Sometimes the power goes out and you can’t actually use any of your power tools. Sometimes you want to form an impromptu bluegrass band and don’t have an instrument handy. Just in case both of those things happen at the same time, we made a dulcimer using only non-power tools and typed out all the directions.
- 2’x4’ sheet of ¼” maple plywood
- 3’ length of 2”x2” hardwood for the neck
- 3 laths (or 1 ½” wide strips of the same plywood, I just had laths lying around)
- 4 tuners with hardware
- 4 small screws
- Fret wire
- Set of 4 dulcimer strings (or banjo strings)
- Hand saw
- Coping saw
- Brace or Yankee screwdriver and drill bit
- Accurate ruler
You can see the full instructions by looking at the instructable we created.
We learned a few valuable things from this build. First, you can never have too many clamps. Just about every step of this process required wood glue and clamps, and by the time we were finished we had used every clamp we owned. We have decided to buy more clamps for the future.
We also decided that hand drilling and sawing everything takes some serious time. Power tools certainly would have made this build much faster and easier.
On the other hand, doing everything by hand meant having to understand the wood better and make more of a personal investment. In short, it was definitely worth doing the hard way. And again, now we know that we can keep making instruments even during extended power outages.
Finally, accuracy in your measurements is everything when it comes to making a dulcimer sound good. If any of your frets are off by even a fraction, your instrument will never play in tune. Take the time to be accurate so you don’t have to redo anything later. Especially when you are building with hand tools, it’s nice to not have to start all over with a piece of your project.
Neither of us is actually proficient at playing the dulcimer (though we are better at that than playing the harp, which didn’t stop us from building a harp out of pvc), so I suppose that’s the final step of the project: learn how to play some sweet bluegrass music and take this show on the road.