Jennifer Langille / Staff Photo Mike Ziegler in his West Glover worksho
Glover resident Mike Ziegler’s wood shop, part of his garage, features one new mandolin he has already completed and another he’s working on thanks to some not-so-new but historic materials: wooden floorboards he’s re-using from the Capital City Grange hall.
The old floor, dating back to 1953, was replaced in October after nearly 60 years of service.
“As an instrument maker you’re always sort of on the lookout for beautiful wood or wood with history,” Ziegler said.
Ziegler, who had a small dentistry practice in South Burlington and retired in March, has attended dances at the Berlin-based grange hall for some 25 years with his wife.
Other woodworkers have re-used the wood to make earrings and spoons, and Ziegler has also made picture frames that gave to Janet Cathey of Randolph for medieval block prints.
This being Vermont, some of the old flooring was used for firewood, and some was made available for new flooring elsewhere.
Ziegler plans to auction off his 1920s Gibson-style mandolins to help support the Grange. A number of other items made from the original flooring will also be on sale at a benefit dance for the Grange slated for Jan. 27.
Details are available at www.capitalcitygrange.org.
The replacement costs of the new grange floor, less than $20,000, have already been covered, said Patty Giavara, chairwoman of the Friends of the Capital City Grange, a nonprofit group that secured a $5,000 Vermont State Employees Credit Union grant and a $10,000 state recreational facility grant The Friends have also raised about double that total in other ways.
Ziegler has been making guitars since about 2005. He’s currently working on a foldable banjo that he can bring on a planned trip to Mexico. He wanted to make his first guitar in order to save money, but readily admits ended up costing him much more.
The floorboards in the old dance hall were all second-grade maple, but Ziegler says that’s better than any of the first-grade maple made nowadays. When he helped tear up the floor, uncovering decades worth of accumulated dust, he noticed the bottoms of the boards were imprinted with the name of the Johnson-based company Parker & Stearns.
Ziegler relayed the story to a good friend of his, Hal Parker, who had previously spoken of his family’s history in the area.
Ziegler said maple typically can take away the “brightness” of the sound of an instrument, but the wood from the grange hall was so compressed that it’s much harder than most maple.
The floor was the buildings’s original, installed when the grange was first constructed. Contra dances are held three or four times each month, often filling the upper level of the building near to its capacity of 200
Jody Pettersen, who handles rentals for the grange, said the numbers show more than 150 people often attend.
That wear and tear on the floor has made a difference in the maple, Ziegler said.
“If you drop maple it’s kind of like cardboard,” Ziegler says. “But this stuff is — you drop a cylinder of it, and it has quite a kick to it.”
“I like to think people want mandolins to have what’s called a bark to it,” he says.
Ziegler was born and grew up in the San Francisco area, and in college played banjo in a bluegrass band to make some extra money.
Since then, he said he’s realized it’s much more rewarding for him to build musical instruments rather than make music. He said when you perform music, it’s fleeting, but building something brings something tangible.
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