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5 String Progress Report #12: Purfling

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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.

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5 String Fiddle Progress Report #6: Front Plate Installation and Purfling

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Five String Fiddle Front Plate Installation

Back to Work!

It was fun working on the Sawmill, and just as we got that done our daughter came home (from Switzerland) for a visit, so, between that and all the overtime at work (teaching print-reading classes), it has been hard to get going again, but the fiddle has been patiently waiting on the dinig room table for me to get back to work.

Installing the Front Plate

I levelled the garland by scrubbing it back and forth on a sanding board, then aligned the plate on the garland and clamped it with spool clamps. After heating up the glue, I removed a few clamps at a time and inserted the glue with a thin pallete-knife, and re-applied the clamps. In this way, I can work my way around the perimeter, accurately and easily gluing the plate in place without fear that the glue will gel before I can get the plate clamped in place.

front plate with garland

Front plate glued in place

Ready to begin Purfling

The purfling is an inlay that is partially decorative, and to some degree a protection against cracks and splits– an edge reinforcement. There are some (usually very cheap) instruments that have the purfling simply painted on, so that it only looks good, but has no other function. They are usually seen as sub-standard, though, and I will not consider making an instrument that way…so, here is the beginning point: the purfling marker. Two blades set apart by the exact thickness of the purfling to be inlaid, and the distance from the edge set, as well.

Purfling marker

Purfling marker

Some people call this a purfling cutter, but it really does not workwell if you try to use it to cut the slot. I mark the slot with this tool and then cut the slot with a sharp, thin knife. In use, the purfling marker should be held exactly perpendicular to the plate, and tightly against the plate edge.

Purfling marker in use.

Purfling marker in use: see the double lines.

The purfling marker will not complete the corners, and they are fairly critical to the overall look, so I carefully sketch them in with a very sharp pencil.

Sketching the corners

Sketching the corners

Cutting the Purfling Slot

I usually use an X-acto knife to cut the slot, and pick the center out with one of several tools made for that purpose.

Purfling tools.

Purfling tools.

The first trip around the plate it is important to go lightly but very accurately, so that I am barely deepening the marks left by the purfling marker: after that I can cut more deeply.

Incising the Purfling Slot

Incising the Purfling Slot

Cleaning the Purfling Slot

After I am satisfied that the cuts are the correct depth all the way around, I carefully pick out the center of the slot and clean the slot, using a purfling pick. I have some that I made myself, but this one was given to me by Jake Jelley, and it works very well.

Purfling Pick in Use

Purfling Pick in Use

Ready to Install Purfling

Ready to Install Purfling

Installing the Purfling

Some people make their own purfling…maybe I will try it someday, but for now, I buy mine in three-ply strips. The strips are too brittle to bend, so I use a bending iron to make them flexible and to bend them to the correct curvature for the tight corners.

Purfling strips with prepared frot plate

Purfling strips with prepared front plate

 

I try to install the C-bout purfling first, then force the mitered ends of the upper and lower bout purfling against the mitered ends of the c-bout purfling. It takes practice to get good at this: I do not claim to have “arrived”. But it does seem to be getting easier. (I read the other day that someone asked Pablo Casals why, at 93 years of age, he was still practicing the cello for three hours a day. He said, “I think I am seeing some improvement!”) (Good one, Maestro!)

C-bout Purfling installed

C-bout Purfling installed dry

Then I install the rest of the purfling strips: I want the slots to fit snugly, but not so tight that I will struggle to install them once I apply the hide glue.

Purfling installed dry.

All Purfling installed dry. Spliced in some places, but after gluing the splices will be invisible.

Gluing and Trimming the Purfling

I lift each section up out of the slot, one at a time (tilting them, so as to try to leave the mitered ends in their places), and use the palette knife to slip thin hide glue into the slot, then press the purfling back into the slot, all the way down. I use a roller made for installing the rubber trim around window screens to force the purfling all the way home. The glue squeezes its way into the mitered corners, and secured them. The plastic roller is easy to clean afterward with hot water.

Once the purfling is glued in place, I mark a line around the margin of the plate, using a compass, with the pencil set to about 1.6mm (1/16″ or so), so that I have a guide to follow as I cut the “channel” (trimming the purfling below the surface into which it has been glued.) I want the wood surface and the purfling to make a smooth curve that begins near the edge of the plate, cycles down through the purfling, and sweeps back up to join the curve of the violin plate. I carve the channel with a gouge, then scrape to complete the curves. The faint pencil guide line can be barely seen in this photo.

Trimming the purfling and cutting the channel

Trimming the purfling and cutting the channel.

And there is the finished work, ready for the next step.

Completed Purfling.

All the purfling is trimmed, the channel is cut, and the scraping is complete.

The outer edgework will be completed after I install the neck. I used to wait and install the neck last, but I eventually decided that I prefer to install the neck and fingerboard while the front plate and rib garland are still on the mold, then trim the heel of the neck to be in plane with the back of the rib garland so that the back plate can be installed last. But that is a subject for another post….

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Five String Finished

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Varnished, Set-up and Ready to Play!

Here’s the most recent five-string fiddle, handmade in Oregon, varnished and ready to play.

The sound is balanced across all strings and has good volume. I guess I would say it still sounds a bit “new”, but that is to be expected with less than five minutes play time. The strings are Helicore, and were sold specifically for a five string fiddle. I have set them up with Dominants, and they sound good that way, too.

Just as I began to take photos (on my car again) the sun came out from behind a cloud, and the varnish glowed very nicely. (I love it when that happens.)

Varnished Five-string Fiddle in the Sun

Varnished Five-string Fiddle in the Sun

 

Varnished 5 string fiddle back

Varnished 5-String Fiddle Back

 

 5 string fiddle side view with the varnish in the Sun

And the side view with the varnish in the Sun

 

I am looking forward to hearing a good fiddler (old-time, country, bluegrass, celtic) put this one through its paces. Or a violist or a violinist…I’m not particular.

Thanks for looking.

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Bass Bow Progress

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Bass Bow Journey Continues

It has been a while since I felt that I could afford the time to work on the bow…I would go by and look at it, sometimes, but I had other things to do– cleaned the chimney, took apart the wood stove and re-cemented gaskets, etc. It’s funny–the commercial chimney sweeps all tell me that my chimney is too dangerous, and they will not touch it– (very steep roof– 12:12 pitch– and quite high).  So I have to do it myself every year. Ah, well…it gives me something to grin about…and leaves me sore for a few days every year. I’ll be 60 this month: the irony that I have to go clean the chimney that men half my age refuse to attempt is not lost on me.

Making a Stainless Steel Bow-tip Plate

Anyhow, I finally took apart one of the stainless utensils I had bought for a dollar at a resale shop, and hacksawed out the rough shape of the tip plate. Drilled holes for pins, cut out the trapezoidal window for the tip mortise, and bent the little tab on the end of the tip plate. Felt pretty good about it…bent it to fit the curve of the bow tip. Looked pretty nice.

stainless steel tip plate for a bass bow

First try at making a stainless steel tip plate for a bass bow.

Making the Ebony Liner for the Bow Tip

I had a terrible time bending ebony to fit the bow tip (probably a little too thick), but I managed to do it, and even got it fitted, glued, and trimmed to size:

Ebony lining with stainless tip plate, for Bass Bow.

Ebony lining with stainless tip plate, for Bass Bow.

Fitting the Tip Plate

Then, I had hoped to glue the tip plate in place, and even went to the auto-parts store and bought some black epoxy that is supposedly “specially formulated to glue all metals”. But when I got home and looked more carefully, trying to fit the tip plate to the ebony liner, it turns out that I had used up all my tolerances on the stainless and it was just a little too small to fit the bow correctly. (Rats!) That left me two choices:

  1. Modify the bow to fit the stainless tip plate, (which would be dumb) or
  2. Go make another tip plate and be more careful this time. (sigh…)

So I will do that later. (This is not a new thing for me– I have a long history of trying to make something a perfect fit, and finding out that I went just a bit too far…thus proving the wisdom of the adage, “measure twice, cut once.”)

Gold Star Inlays for the African Blackwood Frog

I decided to work on inlaying the little (10 mm) gold stars I had bought from Andy DePaule. I laid out the locations as accurately as I could, then lightly glued the stars in place with a tiny dot of superglue. When the glue was hard, I used an X-acto knife to scribe around the stars, cutting as accurately as I could, into the African Blackwood  of the frog. Then, using a small flat gouge, I popped the mother of pearl stars back off, and began to carve out the cavities for the inlays.

Inlay in progress

Inlay in progress

I cut around the perimeter as deeply as I could with a tiny chisel, then scooped out the excess wood with an even tinier chisel, and finally used the tip of the X-acto blade to clean out the sharp corners. When (many attempts later) the star finally dropped into place , I put gel-style superglue under the shell, and pressed it into place. One has to be gentle with the shell. It will not stand much pushing around before it snaps–it is quite brittle. So one has to simply try and try again until the piece fits as deeply as if needed, with hardly any pressure.

As soon as the superglue gel hardened I added some ebony dust to the very small grooves around the stars where I did not get a perfect fit, then dropped a drip of water-thin superglue into the area, and sanded it flat.

Finished inlay of Gold star on Bass Bow Frog

Finished inlay of Gold star on Bass Bow Frog

It is interesting to see how the different light reflects differently. Those gold stars can just look pale, or they can shine like real gold, in the right light. Here’s sort of an end-view of the frog:

End view of unfinished Bass Bow Frog.

End view of unfinished Bass Bow Frog.

So– that’s the progress report: I will install the second star, make a new tip plate, and complete the frog and button, then I can hair the bow and see what I have got. Here’s the pile as it stands:

A work in Progress.

A work in Progress.

I will post more photos when I get a little further along.

Thanks for looking.

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Five String Fiddle (slowly) Handmade in Oregon

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Five String Fiddle Progress

Life is what happens while you are making other plans, they tell me. This season has been loaded with distractions. I worked a lot of late hours at Gunderson, Inc. where I was teaching classes on Welding Supervision.

Two young fellows were coming to the house a couple of times per week to work on instruments they were building. One was working from a kit, but had zero experience with tools, so it required a great deal of personal attention; the other built from scratch, and is nearly finished with a very nice 15-5/8″ viola, a fairly faithful copy of the 1580 Gasparo da Salo viola. (Funny, when those young fellows are here, I don’t get a thing done on my own work.) I did begin three 5-string fiddles, months ago, but have only made measurable progress on one; the Spalted Maple 5 string fiddle.

I took two weeks vacation between Christmas and New Years, but ended up being sick nearly the whole time. Besides, my daughter was home from school for that two weeks, so I had reason to be distracted. 🙂 I did get a couple of work days in, but it has been a struggle.

Finally, I have several repair jobs going, each of which really needs to be done, so, to make a long story slightly shorter, things haven’t turned out as planned.

Double Purfling Complete, Including Purfling Weave on Back

The maple for the one-piece back is some Oregon Big Leaf Maple that was given to me by a local landowner and forester a few years ago. This is the third instrument I have made from that tree. It is a relatively soft maple, and has had a very nice tone, so far, in my experience. I have made one five string fiddle from it, so far, and one cello.

The Spruce is Sitka– a one-piece sitka front plate–  only the second time I have ever seen one, and it is some of the toughest spruce I have ever worked with, which I think will make a good, thin, top plate for the instrument, as I have made one instrument before with very similar spruce, and it turned out a winner, as a bluegrass, celtic and country fiddle. But it was not fun cutting the double purfling by hand, as every “winter grain” was so hard it would catch the knife blade and try to turn it.   However, here is the progress so far:

Progress on 5 String Fiddle

Progress on Five String Fiddle

Today I will make the final corrections on the front and back arching and cut in the f-holes (I hope), then begin graduating the front plate. Hopefully, by next week, I can have the corpus nearly completed. Maybe somewhere in there, I can get a good run at the other two fiddles, as well. I really need all three completed by the time of the show in April. There will be about 500 people per day, coming through that show, and some of them will be fiddlers. 🙂

We will see; I am feeling somewhat less than optimistic, however, after the experiences of the last three months.

Thanks for looking.

Chet

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Beginning Three New Five-string Fiddles

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Three 5 String Fiddles On the Way

Different Molds

I decided to make two new molds, so that I could have more than one handmade five-string fiddle in the works at any given time. The new molds are made from the same half-model template, so they are very similar in character, but I did notice that somehow my original mold had been a little narrower in the center bouts than I had intended (don’t know how it happened), so the new ones are wider there, which may make the sound even more deep and clear. The instruments from the first mold have all been very good, so I am hoping the ones off the new molds are even better.

Different Materials

The original Oliver 5-string mold has the ribs and linings in place, and the chosen material for ribs, back and neck is spalted maple. This is an unusual choice, from a classical perspective, but a five-string fiddle is an unusual instrument, and I think it will prove a good choice. I really like the looks, so far. The second and third Oliver Molds (essentially identical, otherwise) have higly figured Oregon Big-leaf maple and Oregon Myrtle, respectively, for the backs and ribs. The Myrtle is a two-piece back, and the neck on the Myrtle fiddle is Big leaf maple; otherwise all the fiddles have matching ribs, backs and necks. The other two are each a one-piece back, also.

I am planning to use Port Orford Cedar for the two-piece front plate on the Myrtlewood  fiddle. This will be the first time I have used anything other than spruce for a violin top, but I have been told it is exceptionally good for other types of instruments, and a friend gave it to me to try in a fiddle. I plan to use Sitka Spruce for the on-piece top of the curly big-leaf maple fiddle, as well as for the spalted maple fiddle. I am hoping to experiment with front plates made of Alaskan Yellow Cedar sometime soon, too.

Different fittings

Depending on the way they look when completed, I may vary my fittings a little, too…haven’t decided yet. I tend to like simple fittings, but I have used fancier fittings, once, and they did look nice– I am just not sure they belong on a bluegrass five string fiddle. Perhaps I can get a set of Oregon Mountain Mahogany pegs, or something. Mountain Mahogany is a very hard wood native to Oregon, but much lighter in color than Ebony, so it adds a different look.

Same Workmanship

I intend to use the same methods as always, including the double purfling that adorned the previous five-string fiddles. I will still use a scraper for the final contour and texture, though perhaps I will leave a little less “corduroy” texture on these than on some others. Some people like less.

Same Varnish

I will use the same Spirit varnish that have always used on all three fiddles, as well as the same graduation scheme and internal arrangements (bass-bar shape and size, etc.), so the sound should be the same.

Same Strings

I will use the Helicore five-string sets, as usual, though I have found some other combinations that work remarkably well.

Progress reports to come

As things progress, I will post photos, so you can see each of the three fiddles grow from a small stack of wood to a completed instrument.  Each will emerge as a brand-new, handmade bluegrass 5 string fiddle when complete.

Stay tuned… (no pun intended). 🙂

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Contact Form is finally useable

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Technical difficulties, I guess. All I know is the Contact Form didn’t work.

If you have tried before and it failed, I apologize– the phone number was good, and a few folk called, but the contact form failed consistently. A friend repaired it today, and it works as advertised.

If you contact me now I will get your message in my e-mail, even if I don’t go check the website. And I check my email multiple times a day, as a rule.

So– I’m really sorry for the delay; please drop me a line.

Chet Bishop

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