This song was inspired by a quote of Sri Ramana Maharshi. As he neared the end of his life he comforted his devotees by saying, “You say I am going away, but where can I go? I am always here. You give too much importance to the body.”
The dulcimer in the photograph was glued together a few years ago. I know this because the quality of the photograph is better than possible with the camera I am currently using. I also know this because the dulcimer in the photograph is currently being regularly played by its owner. I just happened to have this photograph on hand.
Gluing a dulcimer body together is basically gluing the lid on a box. If I decide I need to open the box it means opening up glue joints. This is certainly possible and something I do when required to perform a major repair. Taking a dulcimer apart after gluing the box closed is never something I look forward to.
Just before gluing everything together I usually have a few pieces of wood outside and inside the dulcimer holding everything in place. Moments before gluing things together I take the pieces of wood out of the inside of the dulcimer.
Earlier today I glued a dulcimer body together. Just after gluing everything together I wondered, “Did I take that piece of wood that was stabilizing the shape of the dulcimer out of the dulcimer before gluing everything together”
After a short panic-filled searching of the bench I saw that indeed I had.
Today I am taking a break from a few dulcimers in progress so I can prepare wood for resawing. This piece of quartered walnut was very dry when I bought it rough-sawn a few years ago and has only gotten better with age.
Wood needs to be fairly square and true before resawing and for me that means lots of hand-planing. Sitting on top of the walnut board is a #7 jointer plane. The jointer plane needed a break so I took its moment of rest as an opportunity to take a grainy and slightly color-distorted photograph. Bad photograph or high art? Isn’t that roll of blue paper towels just lovely? And I am shopping for a better camera. Hmm, a dilemma. But I digress….
I enjoy hand-planing and it provides a good physical workout. Current back issues do not allow me to do as much planing as I would like to do in one stretch so I have to spread the joy out over longer periods of time. When my body has been more cooperative it took surprisingly little more time for me to hand prepare wood for resawing than it does for my friends who use big machines to flatten and square stock.
I briefly considered getting a thickness planer; only briefly. I don’t know where I would put such a beast in such a small shop. And I’d need another extension cord. And I’d have to clean up after it and take it for walks.
But really, I truly enjoy hand-planing and prefer to work that way. I like the feel of the plane in my hands, the feedback of the plane against the wood, and the quiet swooshing sound made as shavings tumble.
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.