resaw I re-sawed a plank using the table saw, finishing up with the bandsaw. Opening up the thin panels like a book gives us a nice mirror-image with the grain pattern.






glueupThe gluing of these panels is decidedly inelegant, but effective. Note to self: I really should rebuild the book matching jig I used to have. At this point, I’m not sure whether this will be the top or the back. It’ll still need a lot of planing and sanding once the glue dries.


The fret board is finished.


ErrorAbout the same time, however, my main computer crashed. The new Windows 10 would not boot up, nor repair itself, so it is currently “what’s on the bench”.



MachineI always use separate hard drives to store important data, so I decided to just purchase a new C: drive and a new copy of Windows 10. Even though it’s a pain in the rear to re-install software, I feel a “clean” copy of the operating system will maintain a more stable machine. Unfortunately, I kept getting error messages after Windows was installed. I wrestled with this all weekend until I finally discovered that the new hard drive was defective. After purchasing a second HD, all is well. I will be able to free up my bench once again and continue with Jean’s dulcimer.

Fretting over frets

FretworkThe frets, of course, have to be as close to perfect as possible. The placement of the frets are determined by a mathematical formula. Using a fret calculator available from the Stewart MacDonald website, all I need to do is plug in the scale length (in this case 28″), choose “dulcimer” as the instrument, and indicate how many frets I will use (typically 19). Out spews the formula for placement, down to the 1000th of an inch. Of course, there’s no physical way to be THAT accurate, but I do have a specialty ruler that is marked to the 100th of an inch. I use an exacto blade and magnifying glasses to determine the frets (and in this case, including one at the one and a half position). I’m usually too bleary-eyed to finish a fretboard in one sitting, so once it’s scored, I’ll come back later with my Japanese fret saw to make the official cuts.

Fretboard Preparation

fretboardIt’s important that the fretboard is as close to perfect as possible. In this case, that means it must be completely flat and level. No matter how beautiful an instrument is, if the sound is not right it’s basically wall art.

The strum hollow must be first cut on a table saw and then shaped with varying grades of sandpaper. I like to use a power planer and belt sander for the rough shaping and specialty tools to insure the flatness of the fretboard.

The Next Dulcimer

Starting from Scratch

sketchA new custom instrument begins with preliminary sketches and design choices aided by the wishes of the client. Jean has ordered a 3-stringed teardrop dulcimer with an added fret between the first and second frets. Here I am sketching the design on folded butcher paper.







This dulcimer is to be constructed exclusively from walnut. I have selected a 6′ plank of walnut which I have brought down from Tennessee. There are a couple of  knotholes, but I believe I can work around these thanks to the teardrop design.

Project Complete

FinishedThe repair project has been completed successfully. Now to clear the bench for my next creation!

Repair Work

Note: This first post appears to all happen in one day, but in fact, took place over a week and a half. Future postings will be more current.

Most recently. I have been commissioned to work on a “problem” dulcimer. The “fingerboard” on top of the oak fretboard was actually a dark stain.


The main problem, however, was a 6 1/2 fret that was added after the fact. The crown of the fret appeared to be too high. It was ground quite flat, but still caused a great deal of string buzz.


I removed the frets,


and the clunky string guide,


and began the process of sanding and flattening the oak fretboard.


The fretboard is sanded flat and level.

Repair 10

Nice and smooth…

Repair 7

This is the new fingerboard before preparation.

Repair 8

The prepared fingerboard awaits new frets.

Repair 9

The frets are placed based on the scale length.


The frets are cut to length and pressed into the fingerboard.


The frets are trimmed and the fingerboard is glued onto the fretboard.


One of several coats of polyurethane is applied.