How to Build Dulcimers

Every violin, every guitar, and every flute all look pretty much the same. One of the most fun parts of building a dulcimer is that there is not a standard way that a dulcimer should look. The instructions below will work for you, whether you want to make the teardrop-shaped body, the hourglass-shaped body or a design all your own.


Step 1

Get your supplies together. One excellent source is International Luthiers Supply, for the wooden kits or pre-cut pieces. If you want to do your own woodworking, this supplier also has sets of detailed plans that would give you the information you needed to cut your own pieces.

Step 2

Use the block plane and sandpaper to make the back and sides of your dulcimer the desired thickness. Make sure that you move, as much as possible, with the grain of your wood to avoid tearing the fibers.

Step 3

Bend the sides to your desired shape. This can be done by turning the electric charcoal starter and rheostat into a simplified hot pipe. You will get some scorching on the wood, but it is fairly simple to sand the scorching off, if you are careful with the bending process.

Step 4

Use the scroll saw to cut sound holes into the cedar. The best blade to use is the #2 at slow speed. The soundboard is too long to rotate a full 360 degrees, so make sure that you plan out the holes first. File away any sharp edges to the hole.

Step 5

Cut the scroll out of the mahogany. Use the scroll saw to make the outline and the router to cut out the middle parts. Drill a hole for the scroll's hook.

Step 6

Glue a strip of mahogany across the back of the soundboard. Round the strip off, using the sandpaper and a chisel.

Step 7

Glue the sides of the dulcimer to the back, using spool clamps. Using heavy objects to simply hold things in place leads to a lot of slippage, so investing in the clamps will pay off. Glue in the tail block and the scroll (these are part of the kit). Sand to where the heights of these match that of the sides.

Step 8

Use the block plane and sandpaper to flatten and size the fretboard. Use a razor knife to mark the slots for your frets and mark across using a square with your razor knife. Cut the slots using a razor saw.

Step 9

Use the router to cut out the hollow place for strumming. Hollow out the bottom of the fretboard as well. Use a drill with a 1/4-inch Forstner bit to make the holes for position dots. Use a Dremel based on a router to make the holes large enough. Use epoxy to glue the inlay dots.

Step 10

Sand the top of the fretboard using 220-grit sandpaper. Glue the frets into the slots, and wipe away the excess glue as it oozes out, because you will not be able to put finish anywhere there is glue.

Step 11

Glue the braces to the top, and fit the top onto the box. Make marks where lining and braces should be cut, making sure that the ends of the braces can go through the lining and touch the sides. Use sandpaper and chisel to size and taper the brace ends. Then, use the Dremel to cut notches for the braces in the lining.

Step 12

Use the drill to make #61 holes at the end of the fretboard for your string pins. You should use escutcheon pins, made of brass, #18 X 3/4-inch. Fill any fret end gaps with sawdust and glue, and sand the area until smooth. Then, mark the center lines on the fretboard, body and top for the glue. Finally, glue the fretboard to the top.

Step 13

Glue the box closed. Once everything is dry, you are ready to move on to finishing. Use blue painters' tape to mask your fretboard, and apply two coats of #1 cut shellac (Zinsser out of the can is a good brand). Let the shellac dry overnight. Then sand (use 600 grit paper), and take off the tape. Wipe on the Tru-Oil, then wipe off right away. Let it dry overnight, and use steel or plastic wool to smooth. Apply three coats. Wet-sand with Tru-Oil as the lubricant to fill the pores in the wood--do this only on the scroll, sides and back. Let it all dry for a couple days, then use micro-mesh 6000, 8000 and 12000 grit, placed on a felt block. Only use a few strokes at each grit. Polish it all with Formby's Lemon Oil Treatment.

Step 14

Apply the nut and saddle that came with your kit. Use the razor knife and a triangular needle file to cut the string slots once you have inserted the string pins.. Only put one string on each pin. Adjust the frets to bring the dulcimer into proper tune, and enjoy your new instrument!

Tips and Warnings

Unless you are an expert woodworker, you will want to order a kit. Even if you are an expert, you may want to order the kit! Once you have set your Dremel height, do not change it--you will never find the right setting again.

Things You'll Need

Dulcimer back and side set (mahogany), Soundboard (cedar), Spruce braces, Fret wire for a banjo or small mandolin, Geared tuners, Fretboard and scroll (mahogany), Glue (DAP/Weldwood yellow or Titebond), Electric charcoal starter, 600-watt rheostat, Block plane, Sandpaper, File, Chisel, Spool clamps, Razor knife, Razor saw, Dremel cutter, Tru-Oil finish (wet-sand), Zinsser #1 cut shellac, Steel or plastic wool, Formby's Lemon Oil Treatment, Micro Mesh sandpaper--6000, 8000 and 12000 grit

About this Author

Teacher, freelancer, marathoner in the Dallas area.

Article provided by eHow Home & Garden | How to Build Dulcimers