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My Passion for Woodworking Started Here

I grew up in a very musical family. Sunday afternoons were spent at my maternal grandfather's house listening to the family band play music. My granddad played the banjo and harmonica (at the same time, Bob Dylan style). My cousin Joan played the guitar and sang. My Uncle Buddy played the guitar, and my other uncle, "Jenkins" played the harmonica.

I inherited this love of music, which was often gospel, and this love of the instruments thru them. What I took away most from this exposure was the love of making the instruments.

I made my first banjo in 1975. Making musical instruments without any training is quite difficult to do. One common theme with acoustical string instruments, (guitars, banjos, mandolins, violins, dulcimers, etc) is that the sides of these instruments are curved. This is often one of the first road blocks preventing wanna-be luthiers from advancing in the craft, but it shouldn't be. How do I make a straight piece of wood become a circle - like the rim, or a s-curve like the side of a dulcimer?

At this juncture the future luthier must put his primary goal of building an instrument on the back burner and take up another project. How to bend wood! And, in doing so, will realize that building an instrument is a more complicated logistics challenge than it is a craftsman challenge.

I made my first banjo rim by soaking 1/8" strips of rock maple in water overnight and bending them on a 2" diameter steel pipe heated by a propane torch and putting them in a form. To create an 11" diameter rim. It was not pretty, but it played music.

My next rim was vastly improved using Eric Sloane's method outlined in his great book "Making Musical Instruments." This involved laminating thin strips of veneer in a form to make a banjo rim.

I currently steam bend my wood for banjo rims and dulcimer sides. It is a traditional method and my preferred method. It is relatively easy to do if you are willing to step back a little from your end goal to master this intermediate challenge. Stay tuned for a step by step instructional video on steam bending rims.

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