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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..