A pair of dulcimers

creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
Last November I claimed a box of woodworking magazines offered by @rcarmac. As I sifted through these over the holidays I found plans for a dulcimer in one of the Woodcraft magazines. I'd been looking for a project to highlight some beautiful quarter-sawn sycamore I purchased last year from @JPaxson through the forum. I'd found the project. Finally, it took some help from @Charlie's sander to get it taken down to the 1/8" thickness needed. I found that I could run walnut through my planer to this thinness, but the sycamore was too brittle. They're all held together using OBG that @mdbuntyn gave me. I reference all these fine folks as a way to highlight the value of the friendships and contacts I've made since joining this forum. It truly is a great resource in so many ways.

I've never made a musical instrument before this (unless you count the cane whistles we used to make as kids). I'm also not at all musically inclined. Making these was just for fun. I'll give one to my son for his birthday next month (he is musical). Not sure what I'll do with the other. Since I was uncertain what mistakes I'd make along the way, and there is very little wood involved, I began making two of everything as I went along. In the end everything worked without any "do overs" and I had to order a second set of strings and hardware. These are the results.

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The woods used are walnut and quarter-sawn sycamore. One has a walnut back and the other sycamore. Both have sycamore on the front. The sound holes are in the shape of (what else) sycamore leaves. The finish is Natural stain by Minwax and four coats of wipe-on polyurethane. The hardware and strings were ordered from Folkcraft Instruments | Handmade Mountain Dulcimers & More.

Here's a few more pictures of the build in the stages as it progressed.

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Testing the fit and measuring for the bracing.

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Gluing the kerfing strips. These are 1/8" x 3/16" strips that increase the thickness of the sides for gluing the front and back.

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Gluing the back onto the sides and brace. Interesting clamps. They are slices from a 2" PVC pipe from which I cut a half-inch slit length-wise. I was impressed by how much force these applied.

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I order a special saw from Folkcraft to cut for the frets. This is the one place where you have to be extra precise. I used an online fret program to calculate the layout to the nearest 1/32" for each fret.

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The fret board is glued to the top and then the top is glued onto the bottom assembly. This is where it all starts to come together.

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Last piece to attach is the peg head.

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Really like the look of the quarter-sawn sycamore.
 

dwminnich

Dave
Senior User
They look fantastic! I love QS sycamore but have not thought about it as a tone wood. How different do the two sound?


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
 

creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
How do they sound?

That's a good question, and one I'm not sure I can answer. I added the strings and used an app on my phone to tune them. They seem to resonate well, but I would classify myself as tone deaf. They don't have the volume of a guitar as the sound chamber is much smaller.
 

creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
They look fantastic! I love QS sycamore but have not thought about it as a tone wood. How different do the two sound?

Thanks. The article I followed suggested quarter-sawn sycamore as one of the choices for the front. Traditional dulcimers generally use plain-sawn wood for the back, which is what I did for the walnut-backed one. I may take them by a music store to get a professional opinion just to satisfy my curiosity.
 

Oka

Board of Directors, Vice President
Casey
Staff member
Corporate Member
Dulcimers are not particular loud. Fun instruments. My brother plays one, he does bluegrass music.

They look awesome !
 
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Henry W

HenryW
Senior User
Wow - those look great, nicely done.

I too would be interested in luthiery - making musical instruments. These look like a very suitable entry to the field - and the projects look fantastic.
To me making musical instruments looks easier than making music - i.e. my lack of musical ability is a real stumbling block to even trying something like this. I do know several musicians, some of whom can seemingly play any stringed instrument they pick up - and that's just a place I will never be.

Is a fret board an appropriate use of CNC? Working to a 32nd of accuracy seems fraught with all kinds of difficulties (for me).
 

creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
I too would be interested in luthiery - making musical instruments. These look like a very suitable entry to the field - and the projects look fantastic.
To me making musical instruments looks easier than making music - i.e. my lack of musical ability is a real stumbling block to even trying something like this. I do know several musicians, some of whom can seemingly play any stringed instrument they pick up - and that's just a place I will never be.

Is a fret board an appropriate use of CNC? Working to a 32nd of accuracy seems fraught with all kinds of difficulties (for me).

Henry,

Thanks for the compliments. I'm in the same category as you are -- interested in luthiery, but had never tried. My youngest son is one of those people who can pick up any stringed instrument and be playing a tune in a few minutes. That's not me -- couldn't carry a tune in a bucket if you handed it to me. Though I'm told a dulcimer is an easy instrument to learn to play.

You should give it a go if you're interested in making one. I agree that dulcimers are a good place to start if you want to make an instrument. These come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes with lots of resources on the web to draw from. The tear drop shape I chose is a good place to start because it's one of the simplest and doesn't require any heat bending of the sides like you'd need for the hour glass design. The shape comes naturally from the angles where the sides attach.

I was a bit intimidated by the fret board, but this turned out to be fairly easy. The slots for the fret wire are about 0.023" wide. They are very narrow and required a saw I did not have. I purchased one from Folkcraft for about $15. I'm not familiar enough with CNC's to know if the average one is capable of this. Don't let cutting these by hand intimidate you. My process was to first cut the slots for the nut and bridge. These are about 1/8" wide and need to be the exact distance chosen apart. Then, measuring from the nut each time mark the fret location with an Xacto knife and square. Surprisingly, the fret saw kerf isn't much wider than this knife cut. I made a simple guide that I clamped in place at each fret and then held the fret saw against this guide. I also made a gage (picture, below) from thin metal to measure the depth of cut. Practiced a couple of times on a scrap piece and then went for it. Fret calculators are available online (Fret Position Calculator | stewmac.com) for any stringed instrument.

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The plans I followed are from the Dec/Jan 2018 issue (Issue 80) of Woodcraft Magazine. You can also order full size drawings and kits from Folkcraft. None of the skills required are beyond the average, determined woodworker who has an interest. From my limited research dulcimers were made in all shapes and sizes and with a variety of skill levels. Let me know if I can provide any more information.

Jim
 

Henry W

HenryW
Senior User
Excellent Jim, thanks. I had not considered a dulcimer before; a hammer dulcimer seemed like a more likely first project (my wife could likely play that easily). There are no frets there, just a lot of pins and a lot more strings (depending on the design I guess).

Any other budding luthiers out there? We clearly have some accomplished ones here - Flute maker and Ernie to name a few, and I know I have seen some guitar build posts over the years.
 

drw

Donn
Corporate Member
Jim, your work (tools, instruments, etc.) just blows me away. Your attention to details and overall craftsmanship are amazing. Question...do the dulcimers sound as well as they look?
 

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