Friday, November 4, 2011

Two Months Later…

It’s been a while since my last blog, and a lot has happened. First, there is only 9 days left for the Santa Cruz Woodworkers’ exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, and tonight (November 4th) is the last First Friday event for the show. Now I’m feverishly trying to figure out where I’m going to put everything when I bring it home on the 14th.

Even though I’m running out of space in my house for my artwork, I've created quite a few new pieces since my last blog in August.


I recently completed my fifth “Dolgeville” autoharp. It’s another Model 2 3/4, similar to the one I sold at the American Craft Council Show in San Francisco. This is the first instrument that I used the black walnut cut from South Dakota logs given to me a few years ago by one of my wife’s co-workers. It has a lovely flamed pattern on the bookmatched front and back. For a little change from my first Model 2 3/4, I carved faces on the key guides. Another lovely sounding instrument.

Autoharp 2 3-4 2  9-28-11 a 72dpiAutoharp 2 3-4 2-back detail 9-28-11 72dpiAutoharp 2 3-4 2-side detail 9-28-11 72 dpi

The second recently completed instrument is another black walnut hourglass Mountain dulcimer. This is “Molly Malone”, the Irish fishmonger selling “cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o”. The tuning pegs are hand-carved partially opening cockle shells. I think this one has incredible tone.

Molly Malone-Front1-72Molly Malone-head detail2-72Molly Malone-back detail3-72

Medieval Furniture

Continuing on my newer artistic path, I’ve finished several pieces since August. First is another white oak hand-carved medieval trestle stool, similar to the one I have in the Museum of Art & History Santa Cruz Woodworkers’ show. Second is a “cricket”, a small trestle stool used as a foot stool, made of cherry and purpleheart.

Trestle Stool2-3-4-8-6-11-72Cricket-shot4-8-6-11-72

And now for something completely different…

Always one who likes to try something new, my most recently completed piece is a white oak rush-seat stool with hand-carved faces on the tops of the four legs. Unlike the designs of my other stools that have a connection to historical sources (paintings, Victoria & Albert Museum, etc.), myRush Seat Stool4-72 rush-seat stool is completely original. It has a medieval look to it, and it’s really the rush weaving that might be considered historically based, since that style of seat has been around for centuries.

All parts, legs and rails, were hand turned by me on my Jet mini lathe. Before assembling it, I carved the medieval-style faces on the top corner of each leg. I had to learn how to weave the rush seat, so I did a lot of research before attempting it. Even after finishing the weave, I noticed errors on the last four or five runs and had to re-do it. It’s actually very comfortable to sit on.

And something else completely different…

Pictures. Pictures? Yes. For an upcoming show at the Santa Cruz Art League called “Small Wonders” (no pieces larger than 14” square), I created some 10” x 10” frames with some of my hand-carved faces attached to them. Some faces are wood, some are tagua nut.

3-wood heads in frame2-723-tagua heads in frame3-722-tagua heads in frame2-72

There are several more pieces on my workbenches at various stages of progress that I hope to have completed soon. Check back later this month.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

An Exciting, Exhausting August

Yes, it was. The month went fast, but that’s only because so much was going on. Where to start?

In the beginning, there was light. Well, one light anyway. On the First Friday Art Tour, August 5th, Ron showing chandelier-72the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History was wall to wall people who came to see Studio Made: The Santa Cruz Woodworkers, our group show (running through November 13). At noon, several of us woodworkers gave tours and talks on our work for a large, very attentive crowd of wood aficionados and other interested people. For the evening portion of First Friday, I talked to many who wanted to know more about my work. One of my newest pieces, the Medieval Chandelier, got quite a bit of attention.

The exhibit opening got a lot of attention. A very good review by Maureen Davidson (thank you) was published in the Santa Cruz Good Times paper the following week. You can read it HERE. Also, the Time Publishing Group, another local newspaper, announced my participation in the exhibition with a short article. Read that one HERE.

Anyway, after the excitement of First Friday, I had no time to relax. The following day, I feverishly ACC-SF-11 Corner Boothworked to finish up a couple of pieces I wanted to take to the next week’s San Francisco American Craft Council Show at Fort Mason. By Wednesday, August 10th, everything was finished and packed up for the show. Thursday was the drive to San Francisco and booth set up day. I opted for a corner booth this time, which proved to be much better at bringing in people to see and purchase my work. Several people who come to the show every year asked if this was my first year exhibiting, because they never saw me before. Ron with Chris AmundsonThis was actually my seventh year, but I always had a 10 x 10 booth squeezed in the middle of other booths, and many people would just walk by talking and/or focusing on other things. Corner booths from now on! They are easier to set up, easier to tear down, and make my work stand out better.

This is always a fun show. A lot of work for four days, but fun. I’m here with the American Craft Council’s new executive director, Chris Amundson. He’s a great guy who walked the show all three days and seemed to try to meet and talk with every single crafts person. I’m pleased to be associated with the ACC under the leadership of such a great guy.

No sooner did I get home and unload my Jeep, but I had to head back to the museum for a photo Dan Coyro/Sentinel
10 local woodworkers show their art in a gorgeous show at MAH.shoot and interview by Wallace Baine, the entertainment writer for the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper. He did a lead article on our woodworking group and museum show that appeared in the paper the following Thursday. I think this was the first time all 10 of the Santa Cruz Woodworkers were together at the same time. Click HERE to read the full article, and see some other photos of pieces in the show. Left to right in the photo: Jefferson Shallenberger, Ron Cook (me), Patrick Stafford, Roger Heitzman, Michael Singer, Om Anand, Matthew Werner, Ron Day, Joshua Salesin, and Gary Stevens.


Another antique instrument is on my workbench. My customer, who not only had me restore an 1850 Pennsylvania-German scheitholdt, but also commissioned me to build a custom dulcimer for Latker-dulcimer-case-accessories-72him, purchased through ebay a very unique “dulcimer” that was probably made in or around the small farm community of Worth, Missouri, around 1890-1900. The instrument was made by someone named Violet (or Violette), and has five strings, which is unusual for a dulcimer.  The number of strings, the layout of the melody strings over the frets, and the shorter scale length (several inches shorter than a “normal” dulcimer at 24 1/2 inches, make me believe this is actually an American-made Epinette, in the style of an Epinette des Vosges. Also, the maker had a French name, and might have made the instrument as he remembered from the Old Country.

In the last few days, I started removing the sides so I can get inside to repair cracks and solidify the underside of the fingerboard, which is worn through from being played so much. (According Removing sides-72to family history from the ebay seller, it was last played around 1936 or so.) It has a very thick stain, almost like paint, over the entire instrument. The grain barely showed through. Also, the thick stain might not be original to the instrument, but applied after what looks like a very primitive attempt to repair the instrument. The stain is rough, as if it was applied during a dust storm, but probably put on outside or in a dusty workshop. It also covers areas of glue squeeze-out that was not cleaned off. Every glue joint looks as if the glue was forced into cracks and separations at some point.

I believe that the maker would not have done this type of finish on an instrument of such sophisticated construction, but that another person did the “repairs” much later, perhaps in the 1920s. Once I took the sides off, I could see the instrument is all black walnut, which grows especially well on the deep, well-drained soils of north Missouri. The sides came off very easily, since they were attached with hide glue. All it took was a little water to soften the glue, and the sides literally popped off with a little prodding.

In Process…

There are several pieces in various stages of carving and construction that are hanging around Medieval harp-72my studio right now. The first is a reworking of an older harp. Actually, it’s my first large medieval-style harp that I made around 4 or 5 years ago. This was also the first I made with a “coopered” back, segments glued in a circular style similar to a wood barrel (like a wine barrel). Even though it was a beautiful sounding harp, I was never really happy with the way it turned out. So, I dismantled it, made a new peg head and post, and reworked the ends of the body. The new parts are ready to carve. I hope to have it done by the time of the Open Studios Art Tour.

More works in process-72There are a couple of other pieces I’m trying to finish for Open Studios. I’m trying to complete the carving on my third pair of medieval-style candle holders. My first pair, which I planned to save for the woodworking show at the Museum of Art & History, sold last year at the 2010 Open Studios. My second pair, I finished in time to put in the museum. I want another for this year’s Open Studios, just in case another person falls in love with them.

In the left side of the photo on the right are parts for my next Pennsylvania-German scheitholdt. The head is shaped and ready for carving. In the middle of the photo is the head for my next Mountain dulcimer, which is in the form ready for assembly. I need to finalize the carving.

So, as you can see, I have a lot of carving ahead of me.

And Now For Something Completely Different…

Earlier this year, I was contacted by a fellow in Hollister, California, who was giving away a ton of wood in his barn/workshop so he would have room to use his tools. Most of the wood had been given to him by an industrial arts instructor at Gavilan College, and the fellow finally decided to Nakashima-style table-72give it to someone to use for artwork. I drove to Hollister, finding a woodworking friend there already, and we sorted through stacks and barrels finding many treasures, and some bug-filled rejects. There was every type of hardwood from every continent in the world. I was able to pick up some beautiful cuts of black walnut burl, and a large 8 foot by 2 1/2 foot by 2 inch thick black walnut slab. I knew as soon as I got it that it would have to be a George Nakashima-style table top. Well, it’s happened! This picture is the unfinished piece in a corner of our bedroom. I still have to make S-shaped doors on the front, and put a finish on it, but it’s nearly done. I even put two Nakashima-style butterfly inserts over top cracks. Wildly different for me!

In the last couple of days, I’ve milled other Hollister black walnut burl pieces for instruments. I also milled some of the South Dakota walnut that was given to me several years ago. Last week I checked the moisture content, and it was just right to mill and use in new work – maybe an autoharp? More to come…

Yes, it’s been a busy month. In September I’ll be trying to complete a few things for Open Studios, so it shouldn’t be quite as crazy as July and August have been. But… who knows. It’s been a very foggy month, and there was no sun again today. September and October are supposed to be the sunniest, nicest months of the year here, so I’m looking forward to some warmth, and a few more barbeques before winter sets in.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Studio Made: Santa Cruz Woodworkers

It’s been three years in the making, but the exhibition is finally here. On July 29th, a special preview to the members and friends of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History was held in the Final SCW-MAH Poster-small-for webevening. The gallery was full to overflowing, and a good time was had by all.

And coming up this week, on the First Friday Art Walk, August 5th, the Santa Cruz Woodworkers will be on hand to answer questions and give gallery tours at the Museum, starting at noon. The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History First Friday Art Tour runs from 12 noon to 9 pm. Admission: Free.

The last few months have been incredibly busy for me, and it keeps on keepin’ on. In previous blogs I’ve kept you up to date on pieces I was working on for this exhibition. What I didn’t mention was that I had to make four of my own pedestals for some of my work, plus new hangers for some of the instruments I put on display.

In the middle of all this I had three restorations (two ukuleles, one guitar), and a fourth (dulcimer) showed up on my doorstep, which I’ll start on soon. (More on that remarkable 19th century dulcimer in a later post.) And… to prepare for our house being painted, I had to rebuild part of the roof of my studio (termite problem) and do a lot of cleanup around the house.

Now that the exhibition is up and running, you’d think I’d take some time off. But no-o-o. The San Francisco American Craft Council Show is a little over a week away, and I’m rapidly finishing up three new pieces for it: a medieval oak trestle stool (similar to the one I have at the Museum show), a medieval-style cricket (small, short foot stool), and another pair of candlesticks. By the way, this fantastic crafts show runs August 12-14 at Fort Mason, Festival Pavilion. I’m in booth 209.

And now for something completely different, here’s a series of photos taken at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History during the Member preview party:

Ron with MAH instruments-donphotoMAH preview at my end
Me with Rebec and Medieval Fiddle         Some of the crowd enjoying my work

Ron-box trestle table settingRon-chandelier
My Box Trestle Table and                             My new chandelier
Medieval Trestle Stool                                                             
Ron showing chess to PennyMAH award ceremony
Showing off my Medieval Chess Set              I got a gift award for all my web work
                                                                      and poster and postcard designs

Well, that’s it for now. Time to get back to making sawdust. (i.e., carving). Onward through the fog…

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Return of “El Guapo”

Nearly six years ago I restored a beautiful large Amezcua classical guitar that came from Paracho, the premier guitar building center of Mexico. Like my California home town of Santa Cruz, there seems to be a luthier on every block. And like my home town, many Paracho guitars can look and sound exceptionally beautiful, but some are exceptionally bad.

Brokehead1El Guapo, as my client calls her Amezcua guitar, is one of the really beautiful and well-made guitars. It came to me in 2006 with the head broken off (see picture), and it took quite a while to fix it. When I finished, it came out like new. As with all major repairs and restorations that I do, I photograph all the processes and put together logs that I give my customers when I receive final payment. To see the log for my 2006 repair of this Amezcua guitar, and photos of the finished product with its beautiful inlays, click the following link:

Re-broken head1-72Well, unfortunately, El Guapo had an accident recently. A fall cracked the head, right where I repaired it. Even though it’s a clean crack, I’ll still have to remove the head to fix it, which means the lamination and inlay will surely have to be redone. Like I did before, I’ll photograph the process and add an “addendum” to the 2006 repair log. Hopefully, this shouldn’t take too long, and I’ll be starting on it as soon as I finish up one other repair.

Hilo Tenor Uke-inspection-72And that other repair is an old baritone ukulele. It’s probably from the 1950’s, or even early 1960’s, evidenced by the “Hilo” brand sticker on the peg head. It might have been made in Japan, but I’m not sure since I couldn’t find any relevant information on it.  It is very thin koa and looks like it was played quite a bit. There are many scratches and a gouge on the tail end. One back brace is missing, and the bridge has been modified, probably to change string spacing. With a little TLC, it should be a lovely sounding instrument.

In the Studio

Meanwhile, work continues on the last major piece I’m making for my part of the Santa Cruz Woodworkers exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH), July 30 through November 13, 2011. I Bee on lighting flower1still have a couple of small pieces to finish, but they’ll take very little time to do. This large piece is my medieval-style chandelier. It’s all white oak, and I’ve carved the sides and also carved flowers, leaves, and a large bee for the bottom. The sides and bottom will have sandblasted-looking glass, and inside will be electric lighting made to look like candles. I just started applying the tung oil finish, and it should be done in another week or so. It’s been a lot of work, but kind of exciting doing something other than musical instruments for a change.

By the way, here’s the advertisement for our woodworking exhibit that will appear in the Summer issue of American Style Magazine:

Large MAH show Am Style ad 8-for web

As for other work, I need to finish carving the head for my next black walnut dulcimer. This one will be called Molly Malone. I also have parts cut out and ready to carve for another Pennsylvania German schietholdt, a symphony, and a double-sided harp psaltery, another instrument based on the Cantigas de Santa Maria illuminated manuscript. Little by little, everything will get done in the next three or four months.

And now for something completely different…

We’ve been thinking about removing our large tv from the living room so we can use the space for “regular” furniture. So the plan is to put the tv in our bedroom corner on a custom television Nakashima-style TV stand-glue upstand/cabinet. Some of the free wood I acquired in Hollister several months ago included a large, 8-foot-long slab of black walnut. It was a full 2-inches thick and up to 30 inches wide in sections, and included some bark (and remnants of wood-boring critters). When I first looked at that slab, I immediately thought of the work of George Nakashima. My tv stand design is based on those wonderful desks and tables designed and built by Nakashima. I’m taking my time on it, and it’s turning out pretty nice. Stay tuned.

Until next time, onward through the fog…-

Friday, April 15, 2011

Welcome to My Workshop: A Detour

Ah. A beautiful weekend. It was warm and sunny and perfect for gardening… and making sawdust. Actually, making wood shavings for this artist’s wife to soak and dye yarn for small weavings and knitting. She’s received quite a bit of natural yarn from her cousin who raises sheep, which got her thinking about how old natural dying processes were used to color the yarn. So far, she’s used flower petals, onion skins, tea, and now walnut wood shavings, which gave her yarn a lovely light brown color.

That was a very short detour. A little longer detour is the one I’ve been taking in my artwork. As I’ve mentioned several times before, the Santa Cruz Woodworkers, which I’m I member of, will be exhibiting at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, starting July 30th. I’ve finished all but one of the new pieces I’ll be displaying, so I’m kind of winding down from the 6-day-a-week grind I’ve maintained for so long. However, the winding down also kind of brought me down trying to overthink and work out the artistic direction I want to travel in the future. (More on that direction later.)

I’ve cut down on the number of craft shows and arts festivals this year to two, down from six a few years ago. Of course, the main reason for fewer shows is the problem with the economy. People stopped buying much art. Much of the jewelry and wearable art (mainly women’s clothing), continues to do well, but decorative art has not. Shows are expensive to do, so this year I’m only doing the local San Francisco American Craft Council Show at Fort Mason (August 12-14), and the very local (at home) Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour.

As you probably know by now, if you’ve followed my blog for a while, I’ve been a luthier, a builder of stringed instruments, since 1972. I’ve made more than 300 instruments, from autoharps to zithers (Ok, autoharps are zithers too, but I needed the A-to-Z reference), with occasional detours to small keyboard instruments (pianoforte, portative organ). Since we found out,nearly two years ago, about our woodworking show being scheduled at the museum, I decided to add to my medieval-style instruments, with medieval-style furniture. That’s the longer detour.

Box Trestle Table-72In past blogs, I’ve shown photos of my big medieval German box trestle table while I’ve been working on it. Well, it’s finally done!  (See photo!) I’m very pleased with the results. The carving is totally different from anything I’ve done before.  There are a few “faces” around, on the ends of the trestles and on the wooden padlock, but the entire box is relief carved in a floral pattern. Anyway, while researching this style of table, as well as benches and stools of that period, I got to thinking more and more about turning off of my luthier path and taking a detour to medieval furnishings.

Medieval-trestle-stool-tempThe small white oak trestle stool I completed last year for the museum show has been a big visual success, and I’ve been asked to make more, with not only oak, but walnut and maple, for future craft shows and possible inclusion in gallery and/or art catalog sales. To make layout and cutting of the four pieces that make up the stool, last week I created templates out of scrap 1/4” mahogany plywood. That way, each stool I make will be the same size and cut at the right 12° angle.

trestle stool2-in processThis week I started on a new oak stool. Using the templates, and setting my saws and drills at 12°, I was able to dry fit the stool in less than 8 hours of work. Of course the carving will take much longer, but I plan to have this completed for the August American Craft Council Show in San Francisco.

Last year I picked up a couple of books on medieval furniture. Most of the pieces described in the books are examples from museums and tourist castles in England. Some are simple, but elegant, stools and chests, and others are intricately carved beds, chairs, and cabinets. I’ve been studying several of them for future projects.

A Modern Detour

Back in February, I wrote about traveling to Hollister where I found a treasure trove of free wood. I filled up my Jeep and its lumber rack with a ton of walnut, maple, Nakashima-style-TV-standcherry, and several types of exotic woods. One grand piece of black walnut I got was 8 feet long, 2 to 3 feet wide, and a full 2 inches thick. With it I’m making a custom corner television and media stand for our bedroom. When I first laid eyes on this piece of wood, the first thing I thought about was making something in the George Nakashima style, using the natural shape of the wood in the design of the piece. (To see what I’m talking about, check out the late George Nakashima’s work, and new work carried on by his daughter at their website: One thing George Nakashima was known for was inserting dovetail “keys” in the wood over cracks for checks. I did the same thing on my tv cabinet.

The legs and shelves are made from the cut off ends of the piece I’m using for the top. They’ll all be attached by mortises and tenons.

New Tool

When I was using my old small 4” wide by 24” long jointer to plane down the surfaces of the black walnut legs for my Nakashima-style tv stand, the blade stopped turning after only two passes. Not only did it stopped turning, but I was getting an acrid New-Delta-Jointersmell coming from the motor. Well, after 20 years of fairly heavy use, it died. The motor seized up and the windings burned. This was an inexpensive jointer at the time, and the company went out of business less than 5 years after I bought it. In other words, I found no way to get a new motor for it. Instead, I searched around for a new jointer, small enough to fit my little shop, but robust enough to plane hard woods with ease. After reading reviews of the three I picked out, I decided on the Delta Shopmaster. It’s a 6” wide by 30” long jointer with a three-speed motor. (Slow for very narrow pieces of wood, faster for wider pieces.) As soon as it came, I made a roll-around stand for it so I can roll it out when I use it, roll it out of the way when done. I used it right away on the four black walnut tv legs, and it completed the task without a problem.

Meanwhile, In the Studio…

Oh yeah. I’m still a luthier. Right? Right.

Autoharp4 Model 2 3-4 Front 2-72A few weeks ago I finished my fourth autoharp. This one is based on the 1885 Zimmermann Autoharp, Model 2 3/4. It’s a five-bar autoharp that plays in either the key of C or key of F. I made this one out of scrap lacewood (Australian silky oak), maple, and black walnut trim. Autoharps have a sound like no other zither-style instrument, and the sweet sound of this one can make you think about simpler times and the music that told stories and inspired generations of folk singers (including me).

Also on the workbench is another black walnut dulcimer. I call this one “Sweet Betsey From Pike”. (That’s the way “Betsey” is spelled in the song.) The sides are already steam bent and in the assembly form waiting for me to finish carving “Betsey”. I’m currently on my detour on the medieval furniture path, but the paths do converge once in a while, so I hope to also have Betsey finished for the San Francisco American Craft Council Show.

Once again, I’ve gotten a little verbose… but a lot is happening, and a lot is going on. The days are getting longer, and a little warmer. I cleaned the BBQ, and already used it this last weekend. Yum.

On another note: A reminder that this summer I can take a few “apprentices” (one at at time) in intense two-week independent studies on the art, history, and construction of early stringed instruments. Students will make either a medieval lyre or psaltery (which they can keep) after researching and drawing plans for the instrument. Some power tool use, but most will be with hand tools. Cost is $400 for 40 hours of instruction and supervision. For information, contact me at, or call me at (831) 425-4933.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Welcome to My Workshop—March 2011

It used to be this time of year I would be well into show season, with the Baltimore American Craft Council Show in February and the Scottsdale Arts Festival in March. A few times, I’ve even spent time in the Baulines Craft Guild booth at the Contemporary Craft Market at San Francisco’s Fort Mason, sometimes the week before Scottsdale. More often it’s the same weekend as Scottsdale. Also, I’ve been cutting back on the number of shows I do each year, mainly due to the high costs and low returns (economic downturn).

Ron at Roy Helms CCM 2011This year,I’ll only do the San Francisco American Craft Council Show in August, and our local Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour in October. My main thrust now is in completing a couple of final new works for the upcoming Santa Cruz Woodworkers show at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. So, last week, no Scottsdale, but I spent a day showing off and talking about four of my newer instrument creations in the Baulines booth at the Contemporary Craft Market. This is a fun two day show, smaller then the big American Craft Council event, and with a few of the same craftspeople there that show at both. There is a different “vibe” at this show then any I’ve been in, and the arts and crafts range from “barely acceptable” to “exceptional”. Most of the artists I’ve never heard of or seen before in my show journeys.

On the (Crowded) Workbench

I have some pieces nearing completion, but I also have many pieces in various stages of work. Several are artistic “spec” pieces (hoping they sell some day), and some are for the Santa Cruz Woodworkers exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. I’m working on the last three pieces now for that exhibit. (By the way, the title for the show is “Studio Made: Santa Cruz Woodworkers” and will run from July 30 to November 13.)

Chandelier in processOne of my exhibit pieces is a wooden medieval-style chandelier. I just finished the rough carving of all four sides, and will be doing the final carving and sanding in the next few weeks before assembling it.




Box table-in process2Nearing completion is my century box trestle table. This is based on a German museum piece that’s from the 1500s. I’m currently applying a finish of tung oil. It will take a few days more to cure, then I can complete the project with some paste wax.





Meanwhile, on another section of my workbench, I’m finishing up my fourth Dolgeville-style autoharp. This one is based on the Zimmermann Autoharp Model 2 3/4, first made around 1880 in Philadelphia, then later in Dolgeville, New York, around 1885. The Zimmermann Autoharp Company Autoharp 4lasted only six years, and the styles and patents were picked up by the Oscar Schmidt Company, which still makes them today (in China). Oscar Schmidt continued to make the five-chord Model 2 3/4 up into the 1950s, and many ended up in elementary school music classes. (I just acquired one that was used at the Sacramento Elementary School District.) My new autoharp is a little unusual for me, because I laminated thin pieces of lacewood (Australian Silky Oak) over 1/8” mahogany plywood for the top and back. I usually make everything with solid wood, but the lacewood is very thin (under 1/16”) and needed the backing. I’ve just started putting the tung oil finish on, and the wood’s beautiful grain is really coming out.

Sweet Betsey in process 2And, on the workbench across from the autoharp, is my next walnut dulcimer, called “Sweet Betsey From Pike.” Last week I steam bent the sides, and they’re now in the assembly form awaiting the head and tail piece. The female head carving is 1/2 finished. This is another gracefully thin hourglass dulcimer I base on the J. Edward Thomas dulcimer I saw at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

There are, of course, several more instruments and furnishing pieces scattered around my workshop. Cut out and ready to start on is my second Pennsylvania German-style scheitholdt, this one made out of poplar. Started several months ago, but awaiting more time and workbench space, is another symphony, an 11th-12th century box-shaped hurdy gurdy. Also cut out and ready to start on is a unique two-sided psaltery, another of my Cantigas de Santa Maria instruments. Nearly done are two sets of walnut candle holders. The bases and stems are turned and polished, but the tops still need to be carved.

Anyway, as pieces get completed, others are waiting in the wings to take center stage on my workbench. At least, without so many shows to do this year, I’m getting a lot of work done in my studio. So…

Onward through the fog… and wind… and rain. (This is the first day of Spring???)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wood, Wood, and More Wood

After a month of gorgeous Spring-like weather, and watching the acacias (ah-choo) and plum trees bloom (nearly a month early), the rains returned today and will be with us all week as arctic storm after arctic storm are stacked up and heading to our Central California coast. Even though it has been a wet winter, officially California is still on drought alert and water restrictions will probably continue through the Summer. The rains are welcome.

The Wood Story

Two days ago, just before the clouds started arriving, I got a call from a fellow in Hollister who was getting rid of a lot of wood that had pretty much taken over his large workshop building. I expected just a bunch of scraps, but was pleasantly surprised to see large boards of many different types of woods lining walls and filling over a dozen plastic garbage bins. I arrived there probably ten minutes after one of my Santa Cruz Woodworkers buddies, and the two of us spent around two hours sorting New Woods2through the stash. The weather was warm, in the 80s, and we worked up a sweat hauling out material.

Anyway, I brought home several 6 and 7 foot long boards, actually cross section millings of parts of trees, and many, many 3 and 4 foot long pieces and a few shorts. I brought home some beautiful black and claro walnut, including a 7 foot long by nearly 2 foot wide section of a tree that would make a great “Nakashima" style desk, side table, or bench; a couple of long sections of yellow acacia; several pieces of teak; quite a bit of cocobolo from short pieces to 4 foot long 1 x 2s and 1 x 3s; and some mystery woods that I need to plane off a little to see what’s under the weathered, dusty surface. There are also several beautiful large burl cuts of walnut, some that looked like part of someone’s chair/bench making project. Quite a find.

Of course, the main problem with bringing home so much wood (my Jeep Cherokee was pretty full) was where to put it all. Yesterday I spent several hours rearranging my half of the garage to fit the wood on racks, in my wood bin, and along one wall so I’d still have room to work at my saws, jointer, and sanders. It worked. And, my wife can still park her Mini on her side of the garage. Now, what should I make out of that nice wood… (to be continued).

Restorations & Repairs

I just finished restoring a lovely antique concert zither for a fellow back in the Washington, D.C. area. It was made by Finished-H-ZitherFranz Schonfeld in Vienna around the end of the 19th century. All I was able to find out about Franz Schonfeld was a reference to a couple of German-language books listing him as an Austrian violin maker who worked from around 1890 to 1915. Schonfeld, or his shop, must have also made zithers, which were very popular in Austria, Hungary, and Germany at that time. I’ve read about other violin makers, mainly in Germany, who did the same thing. I also refinished/restored the case. I’ll be writing the repair log today and tomorrow and should have it posted on my web site next week.

Next on the bench is a large, more modern German-made chord zither. The label says it was made by the Rauner. I found two Rauner references: F. A. Rauner, East Berlin, whose main business was harmonicas and accordians, and Johan Rauner of Nuremberg, who was a violin and cello maker. F.A. Rauner’s company lasted until 1972, and Johan Rauner was working around the same time. I’m pretty sure Johan Rauner is the maker of this particular zither, since, as I mentioned about Schonfeld, violin makers are known to have also made zithers on the side. From the style of the label, this Rauner zither is probably from the 1960s or 1970s. I haven’t checked the inside for a date yet.

Also on the bench is a harpsichord lid refinishing job. A lady’s harpsichord just happened to be in the wrong place during a heavy rainstorm. It was under a skylight that began to leak, and the water put a large “white” area on the mahogany surface. I’ll be cleaning and refinishing it within the next week or so.

In The Studio

There’s a lot going on and a lot planned. I’ve milled and cut enough pieces to last me through the next six months. (No, I haven’t cut any of my “new” wood yet.) In the Wings-72This photo shows just a portion of works in progress and works waiting in the wings. In progress on my workbench, clockwise from the top, are two pairs of medieval-style candle holders, a symphony (early hurdy-gurdy), two walnut dulcimer heads and tailpieces awaiting more carving, and my second Pennsylvania German Scheitholdt (this one is poplar). On the far left is a stack of wood for a new Cantigas de Santa Maria project (more on that later), and in the center are some folk art spoons awaiting completion.

Other works in progress not in the photo include some pieces I’m carving and assembling for the upcoming Santa Cruz Woodworkers exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) starting July 30th. Preparations for the exhibit are coming along, and I’ll be writing more about it as the exhibition date gets closer. It will be an exciting gallery show!

Something else I’m working on is actually in my office, not in the workshop: I’m working on updating the design of my web site. I want to make it easier to navigate, with fewer pages and with a better user interface, and to make it much easier for me to update and maintain. I had several professional photos taken of my work from the last year, and need to show them off. I hope to have the new site up before the end of the month. (If I can find the time!)

That’s it for now. It’s late morning, it’s raining, and I’ve got to open the studio and start warming it up. Onward…

Friday, January 28, 2011

Steel, Glass, Wood, & Recognition

It’s not even February yet, and it feels like Spring. Sun is shining, days are pleasant, and even some of the plum trees in our alley are already blossoming. I haven’t had to turn on the heat in my studio for nearly three weeks. Global warming? Maybe, but it’s probably the old California La NiƱa weather pattern in effect again. Of course, that may also be why the eastern half of the country is having so much snow and freezing weather.

Recent Events

DPN-Winter-11-coverI have to toot my horn here. Yesterday, I got probably the biggest surprise of the last several years. One of my dulcimers, “The Lady With a Checkered Past”, is in the Winter, 2011, issue of Dulcimer Players News (scanned cover on the right), in a lovely article written by her owner and professional banjo and dulcimer player, Mary Z. Cox. Not only is the article interesting, but flattering. I feel honored she wrote about the dulcimer and complimented me on my work. Of course, the biggest surprise was when I opened the envelope the magazine was mailed in and saw “The Lady” on the cover! If your local book store doesn’t carry Dulcimer Players News, contact the DPN website to get an issue. It’s a wonderful magazine, and there’s always good articles on both Mountain and hammered dulcimers.

Baulines ShowA couple of weeks ago, I attended the artist reception at the Baulines Craft Guild Master Annual Exhibit at the Marin Community Foundation, 5 Hamilton Landing (2nd floor), Novato, California. The show runs to March 17th, and the Foundation offices are open Monday through Friday from 9 to 5. The reception was great fun, and very well attended, including a school group of young teens who seemed very interested in the crafts. There are around 250 craft pieces on display around the large building, which is a remodeled hanger that used to house planes when the area was the Hamilton Air Force Base. I have six instruments on display, and my Summer student has two. The works of other Baulines Craft Guild members include fiber art, ceramics, glass, metalwork, and,of course, woodwork, including pieces by legendary Gary Knox Bennett and TV host and instructor David Marks. See the show if you can. I think it’s pretty spectacular.

Chandelier in processIn my last post I mentioned I was getting ready to start a Cabrillo College extension course on Lighting and Warm Glass. Well, I did it. Even with the head and chest cold I was carrying around the first week, I was able to design and build a new chandelier for our dining room. For years my wife and I hated the cheap and ugly chandelier that hung over our dining room table but were never able to find a replacement we both liked. Now we have a new “old” chandelier we love. I did some research on medieval and renaissance lighting fixtures and found one that fit the bill. New Chandelier-final hangingHowever, it was all metal, and I hadn’t worked with metal (cutting and welding) for nearly 35 years. Also, the type of metal cutting and welding at the class is much different than what I used to do back then. Cutting was done using a plasma cutter, which, when used correctly  can make fairly intricate, fine, and decorative cuts (it took me a few days of practice). I was working on it right up to the last minutes before the “artist” reception the evening of the last day. I spent quite a bit of the last day adding special “rust” patination to the piece. It really makes it look medieval. The next two days after the class was over I spent wiring and installing the chandelier. With the dimmer on low, it looks like candle light shining through the sandblasted glass. (Yes, I also learned how to bend and sandblast glass.) It was an intense two weeks, but fun and rewarding.

My autoharp at SCALFinally, last week was the reception for the Santa Cruz Art League Members’ Show (A – K). I have one of my newest instruments on display there: The Dolgeville Autoharp, Model 1. It’s a reproduction of the original 3-chord 1885 Zimmermann autoharp. The Zimmermann Company started out in Philadelphia, and by 1890 had moved to Dolgeville, New York. It’s most famous autoharp, the Model 73, is still made (in China, unfortunately) by the Oscar Schmidt company, who has made it since the early 1900s.

On February 12th, the second half of the Members’ Show (L – Z) begins, with a reception on February 19th, 3 to 5 pm.

In the Workshop

Nearing completion (finally) is my Chapter House Portative Organ. I’m now rubbing out and polishing all the parts, and just finished putting tung oil on the pipe surfaces. This project has been going on for more than a year (close to two years now), and I’m pretty excited to be on the home stretch. Photos coming soon.

Box trestle table carvingsAnother long-running project (only 6 months or so), is a box trestle table. This is my design based on a German table from the 1600s. The legs and the top and bottom of the table are complete. I’m now carving the sides of the box in a style similar to the original. This WILL be done for the Santa Cruz Woodworkers Show at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH), which starts July 30th.

Wood Chandelier cutting


My newest project is another lighting fixture. This one is square, but made out of wood. It will have a similar design to the metal one I made at the Cabrillo College “Lighting and Warm Glass” extension class. The sides will be joined with box joints, and it will also have frosted (sandblasted) glass on the bottom and sides.


Franz Schonfeld zitherThere are, of course, several instruments in process and others waiting to be started, and I’m still working on fixing and restoring antique zithers. I just finished one, and I have one more to do in February. The completed one is a Viennese concert zither by Franz Schonfeld, from around 1880-1900. It has Brazilian Rosewood on the front and back, and what looks like an Indian rosewood on the sides. It’s a pretty instrument with a warm, full tone.

Well, it’s another sunny day, and it’s time for me to get back to work. Rain is forecast this weekend, and it’s supposed to get chilly again. I’ll go out and make hay (or rather sawdust) while the sun shines. Onward…