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A Side Bender Tries To Retire

 November 3, 2023
Good Morning, Y'all!
It's a chilly week here in Indiana, but that's okay. I've spent part of my time working on the insides of a side bender, trying to get it to heat up like it should.

a pair of side benders in the folkcraft workshop
Two side benders - the one on the left is for teardrop shapes, the one on the right for hourglass shapes.
Side bender? What's that? We use a shop-built side bender to take flat pieces of wood and bend them to the shape of a dulcimer. There are a variety of side benders in our shop, - two were made by Howard Rugg in 1972, two by David Marks in the 1980s (maybe 1990's for one of them), and four made by Steve Ash in the 2010s.

richard ash's beard gets dangerously close to heating elements
Richard's beard is dangerously close to the heating elements!
Well, after 50+ years of service, one of Howard's side benders (the one we use for FolkRoots teardrop-shaped dulcimers) decided it was time to retire. This tool uses the heating elements from two waffle irons that Howard purchased at the Salvation Army Surplus Store in Santa Cruz, California.

side bender with the lid propped open
50 years of tree sap encrusts the inside of the stainless (ha!) steel forms. I suppose this is seasoning, like you get with cast iron cookware...
Our problem? The top half wasn't heating at all. The bottom half was fine. I used an ohmmeter and determined that there was an open circuit on the top half. So even before taking the tool apart, the likely cause (a broken or disconnected wire) was pretty apparent. Have you ever noticed the coiled-up wires inside your toaster? Waffle irons (turned into side benders) have similar coils. 

close up of side bender heating elements
The inside of the side bender (top half). Don't touch the wires while it is plugged in, please!
After getting the cover off, finding the disconnected wire wasn't too hard. And it wasn't too long before we got things working again. We discovered that Howard had installed rheostats in both the upper and lower halves of the side bender, but 51 years of dust had totally obscured the hole for making adjustments. We've been using an external variac to achieve the same results. (Think "dimmer switch" to lower the amount of electricity flowing into the waffle iron elements - less electricity means less heat - thus we have a temperature control for our side benders...)

cheyenne resinstalling the top cover of the side bender
Cheyenne reinstalling the top cover.
So now it all works again. Hopefully the next repair won't happen until 2074, 51 years from now...

Thanks for reading - let me know if you want any shop-cooked waffles with your next dulcimer order!

Richard Ash, luthier-who-doesn't-particularly-like-waffles-but-loves-tools-made-from-waffle-iron-guts