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.
Fine fluffy shavings are fun to make!
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.
I was sharpening all the knives I regularly use and they told me this was a good photo opportunity. Yes, they told me. I was as surprised as you are.
My pocket knife is almost always in my pocket. Where else would it be? I have recently discovered Opinel knives and I am smitten. This Opinel #6 has replaced my previous pocket knife. This was awkward at first but they have learned to be friends.
Below it is a knife that I believe was intended for working with rubber or leather. I use it mostly for opening seams and disassembling instruments when doing repair work.
Next is the ubiquitous knife seen in many shops that is sold as a chip carving, whittling, or bench knife. I find the handle very comfortable and the short blade very easy to control. This may be the knife I most often reach for.
The next two knives are a wood carving knife and a general utility knife made by Mora. These knives feel great in the hand. I use the knife with the red handle for rough work though it is also capable of fine work. I use the carving knife for mostly fine work though it is also capable of rough work. Both knives are versatile but I usually use them for what they do best, at least in my hands.
Next comes a knife I found in an antique store that is sometimes sold these days as a mill knife. The blade can be extended or removed from the handle. I ground it with a bevel strong enough to do very rough work. I use this knife when I would worry about damaging a knife with a more refined edge.
You probably recognize the “craft knife” with a #11 blade. I use this knife for marking and layout.
At the bottom of the pile is a surgical scalpel. The disposable blades for the scalpel are not only very sharp but also extremely thin. When I need to make light, precise cuts nothing beats this scalpel. I use it when working on binding, soundholes, etc.
To the right is a hacking knife; a strong knife I use for splitting wood. I like to split the wood used for braces to assure continuous grain.
To the left is my strop, which began life as leather guitar strap. I use compound on the rough side and use the smooth side plane. Stropping creates a strong and sharp edge. I use the strop to touch up all of my edge tools and it extends the time between honings.
More than once I had found myself perplexed by a fret that would not gracefully seat itself completely in a fret slot.
More often than not the problem was the slot being too shallow for the tang on the fretwire. I saw the slots to an appropriate depth when making a dulcimer fingerboard but by the time the fingerboard is trued and leveled the slots sometimes become too shallow.
After having this happen a few times I came up with a very simple tool to solve the problem.
I took a piece of fretwire and filed the barbs off the tang so it will easily fit into a fret slot. if the slot is deep enough the crown of the fret will seat well on the fingerboard. If not then I need to deepen the slots.
The tape on the end of the fretwire it to remind me that this is a tool and not a stray fret that escaped the blow of a hammer.
It is easy to romanticize about the beauty and functionality of vintage hand tools, but on a day-to-day basis there are some unsung heroes put to work on my bench that deserve mention.
Today’s episode; The Plexiglass Rectangle
In this photograph two plexiglass rectangles protect a dulcimer soundboard during fretting. Years ago I used cardboard for this job. Then one fine day an errant piece of grit found its way under the cardboard and scratched the top of a dulcimer. Next time I used a piece of plexiglass to protect the top so I could see what was going on underneath. Another problem solved by modern science!
One of the plexiglass rectangles has a line scribed across the center of the width. I use this to layout braces on the back of a dulcimer. The scribed line goes over the center line on a dulcimer back and makes a simple task of placing braces square to the line if so desired.
I also use these rectangular marvels as see-through and somewhat flexible clamping cauls.