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Doug Berch

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A dulcimer maker and player sharing the adventure of being a luthier and musician.
Updated: 2 hours 38 min ago

Chaos, Inspiration, and Dulcimer Making

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 5:22pm

Curly walnut dulcimer made by Doug Berch

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”

People who have followed my blog over the years might be aware that in 2012 my lower back decided to suddenly and loudly let me know it was not happy. This experience led to various adventures involving insurance companies, doctors, physical therapists, surgeons, my amazing wife Cynthia, and wonderful friends.

For five years I have been able to work between one-third and half the time in the shop I had previously. This meant I have made far fewer dulcimers and each dulcimer required more gaps in time between start and finish. I have found this frustrating but I also believe everything that happens is a gift, though some gifts I would not have asked for and if possible I would return or exchange them.

One of the gifts of the last 5 years has been the chance to reevaluate what is important to me and how I want to live my life.

Organization is not something that comes naturally to me. A visit to my shop will make this obvious, yet in that small space where I work everything I need is close at hand and I feel comfortable, the kind of comfortable one feels when wearing a favorite old shirt.

Before having to limit my time in the shop I was considering ways of organizing the shop and streamlining my workflow to increase productivity. This felt counterintuitive to my personality but getting out of one’s comfort zone is often a good idea. On the other hand, sometimes one’s comfort zone is just right the way it is.

I am not a production oriented luthier. Before having to slow down I had found a comfortable rhythm of work and enjoyed it. Each time I tried to do more work than felt comfortable either the work suffered for it or I suffered for it. That is not how I choose to live.

Rather than getting more work done circumstances have dictated I get less done. A positive aspect of this has been a chance to “enjoy the scenery” more while working. I have also had time to refine my dulcimer designs, improve some of my hand-tool skills, and study various lutherie traditions. As a result Spanish guitar construction techniques have greatly influenced my methods of work these past few years. Ironically, I have also found ways to streamline workflow and increase productivity!

But really, the inspiration for this blog post is yet another upcoming adventure. In the middle of November I will be having back surgery number 3, a bi-level lumbar fusion that should help ease the most annoying aspects of what I have dealt with.

I will not be able to work in the shop for several months following surgery and when I make my reentry I will be starting out slowly and gently. I’m sure the downtime during recovery will be yet another gift I would not have asked for!

I was hesitant to go public with news of the upcoming surgery at this time but found I have already had to talk about it more than planned. I have had to turn down gigs and tell people inquiring about ordering dulcimers that it will be some time before I will be able to make them.

Once completely recovered I will most likely return to work full-time or something closer to full-time again. That alone will bring a great increase in productivity. I am very much looking forward to that! I love my job.

I also hope to travel again and go to festivals, see friends in distant places, and leap tall buildings in a single bound.

 

Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker And Musician

Categories: Luthiery

Avoiding A Cloud Of Dulcimer Dust

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 3:44pm


The joy of sanding dulcimers

Yes, another post about the joy of sanding dulcimers.

A while back I mentioned possibly making dulcimers without sanding someday. Someone took me up on it!

I made a dulcimer with a bare minimum of sanding. Scrapers and files accomplished about 90% of the surface preparation. Sandpaper was still needed to soften some edges, get a good surface on the fingerboard, and to clean up a few small messes.

I spent much more time and effort than usual burnishing the wood with cloth before applying the finish. The extensive burnishing combined with using fine abrasive pads while applying the finish produced a result nearly identical to what I carry out by hand sanding. The process took about the same amount of time as hand sanding but it was the first time I had tried this. I am hoping I will gain speed as I become more familiar with new technique.

The minimally sanded dulcimer did show a few imperfections and hand tool marks that would have been eliminated by further hand sanding but to my eye and hand they add to the charm of the dulcimer.

Still, it is not yet time to abandon lots of sanding on a regular basis.

In the photo you can see my warm weather dust cloud elimination system. A small fan blows dust away from the dulcimer (and the dulcimer maker) towards a window fan that blows the dust outside. This simple setup works surprisingly well.

During the colder months I replace the window fan with a home-made air-cleaner; a box fan with a furnace filter taped to one side.

And I do wear a dust mask!

On another topic; after doing some updates on my website something went wrong and about 10 years of photographs have dropped noticeably in quality. Something malfunctioned and over-optimized my photographs. This becomes painfully obvious when you click on an image and see it at a larger size.

I figured out how to avoid this on current photographs.

It’s just another adventure in being self-employed and learning to do everything myself!

Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker And Musician

Categories: Luthiery

Avoiding A Cloud Of Dulcimer Dust

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 3:44pm


The joy of sanding dulcimers

Yes, another post about the joy of sanding dulcimers.

A while back I mentioned possibly making dulcimers without sanding someday. Someone took me up on it!

I made a dulcimer with a bare minimum of sanding. Scrapers and files accomplished about 90% of the surface preparation. Sandpaper was still needed to soften some edges, get a good surface on the fingerboard, and to clean up a few small messes.

I spent much more time and effort than usual burnishing the wood with cloth before applying the finish. The extensive burnishing combined with using fine abrasive pads while applying the finish produced a result nearly identical to what I carry out by hand sanding. The process took about the same amount of time as hand sanding but it was the first time I had tried this. I am hoping I will gain speed as I become more familiar with new technique.

The minimally sanded dulcimer did show a few imperfections and hand tool marks that would have been eliminated by further hand sanding but to my eye and hand they add to the charm of the dulcimer.

Still, it is not yet time to abandon lots of sanding on a regular basis.

In the photo you can see my warm weather dust cloud elimination system. A small fan blows dust away from the dulcimer (and the dulcimer maker) towards a window fan that blows the dust outside. This simple setup works surprisingly well.

During the colder months I replace the window fan with a home-made air-cleaner; a box fan with a furnace filter taped to one side.

And I do wear a dust mask!

On another topic; after doing some updates on my website something went wrong and about 10 years of photographs have dropped noticeably in quality. Something malfunctioned and over-optimized my photographs. This becomes painfully obvious when you click on an image and see it at a larger size.

I figured out how to avoid this on current photographs.

It’s just another adventure in being self-employed and learning to do everything myself!

Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker And Musician

Categories: Luthiery