Hunting a Gator

With the functional part of the peghead completed, it’s time to find the gator hiding in this block of wood. This part of the process is truly magic to me and I do not rush it. Besides, walnut is not the medium for whittlin’ out a head — I have to use power tools. One little slip, and it’s back to the drawing board. At no other time is the woodworking adage “measure twice, cut once” more appropriate.

The first thing I do is continue the graceful lines in the back of the scroll, using my belt sander to make it nice and smooth.

I spend some time researching gator heads. It’s amazing the number of images that are generated in a search for “gator head” or “alligator head” or similar search terms. Some are cartoonish and some are photos. Most of the cartoonish ones depict an angry gator with an open mouth and lots of teeth. I admit that having a closed mouth is easier to carve. Practically speaking, however, an open mouth may weaken the wood, making it more susceptible to damage. Furthermore, an angry gator would be inappropriate for this instrument. The word “dulcimer” is from the latin words dulce and melos, which translates to “sweet song”. All this to say, we want a docile, contented reptile who will perhaps hum along with the tunes.

Of the three photos printed above, I like the profile on the bottom of the page, but I like the eyes on the middle one. I will shoot for a somewhat realistic head, but inevitably, it will take the shape it wants to. I just have to know when to stop carving.

I create a rough sketch of the profile.

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