How Long Does It Take Me To Make A Dulcimer?

I am often asked how long it takes me to make a dulcimer. The answer is that I don’t really know. Someday I will figure it out. I do know that I am not making very much per hour!

Here are some of the things that require my time before making a dulcimer.

Digging through my wood stash in the attic

  • Design – It took a lot of time to come up with the specific shape and soundholes for my standard dulcimers. Many drawings were made and several prototype instruments were built to test my ideas. Though the bulk of the design work is complete it is by no means finished; I am constantly making subtle changes to continually improve my instruments.
  • Finding and buying wood – I spend a lot of time visiting sawmills and hardwood dealers searching for the wood that I use. I am very particular about the wood I use so I often come home empty-handed.
  • Resawing – The wood needs to be sawn to the rough dimensions required for dulcimer making. After inspection and sorting the wood gets to age for a while.
  • Selection – After the wood has aged and stabilized I look for the optimal sets of wood for each dulcimer. I usually cover the floor with many backs, tops and sides and look for the ones that will go together best. Tonal, structural and aesthetic consideration goes in to choosing the wood for each dulcimer. Sometimes this process takes considerable time.

At this point  I start doing things that actually look like I am making a dulcimer! Tops and backs are joined, sides are bent, etc. Most of the parts are made as they are needed during construction of each individual dulcimer.

The next three dulcimers

Once the body of the dulcimer is complete I spend lots of time scraping and sanding prior to finishing. Once the finish has cured I install the frets, tuners, nut and bridge and string the dulcimer up. This is always an exciting moment.

I play the dulcimer for several days and break it in. During these first few days the sound of the dulcimer opens up and some small adjustments may need to be made to assure it will have optimal playability and tone.

Added to the time of making the dulcimer is the “down time” as glue dries, finish cures, etc. Though I am not working on the dulcimer while these things take place it does add to the time it takes to make one from start to finish.

Someday I will figure out how much time it actually takes to make a dulcimer from going to the sawmill to having a finished instruments on the bench, though I am not sure I really want to know!

I am glad I enjoy the ride as much as I do!

3 thoughts on “How Long Does It Take Me To Make A Dulcimer?”

  1. Thanks, Kari. I think instruments and tools have a lot in common. Instruments are essentially tools and tools are instruments. They both require fettling and tuning and there is also a learning curve for both the tool and the user.

  2. Thanks for the walk-through of your process. You obviously take great care in making each one of your dulcimers. That’s interesting that they have a break-in period. I find that to be the case with new tools, too.

  3. There are so many things to consider when building something from raw materials,as you say,actually locating the stuff,the time it takes aclimatising to your workshop & a whole slew of other expensive processes that needs to be considered before construction can commence.
    I’m fortunate in that most of the stuff I make to sell is jewellery so a single billet of timber 2″ square by 12″ can make as many as 300 pairs of earrings or 200 pairs of cufflinks so my visits to suppliers are considerably rarer than yours will be.
    There’s still the lengthy design process,something that doesn’t get figured into my hourly rate.For some reason I don’t feel comfortable charging someone if my tools aren’t actually in my hands.
    Strange,huh?

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