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…

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!