Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Happy New Year!

Well, 2017 is over (whew), and a hopeful 2018 is just beginning. I’m finally on the tail end of a two-week-long bad cold, and finally able to get back in the studio.

It’s finally raining here in Santa Cruz after a totally dry December. We’re enjoying the patter of rain drops on our roof, and I’m sure our garden is enjoying it more.

About 2018. Last year I retired from active craft shows and art festivals. I did do Open Studios in October, and, if I’m accepted again this year, for the 18th time, I’ll do it once more before retiring from that too. After that I’ll participate in the occasional gallery exhibit, and I plan to keep my Etsy shop going, which has done quite well this year.

A lot of my work last year was spent on antique instrument restorations. However, I did get one more dulcimer completed in November. This is not one of my traditional dulcimers. Elect-DulcimerThis one is a solid body electric dulcimer made from a single piece of salvaged ash. The three-pole pickup is perfect for the string spacing, and when plugged into a small portable guitar amp, the dulcimer sounds wonderful.

Just before my cold laid me up, I started turning more dulcimer noter blanks. The following photo shows all the noters and several spoons ready for carving.

Noters and spoons

I have a couple of projects in process for our home. The main one is another redwood burl side table. I made one nearly two years ago that’s next to our sofa, so now I’m making another for the other side. I picked up both redwood burls at the same time about four years ago. They were given to me by someone I met through Open Studios.

There is a large void I need to seal with a piece of maple, then I’ll insert three walnut “butterflies” over that. Several of my recent furniture pieces have legs that undulate and flow. This one will too.

RW-side table2   RW-sidetable legs-rungs

Five or six years ago I was contacted by a fellow in Hollister who had a barn full of wood he wanted to give away. I still have quite a few pieces left, including this large black walnut burl. Coffee table slabIt had an odd half-sawn projection on the back that kept me from doing anything with it. I finally used a hand saw and had it nearly cut off, when I heard my saw hit something awfully hard. I broke part of the projection off and found a large rock embedded in the wood. Of course, my hand saw was ruined. It will need some severe sharpening to get it going again.

Once I finally pried the rock out, I was able to use another hand saw and finish cutting the projection off. I plan to make a coffee table out of the burl.

Other News

I got one new piece of equipment late last year: a Craftsman 10-inch bandsaw. I Craftsman 10in bandsawhad an old 12-inch Craftsman that finally broke down after 30 years of continuous use. I do have a large bandsaw in my garage shop that I use for resawing, but I needed a smaller one in my studio for general cutting, like for prepping turning blocks.

I did a lot of research on 10-inch bandsaws, and this one and a Rikon were rated high. Both the Craftsman and Rikon were manufactured identically, but the Craftsman was always less expensive.


This has been a big year for restorations. I’ve had one or two zithers or ukuleles on my workbench at a time. Currently, I have a wonderful circa 1890-1900 Zimmerman autoharp that’s almost done. It’s actually made by Zimmerman for the Phonoharp Company. It’s also an unusual 8-chord bar autoharp known as the Model 72 7/8.

Zimmerman autoharp 72-7-8The real Model 72, made around the same time this was manufactured had 12 chord bars. Oscar Schmidt still makes the Model 72 today.

My other restoration project just arrived last month. It’s a beautiful harp-style concert zither that’s heavily inlaid with wood, mother of pearl, and abalone. Concert zither

It has some failed glue joints and a badly warped top. I’ll have to remove the back so I can steam the top flat from the underside. As soon as I finish up the autoharp, I’ll concentrate fully on the concert zither.


New bikeFor my birthday, my wife got me a new bicycle.

My old one, which I’d had for 20 years or more, never really fit me well, so I didn’t ride it very much.

While visiting our favorite bike shop for some items my wife, who is an avid bicyclist, I started looking around at the new bikes. One thing led to another, and the bike shop pulled a bike out and set it up to fit me. I tried it out, and found I loved it. My wife got it for me. I’ve ridden this bike more in the few months I’ve had it than the last few years on my old bike. Fun!

That’s about it for now. Again, Happy New Year to everyone out there. Here’s hoping that for all of you 2018 will be productive, healthy, and full of joy.

Monday, September 25, 2017

It’s Autumn! Nearly Open Studios Time Again!

It’s a beautiful time of year in Santa Cruz. The fog has disappeared, it’s pleasant outside, and the sky is blue with a few puffy white clouds over the hills. Hopefully, it will stay that way for the first three weekends in October when the Open Studios Art Tour 2017 takes place. I am in North County, and I am artist #25. North County is the first Weekend, Artist Guide CoverOctober 7-8. The next weekend is South County (October 14-15), so I’ll be able to get out to see some of the fine arts and crafts in that area. I’ll again be Open the third weekend, October 21-22, for the All County art tour (aka Encore Weekend).

Be sure to check out the preview exhibit at the Santa Cruz Art League. The exhibit opens September 30, and the public reception is Sunday, October 1, from 3 to 6pm. Pick up the free Artist & Tour guide while you’re there so you can plan your trips while looking at the wonderful pieces (including mine) from over 200 talented artists.

There’s also a satellite exhibit at the R. Blitzer Gallery for the remote artists in the County. There’ll be a First Friday reception there on October 6th from 5 to 9pm.

So I hope to see you all here.

Other News

The Sculpture Is 2017 show at the Sierra Azul Nursery and Gardens in Watsonville, California, has one more month to go. I was pleased to see my birdhouses used in a promo piece for the show.

To recap: Sierra-Azul-Birdhouses-72Sierra Azul has a two acre sculpture garden where the nursery and Pajaro Valley Arts Council have put on a five-month exhibit of garden sculptures for the last 10 years. There’s every type of sculpture on exhibit: wood, metal, ceramic, glass. Some are kinetic, many are stationary.

My birdhouses are salvaged birch, poplar, and cherry, all urban forest cuttings. They are coated with a UV protective finish, so they can be placed outside. Other birdhouses I’ve made and carved have ended up inside homes as sculptural artwork.

The show will be ending the end of October. If you haven’t checked out this beautiful nursery and gardens yet, there’s over a month left.

New Work

12 x 12 zither1Finally! I finished some projects. It took some time, but I finally knuckled down and completed a few pieces.

The first is a two inch thick, perfectly square 12 inch by 12 inch zither. The 15 diatonically tuned steel strings ring out and sustain beautifully. A square zither might seem odd, but historically, it’s not. Way back in the 13th century, an image of one similar to mine is shown in the Spanish illuminated manuscript Cantigas de Santa Maria.

The front and back is black walnut that is some of the remainder of wood used on our new dining room table. This is wood milled many years ago (not sure how long ago), and stored in a barn in California’s Central Valley in Gustine. The slabs were so filthy, it was impossible to see what the wood looked like underneath. When resawn for the table, the walnut showed incredible flame streaks and grain. This zither shows some of the wood’s beauty.

The sides are sycamore laminated over the maple frame.

Dulcimer Hurdy GurdyOne project that I had been working on a little at a time is finally finished. This is my Dulcimer Hurdy Gurdy. The whole body is bookmatched cocobolo over a maple frame. The heads and tail end are also maple as is the wheel. The crank is black walnut.

Dulcimer Hurdy Gurdy HeadMany years ago, I purchased a set of geared violin pegs that I was going to use on a custom instrument that never came about. Dulcimer Hurdy Gurdy green manI decided to use these on this instrument. They seem to work quite well and hold tuning better than standard friction pegs.

One reason this project took so long to finish was all the carving I did on the heads and the green man tail piece. I’m pleased with how they came out.

Ten or more years ago I picked up a bunch of free wood out of a barn in Hollister, California. One of the pieces was a one inch thick slab cut across a black walnut trunk. From that I made a small table at coffee table height.

Walnut mini coffee tableThe slab did have a crack running part way through it, but I knew it would go no farther, since the wood was very dry. However, I did add two maple butterflies across the crack on the top and bottom. Most of the voids I filled with a turquoise epoxy resin. Walnut mini coffee table legs

The wavy legs are black walnut that is left over from the countertop I installed in our kitchen.

This would be a lovely coffee table for a small living room or apartment, or as a base for a sculpture.

Work in Process

One piece I’m working on is a secret. I hope to have it done by the end of October for a gallery show. Once in the show, I’ll explain what this experimental piece is. Stay tuned.

IMG_6699Another long-term project has been my Baroque Hurdy Gurdy. This has been one of my more complicated pieces, and I’ve worked on it a little at a time trying to get things right. I’m working off of blueprints (actually whiteprints) I purchased from the Guild of American Luthiers. (I’ve been a GAL member for over 40 years now!) The drawings are based on a museum piece, and the draftsman took a few liberties to “modernize” the instrument. I’ve been trying to “unmodernize” it back to it’s original Baroque style. I’m close, but it is taking time.

I did finally get the crank done. The wheel moves quite freely with no internal friction. I’m very pleased with that.

Restorations & Repairs

NotKamaka uke too long ago I finished restoring a lovely Kamaka Pineapple Ukulele. This interesting koa ukulele was made by the Kamaka family in the 1930s. Kamaka ukuleles are still being made by them. This is the only Hawaiian ukulele company from the early 20th century that is still in business. The “pineapple” shape does give this uke a lovely sound.

Phonoharp repairCurrently I’m restoring a Columbia Special Zither made by the Phonoharp Company in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I believe this one is from around 1890-95. What is unique about this chord zither is the label. It says “Pacific Zither Company, Home Office, San Francisco, Cal, Manufactured by the Phonoharp Co.”

The Phonoharp Company was actually in New Jersey. This Photoharp labelzither probably was sent from New Jersey unstrung, and the Pacific Zither Company added the label then strung it up.

This is the first time I’ve seen this particular label.

In the Shop

New Drill PressWhile in Sacramento visiting an old friend, he took me to a brand new Harbor Freight store. I’d purchased a couple of items from them online, but had never been to a store. Quite an experience. Prices are pretty low to begin with, but with coupons, they’re even lower. However, remember the old saying “you get what you pay for”? Well, quite a few items in the store are not for real professional crafts people. Some obviously wouldn’t hold up. But…

If you shop there wisely, there are good items there. I’ve been looking at this drill press for a while online, and while in Sacramento at my friend’s home, he had an older version of this someone gave him. I checked it out and decided to get it. Gee… all of $49 with a coupon.

Shortly after I got home, I set it up and tried it out. Definitely powerful enough for my garage shop. (I have a large old Craftsman floor drill press in my studio for serious drilling.) I’m pleased.

And Finally…

While my wife went on her group bicycle trip in Namibia, Africa, I took a short jaunt with my best friend to Yosemite. I usually stay at the Wawona Hotel, but it was totally booked up for the days we wanted to go. Instead, we rented a Yosemite Cabincabin in the community of Wawona. Many cabins are available through The Redwoods in Yosemite service. The one we got was right next to the North Fork of the Merced River. Real nice two bedroom cabin.

We took our bikes and rode the Meadow Loop trail, and around the Yosemite Valley area. Fun. One problem: when we got there, large fires were still burning up on Glacier Point Road (closed while we were there) and by Fish Camp, which had closed highway 41 into the south end of Yo4-wheeling itsemite. We drove into the valley on the way to Wawona, and couldn’t even see Half Dome. But,the first night we were there, we had thunderstorms with heavy rain. That actually cleared the air of all the smoke. When we returned to the valley, it was incredibly beautiful.

On the way back to Sacramento, we did some 4-wheeling with my new Jeep. Right across the street from the Wawona Hotel, in the middle of the golf course, is the Chowchilla Mountain Road. It runs 30-40 miles through the wilderness on an unmaintained dirt road that used to be the stage route to Yosemite in the olden days. Lots of ruts, rocks, and streams to ford. Lots of fun! It comes out on Highway 49 between Oakhurst and Mariposa.

Now I’m back and working hard on new pieces, restorations, and in and around the house. Got to get ready for Open Studios. Be sure to stop by and see me the first and third weekends in October.

Until next time…