Aug 6, 2017

Dulcimer Doin's...

The completed Dulcimer Jig
It was around 1990 that I signed up to take a dulcimer building class at the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops in Elkins, West Virginia.  Margo had decided she wanted to learn to play the dulcimer, so it was the perfect time for me to build her an instrument.  The class was taught by Keith Young, a luthier from Annandale, VA.  Keith and I became friends.  I visited his shop more than once.  When business travel took me to the D.C. area, I always tried to go to dinner with Keith and his lovely wife, Mary.  The year after I learned how to build dulcimers from him, we took a class together in "Mother of Pearl Inlay and Engraving."  We shared a love of music, instrument building, and craftsmanship.  For a couple years I assisted Keith in teaching the dulcimer-building class at Elkins.  I was honored to do so.

Over the ensuing years, I've built a few dulcimers for friends and acquaintances.  It's probably been ten years since I built my last one.  A few have made their way to these pages. Here and here.  Recently, a co-worker expressed a desire for a dulcimer to match one that he already owns.  I told him I'd build him one.  This time, I decided to do something I've wanted to do for several years.  I would build a jig or form on which to construct the instrument.

Previously, I've built the instruments in a manner I call "free-style."  I would assemble and glue the parts on a workbench using a variety of clamps.  Sometimes that works OK, but sometimes you feel like you need three more hands, just to align and hold parts.  People who build more than one instrument of the same design usually use some kind of jig to make things easier to deal with.  Here's how I did mine, which I finished yesterday:

Hanger bolts stay put in the wood,
allowing wing nuts to tighten the clamps.
I began by making a full-sized drawing of an hourglass-shaped instrument that appealed to me.  I then cut out parts of the drawing and glued them to some 2 x 6 stock so I could accurately cut the pieces out using my band saw.  I created a full-sized model of the body of the dulcimer as well as two "outside" molds that can fit snugly against the body piece,  Then, I used hanger bolts to mount several clamps along the curved side of the outside pieces so they could be used to press down on the sides of the instrument and later the top as gluing is taking place.  When the first side was finished it looked like this

The entire setup needed to be mounted on a flat surface, so I cut up a piece of 3/4" plywood that I had saved from another project.  To keep the three pieces in alignment, I mounted some small strips of hardwood on the base and cut corresponding channels in the underside of the forms.  I also glued thin battens to the underside to raise the two outer pieces slightly so the don't interfere with an oversized back while it is being glued and before it is carved or sanded to its final dimension.

To hold the outer forms in place, I drilled holes at each end for carriage bolts and cut corresponding slots in the base board.  All the fasteners use wing nuts so a wrench is not needed to use the jig.

Carriege bolts and wing nuts enable the
outer forms to be locked in place

Grooves in the underside of forms
keep them aligned
Guide rails on base board guide position of forms

Felt on underside of clamps protects wood being clamped

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