What’s On The Bench – 1/22/2016

Behold the mighty #7 making what once was warped flat and true.

There are a few things going on in this photograph that may be of interest or amusement to dulcimer builders, woodworkers, luthiers, and those who are easily entertained.

Before describing what is happening in the photograph I will say that I am shopping for a decent camera. Years ago an excellent digital camera suddenly lost it’s mind and made any photograph it took look like a 1960’s Hippie themed B-movie hallucinogenic scene. I bought another camera and no matter what I do the photographs look grainy. I have recently been using my phone which has a mediocre camera that occasionally screws up and takes a good photograph. Soon I will have a new camera and  all the excitement shared here will be crystal clear again.

But I digress, as I often do…

When planing necks and fingerboards flat I need to place them on a flat surface, otherwise the wood takes on the irregularities of the surface on which it is planed. In the past I would plane the top of the bench flat once or twice a year to assure it was an accurate work surface. Over the years my dulcimer making techniques have evolved and a lot of the work that took place on the bench now takes place on flat work-boards mounted in a vise and suspended above the bench. This places the work at a more comfortable working height, assures a flat surface, and makes it easier to clamp parts together.

Using work boards eliminated most of the need for a dead-flat bench but I still needed a long, flat surface for working on necks and fingerboards. I solved the problem by truing up a beam of quartersawn oak and using it as a bench-on-a-bench. I drilled a hole for a bench dog on one end. This bench dog also goes through the oak and into a dog hole on the bench. I lock the beam in place using a bench dog in the end vise and plane away.

In the photograph a cherry neck is getting planed with a #7 plane. The cherry has been planed a few times before. I plane fingerboards flat and then let them sit for a week or so and then plane them again.  After a few more weeks I do the final planing before turning the wood into a neck/fingerboard. The idea behind this is to let the wood move and adjust to stresses released and new surfaces exposed to the environment after planing and then true it again. And again.

The end result is a piece of quartersawn, well-seasoned stable wood that will stay flat. Sometimes I end up with a piece of quartersawn, well-seasoned unstable wood that won’t stay flat and those become braces, binding, or firewood.



2016 – The Adventure Continues

A new year, another adventure

January 10th and there is finally some snow on the ground. Rain will come later today. The sump pump in the basement has been running. A strange Winter in a Country and World going through strange times.

This year I am hoping to post more about music, and if I can get the gear working I’ll post the occasional recording and/or video of your’s truly playing for your dancing and dining pleasure.

I’ll also continue posting about lutherie, dulcimer building, etc. I have a few interesting commissions for dulcimers underway and I’ll keep you posted about what’s on the bench.

And I may at times write about something that just comes to mind. I think in stories. Stories shared can sometimes tell more than descriptive language.

I hope you are all enjoying your own adventures!

Learning From The Past

Epinettes Des Vosges

Design is a constant process, at least for me.

The past is an archive of knowledge that inspires new ideas.

I have collected many images over the years that I browse through when considering a new dulcimer design or when looking for a solution to a design problem.

Here are several images that have recently come to the top of the pile when looking for some new ideas. I can not remember where most of these images came from but I share them with you for your inspiration.

I thank the craftspeople and luthiers before me for their effort and continuing legacy.

I see no need to abandon the past while moving forward. To do so would be a great loss. Tradition is not static; it evolves.



Lambert epinette and other cool stringed instruments.

Langeleik postage stamp

Things with strings.

A Moment Spent Stropping And Work Is Fun Again

Fashion is my life. Really.

Those of you who know me are aware that I live for fashion, Sometimes this vain habit gets in the way of working efficiently.

Why, just this evening, this very evening, I took so much time deciding what to wear while joining dulcimer soundboards and backs that I completely forgot to check if my jointer plane was as sharp as possible!

I started shooting joints and things did not go well. The plane was sharp and was making fine shavings but I could not create the tight 32″ center joint usually produced.

Suddenly it dawned on me; is this plane as sharp as it could be? Is the plane making the finest shaving it is capable off? Is it really okay that I am talking to myself?

So I boldly removed the blade, took off the cap iron, and stropped the dickens out of the blade. Stropping the dickens out of the blade took mere moments and now I have a dickens that was once in the blade. What does one do with a dickens once it is out of something? But I digress.

And behold! That little bit of stropping allowed the plane to make finer shavings than before! Straight, perfect joints were now not only possible but easily produced!

The sky seemed brighter, even though it was night. Somewhere birds were singing. People everywhere got along with each other.

And then I woke up.



What’s On The Bench – 11/2/2015

Cherry dulcimer by dulcimer builder Doug Berch

It has been several months since I have had dulcimers for sale. I have been focusing my time on advance and custom orders.

A few days ago I strung up this cherry dulcimer with black binding and position markers. It has beautiful mid-range tone and warmth and a strong bass string.

I have made two other dulcimers from this same billet of cherry; perfectly quartered with lots of flecks and some light curl. More importantly the sound of the dulcimers made from this billet have all sounded great.

I built this dulcimer and another along side work on some custom orders. The other should be strung up in a few days. Once I get some good photographs they will be listed for sale.

I’m about to start work on some more advance orders but will be making a few dulcimers along side them for sale as well. This seems to be a good rhythmic workflow.

Physical therapy and other healing modalities are allowing me to work a little more regularly in the shop but still not as much as I would prefer. Then again, reality is what is going on rather than what I would prefer.

I can’t complain. I love the work I do and if I didn’t have to work for a living I would still do what I do. During the times I can not work in the shop I play music or work on instrument designs or other things I enjoy.

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.”
– Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi