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Building my first mountain dulcimer


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Ok, just bent the sides. I wanted to try as I already had a homemade bending iron (section of exhaust pipe from a truck, heated with an electric charcoal lighter and temp controlled with a dimmer switch). I did this with my second guitar build, and it’s not easy. But I admit that 2” dulcimer sides are easier to bend than guitar sides. This is where I wish I tried a less complicated shape for my first dulcimer! But it’s all about the journey and learning, right?

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Ok the back is glued on. For my first attempt at building, I am pretty pleased. The waist is a little narrower than the original template as I had to squeeze sides a bit for the top to fit. I thought

Well I called it quits after a soft luster of 6 coats. I used brads at the tail block and strung it up. Cut one string too short in the process and had to get another. The important thing: it has a ni

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Looks a pretty good job from here!   I don't see any obvious cracks or splits -- and that's a win!  With those gently of bends you probably would have been good-to-go bending from a half-hour of hot water soak, no need for the heating iron.  But method doesn't matter -- results do!

Here's the trick I love about a peg type shape jig like yours.   Now I prefer to put the back on the sides first, then put the fretted board on the top before gluing the top down...   When the side are dry tomorrow, what you can do with your jig is -- tap the pegs down a little below the top edge of the sides.  Then put a fine bead of glue on the edge of the sides and set the bottom plank in place; weight it down, and walk away.  I usually weigh down the bottom with a large cooler gradually filled with water which presses down evenly all along the joint.  Or stack some 18" floor tiles carefully on the plank to hold things down until the glue sets.  Once the glue dries you can carefully prise the carcass off the jig and flip it over.

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Ok the back is glued on. For my first attempt at building, I am pretty pleased. The waist is a little narrower than the original template as I had to squeeze sides a bit for the top to fit. I thought I left enough overhang of the back and top to account for this but apparently not for the top.

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That's looking REALLY Sharp!  The hearts came out very nice too.  Good Job!! 

Nothing wrong with a "slim-waisted lady"!  We talk about hourglass dulcimers as being "busty" if the upper bout is as large as the lower;  "hippy" if the lower bout is significantly larger; and "slim-" or "thick-waisted" if the waist is a bit larger or smaller in proportion.

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Ok I chose to glue the top on first, without the fingerboard, as I had to get it lined up just right. Since things were hand shaped, and I had already cut the sound holes, I was worried things might end up off center. I did not want the fingerboard lined up incorrectly. Anyway, after gluing and weighting the top to the sides, and checking this am, I discovered a gap on the upper bout. Grrrrr. Cleaned out the space, and now reglued and clamped. Posting my foibles as well as triumphs for the next person!🤣

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I'm coming in to this discussion rather late because I keep forgetting to check posts in Everything Dulcimer. Another way to make heart sound holes is to use a drill bit or Forstner bit to make the the tops of the hearts. I then drill a small hole where the tip of heart should be. I use a scroll saw to cut from the bottom of the top hole to the bottom hole completing the side of the heart. You could also use a coping saw or hobby knife. Your build is looking good. When I get back in my shop (recover from my open heart surgery at the end of January) I will post a photo of my latest build.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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Thanks, Ken! I think your way would be easier than what I attempted! I used a coping saw to trim the top and back overhang once they were glued to the sides. It might be a little big to cut the upper bout hearts? But the resulting cut seems fine enough to me.

May you have a speedy recovery, and I look forward to your build posts!

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NIIIICE!  How did you clamp the top to the carcass for gluing, that you ended up with a gap?  I usually use a LARGE cooler set on top of a couple layers of large ceramic floor tiles, then slowly fill the cooler with water -- at 60# per cubic foot it's heavy and fits any container.  At one time I had a 5 gallon bladder bag which would shape itself to whatever I was gluing up.

If it were me, I would have attached the tuning head to the head end of the body before gluing up the top. To each his own...

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Hi NoterMan, i used my metal rectangular Craftsman tool box, loaded with tools, for weight to clamp. It must have been ever so slightly uneven on the bottom, just enough to cause a very slight gap on one side of the upper bout. I didn’t notice the gap when I glued and weighted the top. Usually for guitar builds I would use every clamp I can get my hands on to clamp top and sides. But I liked your weight approach for a smaller instrument. As this is my first dulcimer, I was still thinking of best assembly order. In the future I would try gluing peg head to body first. But in this case, It seemed solving one problem (little room for error of placement of top to sides) meant adding the fingerboard and peg head later. Also, my home shop is limited to hand tools. But I do have occasional access to a generous neighbor with a nice wood shop with a band saw, belt sanders, drill press, etc. I think I will be able to get the peg head married to the body in his shop just fine.

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It is looking good. I have considered building a Go-bar deck for gluing on the top and back. My luthier friend uses one on his guitar builds and I think it can be transferred to dulcimer building. I always attach the peg head before gluing on the top and bottom.  This is because in my dulcimers the top and bottom attach to peg head.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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20 hours ago, Guitarpeggio said:

Discovering a couple things the hard way.

That's the learning curve.  Once you figure out "your way" of building thigs will fall into place.  Some attach the top and bottom to the ends, then add the sides.  Some attach sides to the head and tail, then add the fretboard/top assembly and lastly the bottom.  Others enclose the whole thing, then add the fretboard last. Some build a fretboard-head-tail assembly first; others like me build a topless 'boat' then add a fretboard-top.   Whatever works best for you on the kind of dulcimers you like to build.   

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One more question, NoterMan and KWL Ken... I am soon going to finish the rest of the instrument with TruOil, with which I have had great results on my guitar builds and I used on this peg head.  The fingerboard is cherry — do you put any kind of finish on your fingerboards or just leave them unfinished?

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These days I use Tung oil over the whole instrument.  My feeling is you really do want some sort of finish of the fretboard.  TrueOil or any oil which 'hardens' like that or Tung oil.  When I used urethane over all, I would use a single or maybe two coats of ure as a 'sanding sealer' and surface hardener on the fretboard.

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Thanks, NoterMan, for the finish suggestions and recommendation for the fingerboard. I like your idea of at least one or two coats as well, just for some kind of protection for the wood. Here’s today’s progress: gluing the fingerboard to the body.

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Always the little tweaks!


]Something for next time... friend who use the "glue the fretboard on last" often -- or usually -- use a full length "pressure bar"  -- a piece of 2x2 on top of the fretboard to spread the clamp pressure more evenly.  Of course the fretboard does not have the nut/bridge installed at that point.

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Well I called it quits after a soft luster of 6 coats. I used brads at the tail block and strung it up. Cut one string too short in the process and had to get another. The important thing: it has a nice tone and the intonation is fine! I will be adjusting the action in the coming days. Thanks everyone for all the tips and suggestions along the way, and for the future! Time to move on to the “learning to play” discussions! Here are the final pics...

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Edited by Guitarpeggio
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Beautiful job!!   Bravo!

Action height -- a good place to start we call the Nickel & Dime Action.  Set a dime alongside the 1st fret and adjust the Nut height by sanding the bottom until the strings just touch the coin.   Then balance a nickel on top of the 7th fret and adjust the height of the bridge until the strings just touch the coin there.

You can go lower if you choose, but that's a good place to start.  

Tip for next build, or a revision to this one... Where the strings break over the tail end of the fretboard, you can cut out a notch all the way across, and lay in there a strip of very hard wood (ebony, snakewood, lignum vitae etc.) with the grain running across the fretboard (much harder for strings to cut into wood cross-grain.

Here's a good guide to getting started tuning and playing...

I Just Got A.pdf

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It looks very nice. You did a good job. I'm sure this dulcimer will provide you with many more hours of enjoyment as you play it. Have fun with it.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Edited by KWL
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