Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…

Welcome to the first full day of summer. I’ve been working hard, trying to get old work done, new work started, and restorations out of the way. Now it’s time for some nice R & R. My wife is off to Tahoe with a bicycling friend, and I’m leaving tomorrow for Sacramento to visit an old friend. Yes, hot, hot, hot Sacramento. Today it’s supposed to get up to 108, but cool down to 101 tomorrow after I get there.

IMG_5599But… it will be a cool ride. I finally traded in my 20+ year old Jeep Cherokee for a brand new Jeep Wrangler. It’s a beautiful blue ride with all the amenities: air conditioning, USB connection for smart phones, Ipods, or thumb drives (which I have set up with tons of music), and satellite radio. It came with oversize tires, and the ride is smooth and zippy. Let’s see, where can I go 4-wheeling?


I got accepted once again to the San Francisco American Craft Council Show, but I decided this year to retire from active craft shows and arts festivals. I’d cut back on the number of shows I did a few years ago (from 6-7 a year to a couple), and now I’ll only be doing our local Open Studios Art Tour in October, and a gallery show whenever I can.

That said, yes, I did get accepted to be a part of the Open Studios Art Tour 2017. I’m artist #25 this time, and my studio will be open the first and third weekends in October. More on the Art Tour in the next Blog.

As for gallery shows, I’m currently in two!

For the first time, I was accepted to exhibit at the Sierra Azul Nursery and Gardens in Watsonville, California. 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, most 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 other gallery show is at the R. Blitzer Gallery here in Santa Cruz. The event is the Santa Cruz Art of Guitar Exhibition & Festival.

Ron and Charles at Guitar Show-72It started June 2nd, and runs to July 16th. I was invited by Rob Blitzer to exhibit in his office area along with fellow luthier Charles Sutton. We are an addition to the main show in the three rooms of the gallery. There are concerts, demonstrations, and workshops every weekend of the show. The exhibit features not only the cream of Santa Cruz County luthiers, but also an educational section with a workshop with woods, work in progress, and a video on guitar building.

Work in Process

There’s several things happening in both my studio and workshop.

Little by little, I’m getting down to the final stages of the Baroque hurdy gurdy. I finally set up the crank. I still need to Hurdy Gurdy1-72make one more drone bridge, layout for the string holes into the peg head, set the tailpiece, and test it before applying the tung oil varnish. It WILL be done by Open Studios in October. I looked at my timesheets and this instrument has been in the works for over six months. Seems like other things keep getting in the way, oh, like vacations, teaching (here and at Cabrillo), presentation at the Diablo Woodworkers, preparing for two gallery exhibits, writing, and a couple of restoration projects. It’s no wonder my “real” work gets pushed to the back burner once in a while.

I’ve also got another “hurdy gurdy" type of project going now. I’m making a dulcimer hurdy gurdy. New-dulcimer-gurdy-72The fingerboard is played just like a regular dulcimer, but instead of strumming the strings, you crank a wheel that rubs the strings like a violin bow. There are quite a few dulcimer players who use a violin bow. My dulcimer hurdy gurdy does the same but with a rosined wheel. It’s going to be a straight-sided instrument in the style of the Pennsylvania/Ohio German-style dulcimers. I’m using salvaged cocobolo for the top, back, and sides. Carving bench-72This wood was salvaged out of a barn in Hollister, where it had been once used and stored from Gavilan College. The frame, head, tailpiece, and wheel are maple.

Meanwhile, out in my studio, there are still quite a few noters, whistles, spoons, and other pieces just waiting for me to sit down for a couple of days and carve away. Most of them are rough carved and just need finishing up. One of these days…

Restorations & Repairs

I just finished restoring a nice Menzenhauer/Schmidt chord zither. It’s the model 2 1/2, with five chords and 21 melody strings. It was in pretty sad shape when it arrived. The glue joint at the pin block had failed and because the strings were still tight, the top pulled up and cracked in several places. Chord zither-72To repair the zither, I had to remove the top. This way I was able to close up and stabilize the cracks, and fix any internal problems with the frame and bracing.

This zither was heavily played at one time, obviously with finger picks, because the top was pitted and scratched at the playing area. The “note” decal, the long decal with all the notes and chords on it, was nearly 1/2 destroyed. I created a new one to replace it. I’m pleased how it came out, and very pleased how the restoration came out.

When I gave my presentation to the Diablo Woodworkers, I took a couple of my pieces for show and tell. My walnut medieval three-leg chair was one of them. I hadn’t noticed that one of the top rungs had broken until someone sat in it and it became obvious there was a problem. Three-leg-chair-break-72I do remember sitting in the chair at a desk while working on my laptop and hearing a creaking sound. I think the rung cracked then. When I got home, I immediately took a good look and found that the rung had a bad fault at a knot and the rung cracked diagonally.

It took several days, but I was able to fix and stabilize the rung by judicious gluing and clamping. I also turned two new upright spindles to help strengthen both side top rails. I was worried I would have to take all the rush seating off to repair the chair. Fortunately, I found a work-a-round.

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


One of my students has been steadily working on violin forms, steam bending and some assembly to prepare for a violin making class she’s taking in Los Angeles. Annette-violin form-72By now, she’s back from that class, and I’m anxious to see the results. I saw a little of her progress on her Facebook page.

Another student returned after a long hiatus, and is working on general woodworking skills on items for her home and family.

Cabrillo-carving-class-72Early in June I once again taught an elementary hand carving class at Cabrillo College. I had nearly a full class, and each of them learned quickly and completed several relief carvings using templates I supplied. I also supplied the basswood carving blocks and carving tools. Several of the students showed real talent. One would like to continue at my studio later this year.

And Finally…

At Tapa Bar-HonoluluMy wife and I took a wonderful, and well deserved, vacation in Hawaii a few months ago. We went to the Left Coast Crime Conference at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu. Hula-72We got to meet world-famous authors and attended four days of panel discussions and book signings. I even got to finish my own book while there! For relaxation, I hung out at the Tapa Bar and listened to really good bands playing everything from Hawaiian music to oldies and contemporary.

Today, my wife headed to Lake Tahoe with a friend to knit and ride their bicycles. Tomorrow, I’m heading to hot, hot, hot Sacramento to visit an old friend and do some wine tasting and listening to live music by a guy we know. When I get back to cool Santa Cruz, I’ll have to move some projects from the back burner to the front and finish them.

So, for now, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Onward…

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!