How to Build a Wooden Mountain Dulcimer

Written by r. lynne
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The mountain dulcimer is as old as the Appalachian hills. This sweet-sounding traditional instrument can be as easy to build as a cardboard instrument or as challenging to build as a hand-carved instrument requiring over 120 construction hours. It's not impossible. Beginners and experienced woodworkers can produce a top-quality instrument with a little patience and a lot of work.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Mountain dulcimer plans with schematics
  • 2 pieces of black walnut (top)
  • 2 pieces of black walnut (bottom)
  • Saw
  • Carpenter’s plane
  • White glue
  • C-clamps
  • 2 pieces of black walnut (sides)
  • Bending iron
  • Clothespins
  • 1 piece of black walnut (end blocks)
  • Sandpaper
  • 4 pieces of black walnut (linings)
  • 1 piece of black walnut (back seam reinforcement)
  • 1 piece of black walnut (cross braces)
  • Pencil
  • Violin-maker’s clamps
  • 1 piece of black walnut (fret board)
  • Mallet
  • Chisel
  • Knife
  • Frets
  • 2 pieces of black walnut (peg box)
  • Drill
  • Dowel
  • Nut and bridge
  • Peg reamer
  • Pegs
  • Escutcheon pegs
  • Hammer
  • Strings
  • Wire cutters
  • Plastic oil
  • Soft cloth

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  1. 1

    Select the shape. The hourglass and teardrop are traditional shapes. Dulcimer plans with schematics are available for your chosen shape.

  2. 2

    Select the wood. You can use black walnut, cherry, mahogany or maple.

  3. 3

    Cut out the top and back. Lay the pieces side by side. True the edges using a carpenter’s plane. Apply glue to the edges and clamp. Allow to dry 24 hours.

  4. 4

    Cut out the sides and shape using a bending iron. Clamp the sides together with clothespins.

  5. 5

    Cut out the end blocks. Glue the tail and neck end blocks to the sides. Clamp and allow to dry. Sand smooth.

  6. 6

    Cut and bend the linings. Glue the linings to the sides. Clamp and allow to dry 24 hours.

  7. 7

    Glue the seam reinforcement strip to the back. Cut notches for the cross braces

  8. 8

    Draw a centerline down the back with a pencil. Position the side assembly and mark its outline with the pencil. Cut out the back. Glue on the cross braces. Glue the back to the sides and clamp with violin-maker’s clamps.

  9. 9

    Cut and hollow out the fret board using a mallet and chisel. Mark the positions of the strings and cut slots in the fret board with a knife. Install the frets. Allow to dry for 24 hours.

  10. 10

    Draw a centerline down the top with a pencil. Position the backside assemblage and mark its outline with a pencil. Cut out the sound holes.

  11. 11

    Mark the position of the fret board with a pencil. Glue and clamp the fret board to the top. Allow to dry. Cut air passages in the fret board.

  12. 12

    Construct the pegbox. Glue the pieces together. Drill pilot holes for the pegs. Glue and clamp the pegbox to the body. Allow it to dry. Insert a reinforcing dowel.

  13. 13

    Cut out the top and glue it to the side-back assemblage. Clamp with violin-maker’s clamps and allow to dry.

  14. 14

    Attach the nut and bridge to the fret board. Ream the pilot holes in the pegbox with a peg reamer. Insert the pegs. Attach escutcheon pins to the bridge.

  15. 15

    Attach the strings and adjust the position of the bridge. Do not glue the bridge.

  16. 16

    Scrape and sand the dulcimer.

  17. 17

    Apply two coats of finish with a soft cloth.

  18. 18

    String and tune the dulcimer.

Tips and warnings

  • Always use dulcimer plans to ensure a top-quality sweet-sounding instrument.

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