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Fixing A Broken Dulcimer

July 8, 2022

Hi Everybody!

While I was at Kentucky Music week, a lot of people brought me instruments for repair work. Plenty of Folkcraft® and FolkRoots® dulcimers, but lots of dulcimers from other makers, too. Strings, frets, minor repairs? Not a problem when I'm on the road, since I travel with a pretty complete tool kit. But some jobs take bigger shop tools - adding pickups, for example - or require a lacquer booth, and those instruments have to visit Woodburn for their more-intensive repairs.

This week's "In The Shop" shows the process I used a few years ago for the repair of a FolkRoots® dulcimer. I'm happy with the work. It is just as good as new, structurally, and 99 percent, ish, visually. I'll count it as a "win" for the customer.
The top was broken, around the sound hole (would y'all PLEASE quit picking up your dulcimers this way!). But luckily, the player kept the broken-off piece, and brought it to KMW for me. I could have made a new piece, but the "visual" part of the repair would have ended up at 90%, not 99%, since the wood grain wouldn't have matched perfectly.

broken piece from a soundhole of a dulcimerThe part that broke off.

tiny braces in a dulcimer sound hole
The tiny braces glued to the unbroken top.

broken sound hole piece glued into place
The broken-off part glued into place.

repaired dulcimer sound hole back in the lacquer area
Back in the lacquer area.

I took a piece of scrap wood, made a couple of tiny braces, and glued the braces to the hidden areas around the newly-enlarged hole. This gave me something to support the broken-off piece. I placed the braces where they wouldn't be visible on the finished repair.

Then I glued on the broken-off piece, sanded the entire area, then spent several days applying lacquer, with sanding in between each coat. You can see lots of blue tape, masking off the areas that didn't need to be touched up. Half-a-dozen light coats, then some steel wool and polishing compound, and the instrument is (nearly) good as new. There's a lighter-colored area where I did the most sanding, but as the wood and lacquer age, that'll go away entirely. Probably within the next year.

repaired dulcimer sound hole complete
The repaired instrument after the sanding & lacquering was completed.

If you look VERY closely, you can see the line where the top part broke, but you probably wouldn't notice it unless you were looking for it.

This is a typical repair for our shop - fussy and time consuming (because the lacquer needs plenty of time to cure), but not that complicated in the end.
I hope you enjoyed seeing the process of a repair like this!