools and woodworking.  I bought tools as needed and learned to accomplish the most work with the fewest tools. I also learned to improvise around anything I needed that wasn’t available to me.

My first few dulcimers had their tops and backs glued on by using weights instead of clamps. An encyclopedia served this purpose well. For those of you too young to have grown up with an encyclopedia in your home, an encyclopedia was a vast wealth of knowledge contained within a set consisting of many books. Books were made of paper and had words printed on them with ink. But I digress…

I now have a shop with just about every tool I need to make stringed instruments so instead of using the encyclopedia I use an array of bench planes as weights to glue the tops (and sometimes the backs) on dulcimers.

Another use for bench planes

I do have plenty of clamps but placing weights on the ribs with the soundboard face down on the solera (classy term for work board) is much faster than securing clamps around the edges. This method works well but requires the solera to be perfectly flat (if that is what is desired) and the mating of the sides to the top or black plate to be very accurate. By the time I glue a top or back on I have prepared the joints so little to no pressure is required for the parts to fit together in proper alignment. I could probably get away with using less weight but I feel more secure about the quality of the joint by using more planes.

If my workflow requires access to the bench while the glue dries I will use clamps instead of using planes as weights. This way I can take the solera with the dulcimer clamped together and hang it on the wall while I work at the bench.

Proper Attire When Planing Wood

As a dulcimer builder I use traditional techniques and tools that have been around for a very long time. I also learn many things about lutherie and woodworking by reading books as old or older than some of the tools I use.

This morning I learned that I have been missing an important skill and my work has probably suffered for it; I was not dressing appropriately for each stage of planing wood!

Proper Attire When Planing Wood

It seems that one can wear the same outfit when holding a jack plane as when planing at the bench, however, when “Testing Planed Wood Across The Grain” with a square one should change hair color.

I do not consider changing hair color critical to this step; a magazine popular during this era probably had an article about proper hair coloring during this process and a frenzy of buying and selling went on in the woodworking marketplace. Remember when we all had to have trained mice pulling our sharpening guides over natural stones that were mined by virgins from a secret cave in the Himalayas? Neither do I, but you get the idea.

However, “Sighting a Piece of Planed Wood for Straightness” absolutely requires wearing a hat! I will not explain why as the reasons are obvious.

I’m happy that in this modern age it is easy to share accurate and useful information via the Internet.

Well, I’m off to the thrift store to get a vest and tie. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Drilling Small Holes With A Small Drill

As I get closer to the end of building a dulcimer the tools I use get smaller. Work begins by resawing at the bandsaw, then comes handsaws and bench planes, then comes smaller planes, chisels, knives, and scrapers.

The last parts to go on a dulcimer are the tuning machines. The screws that hold the tuning machines in place are very small and require small pilot holes. For years I drilled these with an “eggbeater” hand drill. This worked but the drill always seemed a little big for the job and sometimes getting the chuck to clear the tuners and the end of the dulcimer required some hand drill yoga.

Not too long ago while looking for a tool that was hiding somewhere in the shop (an all-too common event) I found a small Archimedean jewelers drill I bought years ago because it looked interesting. It was inexpensive and I liked it so I bought it even though I couldn’t think of a use for it at the time.

Drilling Small Holes With A Small DrillThis little drill was just the right size for drilling pilot holes for the tuner screws. The blue tape serves as a depth stop because accidentally drilling through to the face of the peghead is not a good idea and something best avoided.

The drill works on the principle of Archimede’s screw. Sliding the collar on the spiral shaft causes the chuck to turn round and round.

Another problem solved by ancient science and another tool to play with! All in all a fun moment in the exciting life of a dulcimer builder!

Curchillo Knives

I am continually drawn to older, simpler, lutherie technology . There are several reasons for this but mostly I am attracted to the older methods because they work well and I enjoy the experience of using them.

With hand tools the craftsperson’s body and skill replace many jigs and machines. Working this way makes me feel like I truly accomplished something every step of the way.

For several months I have been studying and improving the skills of using knives as they apply to being a dulcimer builder. With knives I can cut out tops and backs with cleaner edges than I can with a bandsaw. I can fit parts, trim and clean up hard-to-reach areas, shape braces, relieve edges, and more.

I have long been aware of a style of knife developed and used by guitar makers in the Paracho area of Mexico. These “curchillos knives” have evolved specifically for guitar making.

Curchillo knives are often made by the luthier and I have intended to make one for several years. I just never got around to doing it.

Last week I was having coffee with my friend Paul. Paul is a musician, craftsperson, outdoorsman and all-around wonderful human being. He also makes barrels of sauerkraut every year to give away at Christmas.

I mentioned wanting a curchillo and showed Paul photographs of them in an issue of American Lutherie and he said, “I can make those for you!”

Yesterday Paul and I got together and he gave me these two curchillo knives he made for me from an old saw blade.

Curchillo Knives

I spent about 10 minutes with stones and a strop and both knives take and hold a very sharp edge.

The shape of the blade is perfect for carving and cutting out many dulcimer parts. I am a very happy dulcimer builder!

And I am thankful to have wonderful friends like Paul!

In the future I’ll be posting some of the work I do using these knives!