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This is a collection of all the different blogs I (try to) read.  A whole bunch!  If you have any comments or suggestions feel free to use the CONTACT page to get a hold of me.  Thanks!

Be sure to visit the Hand Tool Headlines section - scores of my favorite woodworking blogs in one place.  Also, take note of Norse Woodsmith's latest feature, an Online Store, which contains only products I personally recommend.  It is secure and safe, and is powered by Amazon.



Dulcimer Adventures On Instagram

Doug Berch - Tue, 10/18/2016 - 4:54pm

Here's The Kind Of Thrill-Packed Entertainment You Want!

I have recently started posting photos of dulcimers in progress and snapshots from my fascinating life on Instagram.

Instagram will provide a more immediate experience of what I have been covering in my “What’s On The Bench” posts. It will almost be like you are there!

You can follow me on Instagram by clicking here. You can also click on the Instagram widget on my pages and posts.

There will still be lots of Thrill-Packed Entertainment right here at DougBerch.com so stay tuned!





Categories: Luthiery

Dismantling the Old Workshop

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Wed, 10/12/2016 - 10:16am
Many established guitar makers began their careers in humble surroundings; working in cramped conditions without much light, and lacking basic items like a sturdy workbench or a warm room. If your enthusiasm is great, then almost any obstacle can be overcome.

Roy Courtnall, Making Master Guitars, 1993

I dismantled the "garage".

It was a simple 14'x20'building, framed in 2x4's, covered with 1/4" thick exterior grade plywood with no foundation, just a dirt floor. The wall bottom plates sat on simple cinder blocks or on the ground and most of those plates were starting to rot. The original owner had the building constructed about 1966 to protect his Cadillac when he and his wife lived here. When we bought the place five years ago, instead of dismantling the garage I framed a floor in it and added a double door for additional light. It was a good storage space for tools, firewood, chainsaws, etc., but the time has come to take down the building.

There are enough framing materials from this building to make a small 10'x12'shed, all I need to buy is the subfloor and roofing OSB sheets and 2x8's for the roof rafters. Once this shed is up and filled with all my "other" tools, the plan is to re-build a building on the site of the garage with the same foot print as the original. I know many people think that a 280 square foot building is too small for a workshop, for me, however, after working in 9'x10' spaces for the last 20 years, this new workshop will seem as large as our national Capitol building.

And it will be heated.
Categories: Luthiery

Carving spruce

Owyhee Mountain Fiddle Shop - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 4:50pm

After hollowing out the maple back, carving spruce is sinfully fun.  At this point, one can do amazing slices.

Nastiness will return while trimming the f-holes, with a knife, across hard-soft-hard-soft-hard-soft, but for now, the living is easy.
Categories: Hand Tools, Luthiery

Music I’d Like To Hear #117

Doug Berch - Sun, 09/25/2016 - 11:52am

Beautiful family with guitar, mandolin, and fiddle.

Categories: Luthiery

Arching, with lasers!

Owyhee Mountain Fiddle Shop - Fri, 09/23/2016 - 4:15pm

Down to scrapers on the back, cleaning up the arching, trying to blend in the channel around the edge, containing the purfling.  Lots of changes in grain direction to pay attention to.

Lasers used to be very exotic, but I bought one in a hardware store, used for leveling ceiling tile installation, among other things.  Pretty simple, and not sophisticated.  But it is another tool one can use to find the never-ending supply of bumps and distortions in ones arching.
Categories: Hand Tools, Luthiery

Music Theory And Dulcimer Playing

Doug Berch - Thu, 09/22/2016 - 7:54pm

Music theory and dulcimer playing

Most  musicians I admire understand music theory. They may understand music theory intuitively or they may have formally studied the theory of music but either way they know what is going on. These musicians may or may not be able to articulate what the are doing or thinking musically but they can tell if  a note sounds right or wrong, hear underlying rhythmic, harmonic and melodic patterns, and have the ability to express themselves with a large pallet of musical colors to choose from.

In current dulcimer culture there are a relatively small number of players who embrace the idea that the mountain dulcimer has strings and frets that produce notes; a majority of players think of strings and frets as lines and numbers on the tablature they play from.

Tablature offers quick gratification; you tune the dulcimer, put your fingers where the paper tells you, and music comes out of the dulcimer.  This is a valid approach to playing the dulcimer enjoyed by many players.

If a dulcimer player prefers to have a broader understanding of why the tablature tells you to put your fingers in certain places they will need to learn the theory and structure behind the arrangement. Once this structure is understood the dulcimer player can generalize the information and begin to see and hear coherent patterns in other tunes they play. This in turn makes learning to play by ear much simpler; music becomes rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic (harmony, chords) patterns rather than appearing to be a random assemblage of rhythm and pitch.

In 40 years of teaching dulcimer very few students have wanted to take this plunge. When teaching classes on how music theory applies to the dulcimer usually half the people in the room have said they didn’t learn anything. In this context “not learning anything” usually means they didn’t leave the class with tablature and a new song under their belt. About a quarter of the people usually say they got some interesting ideas from the class. The last quarter usually get excited and say they finally understand how the dulcimer works as an instrument and they have ideas on how their playing can grow beyond current limits.

There is no right or wrong way of playing the dulcimer. If  you want to play from tablature and feel musically fulfilled then there is no need to go further. If you want a better understanding of how music works, if you want to learn melodies by ear and would like to know what chords will work with a particular melody and want to be able to converse with other musicians about musical ideas then getting a basic grasp on music theory will open many doors for you.

My only formal training in music theory took place during my first year of high school. Compared to many musicians my knowledge of music theory is fairly basic. Still, this knowledge was enough to enable me to learn to play the dulcimer and hammered dulcimer. I was able to learn and understand how dulcimers worked as musical instruments and find my way around them.

There are many books available on basic music theory and I link to one available on line for free to help you get started.

Rock on!


Categories: Luthiery


Owyhee Mountain Fiddle Shop - Mon, 09/19/2016 - 2:38pm

Sometimes, one gets the feeling that there is more to be had with a particular instrument.  I finished this one this past February.  It was an experiment, in that I left the plates fairly thick, trying to follow the graduation pattern of the Paganini violin, Guarneri del Gesu's "Cannone" of 1743.  For example, the center of the back was about 6 mm thick.  More typical is the 4 to 4.5 range, and some are thinner than that.

I played it for a few months, not completely happy with it, though I am one of those who never is quite happy with a fiddle, so I try not to be hasty, but give a fiddle some time to develop.

But, in playing it, I felt there was more sound quality to be had.  This past June, I pulled the top and took a little thickness off the top.  It wasn't as thick as I remembered, so the modification was minor.  Put it back together and continued playing it.  Certainly an improvement.

I played this fiddle for several tunes two Saturdays ago, at the Boise contra dance, in an ADAE tuning.  It rang pretty nicely on those tunes in D major.  But with all that "A", I noticed even more the tendancy for a bit of a wolf on the open A.  Easy enough to handle with a little practice, but why should one need to?

So today, I pulled the top and am taking some of that thickness out of the back.  A fair amount actually.  Not overly thin, but a significant proportional change for this fiddle. 

I am curious to see the effect it has.
Categories: Hand Tools, Luthiery

Fingerboard and back.

Owyhee Mountain Fiddle Shop - Fri, 09/16/2016 - 4:46pm

Working down the underscoop of the fingerboard with gouges, thumbplanes, and finally scrapers.  Nearly no one sees this, but it's nice to get the board to a proper thickness.

Using a template to check the long arch.

Toothed-blades in the thumbplanes.  It helps avoid tear-out on the flamed maple, plus, and I find this more important, it is easier for me to see the arching when the wood is not so smooth.  Sometimes that figure, when it's shiny, makes you see things, such as dips or rises, that don't really exist.

When the toothed-blade work is fairly close, finish off with scrapers.

Still a bit more to go, but I'm done for the day.

Categories: Hand Tools, Luthiery

My eBay Listing - Vintage English Made Boxwood Spokeshave with Original Decal, 2 1/2 inch long blade

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Thu, 09/15/2016 - 1:01pm
I am selling a vintage English made boxwood spokeshave. Click here to see the listing.

This shave is 10 13/16 inches long, the blade is 2 1/2 inches long and is has a partial original decal. Decal reads Superior Quality and perhaps Sheffield Made. I believe it is made of boxwood, the shave is very light in weight and has a yellow hue to it.

Has owner's name stamp on it, W. Jeffery.

This spokeshave is in good ++ condition.

I purchased this spokeshave in 2005 at an antique shop while on vacation in Exeter, England and I have never used it, only as decoration on a shelf in my guitar workshop. It needs a good home!

Categories: Luthiery


Owyhee Mountain Fiddle Shop - Thu, 09/15/2016 - 9:34am

Purfling on a violin is typically a strip, black-white-black, which is just inside the edges of the top and back.  It's made of three pieces, black, white, black, which are glued together.

First one has to cut the grooves for the purfling.

And then the purfling is bent, cut and glued into place.

On the upper left of this photo, you can see some of the cut-offs of the purfling strips.  The glue will dry for a day, then I can continue cutting the outside arching for both of these plates.
Categories: Hand Tools, Luthiery

Late Summer, Early Fall and a Spruce/Ziricote Classical Guitar

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Wed, 09/14/2016 - 9:28am
Thus begins what many residents feel is the Southern Rockies' most beautiful time of the year - Indian summer.

Audrey DeLella Benedict, The Southern Rockies, 1991

It is sunny today with bluebird skies highlighting the golds and oranges of the aspen trees.

Fog covered our little hollow all day yesterday, the sun came out at exactly 4:45pm and shone upon us for fifteen minutes, then the clouds came back.

The aspens and ferns in the backyard...

A few wildflowers are blooming, like this harebell...

Our little flower garden is going to seed...

I dropped six ponderosa pine on our property last week for firewood and fire mitigation, as you can see I have much work to do splitting and stacking the firewood.

This is the latest guitar on the bench, a 1961 Hernandez y Aguado style guitar, with a Colorado Engelmann spruce top...

and ziricote back and sides.

I am in the process of pore filling, later this week I will start the French polish.

It has an incredibly loud tap tone, it will be wonderful guitar.

Now, get out to your shop and make something!

Categories: Luthiery

Dean Z – modified bridge post bushings

James Roadman Instrument Repair - Wed, 09/14/2016 - 8:19am

Here is an interesting repair I had in the shop this week. The owner of this Dean Z wanted to replace the existing bridge with a TonePros AVR-II. (The AVR-II is a solid replacement for for Gibson ABR-1 tune-o-matics.) This posed a couple of challenges. Although the bridge I was replacing was an import ABR style, the post spacing was off just enough so that the new one would not fit. I also found that the 1st string saddle would not go forward far enough to intonate correctly. Perhaps it originally had a different bridge with more travel or it may have just been placed a little too far back. I just need it to go forward a little so I took advantage of the fact that the bridge inserts were designed for larger screws and the AVR-II uses small screws which enabled me to make new inserts with he screws offset. The offset pushed the bridge forward and allowed a little adjustment of the spacing.

img_6487 img_6486 img_6485 img_6484 img_6483 img_6482 img_6481 img_6480 img_6479 img_6478 img_6477 img_6457



Categories: Luthiery

Custom Guitar assembly for Michel Fortier

James Roadman Instrument Repair - Sat, 09/10/2016 - 6:52am

This custom guitar was designed by Michel Fortier and he brought it to me for assembly. He put a great deal of thought into all of the components and assembly methods. The Mahogany and tiger Maple body was made by Musikraft and the Wenge neck was made by Warmoth.

The fret markers and side dots are fluorescent material called Luminlay. Drilling out the centers of the fret markers required a making a special collet to hold them in the lathe. Interestingly, the friction of drilling made them glow brightly while working on them,


The neck was mounted using stainless steel inserts which required very precise positioning of the holes. To make sure everything lined up I used the milling machine to dial in the exact locatlions. The recesses for the scerw ferules were located on the milling machine and drilled with a boring head (see video).

To get the strings to progress through the nut to the tuners in as straight a line as possible I drew up the neck and strings in OnShape to determine the cooridinates for the tuner holes and dialed them in on the milling machine as well.

The truss rod cover gave me an opportunity to use my new (to me) Gorton 3z pantograph. I was able to make a large size template of the truss rod and the pantograph reduced it to size. This makes it much easier to make it symetrical and easier to work with such a small piece of wood. The cover is attached using hidden neodymium magnets.

I made the control cover from solid Wenge and it is attched with neodymium magnets as well.

Michel did a beautiful job of staining and finishing the body, painting the cavities with shielding paint, and installing the electronics. The neck pickup is a Crème Brûlée by ReWind pickups and the bridge is a vintage Semour Duncan JB.

All of the professional quality photos were taken by Michel as well. Thanks for letting me use them!

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Categories: Luthiery

Beginning the top

Owyhee Mountain Fiddle Shop - Wed, 09/07/2016 - 3:39pm

I joined the top a few weeks ago, but just this morning did I get around to tracing and cutting the outline.  After working on hard curly maple of the back, it sure is fun to slice out big curls of spruce.

About 20 minutes of work with a big #7 gouge and a large thumb plane can remove most of the overhead on the top.  I leave the corners big at this point.  It's easier to get them into shape when there's less thickness to worry about, and a split or break near the corner is less likely to be a problem. The plate is about 6 mm thick on the edge at this point in my process.

Taking a break to tend to a few other shop projects, I came back to it this afternoon for about an hour.  Cleaned up the curves a bit, took the edges down to about 4 mm thickness, and started the arching.
Categories: Hand Tools, Luthiery

I Made a Wooden Toothing Plane

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Wed, 09/07/2016 - 10:36am
In the days before the belt sander, a cabinetmaker also used a toothing plane when smoothing such heavily figured woods as curly and bird's-eye maple.

Michael Dunbar, Restoring, Tuning & Using Classic Woodworking Tools, 1989

I bought several toothing blades to use in my No.3 and No.5 Stanley planes to plane some "lower" grade East Indian rosewood back and sides. The irons work, but I have to be aware of the cutting depth of the iron, grain tear out is still possible using a toothed iron in a standard plane.

At the time I made this plane, I couldn't find any decent wooden toothing planes for sale on the internet. That's a good enough reason to make time to build one.

Following and adapting the plans for the "sandwich technique" found in Wooden Planes and How to Make Them, by David G. Perch and Robert S. Lee, which you can buy here, I started with a piece of 3x3 inch oak I had in my wood cache.

I ripped the sides from the main stock on a table saw, then sized the main body with the same saw, took all the pieces back to the bench and jointed everything with a No.7 jointer and a flat sanding board.

All angled pieces were cutting with my Bosch sliding compound miter saw. The cheeks to hold the wedge in were cut by hand with a handsaw.

I glued the whole thing together with hot hide glue, not the hide glue that comes in a plastic squeeze bottle, but the glue I made in my little brass glue pot and applied with a brush.

The plane does work. I made the width of the plane a little too wide for the iron and the iron chatters a bit. I think I will make another toothing plane, but this time I will make cap for the iron to see if that reduces the chatter.

Categories: Luthiery

Refining the outline.

Owyhee Mountain Fiddle Shop - Tue, 09/06/2016 - 2:47pm

Getting down to smaller tools, sharper tools, taking smaller cuts.  Getting the outline closer to the final shape.  Corners are always a challenge.  Starting to bring the arching into shape, comparing them to arching templates that I made out of paper and cellophane tape.

Categories: Hand Tools, Luthiery

Carving a back, beginnings.

Owyhee Mountain Fiddle Shop - Wed, 08/31/2016 - 4:11pm
After splitting the billet and then joining the pieces, the 'inside' has to be smoothed.  I use a variety of planes, starting with an old Stanley scrub plane, sometimes using a small block plane, and finishing with a long jointer, mostly across the surfaces, side to side, with increasing thin shavings being taken.

Flattening is somewhat annoying -- most of it will disappear.  When it's flat, lay the rib assembly on it, and trace it.  This little bit near the tracing will remain.  That outside of it will be cut away.  And just inside, it will be scooped out after the outside is finished.

Figured maple is tough wood to work. Here is the same piece, flipped over, with a rough outline and the start of the arching.

Categories: Hand Tools, Luthiery

Music I’d Like To Hear #116

Doug Berch - Mon, 08/29/2016 - 8:09am

Man with awesome minstrel banjo


Categories: Luthiery

What’s On The Bench – 8/25/2016

Doug Berch - Fri, 08/26/2016 - 9:37pm

Truing a cherry dulcimer fretbaord with a #12 scraper planeThis afternoon I was planing some cherry dulcimer fretboard blanks flat and true. These pieces of cherry had been rough-sawn, squared up and left a little oversized quite some time ago. The wood has had plenty of time to release stresses and further season before becoming part of a dulcimer.

Wood is designed to keep trees alive and trees don’t always think of how they will be used after they die. This can be annoying because sometimes a perfect piece of wood will be difficult to work. “Take that!” says the dead tree.

These cherry fretboards had some interlocking grain. This means there are areas on the board where grain direction is almost irrelevant. These areas are hard to plane smooth without some spots of grain tearing out.

To the rescue comes an old #12 scraper plane.

Bailey's Adjustable Veneer ScraperThis tool holds a scraper square and true and allows for fine adjustment of the angle and depth of cut. This scraper plane will take off fine shavings regardless of grain direction and leaves a smooth, flat surface in it’s wake.

Here’s a shot of the setup I use for planing or scraping fretboard and fingerboard stock. The heart of the setup is an oak beam that is planed true and flat. It has a bench stop at one end and clamps to the bench top. This gives me a true surface for planing and also raises the height of the work a few inches to make planing more comfortable.

Cherry dulcimer fretboard surrendering to the will of sharpened carbon steelWood shavings on the floor bring me joy.



Categories: Luthiery

Miter Joints in Guitar Making

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Tue, 08/23/2016 - 7:45am
The object of using this joint, which is constructively one of the weakest used in joinery, is that moulded surfaces that have to be changed in direction shall not be stopped abruptly nor continued in unsuitable curves.

George Ellis, Modern Practical Joinery, 1902

Miter joints in classical guitar making are purely decorative.

Most joints are butt joints. The sides are joined to the heel of the neck in slots, a scarf joint is used to make the head/neck union, some makers use a fancy "V" joint for that union. Click here to read more about the "V" joint.

The only place where I use a miter joint is where the bindings meet the end graft.

The binding runs over the top of the end graft...

...and a miter joint is used to join the side binding purfling to the purfling in the end graft.

As you can see in this photo, the bindings are butted together. Some makers use a scarf joint to join the ends of the binding.

Fancy binding and purfling schemes don't make a guitar sound good, that sound comes from how the wood is worked.

Pretty binding makes for a visually pretty guitar.

My goal is to make a guitar that sings so well your heart melts.

Categories: Luthiery


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