Saturday, January 7, 2017

Happy New Year

A new year is upon us! It looks to be a very memorable one, what with the political environment and its potential outcome. The shock of last November lingers, but… we must keep a positive attitude and strive to help make our lives better… or at least status quo!

Through it all, I am still creating and planning to create artwork, teach, and plan for future shows and events.

In The Studio

I have been very busy in my studio and shop working on new instruments, folk art, furniture (mainly for the home), and sculptural pieces.

As for instruments, I completed several new psalteries and another Germanic rote.The small trapezoidal psaltery on the left is my second steel-string version of a larger one in an image in the Spanish Mini-psalteries-72illuminated manuscript, Cantigas de Santa Maria. It has a salvaged Douglas fir top, salvaged oak back, salvaged purpleheart bindings, and maple frame and bridges.. The mini hognose psaltery on the right is my small version of those that were popular in Europe as early as the 1100s. It is salvaged black walnut on top and back, cherry frame, and maple bindings and bridges.

Below is my new full-size hognose psaltery. It has cherry top and back, maple frame, black walnut bridges and soundhole roses, and purpleheart bindings. This one is Memling Psaltery 4-72based on a psaltery depicted in an alterpiece painting by Hans Memling in the 15th century.

All instruments of this style are related to Persian/Moorish/Arabic instruments that date from Biblical times.

Several years ago, during a lull between shows, I cut out and fabricated tops and backs to nearly a dozen instruments, setting Dulcimer wood blanks-72them aside until I needed them. Last year while cleaning my studio and sorting my stash of woods, I came across all the cut out pieces. I decided it was time to take these pieces and start using them. These three psalteries are the first from my stash.

As I was completing these, I was also working on another mini Germanic rote (lyre) out of cherry and with an apple top. The highly figured apple, which I’ve used on several Mini Germanic Rote 2-72mini rotes, makes a striking instrument.

All the lyres I make are based on instruments discovered in burial mounds and archeological sites in England and Central Europe. The mini rotes are approximately 3/4 sized versions of the larger ones I make. All my mini psalteries and rotes are very portable and popular with renaissance fair attendees as well as reenactment groups like the SCA.

Currently on my workbench is a full-size hurdy gurdy that is based on one in the Germanisches National Museum in Nuremberg. It’s considered to be of the Baroque period of the 1700. My version is koa, cherry and purpleheart, with maple bracing. I Hurdy Gurdy-Jan-2017recently completed the keys and fit them in the new key box. I have already turned the wheel, but I still need to fit all the mechanics together before glueing the top and key box on.

Besides the new instruments, I took a little time to make a new bench for our bedroom. We had no low seating to put on our shoes, so I used the last piece of black walnut of the huge pieces I used on our counter, mantel, and coffee table. I scooped out a seat and made a trestle style base. This last piece of walnut had a Shoe benchlarge crack in it, so I inserted a butterfly, a la George Nakashima, filled voids with turquoise epoxy resin, and finished it with several coats of tung oil.  It’s now a nice, low, comfortable place to put on socks and shoes.

The specialty lumber yard I frequent, Jackel Enterprises in Watsonville, had a big inventory reduction sale in December. I popped in the first day of the sale and picked up some nice claro walnut, black walnut, urban forest elm (from San Jose State University), and a little more cherry. With my current stash and these new woods, I should have enough to last me the rest of my life.

Folk Art

Egyptian Bowl-72Some other pieces I worked on to complete before 2016 ended were a pair of vessels. The largest actually started out as a different project that turned out bad. I repOdd walnut bowl-72urposed the coopered cocobolo section as a large lidded bowl with a tagua head on the handle. I think it turned out rather well.

Usually, I turn bowls on my lathe. I had a piece of scrap black walnut that had an interesting, odd shape. I decided to carve it. I did turn the insides and the lid, but not the outside of the piece. Again, I carved a tagua nut for the handle.

Restorations and RepairsTom-Jill Violin being repaired

The last year was busy for me in the instrument restoration field. I had zithers, both concert and chorded, and ukuleles. I’m currently working on a 100+ year old German violin.

I also started working on some zithers and autoharps from my own collection. I do plan on selling these once they’re restored. I recently finished an 1885-1890 Zimmermann autoharp, model 2 3/4. It had a couple of small cracks, and all the chord buttons were missing. Here’s the  result of my restoration:

Zimmermann 2 3-4-72

I have one more Zimmermann autoharp to restore, as well as several “gadget” zithers, like a Marxolin and Ukulin.

I work on my own during the lulls between restoration jobs.

Do you have an antique stringed instrument that’s very special to you? A family heirloom? A collection piece? I have openings in 2017 for you! To see the types of instruments I’ve worked on, check out my Repair Logs on my web site at


Yes, I’m still teaching. I have one student at my studio, and I am scheduled this Spring to teach hand carving at the Cabrillo College Extension courses. More to come on that later.


TRon w-barrel organ-72he last show I was in was the 12 x 12 (x12) exhibit at the Cabrillo College Gallery. My one piece sold right away, which was exciting, and I also won 3rd place in the voting for favorite pieces. Fun!

Well, time to return to the studio and make more sawdust!

That’s all for now. Once again, Happy New Year!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Where’s Summer?

We’re a little over a week away from the end of Summer, and we’re still waiting for warm weather. While other parts of the country are still roasting, Santa Cruz has been under a cloud of fog since June. The few sunny days we’ve had were barely in the 70s.

Usually, during the Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour in October, we have beautiful weather. Fingers are crossed!

Open Studios 2016

Molly MaloneAnd speaking of Open Studios, this year my studio will be open the second and third weekends, October 8, 9 (North County), and 15, 16 (Encore weekend). My studio number in the artist guide this year is 220.

The Artist Guide and the App (Apple and Android) are again free this year, and the Guide will be distributed in the September 19 issue of Good Times and available throughout Santa Cruz County.

For more information, check out

Anne and Mark’s Art Party

Coming up the last two weekends this month is the big Anne and Mark’s Art Party. It takes place at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. The Gala Opening is Saturday, September 24, and gallery viewing days are September 25, 30, and October 1.

For more information, check out

New Work

Number 1 FanI premiered several pieces of new sculptural work at the American Craft Show in San Francisco last month. The first is “My Number 1 Fan”. It is salvaged black walnut with a turquoise epoxy filler in the cracks and voids. It is approximately 6 inches high, 9 inches long, and 1 1/2 inches deep.

The second is “My Biggest Fan”. It is also salvaged black walnut. It is 11 inches high, 16 inches long, and 5 inches deep at the base.

I carved both of these sculptural pieces using my mini-chainsaw rotary carving Biggest Fan1tools. The Arbortech carver is the more powerful and can cut through hard woods with ease. The Merlin 2 carving tool is primarily for softer woods, but I did use the sanding disks on these pieces.

I’ve spindle turned and carved candle sticks before, and they’ve sold quickly. This time I decided to do barley twist candlesticks. The barley twist is totally hand  carved with circular rasps after turning the shafts as spindles.


Again, these are black walnut. They are 15 inches tall, and the turned base is 5 1/2 inches inBarley Twist Candlesticks diameter. After carving the shaft, I hand carved the king and queen heads. Because these are salvaged woods, there are some voids. I again filled them with the turquoise epoxy.

The new sculptures have been well recieved, and I’ll have others on display at my Open Studios in October.

In Process

I have two major projects in process right now. The first is a new Mountain dulcimer. The dulcimer has always been one of my favorite stringed instruments to make. I love the tone and the simplicity of playing, which is the purpose of these old folk instruments. Everyone can play one quite easily.

New DulcimerI had carved the head several years ago, and put it aside while working on other new pieces and on antique instrument restorations. (More on that later.) The body is koa, and the trim, not yet on, will be purpleheart. The head and tailpiece are a light walnut. It is the same size as my others, 36 inches long, 6 inches wide, and 3 inches deep. I hope to have this finished by Open Studios.

I’ve made well over 100 dulcimers since I started making them in 1972. Including other stringed instruments I’ve made, the number tops 200.

The photo is from last week when I glued the top on.

Another stringed instrument that has done well is my Symphonies, small hurdy gurdies. I made my first hurdy gurdy, some 25 years ago, from a kit, so I could Hurdy Gurdy in processlearn how they work. Since then I’ve made two symphonies based on drawings in the 13th century Spanish illuminated manuscript called Cantigas des Santa Maria. Both sold.

Now I’m working on a replica of a Baroque-style hurdy gurdy, which is much larger than the small symphonies. This is a long-term project, because there is much to do to the mechanics and decorations as I put it together. More news on this later.

The photo shows the top and wheel being dry fitted to test the sizing. The head piece isn’t in place yet.

Restorations and Repairs

I recently finished restoring another Kumalae ukulele, my sixth, and another very fancy chord zither. I have two more Franz Schwarzer zithers scheduled through the end of this year, but the first won’t arrive until later this month or October.Zimmerman autoharp to repair

In the meantime, I decided to start restoring some of the many antique zithers I have in storage. The first is a Zimmermann autoharp, model 2 3/4, from around 1895. It has a small crack in the back, but the frame is solid and there are no failed glue joints. It drastically needs cleaning, and some new buttons on the chord bars. This should take a few weeks at the most.

Do you have an antique stringed instrument that’s very special to you? A family heirloom? A collection piece? I have openings in 2017 for you! To see the types of instruments I’ve worked on, check out my Repair Logs on my web site at

Well, that’s about it for now. The light rain has stopped, and the sun is trying to peek through the clouds. Time to get back into my studio!