Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2014—A New (Dry) Year

For California, this “rainy season” has been the driest on record. Here in Santa Cruz, right next to the Monterey Bay (1/2 block from my studio), we’ve had barely an inch of rain in three months and temperatures have often been in the sunny 70s. Hopefully that will soon change. We need the water.

On the plus side, I’ve been able to do a lot of work in my studio, including applying finishes that dry in hours instead of days. (Wet weather slows drying time.) I’ve been able to complete new pieces and restorations in less time than normal during this Winter.


For the 10th year I’ve been juried in to the American Craft Council Show in San Francisco. The show will run this year August 8-10. Booth assignments aren’t available yet, but when they are you can check on the American Craft Council San Francisco web site.

New Work

3-legged chair-72It’s been a long time coming, but my second medieval-style 3-legged chair is almost done. Since January 1, I finished all the spindle turning, drilled all the angled holes, and glued the whole thing together. All I have left to do is weave the rush seat, which is usually a two-day job.

To recap, my 3-legged chair is based on one in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The original was English oak, which darkened with age and use so it looks more like black walnut then oak. Since I had quite a bit of salvaged black walnut, I decided to use that for this chair. Other then my head carvings on the front legs, this one looks almost identical to the original. The turnings and wood color are very similar.

Germanic rotes-72In my last blog I showed two new “mini” Saxon rotes (lyres). I decided last week to make a couple of “mini” Germanic rotes. Like the Saxon rotes, these Germanic ones are smaller versions of the full-sized lyres I often show at crafts shows and Open Studios. The small Saxon lyres have been popular on my Etsy shop, and when I finish the Germanic ones, I’ll put them on Etsy too.



New Tools


Back in December, my old Craftsman table saw stopped working. Bearings went out in the arbor and the saw blade started wobbling dangerously. Getting new parts was not only expensive, but would take quite a few hours to repair. So, I started doing some research on new saws and decided on a Laguna hybrid. This is like the larger cabinet saws, but built more for small shops. This new model is wired for 110, which is good since I don’t have 220 in my shop. It has a dust port on the side that I hook up to my portable dust collection system, and the motor is quiet and powerful. I’ve used it quite a bit already, and I have no complaints. It’s a well-made hybrid table saw. And… it was on sale!

Bandsaw-72I also have a Craftsman 12-inch band saw that I’ve been using for the last 20 years, resawing all the woods I’ve used in my instruments and furniture. Resaw capacity was a short 6 inches, so I wasn’t able to cut anything thicker. This saw was also getting a little old and cranky, and my resawing was taking much longer to accomplish. The motor kept straining too hard and sometimes would even stop in the middle of work—even with a new blade.

Well, again, Laguna was rated pretty high, and like the table saw, it was on sale too. I ordered it on January 2nd, but since it was on back order, I just got it last week. This is a new 14 inch model, also wired for 110, that has a 13 inch resaw capacity. And it came with a very good and tall resaw fence. I got a 3/4 inch, 3tpi (teeth per inch) Timberwolf blade for resawing, and it worked great with my first resawn pieces of wood. It cut through 8 inch wide cherry and mahogany like it was butter. And the motor is incredibly quiet! I’m very happy with it.


Kumalae-beforeThe work keeps coming. Since the first week in January, I’ve been working on two antique instruments. One I just finished is another Kumalae ukulele from around 1920. It is the same model as one I restored back in December, with the same type of fancy “rope” binding, and lovely figured koa wood.

Finished 3-72This one was definitely more of a challenge, because the neck had broken off from the body. It had the appearance that someone might have sat on it. On the body, where the neck broke off, the wood was cracked and torn and some pieces were missing. The top was warped and several glue joints around the body had failed, leaving warped openings.

But I love a challenge. I disassembled, repaired, reassembled, and refinished it in around 6 weeks. It now looks like nothing ever happened to it.

It’s now fully restored and playable.

chord-zither-72Also on my restoration workbench is a Schmidt and Menzenhauer Niagara Special model chord zither from around 1900-1910. Like many zithers I’ve restored, this one was also coming apart and the tail pin block was curling up from the string tension. It was pretty dirty, and the old strings and tuning pins were all rusty. (The photo is a before shot.)

I removed the back to be able to repair and strengthen all the internal bracing, and it’s now back together, clean, and I’m putting the finishing touches on it. I hope to string it up next week.

Do you have a unique stringed instrument, one that’s been in your family, or one you picked up somewhere, that needs a little TLC and needs to be repaired or restored, contact me for a quote. I specialize in antique zithers (concert and chord), ukuleles, dulcimers, and some guitars and other stringed instruments. My e-mail is ron@roncookstudios.com.


I will be teaching at Cabrillo again for the next Spring Arts program, April 6 and 13, 2014. The Spring Cabrillo College Extensions Catalog is now available. You can check it out at http://www.cabrillo.edu/services/extension/.

As of this writing, my class is full. However, there’s a possibility I may be teaching a week-long wood carving course this Summer. Stay tuned!

As I look out the window, I see a few clouds drifting my way. Starting tomorrow, it is supposed to rain for the next five days. Hopefully, we’ll get enough rain to put a little water in the reservoirs.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Happy Holidays!

It’s been a while since my last blog. The year is rapidly coming to an end, so I thought it was time for an update.

After an extended “Indian Summer”, Winter finally arrived. However, the rains haven’t arrived yet, but the temperature, even here right next to the Monterey Bay, has been in the 20s and 30s at night. Yes, no rain. So far, 2013 has been California’s driest year on record. But, with the heater going in my studio, I’ve kept very busy with all my projects and teaching.


Ron at Stephanie StudioSince November I’ve been exhibiting at the Tannery in Stephanie Schriver’s Gallery and Studio. I’ll be there until December 20th. The Tannery is a complex of studios, plus live/work apartments, in the former Salz Tannery complex just a short distance from downtown Santa Cruz. Many of the historic old buildings have been renovated and divided into large and small studio spaces, offices, and a restaurant, and another historic building will soon be a new performing arts center. Stephanie’s Gallery and Studio is #122 and located at the Tannery Arts Center, 1050 River Street, Santa Cruz, CA. 95060. Come on by.

Last October was the annual juried Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour. I was open one weekend this year, and it was successful for me. Art aficionados were out in force to visit me and the 250+ artists on the tour. For information on the recent Open Studios Art Tour, as well as other on other events, on arts education, and on grant information, go to the Arts Council Santa Cruz website.

At the Santa Cruz Art League a new show called “Small Wonders” will be opening December 14th and running until January 5th, 2014. Artwork on display is all 14 inches and smaller. Prices are usually smaller too. This is a great place to find an artistic craft piece, painting or photograph to give to that special someone this Christmas. The opening reception is on December 14th, 3-5pm. The Santa Cruz Art League is located 526 Broadway, Santa Cruz, CA 95060.

New Work

Mini Saxon Rotes 5 and 6The two “mini” Saxon Rotes (lyres) that I created early this year (mentioned in the last Blog post) were both recently sold through my Etsy shop. Last month, I created two more. Both are carved out of beautiful flamed maple. The top of one is a lovely figured salvaged black walnut, and the top of the other is an equally lovely piece of spalted maple. The hand-carved medallions, bridges, tailpieces, and tailpiece holders are maple. These are now available through my Etsy shop.

Since Open Studios I also completed two more “mini” items. I made one more mini hog-nose psaltery and a small trapezoidal psaltery. Both have 15 steel strings, tuned to a 2-octave C-major scale. The hog-nose psaltery’s top and back are nicely figured pieces of black walnut. The frame is maple. The trapezoidal psaltery’s top and back are salvaged flamed white oak. The frame is also maple. This white oak is some more resawn from the top of a broken drop-leaf table I was given a few years ago. Both of these psalteries are available through my Etsy shop.

Folding Stool-72dpiAround July I came across plans for a medieval-style folding chair. The design for this chair actually goes back to ancient Egypt. Folding chairs were easy to carry along for travels and on campaigns. My design is based on examples dating from the late medieval to early renaissance periods. As usual, I added some of my facial carvings on the arms as well as floral carvings on the legs and frame. This was a challenge to get all the pieces positioned right, but I’m happy with the results. It folds up quite nicely. The perfect accessory for a Renaissance Fair or SCA gathering.

Still in Process

3-legged chair in progress-72dpiI’m finally gluing up the black walnut medieval 3-legged chair I’ve been working on for over a year. I recently had to re-turn one of the back pieces, because the one I did earlier this year had too many faults in the wood. I was dissatisfied with it, so I did another. Today the main part of the chair frame is all glued up. Now I have to turn 10 more spindles for the arm rests and diagonal back pieces.

Just to give you an update, the 3-legged chair is based on one that’s housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Symphony 2-in progress-72dpiOnce more I’ve started working on my next Symphony. No, I’m not composing a new concert piece. A Symphony is a small hurdy gurdy that was used, primarily by European monks, back in the 12th and 13th centuries. I’ve mentioned this instrument before, but to recap, I started maybe two years ago, on this, my second symphony based on one in the illustrations in the 13th Century Cantigas de Santa Maria illuminated manuscript. I’ve actually done more work in the last week than I’ve done in the last year. (Distracted by too many commissions, restorations, and shows.) I’m determined to finish this by the end of January.


Schwarzers-2013_edited-1I’ve been extremely busy with my antique stringed instrument restoration business this year. Since July, I completed the restoration of not one, but two Franz Schwarzer zithers. One was an incredible 1889 harp-like concert zither, one of Schwarzer’s finest, with a lot of mother-of-pearl inlays and a fancy scrolled head, and the other was one of Schwarzer’s standard models, from 1908, also very beautiful with mother-of-pearl inlays around the sound hole.

On my workbench now are two very old ukuleles. The first is another Kumalae ukulele, Ukes-2013_edited-1one of the older ones and with the original wooden friction tuning pegs. I believe this one is from around 1920-25 or so. This is the third Kumalae I’ve worked on. The second one is a Cox Koxolele. Where most ukuleles are all koa and made like tiny guitars, the Koxolele has a koa top, but the body is two joined cocoanut halves. From my research, it seems to be from the 1930s. Pretty unique.

Do you have a unique stringed instrument, one that’s been in your family, or one you picked up somewhere, that needs a little TLC and needs to be repaired or restored, contact me for a quote. I specialize in antique zithers (concert and chord), ukuleles, and some guitars and other stringed instruments. My e-mail is ron@roncookstudios.com.



As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I taught a two day extension course on woodcarving at Cabrillo College for the Spring Arts program.Since then I taught another for the Fall Arts program. I was happy to find out that both classes filled up. For last Spring and Fall I taught both hand and power carving. NEWS FLASH! I will be teaching at Cabrillo again for the next Spring Arts program, April 6 and 13, 2014. When the Spring Cabrillo College Extensions Catalog becomes available, you can check it out at http://www.cabrillo.edu/services/extension/. You can sign up for my class online.

That’s about it for now. Have a very Happy Holiday Season!