Introduction: DIY Stick Dulcimer

So, I've always wanted to make a stick dulcimer.

It seemed like making one is impossible with the little tools I have, let alone something that looks and sounds good. In this Instructable, I will guide you through my challenges and roadblocks I faced along the way to make this instrument.

This project would require minimal tools, and also minimal skill. If you have common sense, you'll be able to go through this no problem. I based my plans on Micheal J. King's stick dulcimer designs, along with his anglo Saxon lyre. (check him out here)



You will need...

  • a hacksaw (or any other small hand-powered saw)
  • a jigsaw (or a handsaw if you have a lot of spare time)
  • sandpaper of different grits
  • drill/drill bit
  • scissors and pen
  • pocket knife
  • bamboo chopsticks
  • Plans


You will need...

  • 1/4" thick hobby board
  • base wood (basically anything big enough)
  • 3X guitar tuning machines
  • guitar strings (1st, 3rd, 4th)

Step 1: Before Building...

First, you will have to print the plans and the fretboard on US letter paper at 100%.

Get the plans. Then, tape as shown in the pictures above. You will have to bridge the gap with a pen. For the fretboard, cut where the line ends on the first page. Repeat.

The fretboard shown on this Instructable (the pictures) is wrong. Do not worry if your fretboard looks different. This is one of the many obstacles I would encounter through this instructable.

Now, buy the wood. I bought my top and back wood at a local home renovation store. If you could find 1/8" hobby board, I think it would work better, though you will need to brace the top. To find the correct size, just place the cut-out templates to approximate the size. The base wood was a piece from an old bed, and you will probably be able to use any wood. When buying the wood, look for quartersawn wood with the grain going up and down vertically.

Use a pen to mark out the outline of the template.

Step 2: Cut

Get out your jigsaw and cut! You will need to cut a bit oversized for reasons you will see later but cut flush with the bottom and top parts. This will make it a lot easier for you later in the process. While you do so, cut out the soundhole. I forgot to do so, and I had a hard time later on.

To cut the inside portion, mark it out and drill two holes for your jigsaw to start at. Jigsaw as close to the line as possible, remembering not to cut over the line. For the top part (the headstock), do the same process, but leave a bit more space on the left side and cut the right side a bit thinner.

If you have nowhere to cut, you could hold the workpiece and cut it above a garbage can to collect the sawdust. The sawdust may be used to make wood filler by mixing it with wood glue.

Step 3: Glue

Now, align everything so that the parts line up with each other. Then, glue. To hold all the parts, I used a makeshift clamp (a wood board with a rock on top) to hold it in place. Again, align the parts well! If you don't, you may end up with a hole in your instrument on the next step!

Step 4: Cut and Sand

After your glue has dried, cut on the lines you have drawn, trying not to go inside the line. Try not to leave marks on the surface, as you will need to sand this out. After cutting the outline, cut the neck profile. It should get thicker as it nears the body of the instrument. To cut the profile, you will need to cut three times. Refer to the pictures for more information.

Now, sand the body and fretboard with coarse-grit sandpaper. (remember, lower number=coarser) Round the corners to your taste, and sand out any blowout on the headstock.

Note: What I found as I was carving the neck (next step) is that you should cut everything in one pass with a scroll blade. There should be no sharp corners. Although this is purely aesthetical, it would bother you less in the finished instrument.

Step 5: Carve the Neck and Sand

Now, carve the neck. Try to make it even, and don't stop in the middle of carving, or there will be a large indent. Also, carve slowly to reduce the amount of times you get stuck. You might want to round off the ends of the neck. After you are happy with the feel of the neck, sand from lower grits up to the highest grit you have.

Sand the whole body as you did with the neck. I find it easier to sand if I press against the workpiece while sanding. It makes it take less time.

Step 6: Fretting

Now, take out your fretboard template and hacksaw... and your chopsticks. When marking where to cut, you will need to make some considerations: do you want a diatonic stick dulcimer or a chromatic one?

What is diatonic and chromatic? Well, there's no need to know what they are. All you need to know for this project is that diatonic instruments are easy to learn and play, but has a limited range of notes. Chromatic, on the other hand, is harder to learn and play but has a broader selection of notes to choose from. On a chromatic instrument, you could play almost anything you want. (For more information, check out here)

To make a...

Chromatic: Cut slots every line there is on the fretboard template.

Diatonic: Cut slots on lines 0, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12.

After you cut all the slots, use your pocketknife to slice your chopsticks into slivers thin enough to fit in the slots. repeat 12 or 7 times. Glue the slivers into place. Then sand away the slivers that stick out and level the frets (slivers) out.

Step 7: Drill Holes

You will have to drill 7 holes in total for this step.

First, I drilled the soundhole. You should've done that in an earlier step, but I didn't know to do that. Pick the drill bit that closely matches the size of the hole in the plan, then drill it. It doesn't have to be exact.

Next, drill the three holes on the headstock. The diameter of the hole should be the diameter of your tuning machines. You will have to step drill it, and o the first step, drill through completely. On the next step up, only drill the top (left).

Lastly, you will have to drill the three holes at the end of the instrument. Drill slightly above the dots in the template. These holes should be smaller than the ball end of a guitar string. It should be angled.

Step 8: Nut and Bridge

For the nut and bridge, I used leftover pieces of oak from the top and back. Cut the leftover pieces with a hacksaw and file to shape. File only the middle at a 45-degree angle to make the bridge look like mine. The nut is just a small piece of scrap oak. File (or sand) the nut so that it angles down towards the headstock. Then, make grooves for the strings to sit in.

Step 9: Installing Tuning Machines

To install the tuning machines, first, place the tuning machine in it's designated hole, and from the other side, screw the cap in. Repeat two times for the other tuners. Then, screw the tuners down.

To string it up, start by uncoiling the strings. Thread the string through the hole you have drilled in the bottom of the instrument, and up to the tuning machines. The thinnest string should be in the very right. Repeat for the remaining two strings. Place the bridge by first putting it halfway into the soundhole and pulling it back to its position.

Step 10: Finished!

Now, you can enjoy your wonderful creation.

Instrument Contest

Runner Up in the
Instrument Contest