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

There are many specialist luthier tools but for this project you can get by with a normal tool set,  Do have a look at 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!


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.


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.


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.

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.

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!

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