It seems appropriate to be writing this post on Thanksgiving.
In a previous post I had mentioned I was having a second back surgery on November 14th. The surgery went well. There were no complications and recovery has been going much easier than it did the last time around.
The nursing staff was exceptional as were the students working with them. They clearly cared about people and had chosen the right profession.
I am resting a lot, going for short walks, and doing exercises I was given in physical therapy.
Here I am performing one of the more challenging exercises:
It will be several more weeks before I can start slowly easing into a little work in the shop. People waiting for instruments have been very patient and supportive.
My current abundance of unstructured time has provided an opportunity to think through design changes and methods of work. I am looking forward to trying them out.
I’ve been able to play mountain dulcimer and new ideas are springing up; a little more counterpoint is finding it’s way into my playing. I’m also arranging some new pieces and revisiting some old ones.
I’ll be playing a contra dance this coming weekend with “Oh! Contraire.” We are all good friends and I’m looking forward to getting out for an evening playing a gig with them. I’m not up to playing hammered dulcimer yet so I’ll be playing tinwhistle for the night.
I want to thank all of you who have written and shared your love and support as well as those of you who sent love and support silently.
Life is good.
I’ve mentioned before that I have been having adventures with back problems. After waiting a year for my insurance company to decree I was worthy of a needed surgery I had said surgery this past March. There were some complications and recovery was not as advertised.
Two months ago I was feeling about 75% back to myself. I was working in the shop a little more each day. Trained professionals told me I could expect a full recovery within a year and that seemed very likely.
Six weeks ago I started noticing my legs would tire more easily than they had a few weeks before. Then I started having some numbness, pain, and cramping.
An MRI revealed another vertebra was jealous that it didn’t get to play with the surgeon during the previous operation so it is now yelling for attention. “Hey, what about me!” says vertebra L-4. “Why couldn’t you cry for attention before the last surgery!” says Doug.
So friends, I will be having another surgery on November 14th.
I did not know an MRI could be taken while I played the dulcimer. Here is the MRI the surgeon will refer to while operating:
Here are some of the tools the surgeon will be using. Or are these my tools?
It would be dishonest of me to deny that I have had moments of frustration during the course of this adventure but in general I remain optimistic.
I have been organizing the shop and getting materials together to make it easy to begin making dulcimers after I recover from surgery. Depending on how things go I could be working on a limited basis within a month though it may take longer. I’ll keep you posted.
I have some beautiful sets of walnut, curly maple, Adirondack spruce, sassafras, and butternut ready to become dulcimers. I’ll be sharpening tools and getting everything ready so I can easily work a few minutes here and there as I am able.
I have not been able to work as much during the past few weeks as I had the weeks before but passion always finds an outlet.
I have been studying construction techniques used by those who make classical guitars, romantic guitars and other instruments. These luthiers often use just a few hand tools and rely on skill more than tooling and jigs. This is the direction I lean towards and I am feeling an inner growth spurt that I imagine will express itself in the instruments I make after recovery.
My study has also included musical explorations, primarily while playing mountain dulcimer. Here again I am finding joy in deeper simplicity. Perhaps I will record and upload some music during recovery as I am able.
I have a loving wife and a community of good friends near and far. I love making instruments and playing music. I live indoors and eat every day.
Life is good.
After years of bending dulcimer sides using a heating blanket and bending form I am beginning to prefer the traditional method of bending sides over a hot pipe. I often touch up sides, linings and binding on a hot pipe after they have come off the form because wood has memory and tends to spring back to its original shape.
Bending sides freehand is not difficult but like many things requires developing technique and skill that come with experience. Touching up sides, linings and binding has given me enough practice at the bending iron to feel more comfortable bending freehand from the start.In the grainy photo above you can see the ubiquitous electric bending iron used by luthiers around the world. It is basically an aluminum pipe with an internal heating element controlled by a thermostat. This style of bending iron has an oval shape as opposed to the round diameter of the simple hot pipe setup I used in the past. Both work well though the shape of the electric bending iron offers a variety of curved surfaces that makes bending some shapes easier.
The bending iron is heated until drops of water bounce off it. The wood is lightly moistened and the area to to be bent is rubbed against the pipe in a stroking motion until it starts to have a little give. As the wood becomes soft it yields to pressure and can be coaxed into the desired shape.
On the bench is a mold I sometimes use to hold the sides in shape when gluing in linings or putting on a soundboard or back. It is upside down on the bench serving as a template for me to check the sides against as I bend them. The outside of the mold is the same shape as my standard model dulcimer.
My recent preference for bending freehand is due to my continuing appreciation for simple technology that relies on skill more than tooling and jigs. Bending freehand also makes it easy to vary the shape of a dulcimer without the need to build a new bending form each time.
Many of the tried-and-true methods of work used in the past have been replaced in modern times by technical advances that offer consistency, repeatability and accuracy. This is very helpful in a production situation.
As I continue to gain more skill using traditional methods of lutherie I am sometimes surprised by how quickly I can accomplish certain tasks. Over time I suspect I will be bending sides freehand as fast or faster than I have using a heated form.
But speed is not the goal. I enjoy the process of doing what I do.
And on the subject of using tried-and-true methods and tools; these two guys showed up the other day looking for work. I told them I wasn’t hiring, that I was a one person operation and didn’t have enough work to keep them busy.
They said they had they did all their work by hand and had their own tools. They had fallen on hard times and really needed work.
That hit a soft spot in my heart and I decided to let them work around the shop on a trial basis.
If you see any 25 foot long dulcimers you’ll know where they came from.
Some days work-in-progress happens not only on the bench but also under the bench, on the floor, and on and horizontal surface I can find. Today is such a day.
This is my funky-yet-effective side-bender. This bending form uses metal slats and a heating blanket to bend the sides for my standard model dulcimer. For one-of-a-kind instruments I bend sides the old fashioned way using a hot pipe.
Inside the side bender are several pieces of rosewood about to become binding; the trim I sometimes use around the soundboard.
The wood is moistened and as heat penetrates the wood I hear and smell when it will become pliable enough to bend under pressure. Many of us bend under pressure so I do not hold this against the wood. What I do hold against the wood are both the male and female halves of the bending form.
I use three clamps to squeeze everything snug and then turn off the heat. I let the wood cool dry in the side-bender overnight.
Wood has memory and will try to spring back to its original shape. Sometimes the binding or sides coming out of the side-bender need a little touch-up on the hot pipe to assure they hold the desired shape.
Several hours of my life are now part of the past but comments are working again.
After digging through my site for several hours I learned the culprit was a utility designed to add more options for people when leaving comments. How ironic that all it did was keep comments from appearing altogether!
Now it is time to embrace the rest of day turning wood into instruments.