Archive for the ‘Five String Fiddle build photo essay’ Category

5-String Commission Delivered

Please share with your friends!

Five String Fiddle Went Home

We (my wife and I) went to the home of the customers who had commissioned the Koa Five-string Fiddle. They received us graciously, and were thrilled with the new instrument.  We spent an hour or so visiting, playing the instrument, etc. and finally left to go back home.

The new owners graciously volunteered to lend me the 5-string Koa fiddle in April to show at the Marylhurst University Musical Instrument show. So, if you come to the show you can play the curly Koa Five-string fiddle.

Here are pictures my son took the night before we made delivery:

Front view

Front view

 

Bass side

Bass side

 

Treble side

Treble side

 

Back view

Back view

 

Bass side scroll

Bass side scroll

 

Treble side scroll

Treble side scroll

 

Back side scroll

Back side scroll

 

Front side scroll

Front side scroll

 

Bass side f-hole detail

Bass side f-hole detail

 

These photos were a lot better than the ones I took, so I thought some people might like to see them. If you want to see the fiddle in person, please come to the show. I hope to have a double bass done by that time, too, but we will see what I actually accomplish.

I will try to post progress reports on the bass project, too.

Thanks for looking.

If you found this post helpful, please share with your friends!

5 String Progress Report #17: Finally done!

Please share with your friends!

Five String Progress Report #17: Finally finished, Set-up and Playing!

Fair Warning:

I got cranking on the task again, and did not take photos until the job was done.

The photos are at the bottom of the post, so if you want to skip all the narrative, you can scroll to the bottom, and just look at the fiddle.

What I accomplished was to:

  • Dress and polish the fingerboard
  • Install, file to final shape (including string grooves) and polish the nut
  • Install the sound-post
  • Drill and finish the string-holes in the pegs
  • Fair in the ends of the nut with the sides of the upper end of the fingerboard
  • Polish the saddle and endpin
  • Polish the “handle” portion of the neck one last time, and
  • Touch up the varnish around the saddle and other “dings”
  • Rub about 2-3 drops of shellac into the neck: just enough to seal and polish it
  • Fit the bridge
  • Fit the tailpiece
  • Install the strings and chinrest
  • Play that thing!

Dressing the Fingerboard

When we last looked at the fiddle, the fingerboard had been permanently glued in place, but it had not been planed to the proper curvature, either logitudinally, or tranversely. I want the completed fingerboard to have just enough “scoop” longitudinally, that there is nearly a string’s width of clearance under the center of the largest string. This seems to help prevent buzzes, among other things, and helps with intonation, I think. The transverse curve is set at a 42 mm radius. I have a steel template I made of scraper stock that is flat on one side, and has the 42 mm curve on the other. I primarily use it to check the curve, but I can also use it to scrape, and sometimes I do so. All the board-dressing has to be done with the nut removed, obviously. It is smart to mask off the scroll with something, too– tape rags over it, maybe, to prevent hitting it with the plane.

I began with the small “hammer-handle” curved-sole plane, reducing the surface in the center of the board; then a very small, cheap stanley plane, razor-sharp and adjusted for a fine cut. I checked every few minutes to see how the curve was developing. When it began to look reasonable, I switched to a scraper, working diagonally across the board, to get rid of the plane marks. Then I switched to a coarse Swiss file, held flat on the board, and working up and down the board until all the “dull-spots” had begun to be shiny. I check the curve again when it is all smooth, then switch to abrasives, using a hard plastic block that looks like teflon, but is some sort of high-density plastic they use at work sometimes. This was a scrap, and it works well for a sanding block, though a hard wooden block would be fine. It is about 3″ long, 1-1/2″ wide, and 1″ thick.

I started with about 100 grit, then almost immediately switched to 400 grit, then to 600 and finally 1500 grit. With each change, I worked up and down the board until all the board had the same look. After the 1500-grit work the board was very shiny, and exactly the right curvature in both directions.

Installing the Nut

The nut ultimately has to support the upper ends of the strings, just a scootch above the surface of the fingerboard: about the thickness of a good business card is ideal. bear in mind that every “non-open” note is actually touching the fingerboard, so the closer you can get to the board without touching it, the better. This does require that the fingerboard be perfectly dressed, without even the slightest humps or hollows, otherwise it will buzz.

I had already shaped the nut so that it was about a millimeter taller than the end of the fingerboard, exactly the width between the end of the fingerboard and the beginning of the pegbox cavity, and curved to perfectly match the top of the fingerboard. Also, the top of the nut has to “roll off” into the pegbox smoothly, so that there is no sharp break in the curve as the strings go over the nut toward the pegs. We are trying to avoid any unnecessary stress risers in the strings.

I glued the nut in place using the amount of hot hide glue that covered the end of a toothpick. It doesn’t take much at all. Some people only glue the nut to the fingerboard end, not the neck. In some ways that makes sense to me, but I am still in the habit of gluing to both surfaces. Probably I ought to change that: just think about it–the pressure of the strings is holding the nut immovably in place– the only reason you need the glue at all is so that you don’t lose the nut when you are changing the  strings. (Ah, well…next time, maybe.)

Soundpost

While the glue on the nut was drying, I fit the soundpost. I want the completed soundpost to start out about one post width behind the treble foot on the bridge, and pretty much centered on that foot, laterally. In addition, I want it vertical: parallel with the vertical edges of the end and corner blocks. so I remove the end-pin, shove my bi-focals as close to the hole as possible, and, using a bright light source, I maneuver the soundpost into the position I want it. Too tight is better than too loose, as I can keep trimming until the fit is perfect. I can’t put wood back, though, so if I make it too short, the game is over and I have to begin again. (I have done that many times. This takes practice, believe it or not.) A perfectly fitted soundpost is airtight on both ends, just tight enough that it will not fall over when you change the strings, and in exactly the right spot. I will share how I adjust it, though there are undoubtedly as many opinions about that as there are luthiers, so I expect many will disagree. The adjustment has to come after the strings are tuned.

String-holes in the Pegs

By this time, the nut was dry enough I could handle it without fear of knocking it loose, so I could drill the string-holes in the tuning pegs. I used a 1/16″ bit, in an “egg-beater” style hand-cranked drill, to pierce the pegs.

Knowing that the pegs will work their way deeper, over time, as they are used, I have deliberately cut the pegs just a tad short, so that as they work deeper, they will not stick out the other side of the pegbox too far. With that in mind, I also place my string-holes slightly toward the fat end of the peg, inside the box, so that it will not eventually disappear into the other cheek of the pegbox.

I mark the locations with the tip of my small knife, and drill them out, avoiding going through into the pegbox back. What I did this time was to drill part way, and then remove the peg, and complete the hole with the peg held freehand. A lot of luthiers make a drilling jig, that emulates the pegbox, and holds the pegs firmly, and is much more accessible while offering no danger to the fiddle. (I keep telling myself I need to make one of those…one of these days I will get around to it.) After drilling the holes, I dress the ends of the holes with a round file, so they offer less stress to the strings where they pass through the holes.

String-grooves in the Nut

At this point I felt confident that the glue had set on the nut, so I carefully measured and scribed the string grooves in the nut. Then I filed each groove, using an appropriately sized file. As I said before, I use the little tip-cleaning files available in welding shops. You have to make sure you are actually getting the file-type cleaners…the new ones are just twisted wire.

I cut each groove down until it seems the right height above the surface of the board, but I know it will require some fine-tuning once the strings are actually installed. I extend each groove over the curve, and aiming the direction I want the strings to go. I slope the outside two strings inward a little to keep the strings from rubbing on the inside of the pegbox cheek.

Final Polishing

I also file and scrape both ends of the nut, to fair them into the sides of the upper end of the fingerboard, then polish the sides until the joint is very smooth. I polished the saddle and the end-pin, until the ebony glowed like jewelry. I realize it will get dull later, but for now it looks great.

I went ahead and polished the “handle” portion of the neck one last time, using 600-grit and then 1500-grit. Finally, I used a tiny artist’s paint brush to touch-up the varnish any where it had been scratched or in any way damaged during installation of the fitting, and, applying a dime-sized dot of shellac to a rag (about 2-3 drops), I rubbed it vigorously into the handle portion of the neck to seal it against sweaty hands and to polish it so it glows. (Nice-looking fiddle!)

Fitting the Bridge

I no longer use sandpaper in cutting a bridge. I have finally gotten good enough at spotting what needs to be trimmed that I can achieve full fit without resorting to abrasives or even chalk-fitting. This is a job for a sharp knife, and a “calibrated eyeball”.

I begin by setting the bridge blank (I used a Milo Stamm bridge blank this time) on the belly of the violin, centered between the inner nicks of the f-holes. I position the bridge with the branded side toward the tailpiece (away from the fingerboard).

I tip the bridge toward the tail-block just enough to make the “south side” of the bridge perpendicular to the belly (at that point). Then I usually slide  a sharp pencil along the base of the feet on the south side, to establish the curvature of the belly on the feet, so I know where to begin.  When I am done, I want the back side (tail-piece side–south side) of the bridge to be perpendicular to the belly, and the feet to have achieved an “air-tight” fit in their respective spots. When I have managed that starting point, I can begin carving away all “excess wood” on the upper part of the bridge.

I carve using a very sharp, fairly large knife, to get the feet fitted to the top. To complete the fit, I sometimes switch to a very sharp, slightly curved scraper. Once the feet fit perfectly, I hold the bridge firmly in place, with one hand, and slide a pencil along on the fingerboard with the other hand, with the pencil projecting out far enough to scribe the curve onto the bridge. That line will not be correct, but it gives me a place to start. I usually raise up the center of the curve about 3 mm; the bass side about 2.5 mm; and the treble side 1 mm. I fair in the curve across the top, so that it is similar to the fingerboard but more sharply curved.

I trim the top down to that new line, or just above it a millimeter or so, and establish the string positions, making small notches for each string, in exactly the right location, but knowing that the height will be wrong. I then set the height using the strings. I install the tailpiece and all the strings, spacing them out across the bridge, in their respective slots, and measure the height of each string. I want about 5 to 5.5 mm on the C string, about 5.5 to perhaps 6 at most, on the G string, the same on the D, , a litle lower on the A, and about 3 to 3.5 mm on the E string. I check, calculate about how much to take off on each string, if any, then usee a string jack to raise the strings so I can remove the bridge. The string jack will also maintain tension while I work on the bridge, so I can just slip it back in and check the height as I work.

When the string heights are right, I complete the trimming of the bridge, removing all excess wood. I open the “kidneys” and “heart” somewhat, lower the knees, thin the bridge from front to back, so that the upper edge is about 1 mm to 1.5 mm thick. I thin the feet so they are about 1 mm thick at the toes, and thin the ankles appropriately, as well. I don’t like the look of a fresh-cut bridge, so I rub that fresh-white bridge on the back of my head, where there is enough oily scalp under the hair, to take off the white, and leave a thin oily film that looks a little more subdued.

At that point I tune the violin, and check the height of the strings at the nut. I loosen one string at a time, and file the grooves until the strings come very close to the fingerboard, then re-tune.

Adjusting the Tailpiece

This time I got lucky, and arrived at the correct adjustment on the first attempt, but usually I have to take the strings back off, and adjust the tailpiece. What I am after is to get the ratio of the vibrating string length to the “afterlength” between the bridge and the tailpiece to exactly a 6:1 ratio. In this case, the vibrating string length was exactly 330 mm, and the afterlength (measured from the contact point the bridge to the contact point on the tailpiece) was exactly 55 mm. Couldn’t be better!

Installing the Chinrest

There are many types of chinrests, made of many different substances. I have made them from scratch, and have bought ebony, boxwood, Rosewood, and bakelite chinrests. People have different tastes and needs (Allergies are a problem for some people, using some substances…Cocobolo is a bad one for some people; Rosewood for others.) I used bakelite, this time, on the theory that it is light, and will not dampen the vibration of the instrument very much. Besides, I have never heard of anyone having an allergic reaction to bakelite. But fittings are pretty easy to make, and if someone wanted a curly maple chinrest, or whatever, I would certainly make it for them.

Play-in, and Soundpost adjustment

I can’t prove that “play-in” really happens. Most players feel that something changes in the instrument over the first month or so of playing…and that it happens faster if one plays aggressively, loudly, and frequently. So, initially, I play a lot of double-stops, re-tune frequently, and play a lot of scales and songs that are simple enough I can manage them. (I only play by ear, and nothing fancy; Hymns, waltzes, etc., and a few celtic pieces thrown in…)

I adjust the soundpost to try to get the best balance from string to string, and the best quality of sound I can coax out of the violin. I begin by tuning very carefully, then I play the G note on the C string, for instance, and alternate between the open G and the G note on the C-string, listening to the quality of sound, and the relative volume, brightness, etc.  If one is significantly weaker (say, the C-string is weaker  than the G), then I fudge the soundpost very slightly toward the weak-sounding string. Usually just a tiny move is sufficient. once I have adjusted so that the balance is fair across all five strings, if I want it brighter as a whole, I can move the soundpost slightly north, etc. I still want it close to vertical, and still have to have that “air-tight fit”.

Over the next week, I will play it a lot, and keep checking the sound, the balance, etc.

Results?

This seems to have about the strongest C-string of all the five-string fiddles I have made. I don’t know if it is due to the Koa wood, or the special arching I experimented with this time. I really hope it is the arching, as I probably can repeat that, but may never get to work with Koa again. The only way to find out is to make another fiddle of some other wood, and duplicate the arching.

The balance is good across all five strings,and quite strong…definitely on the bright side. I expect that the hard heavy Koa wood, in thin graduations, affected that aspect of the sound. The sound is clear, even in higher positions on the bass strings. My anticipation is that, as it plays-in, the sound will open up a good deal more, and mellow somewhat.

Gotta do another one….

Here are the photos:

Finished Front

Finished Front

 

Finished bass side

Finished bass side

 

Finished Treble side

Finished Treble side

 

Finished Back

Finished Back

 

Bass side scroll

Bass side scroll

 

Treble side scroll

Treble side scroll

 

Back of Scroll

Back of Scroll

 

Front of Scroll

Front of Scroll

 

Lower

Lower “fleur-de-lis”

 

Upper

Upper “Fleur-de-lis”

 

 

If you found this post helpful, please share with your friends!

5 String Report #16: Adding the Fittings

Please share with your friends!

Five String Report: Adding Fittings

End pin

I failed to take any photos of this, but– it is pretty simple: I centered a hole on the center joint between the lower ribs, and centered between the plates. I drilled it first to 1/8″, then to 7/32″, and finally reamed it with a 1:30 tapered reamer… the same one I use for tuning pegs. I shaved the endpin blank to the correct size and taper using my peg-shaper, while gripping the endpin with a special homemade gripper. I shaved the endpin until it would just barely fit into the hole, leaving a little clearance between the collar and the rib surface. (There is a photo of it later on…)

 

Fingerboard:

In the photo below you can see some of the tools I used to fit the ebony fittings to the violin. Looking at the fingerboard, you can see the three “dots” of glue that secured it to the neck while I was shaping both the neck and the fingerboard. When I re-install the fingerboard, there will be glue on the whole faying surface. The carved out portion will help to lighten the fingerboard, and apparently helps tone.

Fittings waiting to be shaped and installed

Fittings waiting to be shaped and installed.

The black mechanism is the peg shaver I use. The block next to it is the gripper I use for end-pins. The endpin blank is right next to the shaper. The small ebony block between the shaper and fingerboard is the nut blank. The larger ebony block midway along the fingerboard is the saddle blank. The fingerboard has the shape laid out that I intend to carve away, and the gouges and scrapers on the right are the tools with which I did it.

So, one of the first things I did was to make sure my tools were sharp, then I went all around the edges of that trough shape, carving away small chips of ebony to produce a shallow trench all around the edge. Then I carved as best I could with the gouges, until I decided it was time to get the planes into the fight. The little Ibex plane worked well, but the little wooden homemade plane actually worked better, because it has a deeper curve in the sole. It was made of a small section of a broken hammer handle, a piece of scraper blade, and a threaded steel plate to adjust tension and hold the blade in place.

Fingerboard ready for installation.

Fingerboard ready for installation. This part took me about an hour. Ebony is hard stuff.

 

Saddle

Next I worked on the saddle: I cut my saddles with radiused front edges, so as to avoid saddle cracks, which are extrmely common in violin-family instruments…partly, I am convinced, because virtually everyone makes them with square corners, which adds a huge stress-riser to that location in the spruce. To me, that is asking for a crack. I try to avoid suich things.

Saddle footprint with curved front corners.

Saddle footprint with curved front corners.

Some luthiers try to avoid cracks by leaving a small gap on the ends…that makes good sense, too, but why not eliminate the “notch” altogether? Just my opinion…. Either way, you have to remove the wood of the violin front plate to receive the ebony saddle. I use a thin knife to slice through the spruce, and then a flat chisel to loosen the piece being removed. I set aside the piece in case it turns out I made an error of some kind, and need to put some back. It is a whole lot easier to match grain from the piece you just removed, rather than from some random piece of spruce.

Once the saddle fits the mortise perfectly, leaving a small gap on each end (about the thickness of a business card), I glue the saddle in place, and forget about it. Here is a photo of the finished saddle. I didn’t take photos while I was carving. I get pretty wrapped up in what I am doing and forget to take pictures.

Saddle and endpin

Saddle and endpin

 

saddle and endpin

Another view of the saddle and endpin. (Pretty ribs, huh?) Varnish touch-up still has to happen.

 

Pegs

The next issue was the pegs. I wanted them done before I installed the fingerboard, simply because I wanted to be able to set the instrument aside so that the glue under the fingerboard could dry, and not feel that I was being prevented from working.

I had earlier drilled pilot holes in the pegbox, so that I would have guides to help keep the holes perpendicular to the centerline. So I reamed out those holes, all to approximately the same size, using the same reamer (1:30 taper) as I used for the endpin.

Then I sliced a shallow groove next to the collar, on each peg, all the way around, using a very fine razor-saw, to avoid breaking off the collar. (Doesn’t always work, but it seems to help.) I shaved the pegs until they fit the holes, at nearly the right depth, then “greased ’em up” with peg dope, and worked them in, so that the holes and pegs fit perfectly. Later I trimmed off the excess length of each peg on the far side of the pegbox, domed and polished the cut ends, so they would look nice, and put the pegs back in place.

Saddle and pegs installed.

Saddle and pegs installed.

 

Fingerboard Installation

Last, I installed the fingerboard…I had marked ahead of time the exact location where the nut and fingerboard were to meet; so now, all I have to do is put the fingerboard exactly where it was before (against that line) and glue it in place. I positioned it using a single spring clamp and aligned the upper end as closely as I could, then aligned the lower end as well, and added a large spring clamp in that location. Finally, I re-adjusted the upper and lower clamps until both ends were perfect.

Then I removed the lower clamp, and, using a thin palette knife, I ladled hot hide glue into the space between the neck and fingerboard, sliding the blade up the neck as far as it would comfortably go, and replaced that clamp so that it squeezed out hot hide glue all around. I cleaned up the excess quickly, and double checked to make sure that the position was again perfect.

Then I removed the upper clamp, and repeated the gluing routine, but this time, as I cleaned up, I kept adding more clamps, removing a previous one, and wiping carefully, until I had four clamps in place and no glue drops where they did not belong.

Fingerboard installed with hot hide glue and spring clamps.

Fingerboard installed with hot hide glue and spring clamps.

That was pretty much the end of the day. My hands were tired and hurting, and I had other things that needed to be done. Much later, I got back and removed the clamps:

Side view with fittings.

Side view with fittings.

 

Back view with fittings.

Back view with fittings.

The nut will have to wait until the fingerboard has been planed and scraped to exactly the right curvature, and polished smooth. We call that “dressing” the fingerboard.

After that it will be “set-up” time.

My next post will show the finished fiddle, strings and all.

Thanks for looking.

If you found this post helpful, please share with your friends!

5-string report #15: Varnishing

Please share with your friends!

Five String Progress Report #15: Varnishing

Mineral Ground

I did not take any photos of this process…it only consisted of rubbing a gypsum suspension into the wood, all over, then rubbing it off, as completely as possible. The goal was to fill the wood pores, so as to limit the penetration of varnish into the wood. Apparently the varnish tends to dampen vibrations, and deaden the violin sound just a little. I don’t know how much effect it really has, but I got the idea from Roger Hargrave, who said it made a difference in his work. If it is good enough for him, I am game to try it. My suspicion is that my ears are no longer good enough to hear the difference, due to a lifetime of work in heavy steel. But…I have had very good reviews on the few instruments on which I have used the ground, so…either it really helps, or I have just improved my building skills, lately.

Sealer

My sealer is pretty simple: it is raw pine pitch dissolved in a combination of pure spirits of gum turpentine and alcohol. It penetrates pretty deeply, but the alcohol and turpentine (in that order) evaporate rapidly, and leave the pine resin in the wood. I rub off as much as I can of whatever is on the surface, and let it dry in the sun. Sometimes I have hung it up to dry indoors, but it does make the house smell of turpentine. My wife has very little sense of smell, and I don’t mind the smell, but others might, so I try to limit that sort of thing.

front with sealer

Front with sealer

 

Edge with sealer

Edge with sealer: notice the contrast between front and side. I hope to correct that, somewhat, with varnish.

 

Back with sealer.

Back with sealer. Still somewhat dull, but just wait until the varnishing begins!

 

hanging up to dry inside

Hanging up to dry inside.

 

Back drying inside

Back drying inside: I decided it was warm enough outside, so I moved it to the yard, and propped it in an old lawn chair.

 

Sealer drying in the sun:

Sealer drying in the sun: it was interesting to see that, as the wood warmed up, the sealer began to ooze back out of the pores, making tiny dots all over.

 

Varnish

Once the violin was very warm, and quite dry to the touch, I rubbed it down with a paper towel, to remove any residue, then coated the back with a yellow varnish, and the belly with a brown varnish. I hope to even out the color somewhat and diminish the sharp contrast between the dark, curly Koa and the nearly white Sitka Spruce.

First coat of varnish on the front

First coat of varnish on the front: makes quite a difference, doesn’t it?

 

one coat of varnish

There’s the whole fiddle in the sun, with one coat of varnish.

 

And...the back!

And…the back! Look how the curly Koa is catching the fire from the sun.

 

Koa Flame

Pretty serious flame in this curly koa wood! You can see why it was tough to carve.

 

Anyway, that is about as far as I expect to go, today. I may get another coat or two of varnish on there, this evening, but it will not be an appreciable visual difference until it is done. I expect to use at least another six coats before calling it complete.

Thanks for looking.

If you found this post helpful, please share with your friends!

5 String Report #14: Final Varnish Preparation

Please share with your friends!

Final Varnish Preparation:

Advance warning:

An apology in advance: as I warned some time ago, I have a tendency to get out of “photography mode” and just pursue the tasks at hand, then suddenly realize that I was supposed to be doing “show and tell”. So, (sigh…) this time it will be more “tell” than “show.” But I do have some photographs of the tools involved.

Cutting the Purfling Channel

The first step in cutting the channel is to determine its boundaries. I usually use a compass to scribe a line 1.6 mm in from the raw edge of the plate, all the way around, including the corners and the ends, where the channel has to follow the purfling away from the edge. (This time I used a special tool, made by Jake Jelley, to do the same thing. I think it worked better.)

Tool for scribing the crest of the edge

Tool for scribing the crest of the edge. There is a collet-style pencil lead held in place, there.

That marks the outer edge of the channel, as well as locating the crest of the finished edge. I extend that line at the same distance from the purfling at the ends, so, at the ends I have two lines: one forms the crest of the edge, the other the edge of the channel. The dark Koa wood did not easily show the pencil mark, so I had to scribe firmly, and usually several strokes.

I then cut the channel with a sharp gouge, trying to keep it shallow, but following the scribed line all the way around. I used a larger gouge for the upper and lower bouts: a smaller one for the C-bouts.

Larger gouge for upper and lower bouts.

Larger gouge for upper and lower bout channels.

 

Smaller gouge for c-bout channel

Smaller gouge for c-bout channels

Scraping the channel and fairing the curves

Then I used scrapers to “fair in” the channel with the curve of the arching, and make sure there are no humps or hollows.

Large radius scraper

Large radius scraper (this scraper has four edges…each a different curve.)

 

Small radius scraper

Small radius scraper

 

Smaller Radius scraper

Smaller radius scraper

 

Smallest radius scraper.

Smallest radius scraper. This one has a long flat edge, a long curved edge, and both ends have a very small radius.

 

Flat scraper for final fairing-in of curves.

Flat scraper for final fairing-in of curves.

Outer edgework

Finally, I use a tiny plane and a file to shape the outer edge, curving smoothly from the scribed “crest” to the outer edge, where, hopefully, it will smoothly join the curve from the inner edge.

Planing the outer edge curve.

Planing the outer edge curve.

 

Filing the outer curves smooth.

Filing the outer curves smooth.

 

Final Neck and Scroll-Work

I also double-check the scroll and neck shape and contours. They must be scraped to perfection before I can move on. I use a template (copied from Henry Strobel’s books) to check the upper and lower shape and size of the “handle” portion of the neck, and then try for smooth transitions between the two.

Neck template

Neck template for upper and lower neck cross-sectional shapes.

 

Upper neck shape

Upper neck shape with template.

 

Lower neck shape with template

Lower neck shape with template

 

Scraping the Volute

The volute has to be scraped in both directions, otherwise the scraper will simply follow the grain and leave humps. (Ask me how I know…)

 

Scraping the transverse curve in the volute.

Scraping the transverse curve in the volute.

Final Varnish Preparation

At last I am ready for final varnish preparation. Everything has to be as perfect as I can get it, because every imperfection will definitely show up under the varnish. The tiniest blemish will show up like a neon sign once I begin the varnishing. Some people insist on only using scrapers, but at this point I feel fine about using very fine (400-grit) abrasive paper to remove the tiny blemishes.

ready to varnish

Pretty much ready to varnish. Looks pretty plain at this point, doesn’t it?

I removed the fingerboard for varnishing…it was only temporarily glued in place, originally, to aid in the neck setting procedure. While varnish is drying, I will shape the underside of the fingerboard, and lighten it, to enhance tone and projection.

After the varnishing is completed, I will glue the fingerboard permanently in place. I will also install the saddle, nut and pegs after varnishing. At that point, the violin will be essentially complete, and set-up is all that remains.

So: I’m sorry I missed the “in progress” photo opportunities, but, from here on out, it will be just progress reports in finishing. The mineral ground is next, and then the sealer.

Thanks for looking.

If you found this post helpful, please share with your friends!

5 String Progress Report #12: Purfling

Please share with your friends!

Five String Fiddle Back Plate Purfling

Layout

I use the same purfling marker to begin the layout of the back purfling as I did on the front purfling, except that, as I have a habit of using a “signature” fleur-de-lis on the upper and lower ends of my five-string fiddles, I have to stop short of the corners and ends, and sketch those areas in by hand. However, I had noticed that, since I have literally been sketching them in by hand, no two were alike, and they were pretty time consuming. So, today I made a small template out of tag-board…a junk-mail offer for some thing or another, that just happened to arrive at the time I needed such a thing. (Serendipitous, that….)

I used the purfling marker to lay out everything except the corners and ends, then used the template by poking through it with a needle, to lay out the ends, and sketched in the corners with a pencil and knife.

purfling layout

Purfling layout: Upper end and corners, with template and needle.

 

Purfling layout: Lower end

Purfling layout: Lower end and corners, with template, needle and knife.

And, now I am ready to cut all my purfling grooves, pick them out, and begin installing purfling.

Back Purfling layout.

All back purfling laid out and ready to cut.

Cutting the groove and picking out the waste wood.

This part is hard on the hands. Some very good luthiers, today, now do this part using a dremel tool, but I tried it a couple of times and had some rather nasty accidents. I reverted to cutting the grooves by hand. It is hard on my hands, but I end up doing better work. I just have to take breaks now and then.

Something I had to bear in mind on this fiddle, is that the Koa grain is so curly and wild that I could have no confidence that the purfling pick would not chip out a larger piece than I intended. So, I had to move carefully, and take small “bites.”

Also, inlaying the “purfling-weave” (the fleurs-de-lis) was risky, as the graduation was already complete, so I did not have lots of extra wood to work with. I had to make sure I did not cut too deeply. I worked carefully, and took my time, and got through the challenge without mishap. Aggravated my arthritis somewhat, but that is OK, too; I will just take a break for a day and do some other things.

The chimney needed to be cleaned, and commercial cleaners refuse to do it, as they say our roof is so steep and high, that it is too dangerous. (sigh…) So we bought a set of chimney brushes, and, every year, we do it ourselves. That took a few hours Saturday morning. We heat with wood, and it is important to clean that chimney every year.

Chimney cleaning!

Chimney cleaning!

 

view

Nice view from the roof, though!

But in the afternoon and evening, I went back and got back to work on the fiddle. Section by section I sliced along those marks and cut the grooves as deep as I thought I needed them, then began picking out the wood from between the cuts.

Upper purfling groove

Upper purfling groove, partly cleaned and nearly ready for the purfling strips.

 

Lower purfling groove.

Lower purfling groove. Ran out of energy, but this is all that was left to do. I’ll get it another day.

 

Back purfling groove, nearly complete.

Whole back, as it stands, now.

Anyway: I think that is about as far as I am going to get, this weekend. I will try to finish the purfling by Wednesday, get the heel and neck and scroll at the absolutely finished level, then start doing all the final edgework, and prepping for varnish.

Thanks for looking.

If you found this post helpful, please share with your friends!

5 String Progress Report #11; Back Plate Complete

Please share with your friends!

Five String Progress #11: Back Plate completed and installed.

Inside arching

The inside arching took a lot of time and energy, but it is just part of the job. Once it begins to get closer to completion it is a lot more encouraging, but initially, it is just a lot of work.

Beginning the inside arching of the back plate.

Beginning the inside arching of the back plate.

 

Bit by bit, however, the project begins to take shape:

Back inside arching in progress.

Back inside arching in progress. I made those wooden handles for my Ibex planes so I would not blister my fingers using the planes.

Graduation:

Here, you can see the curvature of the plate, but you can also see why I have to stop using the planes, relatively early, and revert to scrapers: the curly wood tears out badly under the plane.

I also have to measure the thickness over and over, using a graduation caliper, so as not to cut too deeply. This process is called “graduation”, I suppose, because the thicknesses have to gradually change from area to area. They are not entirely symmetrical, but there is a general plan and some practical limitations.

Inside graduations in progress.

Inside graduations in progress.

Scraping:

Now we work with scrapers:

Scrapers and back plate.

Scrapers cut very smoothly, and usually without any tear-out. You can make the scrapers any shape you want, but you have to keep them sharp.

 

Scraping the back plate.

Scraping can be hard on the hands: some people make handles for them. I haven’t done that yet. My thumbs get pretty tired, though.

Final inside preparation for gluing:

I almost forgot to take pictures! At this point the plate is complete, except for purfling. In the past, I have always installed the purfling before attaching the plates to the corpus,  but on this instrument I decided to try purfling after plate installation. I think I like it. I have better control of my edge over-hang in terms of both size and shape.

So: the inside edgework has been done, the label is installed, and the plate is ready to be glued in place.

Back plate ready to install.

Back plate ready to install.

Plate installation:

What I do, nowadays, is to carefully dry-fit the plate to the garland so that it is exactly the way I want it, clamping securely over all the blocks (about eight clamps in all). Then I remove a couple of clamps at a time and slip hot hide glue into the joint, wipe it down with a rag and hot water, and re-clamp that area, adding as many clamps as will fit. I work my way all the way around the plate, and never have to hurry, or suffer any fear that something will get out of alignment while I am working.

For the first four of five instruments I made, I would apply glue all the way around the garland then engage in a panicky race to get the plate aligned and all the clamps in place before the glue gelled. Not good. Usually, about that time, the phone would ring, too… (sigh…).

This way is very peaceful, by comparison, but I have learned to be less compulsive about answering the phone while gluing, too.

And here is the completed corpus, with the back plate glued in place and secured with spool clamps:

Back plate secured with hide glue and spool clamps.

Back plate secured with hide glue and spool clamps.

 

Once the glue is dry, I will be ready to begin purfling the back plate.

Thanks for looking.

If you found this post helpful, please share with your friends!

5-String Progress #10; arching the back plate

Please share with your friends!

Five String Progress #10: Arching

Completing the back plate arching

When I left off, last time, I was too tired to continue carving, so I took a break and completed other responsibilities for a few days. Saturday, I came back and spent some time carving and scraping:

Back arching done

Final outer carving complete–beginning scraping.

 

As you can see, the basic shape is complete. Scraping will be the method of moving wood from here on, on the outside… the inside is still a flat, rough plank. But I continued scraping for a while on the outside before beginning the inside.

Back plate with scrapers:

Back plate with scrapers: I used the “shmoo”-shaped scraper to clean around the inner bout edges and the others to establish the final shape of the outer curves.

 

Once the plate is essentially the exact shape I want it, (checking with low-angle lights, etc.) I move to finer scrapers– sharpened at 90 degrees, and used gently, flexing the blade to match the curvature of the plate.

Final scraping:

Final scraping: this is not to say that more scraping will not be done later, but that will be after the purfling is completed. This is about as far as I will go until then.

 

Beginning the inside arching and graduation

Now I can flip the plate over and begin carving out the inside of the back. Here is the cradle without the plate. Notice that the plywood cutout matches the shape of the plate fairly closely, while the thick pine board simply supports the plate while I am carving. The plywood is what holds it still, laterally. The spring clamps prevent the plate from flipping out of the cradle.

Working cradle for violins and five-string fiddles.

Working cradle for violins and five-string fiddles. The hollow shape allows the cradle to be used on both sides of the plate. The full-thickness cutout allows chips to drop through and not obstruct the work.

 

The back plate has already been marked for inside arching. I will have to monitor thickness constantly, but here it is, ready to carve:

Back plate ready for carving.

Back plate ready for carving. Notice the lines mapping out the general shape to be “excavated.”

 

And, the “fun” begins again. This Koa wood is by far the most difficult wood I have ever used on a back…but it has to be done, so, chip by gouged-out chip, here we go:

Beginning the inside arching.

Beginning the inside arching, using a gouge again.

 

I will post again when I am ready to install purfling.

Thanks for looking.

If you found this post helpful, please share with your friends!

5-String Progress #9: Back Plate

Please share with your friends!

Five String Fiddle Progress: Back Plate

Flattening the back of the garland

After the glue was completely dry, I removed all the clamps from the linings and cleaned up the interior: that is to say, I tapered the back linings, so that they faired smoothly into the ribs, and I shaved and scraped the blocks to their final shape.

Then I rubbed the back surface of the garland (rib and block structure) on a “sanding-board” to level the back of the garland, and to ensure that the back of the neck heel was completely level with the back of the garland. That way, I can fit the back plate absolutely flat against the garland, and trace the shape.

I didn’t take a picture of this procedure, this time. Here are some taken when I was building a cello:

Sanding board with cello garland

Sanding board with cello garland

 

Flattening a cello garland on a sanding board.

Flattening a cello garland on a sanding board.

I make pencil-marks on the edges of the linings, ribs and blocks, all around, and scrub until the marks disappear. When all the marks are gone, the garland is flat. It gets pretty vigorous and physical, but it is quite effective.

Here is the flattened garland, ready to trace the back plate:

Flattened garland.

Flattened garland. Notice that the neck heel is dead-flat level with the back of the garland.

As you can see, the blocks are quite smooth, now, and the linings taper gently into the ribs. After this point, there will be no more changes to the interior of the corpus, except as it directly affects the back plate.

Tracing the plate

I clamped the plate to the corpus, carefully centering the glue-seam of the back plate on the centerline of the neck and the end block.

Garland centered on plate

Garland centered on the back plate

 

 

Garland clamped to the plate.

Garland clamped to the plate.

Then I traced around the garland using a ball-point pen and a flat washer whose flange is exactly 2.5 mm wide, so that my line will be 3 mm from the ribs, all around. I watch carefully to make sure the washer stays flat on the plate…they have a tendency to flip up and follow the pen. I work along the perimeter, giving several strokes to every part, so that the line will be visible against the dark wood. Notice that this procedure makes “round” corners. I will modify them before cutting them out, so that they are the correct shape.

Tracing the shape of the plate.

Tracing the shape of the plate, using a washer and a pen. (Yep, that is a Gunderson pen!)

 

And, there is the plate, almost ready to be cut out:

Traced plate, ready for cutting out.

Traced plate, almost ready for cutting out.

One thing I do, that I forgot to photograph, is that I re-shape the corners. I use a straight-edge to connect a line from the end of the rounded corner where the pen circumscribed the corner of the rib to the center glue line at the location where the purfling will cross the far end of the plate. (Or, you can just use a 30/60/90 triangle to lay out a 30-degree angle off the center glue line on the end of each corner. But I do it with the straight-edge.) Then I continue the curves of the inner bouts to connect with the straight lines I just scribed in, and the corners are complete. I use a sharp scraper to remove any ink lines that are not part of the perimeter outline, and then I really am ready to cut out the plate.

Cutting out the plate

I use a band-saw to cut within a millimeter of the line, and then use an oscillating spindle sander to perfect the edge, right up to the lines. These and my drill press are pretty much the only power tools I use, though I have occasionally used an angle-grinder with a coarse sanding disc to remove rough excess wood, on larger instruments.

I run my fingers around the edges looking for lumps, and work those out as well, using a file as needed. Here is the completed plate blank:

Plate cut out and ready for arching.

Plate cut out and ready for arching.

At this point I also sketch in the interior graduation plan–just the outline of the inside boundaries of the plate, so that I know where I am going to carve. There is no reason it has to be done at this point, but it helps me remember which side was outside and which inside…and that really does matter, as the plates are vitually never exactly bilaterally symmetrical. If I forgot and arched the wrong side, the completed plate would never fit the garland (ask me how I know…).

Interior Graduation boundaries sketched on correct side.

Interior Graduation boundaries sketched on correct side.

You can see that there are numerous bark inclusions in the wood, which I will fill with matching wood…but I will wait until the arching is complete before I attempt to fill the holes, so that I do not plane away my plugs. It is unsusual to use wood with holes in it like this, but it is also unusual to use anything other than maple for a violin back. Five-string bluegrass fiddles are not burdened by the same 300+ years of tradition as violins, though, so exotic woods can be used. This wood has amazing flame and figure in it, and the plugged holes will not detract from the beauty of the wood.

Before I begin arching, I establish the edge-thickness all the way around, using a “wheel-style marking gauge“, set to 4 mm. It has a tiny sharp wheel that does the marking, and it makes very cleanly scribed lines.

Edge thickness marked

Edge thickness marked on correct edge. (Notice the bark inclusion on the other edge)

Beginning arching

I used a Japanese-style pull-saw to cut the approximate height of the plate thickness on each of the corners, so as to avoid unnecessary stress on the corners while carving the arching. It looks a little odd until the arching is complete, but it avoids the possibility of breaking off a corner. I use a large, sharp gouge to reduce the edges and begin the arching; then a toothed finger plane to continue the curves until I am very close to the desired shape. at that point I will switch to a smooth, curved-sole plane and bring the arching to nearly exactly the desired shape. From that point on, a variety of scrapers will be my only shaping tools, for fear of tearing out wood along the figuring .

Here are some photos of the progress. This is very hard, difficult wood to carve, and my hands are giving out, so this is about as far as I am going tonight:

Beginning arching 1

Beginning arching: notice the saw-cut corners, and how the one has been carved almost to a normal curve.

 

Arching back plate in cradle

Different viewing angle: The cradle is thick pine, with a plywood door-skin, to secure the plate. Inside, it is cut away, so that the plate can fit arched-side down. The plywood is right at 4mm thick, same as the finished plate.

 

Continuing arching back plate

Continuing arching. Still quite a way to go, but I am getting tired.

So…that is it for today. Pretty fancy wood, isn’t it? The customer bought it in Hawaii 33 years ago, or so, and has dragged it around all these years, until he decided that he wanted a five-string fiddle.  Probably the only opportunity I will ever have to make a fiddle out of curly Koa,  but it is really going to be a beautiful instrument.

My hands are getting too tired to work effectively. I will try to get more done later this week.

Thanks for looking.

If you found this post helpful, please share with your friends!