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Saturday, 24 December 2011

Tailpieces for Stick Dulcimer available

Tailpieces in stock



The tailpieces are available from my website, You can of course make your own which I encourage and the original design is on my plans, still,  it is sometimes good to have one to know how to make them!

see my website for details

http;//www.michaeljking.com

Friday, 23 December 2011

Stick Dulcimer making DVD serialised


;
 video series2 hour version!
I have now serialised the whole of the Stick Dulcimer DVD-ROM on my Blog, please subscribe to be updated and notified when new posts are released. The blog has all the notes about the videos in an accessible chronological format and can be searched as well. The plans are still available as a download as is the DVD complete version and I still have some spare brass tailpieces available.
The full series of 28 episodes(over 5 hours of video) is still available to view on youtube, this edited version was previously only on the DVD gives an overview to the process.( thanks to my Son Stephen for sorting through the 5 hours of video to edit this down!)



Plans are available to purchase and download here: (direct link!)
https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?i=331124&c=cart&cl=85719

Full DVD-rom of the series including the plans can be ordered for reference

PDF playing guide:

New Stick Dulcimer Forum!!

I still make a small number of these instruments for sale each year, please message me for details or go to my website!h

Stick Dulcimer Pickups

Fitting a Pickup
This is one of my recent stick dulcimers, just a few detail changes that i thought I would share, first the zero fret that is a simple alternative to the standard nut and helps to set the action. Note I use a guitar fret at the zero position and banjo frets for the rest. The other change has been to slim down the bindings to 3.5mm, this still protects edges but gives a more delicate look. To fit a simple pickup and have binding was a problem for me, In theory you could screw the pickup and attach the piezo after construction but the soundhole is small and the room for doing this minimal, so i opted for making the stick dulcimer, routing the binding then removing the back, using the location pins to ensure it returns to the same place after fitting the tailpiece and soldering the pickup. I used an anderson tailpiece and drilled out the tailpiece bracket to 14mm to let it freely slide over it. The endblock was drilled out at 12mm and a thread cutter was used to match the anderson jack socket. I then tested the pickup and glued up the bindings after.






Thursday, 22 December 2011

Stick Dulcimer case making

Making a Stick Dulcimer case
With a number of these stick Dulcimers being made all around the globe I thought it would be useful to show one way that I use to make a simple strong case,  Hopefully this will inspire you to have a go,  If you have just made a Stick Dulcimer this will be relatively simple.   Where I can I try to use shop bought timber and the Miller Dowel system to make my cases. 













Click below to open  and click again on the page to turn the slides of this presentation below:

Slideshow

pdf version also available from my Stick Dulcimer shop page on my website here






Tailpiece and setting up


Tailpiece
The pilot hole for the tailpiece needs to be small enough that the screw does not move when tightened, but not too small that you crack the endblock. 2mm seems to work on the hardwood I had but a smaller hole might be more likely, so please test on a scrap piece. If you can, drill an smaller hole initially and then the hole size you need(avoids splitting the endblock inside) If you did make the hole too large you would need to get a larger screw for the endpin, maybe needing to enlarge the hole in the endpin.

The bridge:
The ebony/rosewood insert isn't necessary, though over time may prove beneficial. 
I will be using a plain maple bridge during my setup.





The strings used for this tuning and this scale was 10.14 and 23 wound strings, basic Stick Dulcimer strings that you find on several models out there, this is quite low tension and great for the neck with no truss rod, I have in the past tuned to G, using thinner strings at a higher tension, one advantage of the Gdg tuning is that you have no wound strings!! I measured the strings lengths in the videos to show how I compensated the bridge, angling it. It is a compromise as the Bass string is a touch sharp, but I find that the middle string it more important to get perfecty in tune.
I didnt need to touch the fingerboard, In the past I have needed to flatten the frets and crown them over again but recently I have been simply pressing the frets in, filing the edges and finding that the fingerboard was good to go, It may be that I am using the right fret saw and the fret press now, though I hammered one fretboard by hand and had the same result.
I add a few millimetres to the length to compensate.

The nut to bridge measurements after compensation:

D3 string 655.5mm
D4 string 654mm
Playing:
The strings are still settling in but I couldnt resist improvising and having a good play. I havent played a stick Dulcimer for a year now and I don't have anything new to play just yet, I will learn a couple of pieces and do a tutorial for them when I can. The sound has its own quality, you can get a breadth of expression from it,





Making the Nut and fine tuners


I have used bone for this example that I bought back in 2003 at a pet food shop that has lasted me years, you can but ready cut bone for nuts and saddles that could be purchased, saving a lot of dusty smelly work. Artificial nut material is available from luthier supplies.  
My disk sander was used to rough out the shape along with my files and sandpaper. Needle files were used to start the string grooves, although I have a set of nut slot files I save for the final stages, you may find that the miniature fine-tapered oval bottomed needle file may be able to do all the work.
I had to really edit this episode down to fit it within the 10 minute limit, so please feel free to ask anything. One note, I did also make a wooden nut that I was going to use for this, I used boxwood, but ebony or blackwood could also be used, this might be a great alternative. In the end I think I felt that bone might just give a little more edge to the sound than wood(all my stick dulcimers have had bone nuts, I had only used wood ones on my crwths)

I used a forstner bit of 10mm to drill the holes. Great care is needed here to align the holes and also in drilling. This is a pillar/bench drill job.




Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Varnishing the Stick Dulcimer


Finishing
I had to just film an overview of my finishing process, there arevideos on french polishing on Youtube that cover thetopic more fully. the instrument in the video had about 7 or 8 coatsover a few days, now I'm just finishing the back and sides only leavingthe top with a thinner coat.

I had one of my instruments that I made back for adjustment and wasvery pleased to see the finish which was the same as the above. It hadhardened nicely over time and looked really great, not plastic oroverly dry and matt that some oil/danish finishes can be.

As an alternative you can use an oil finish instead of the shellac one,its an easier process, rub oon, rub off, this will take longer betweencoats however.    Tru-oil is a great commercial productthat has been used on guitars and ukuleles.






Fingerboard/neck shaping
This is the last of the major things to do, finalising, gluing thefingerboard, shaping the neck!

Scrapings the bindings down needs to be approached carefully as there is only 1.5 mm between sanding too much. I actually turned off the camera and spent 1.5 hours plus scraping and sanding to get the bindings flush. I could have saved time by thicknessing the binding material 0.5mm thinner in the first place . If your order your bindings and router bits from a supplier like stewmac the fit will be perfect.




The neck shape is a very personal thing, I opt for a violin type of shape(C shape), though you can make it more of a D shape if you wish.





Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Bindings
I am using an American made Bending iron that I have had for 10 years and normally use for all my side bending. If you wanted to use the Low tech method with boiling water you would need to do the bindings in 4 pieces. I wanted to save time and glue up straight away rather than wait another week!
Binding material
I have used Walnut here in this example but you can purchase material from luthiery supplies that does not require bending like plastic or the black and white fibre that is used by companies like Taylor guitars.







Routing

Trimming can be done with a sharp knife and sand paper and left with the top and back flush with no powertools used,  As I wanted to bind this one I have used the routing table so that you can see the next step. I will be keeping it simple though, The last one I did of these had purflings as well, which is a lot of extra work on such a small instrument and looks a little over busy to me.



WARNING Loud machine noise please watch the volume levels!!!

The instrument is coming along nicely now, its amazing how it can go from looking quite rough and unformed to having a charactor of its own, it feels like one of my stick dulcimers already.

equipment note: My router table is a very basic cheap one purchased from ebay , the router an old Red Devil 1/4" /6mm 550 watt model. If you were buying a router an 850watt or higher would be recommended(the higher the better) I am happy with this for these small routing jobs though.

The stepped router bits are available as sets from stewmac in the states, though for this one I mixed and matched a set of router bits to get the bearing guide size I needed.





Assembly
I have split the gluing up into separate stages, the body mold does allow for doing it in one go but for clarity and the best chances of sucess I have filmed the neck, top and back  gluing independently.









Monday, 19 December 2011


The Back
Before we go ahead and assemble the instrument we just need to put together the back of the instrument. I have chosen to bookmatch a piece of cherry to match the ribs.

One note about the sellotape method during glue up, I inverted the process normally used because the wood was shaped, Ideally the wood would be square and the tape is applied on the topwith the wood held in a "V" shape and sprung down, This is very effective when the wood is acurately planed/sanded. I did need to crampe the small end of the back a little which I couldnt clearly show.

The brace I used is fractionally curved along its base, this helps the instrument stay flat after assembly, though with such a narrow size the effect may be negligible anyhow. I chose australian Camphor wood for the brace, just for the smell, it repells moths too though!!

There are videos on Youtube showing how to make and use shooting boards as well as edge jointing, I tried to keep things simple in this video, though I have done this many times before its easy for me to skip ahead, so please let me know if there is anything I need to clarify.






The Fingerboard
You can use many different kind of hardwoods for the fingerboard,  Look out for material from turning suppliers sold as turning blanks(these may not be fully seasoned though!  Rosewood, hard maple, ebony all standard choices.





NB: The Fret press tool was purchased from Stewmac in the States, the low tech alternative was just a pin hammer!!(frettting hammers are available also from the same supplier)










The Neck
This is the "stick" part of the instrument and is the part your hands will be in contact with as you play, its also very personal in the way you shape it and crucial to get as accurate as you can.



The plans show a dovetail join and allude to the one piece neck/block) so I have focused on making that clearer in the video. The dovetail method is more tricky and I stopped using it about 3 years ago in favour of this method shown.

re:Neck Angle,  this is something that video 5.4 looks into but what we are trying to do is tilt the neck back a few degrees so that the bridge can be a little higher,  this has an effect of giving a little more volume when strummed,  My hesitation though is that it is fiddly and you may prefer to make the neck straight as do most Stick Dulcimer builders!!  

Please note that I have had to work with no dust extraction on in order to film, plus I have had to remove clamps to get a clear shot as well as raise the bandsaw blade higher. I also don't recommend working with a camera between you and your work!! It takes 10 times longer!








Saturday, 17 December 2011


The Soundboard
I like to use quartersawn spruce for the soundboards(guitar tonewood will make many),  Mahogany or another light hardwood can also be used but it will need to be thinner, just under 2mm.

In this video I use Forstner bits and a bench drill to acurately make the recess for the inlay, please note you cannot do this if you don't have a bench drill( the bench drill is the main power tool for this instrument - I use it to do the rosette, thickness the sides, and install frets too)  The inner diameter is 28mm but in the video I refer to a 32mm size for the rosette,  in actual fact I ended up using a 35mm one as the purfling I used added up to 3.5mm wide,  you can use wood veneers to match the size of bits you have or you can purchase forstner bits to fit the size of purfling!






I normally use an mdf board the same shape as the soundboard to do the gluing up of the braces, I couldn't find it today so It meant I had to use my long reach clamps!! improvising is part of the making process...

You can taper the ends of the struts after gluing. but with the softwood soundboard at around 2mm I go for the safer option.





Bending/fitting the ribs
Providing a simple way to bend the sides that was low risk was a priority for this project,  I have a guitar bending iron myself but adapted a boiling water bath from an Irving Sloane book using a wide necked glass bottle.   Please be aware that temperature differences with this method can cause the glass to crack,  try pre-heating the glass in warm water first and always do this at room temperature.

CAUTION






I do use kerfed linings on my Tenor Ukuleles, but in this instrument I prefer the violin ones, to me they look cleaner at this scale than kerfing. In the plans I note that either can be used







Disclaimer: Always follow safe practices while working with tools. What is safe for one woodworker under certain conditions may not be safe for others in different circumstances. Viewers should undertake the use of materials and methods as shown in these videos after evaluation, and at their own risk.


Making the mold

The Mold design I have given is an outer mould that can allow a one piece neck/body or a separate neck/body to be used.

All my early instruments used an inner mold as used by violin makers, however, I found that when I removed the body from this, there was a tendency for subtle distortion in the form.  The same thing is seen in most violins of the baroque period, but not today where symmetrical forms are the norm.

The mold is in three pieces joined by dowels of wood or plastic/metal, this means you can work on the instrument from the top, inserting the linings and then remove sections and add linings to the bottom without full removal. (see videos for demonstration)





















I use MDF(medium density fibreboard) which comes in 12mm thickness's in the UK, My earlier inner moulds were of wood.

Note that the space for the neck is at the larger end of the spectrum, so you need to insert a couple of pieces of veneer/card for less wide necks.(Or modify your mould accordingly)

The best way to make the mold is to work on getting one layer smooth and then using it as a master mould, setting up your router on a router table to copy the form.







This next video is an update to the first two videos about making the Mold, Since I drew the plans for this back in 2006 I have made some adaptations: The insert made with wood glue needed improving, while it was a nice touch to use waste material to make a soundhole insert, in practice it was a pain and only worked with adhesive that didnt shrink,The second part of this video shows the fitting of the mold with nut inserts so that it can be used as a clamp to hold the top and bottom during gluing, a fantastic idea! I have taken from the Ukulele maker Pete Howlett(many thanks for sharing this)
Petes great ukulele making series:
http://www.youtube.com/petehowlett



If you are using the mold to glue the top and bottom at the same time then you need to make the top sections of the mold in 2 pieces.

(Therewas a year inbetween the last mold making video(1.2) and this one, I actually forgot that I was going to make the top sections of the mold split in two and during gluing up I discovered my errror and had to cut open the mold with an instrument inside!! If you watch the videos in order you will avoid my mistake. I wish I had a film of my reaction when I realised my blunder, would have made a good outtake for the DVD extras.......lol



Drawings
(These need to be purchased and taken from the disc or downloaded) 


Plans available here

Stick Dulcimer Plans

These are my workshop drawings,  taken from my own templates,






To print out your own copy of the plans You will need to use Tracing paper, preferably A4 size, but there is plenty of overlap with the PDF files so standard Letter paper(USA) should also work fine. You can use normal white paper but you will need to use a light box (or very carefully holding the sheets together against a sunlit window) to join them.

The clear kind of sellotape(3M magic tape) that doesn't yellow is best for joining the pieces of paper.

Using at least adobe reader 8 (available for free download for all Computer types)
print the sheets off at 100% or 1:1 size, with the settings on text/graphics mode.
Some better/high end printers might need to be set at a lower resolution to get a clear print out.

How to do it:
If your using the latest version of adobe reader the settings are not too difficult,

In adobe reader:
press print,

then on the section called "page handling"  under "page scaling" select "None"

Print off one page, 1-1 to test resolution and scale.

If the print outs are too small/large you can adjust the scale settings in adobe, or as a last resort  take the print out to a photocopy shop to rescale.
The squares are all 1cm/10mm.

Materials for Stick Dulcimer


Materials
The great thing about making a Stick Dulcimer is that it can be made of very small pieces of wood, the scrap from making a guitar for example.
It's also a great opportunity to use offcuts and recycled materials.

If you do buy your materials from the guitar Luthier material suppliers the wood sold for guitars will make lots and lots of Stick Dulcimers! 
For the neck of the instrument you want a wood that is strong and not too heavy, the traditional mahogany, or maple woods are fine.  Many of my instruments have a cherry neck, as I want to avoid using mahogany unless it is old recycled material.



The Body can be made of any medium to fine grained hardwood,  I have used Cherry, Walnut, maple, Rosewood, laburnum, and there are some ones to come in native oak and ash that are looking good so you are really free to see what's available locally.   Tonally maple cherry or walnut are good first choices.


The Soundboard needs to be close grained Quartersawn spruce as sold for guitars, Fir or cedar can be used too.  Since the wood is worked quite thin and has minimal barring the stiffness of sitka spruce can be useful, though most of mine have a Finnish spruce top.  Western red Cedar can be used but bear in mind how easily this wood can dent, you might want to think about a pick guard.


The fingerboard needs to be hard wearing and able to hold the frets in well.   Ebony is the traditional wood, though I only use old boards of ebony.  I have been using Plantation grown rosewood which is fine for this , but there are many woods of smiler hardness. 
American hard maple works well, but the European maple tends to be a bit soft for this.
Good European woods are Pear, Holly, Hornbeam, Plum, and Apple.

Owen Niblocks Stick Dulcimer pictured above has a fingerboard made from an African hardwood, Pau Rosa


The Bridge is made of maple, often with an insert of ebony, or hard plastic .


The internal blocks are made from whatever you have available, you can use pine/spruce like the violin family, I usually make mine out of walnut.
the Linings can be solid like a violin, though a shade thicker, especially if you want to add bindings, these will require heat bending.  Or you can make kerfed linings like the ones sold for making acoustic guitars/mandolins, these require no bending, but will take a while to make.  


Bindings help protect the soft soundboard edges and are very useful here, if you add them to the back it is more decorative than absolutely necessary.  I have mainly used plantation rosewood and Walnut for bindings, They can be purchase or made by hand.


The Rosette/Ring I use on these instruments is simply made from violin purfling doubled for thickness,  If you use fibre based Purflings they will bend easier as the  radius is quite tight.
Lastly, the machine pegs are mini machines, of the enclosed type.  My supplier sells them individually, but otherwise you could buy three sets and make 4 instruments!


The fretwire is the standard guitar fretwire, the nut can be made of Bone, Micarta, old ebony or even hard plastic.
The strings used for this instrument are just normal acoustic guitar strings, the helpful thing is that this instrument has a standard scale length so the guages used for guitar apply.  More info in the stringing section to come.


The Tailpiece

My plans show a basic form of the tailpiece, These can be made from sheet brass or angle iron or aluminium.  It works very well if the screw fits tight.  Since 2008 They have been improved by rounding the edges. If making one seems daunting you can now get these from my website, they come complete with endpin and screw. buy here online 




















The case for the instrument  can be just a simple box made of pine and plywood, joined with miller dowels and painted or covered in fabric/vinyl/rexine/leather of your choice.   I used 10mm foam padding sold for camping mats, covered with a crushed velvet cloth.



Friday, 16 December 2011

Stick Dulcimer making course  part1,  tools......

Over the next few weeks I am uploading the chapter contents of the Stick Dulcimer DVD,  this easily lays out the notes between the videos and allows you to search and jump to certain topics.
The plans are still available from my website for download as are the tailpieces and DVD's.

We begin looking at the tools you will need

Tools
There are many specialist luthier tools but for this project you can get by with a normal tool set,  Do have a look at stewmac.com and other luthier supplies for inspiration though!!  

Handtool List

Smoothing plane, bailey pattern(record/Stanley no.4/5)
set of chisels, including 1/4, 8mm, 1"
Dovetail or small dozuki Japanese saw
Coping saw (if without Bandsaw)
Large or Junior Hacksaw(can cut angle brass/sheets )
Nordic style whittling knife (frosts of Sweden, make a good cheap one with Birch handle)
Spokeshave  flat bottom can be good for neck carving
Diamond sharpening stone, or oil/whetstone
set of scrapers
bradawl/marking awl
Marking knife(Japanese one recommended)
Marking gauge(the veritas one is my favourite,)
square(metal engineers)
1mtr ruler
assorted metal drill bits, including 1.5mm for string holes in tailpiece, 9.5mm for  peg holes(check pegs first before drilling, use scrap to test!)

sand paper assorted grades, cloth backed ones last longest
Various sanding blocks
sanding board, made to fit whole sheet of Sand/Glass-paper  for levelling the body prior to gluing up!

Workshop/Workspace

In order for any work to be done you will need some place to work with a stable bench/surface. When I graduated from University began I had to just use my workmate outside and my kitchen table to work on,  I then had a couple of workshops and then a 35 foot by 12 foot shop.  I  downsized in 2005 building a 7ft square shed at home, that now somehow fits all my tools and a bench.
Building a purpose built space, however small means you can control your environment.
My shed is insulated with 1"  polystyrene and lined with mdf boards, plus  noise reduction boards under the laminate flooring.   I had the electrics installed by an electrician.
I use an oil filled heater in the winter to keep the temperature around 21%c, set very low, and Humidity is monitored with a digital Hygrometer,  so I never glue anything together if the shop isn't between 40-50% humidity.  In the summer when its too humid I use a de-humidifier, (It only takes an hour to bring a small 7x7x7shop to safe levels)
The brass Hygrometers are cheap to buy and fine enough to use, though the digital ones, often sold for wine making as well as well as Luthiery are Very accurate, and can even let you know the min/max humidity/temperature of your working/storing environment.
I  have maximized my working space in the summer by having an outdoor woodworking bench,  mainly for using hand tools,  It frees my workshop to be then used for gluing up and machining.
If you cant have a permanent space, or your workshop/space is damp or  outside, then try to have a cupboard, or a big box  inside the house for your wood to go in between working.  whatever you do try to glue up/nail together the wood when it has had some time to adjust to the humidity.

If you are making your own bench do have a very simple pattern which just requires a handsaw and an electric screwdriver.  I have used construction grade pine and a plywood top(two 18mm layers to make a solid worktop.  For your bench height I would recommend 3"  below your elbow as a good height to save your back, but do try different tables/surfaces first  to see what suits you.

Vice/clamp/cramps

I tend to use the Wolfcraft make of clamps as they have a reliable mechanism and clamp really well,  2 is the minimum number, though more is always handy.  I also use lots of the all metal screw G or C clamps.  The violin clamps I use to close/glue  the sound box can be purchased from luthier supplies, but I have tended to buy the butterfly nuts, washers and roofing bolts and make my own with cork or old leather belts to line the inner surface..


Glue pot

Titebond is the only modern glue I would heartedly recommend for this instrument, although for several years now I have mainly used traditional animal glue.  This is used in a small jar placed in a second hand baby bottle/food heater(from ebay!!)  this has worked out  to be an a very accurate tool to heat the glue.

Bending Iron  On the Video I use a method involving boiling water, this is a simple way but does require a week of drying out time so its best for limited productions.  I have an electric Bending iron I for normal use but they are pretty expensive and you can probably wait until you are bending a number of ribs or making guitars until getting one!



Bench Drill 
The only power tool I set as a absolute requirement is a bench or pillar drill, with this you can accurately drill the holes for the pegs, cut the rosette channel with forstner bits and even thickness with a gilbert sanding disk attachment!! I even use this tool in the video to thickness the headstock.  You cannot use forstner bits without this fixed drill tool.
 using a foam sanding attachment you can shape the bridge and the head/neck area.  You can use a drill attachment press but in my experience these are less accurate.
A small tabletop 5-speed bench drill is  fine for this project and economical to buy.








Bandsaws

The Bandsaw, isn't essential, but just saves a lot of energy and time.  It is perfectly possible to cut out the shape roughly by hand and clean up on the sander, but the bandsaw does cut very accurately.
It is also good if you are recycling wood and doing lots of resawing, cutting out the wood for the sides.







Planers/Jointers
I have a small benchtop planer(a thicknesser in England) that I use to get some of my wood to size, especially necks
 I don't recommend using a this to plane down figured woods like maple,   Commercial suppliers use large sanding drums to thickness these woods.


Router
One handy tool for bindings is the  Router, preferably a good 1/2 one, though the smaller 1/4" Routers will work fine if you make light cuts, in several stages.
For best results I would recommend you go on a weekend router course or night classes to use one of these well, There are also may books and DVD's you can buy to learn more.  When working inside you will need to use some sort of dust collection, plus wear mask and goggles,  I really recommend some person to person training here! This tool for our purposes is used in combination with a simple router table made of 1/2"  or 12mm MDF board to create an 18" box,  Or a commercially available one like I show in my video.

 You could make the mould for the Stick Dulcimer of other more costly materials, plastic and aluminium for example by taking your MDF mould to a machinist shop where industrial routers can make your mould for you. 


The last power tool I recommend is a good
 Bench top Disc Sander, This will clean up a lot of you sawmarks and help shape the top and bottom  blocks  quickly,
I sometimes use them to sand the ends of the frets before filing down and for making the bridge and tailpiece it is vital.
 These machines are also pretty quiet to use, but you need to have a strategy in place for the volume of Dust they create!!  always use a dust mask and dust extraction with these machines!
You could consider the combination disc and belt sander as an alternative if you have the space!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Bowed Lyre/Jouhikko completed (for sale too)

I have used Mongolian black horsehair for stringing this instrument,  the pegs were plumwood from my garden,  the bridge beech, the tailpiece maple.  the stringing up guide is available as a video(see bottom)



















Maple tailpiece, 1/2 cello fine tuners




(Poplar back)






Friday, 9 December 2011

Just a few more pictures after the instrument was glued together and scraped and fine sanded
















Here is the same instrument after a linseed coat and several coats of clear french polish