Dulcimer Hammers


Ok, 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 finished product.

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 some spalting.

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 sanding disk

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 really well.

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 here.

The final 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 your dulcimer.

Have fun!


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Paul Haslem

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