so lots of folks have been after me for several
years now about making more dulcimer hammers.
People that aren't familiar with them want to
know what they look like and how they feel. Well
I can show them to you, but you really have to
hold them in your hand and play with them to
experience how they feel and respond to your
playing. I've also had several folks that want to
know how I make them, I suppose so they can make
their own. If you decide to tackle this, expect
to take about three days but only about 2 1/2
hours of actual working time to complete a pair
of hammers with over half of that being time
spent hand sanding.
This is what a
finished pair of hammers looks like but certainly
not how they start out!
For our example
we're going to follow these hammers from board to
This is a
Central American hardwood called Katalox. It
normally has a dark grain, almost a rosewood
colour but this board happens to be the heartwood
and as you can see, is very curly and also has
The next step
after planing and thicknessing the wood is to
glue slice of veneer in a contrasting colour and
another block of wood on one end of the board
that will be the striking surface of the hammer.
It's really not necessary but I happen to like
the look and it that end has become sort of a
signiture of my hammers.
Once that is
glued up we take this block of wood over to the
table saw and slice it into our hammer shafts
about 3/16 of an inch wide.
The bright red
shafts that you see in this picture are another
Mexican hardwood called Chakte Kok. The Chakte
Kok starts out very red as you see and then
oxidizes to a warm golden colour over time.
Now that we have
our hammer shafts, I put them in pairs that will
be worked together as a pair. I then select some
short pieces of wood and or veneer of contrasting
colours to glue on the sides of the shaft to give
the handle some width and make it both more
comfortable to hold but more importantly easier
to control and balance the hammer.
Once the handles
are glued up it's time to lay out our hammer. I
use an old broken hammer to trace out the shape
on my hammer blank
Now you're ready
to start cutting out your hammer. I use a small
band saw to trim off most of the excess wood
till I have
something that looks like this.
now I take the
hammer and get my shape more refined with a
at this point
you can really see what the hammer is going to
look like. At this point we want to shape the
handle to make it more comfortable to hold and
take off the hard edges on the shaft of the
hammer. For this I use a sanding drum on the
drill press, I've found that a 3 inch drum works
When I'm shaping
the handle I will frequently stop and hold the
hammer as if playing so that I can judge the
balance of the hammer and then try to match the
hammers as closely as I can. Now that you have
the rough shape the rest of the work is done by
hand. You want to smooth all the rough edges out
and I've never been able to find a fast way out
of this but just the mindless work of sanding.
Here you can see
that the hard edges are smoothed out and the
hammers more closely resemble what the completed
hammer will be. For this process I always start
with an 80 grit sand paper and then progress
through the various grades, 100, 120, 150, 180,
220 and 320. For the really hard woods like ebony
I will sometimes go on up to 400 and 600 grit.
The more time you spend doing this part the more
satisfying the end result will be! You could
quite easily quit after the 100 grit sand paper
and have a very usable hammer, but to get the
luster and satiney feel you have to work your way
through all the grits. There are no short cuts
process is to buff the hammers out and I use a
carnuba wax on the buffing wheel.
So there you
have it, the ultimate dulcimer hammers. Smooth
and silky to hold and balanced to bring out the
best in your playing and the best sound out of