L’ÉBÉNISTERIE – A Silent Film About Woodworking (1932)

Last week Kari Hultman posted a short French silent film about woodworking on her blog, “The Village Carpenter.” If you haven’t checked out Kari’s blog you should go there very soon.

While watching this amazing film I looked around the website where it was hosted. I wished I had paid more attention during French class in high school.

I found several  interesting videos about woodworking, music, lutherie and more.

Here is a link to a silent film called “L’ÉBÉNISTERIE.”

L'ÉBÉNISTERIE - A Silent Film About Woodworking (1932)

It shows the woodworking process beginning with felling trees and ending with finished furniture. We watch an apprentice learning to use a frame saw, planes and other tools. There are shots of joinery, veneering, staining and finishing.

 Chopping down a very large tree

 Ripping with a frame saw

Planing at the bench


Steel Wool, A Magnet, A Rubber Glove And A Dulcimer

A quick tip I thought I’d share. I prefer a finish leaning towards the matte side of semi-gloss.  I use nylon abrasive pads for cutting between coats of varnish but I prefer the look I achieve by using 0000 steel wool when rubbing out the final coat.

Steel wool leaves fine steel dust on the dulcimer that needs to be cleaned up.

Where has that rubber glove been?

First I vacuum the dulcimer and bench. I follow this by placing a strong magnet inside a rubber glove, a plastic bag, a paper towel or whatever ever I have at hand. I gently move this assemblage over the surface of the dulcimer and pick up the dust left by the steel wool. Then I switch to a tack cloth to grab any steel particles that may still remain.

The rubber glove , plastic bag, paper towel or poodle I used to wrap the magnet gets thrown away and I am left with a clean magnet that is ready for its next adventure.

Magnets having fun.



Scraping and Sanding And Dulcimers, Oh My!

After 7 days of nursing a wretched cold/flu/plague I am feeling up to putting in an hour or so of shop-time every now-and-then. This brings me great joy!

Work stopped last week just as two maple and spruce dulcimers were  about to be prepared for finishing.

As a part of the dulcimer making process preparing a dulcimer for finishing reminds me of the cross-country trips I took as a younger musician. Just when I thought I was in the home stretch I’d come to the border of say, Kansas or Pennsylvania; there was still a long way to go.

The same is true with preparing a dulcimer for finishing.

I’m not complaining. It is that I am surprised every time I get to this point that perplexes me!

I can’t remember where I found these two article on scraping and sanding. Enjoy!


Scraping - fast, efficient, and shavings galore!

Sanding - forgiving, messy, dusty, annoying yet expected by the average consumer


When The Dulcimer Shop Becomes A Finishing Room

I have mentioned before that my shop is very small, what realtors would describe as “cozy.” I have enough room to comfortably work on three dulcimers at a time during the primary steps of construction.

As the dulcimers come closer to completion I work on each one individually until it is time for the finishing process to begin. The size of the shop doesn’t really allow much else to take place while I am doing finishing work. I’ve tried and the results were not pretty.

The workbench becomes a finishing table. It usually looks something like this:

Finishing a curly cherry dulcimer

The finishing process takes several days. A lot of the time is taken up by waiting for coats of finish to dry and cure. Drying happens quickly. Curing is the process of the finish hardening and becoming more stable and solid.

Here are two dulcimers taking a break while the finish dries and cures. This gives them time to chat and catch up with each other.

Dulcimers taking a break while the varnish dries

Preparing the dulcimers for finishing is the longest part of the process. This begins in the traditional manner by using scrapers to smooth and clean up most surfaces.

Scraping the sides of a cherry dulcimer

I use sandpaper to clean up most of the tool marks left by planes, scrapers and files. Sanding is a process of making increasingly finer scratches until they can no longer be easily seen. Sanding is also very messy.


A few hundred years ago luthiers did not have sandpaper and they used planes, files and scrapers as their primary tools for preparing surfaces for finishing. The results are beautiful but do not produce the slick and polished look that people have come to expect from modern manufactured items.

Disembodied hands using a card scraper

Handmade objects looked as if they were made by hand and showed signs of the craftsmanship involved in making them. This does not imply that handmade objects looked shoddy; it was a different aesthetic.

I prefer the look of planed and scraped surfaces that show the use of tools used by skilled hands. I am debating whether I will exclusively use these techniques some time in the future.

I use a variety of finishes depending on the wood used and the visual and tonal qualities desired. I usually use shellac and a variety of oil varnishes and varnish oils, often in combination.

I lean towards more or less non-toxic, traditional finishing materials. This choice is again primarily aesthetic; they provide the look and sound I prefer.

But there are other reasons…

I have used modern solvent-based finishes. They work well but can cause interesting short and long-term side-effects.

Once while working with lacquer and lacquer thinner this crowd of happy folks kept showing up.

The happy solvent-based finishing folk

I enjoyed their jovial song and dance but after a while I realized that I was “not in Kansas anymore”, and if I continued using such products getting back here might become increasingly difficult in the future..