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I enjoy working with scrapers and files. Sanding is messy and time consuming.
There was a time when most luthiers did not do much sanding. The finished instrument did not have a perfect, homogeneous surface. It looked like wood that was worked by hand with edge tools.
The tool marks and slight unevenness in finish and texture of a scraped and filed instrument is beautiful in my eyes. In our current industrial society many people think wood should look like a photograph of wood more than wood itself.
So I sand my dulcimers.
Still, there will be the occasional tool mark that I don’t sand out. I made this dulcimer. I made that tool mark. And to me it is beautiful.
By “tool mark” I am referring to a subtle witness that a plane, chisel, scraper or file had been used to work the surface. By “tool mark” I don’t refer to marks left by the sawmill, the bandsaw, a dulcimer-making machine, etc.
For years I have thought of making a sandpaper-free model. I’m sure some people would like it. Or not. Maybe someday.
That’s dulcimer #157 on the bench. The old shaving brush is great for sweeping away dust from all the nooks and crannies.
Not in the photograph is the dust mask I wear while sanding and and air cleaner that sucks the dust out of the air.
You can see photographs of work in progress regularly by following me on Instagram.
I don’t really need to use clamps when gluing up a dulcimer peghead assembly but I feel better knowing the clamp is there. Hide glue added to a clean and well-fitting joint grabs and pulls the joint together as the hide glue sets up.
Clamping the parts together at an angle is tricky but in the photograph you can sort of see the peghead and the block beneath it are pressed up against an angled block of wood covered with wax paper. The peghead is clamped to the work board and there is wax paper on the work board as well.
This arrangement keeps parts from sliding when downward pressure is applied to the joint. They probably wouldn’t slide anyway since I’m using hide glue but I feel better knowing there is no chance of a rude surprise.
The wax paper prevents someone from getting a dulcimer with a work-board and an angled block of wood stuck to the peghead. That would make the dulcimer difficult to tune and it would be hard to find a case that fits.
After everything is clamped up I clean up the squeezed out glue with a rag and warm water. This is another benefit of hide glue; it cleans up with warm water and a rag.
You can see more photographs of dulcimers in progress and other stuff by following me on Instagram.
The dulcimer makers in the Galax, Virgina area developed a unique style of dulcimer. You can learn more about Galax dulcimers by visiting the website of Phyllis Gaskin. Phyllis is an excellent player and a preserver of the Galax style of dulcimer playing.
One of the features common to many of these dulcimer is often referred to as a “Galax back.” The Galax back has become an option many dulcimer makers now offer on their instruments.
A Galax back is made by gluing small blocks of wood around the perimeter of the back of a dulcimer and attaching a second back to those blocks. This arrangement prevents the vibration of the back of the dulcimer from getting muted by the players lap. This can give the dulcimer some more volume and allows making the inner back thinner and more resonant.
In the photograph is a cherry dulcimer with small ebony blocks glued in place and the outer Galax back patiently waiting to be glued to them.
The ebony blocks will soon be brought flush with the sides of the dulcimer with a chisel and file. After that the second back gets glued on.