Popular Woodworking 2002-04 № 127, страница 26

Popular Woodworking 2002-04 № 127, страница 26

A Mountain Stradivarius

Scott Phillips, host of TV's 'American Woodshop,' visits dulcimer virtuoso Warren May in his Kentucky workshop.

For years I've wanted to make my own

Appalachian-inspired, mountain lap dulcimer. These wooden wonders have been part of American culture since before the American Revolution. Dulcimers are easy enough to make, yet tricky to perfect. Woodworker Warren May of Berea, Ky., just might have figured out the best way to make these four-string instruments. I recently visited this dulcimer maker and learned a few things about designing a workshop to make his projects — and yours — easier.

May's workshop is located on about 40 acres of gently rolling hills, about five miles from Berea. It's forested with mixed hardwoods. Many of the huge black walnut and cherry trees will be harvested in coming years to be turned into mountain dulcimers and fine furniture. Yep — even though May's shop (he has three employees) has completed more than 12,000 dulcimers, he still has time to produce dozens of pieces of fine furniture to sell every year.

After looking around his shop, I decided that May and Thomas Edison might be distant relatives. May uses machines that you would find in a well-equipped home shop. But every machine is decked out with shop-made jigs and fixtures. In some cases he's built or modified power tools (including an incredible "gang fret saw," more on that later).

May's motorized "gang fret saw" allows the fret board to be held against the fence on the sliding table, as the table carriage is pushed over the blades. It's a tool that's hard to imagine, let alone make. But May's invention has helped him make instruments with exacting precision—and save time.

And sometimes he's taken an unlikely object, such as Roller-blade wheels, and built a safety device, such as a resawing feather-board for his band saw. May works with both hand and power tools. And perhaps his continued success is a result of the hand-worked details he adds to every piece before it leaves his workshop.

In May's shop there are huge windows on every available wall. The abundance of natural light makes the shop much easier to work in. The electric heat pump is nice, too. It keeps the 2,500-square-foot shop conditioned and comfortable year round.

For dust collection, May has a big impeller that exhausts chips directly out the back of his shop into a recycling pile. Dust collection is more than a convenience in this shop. May's finishing room is adjacent to the main shop and must be kept virtually dust-free.

The finishing area is outfitted with a sizable exhaust fan. When applying his usual sanding sealer followed by multiple light coats of lacquer, the fan really reduces over-spray, smell and fumes.

I asked May what the toughest part of making a dulcimer is and he pointed to the fret board. All frets (metal strips perpendicular to the strings) must be perfectly spaced and fitted to produce perfect tonality. So he designed a saw that will cut all the slots for the frets in the neck of a dulcimer at once.

This "gang fret saw" looks like a miniature direct-drive table saw (with more than a dozen blades) and a sliding table. All the 2"-diameter circular saw blades have thin kerfs that fit the metal fret strips perfectly.

Almost any musical instrument maker will tell you that gluing up the body takes lots of time and clamps. So May invented a spring-loaded jig to glue up the bodies that uses only one clamp. I'm not lying. The photo on the next page explains it better than words can.

Many dulcimer parts require very thin, resawn wood. Here, May uses a generic brand 1 horsepower band saw with a 3/4" Lenox resaw blade. May frequently uses a Teflon-like spray called DriCote to coat the blade. This reduces blade friction and

26 Popular Woodworking April 2002

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