Posts Tagged ‘arching’

Back Plates and Scrolls

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Back Plates and Scrolls

Progress

Here are the back plates: the arching is complete, but the graduations are not begun…inside surface is still flat. The two scrolls have only been cut out, for the rough profile. I did lay out and drill pilot holes for the tuning pegs. That will make it easier than trying to drill them after the outer shape is completed. At this point the sides are relatively flat.

Two back plates, nearly complete: two scrolls, just begun.

Two back plates, nearly complete: two scrolls, just begun.

 

Then I began cutting out all the rough outlines of the two scrolls, using a saw:

Beginning to cut out the neck/scroll combination, using a saw.

Beginning to cut out the neck/scroll combination, using a saw.

 

Removing the excess wood from the sides.

Removing the excess wood from the sides.

 

Cutting to the layout lines, all around the scroll, from both sides.

Cutting to the layout lines, all around the scroll, from both sides.

 

Continuing around the first turn of the scroll.

Continuing around the first turn of the scroll.

 

Cuts completed around the first turn.

Cuts completed around the first turn of both scrolls.

 

Excess wood removed from first turn on both scrolls.

Excess wood removed from first turn on both scrolls.

 

Back view with first turn wood removed.

Back view with first turn wood removed.

 

 

Completing the scond turn of the scroll, using a fine-toothed pull-saw.

Completing the scond turn of the scroll, using a fine-toothed pull-saw.

 

Second turn cuts completed.

Second turn cuts completed.

 

The remaining wood will be removed using gouges, planes and scrapers, There is still a long way to go, but it does look more encouraging, this way.

Next time we will be carving the pegboxes and scrolls.

 

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Two Plates

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Two Plates

Top Plates First

Not every violin maker follows exactly the same path. I not only make my front plates first; I install the front plate before I install the purfling…and install the neck and fingerboard before removing the form (or mold.) After removing the mold and leveling the back of the garland, including the neck-heel, I can install the back plate.

I used to install purfling before installing the plates, too, because I was taught to do it that way. But I consistently had trouble with the plate overhang not being even, around the perimeter of the instrument, and it finally occurred to me to try doing the purfling after installing the plates, and after having established the final shape of the plates, so that the purfling followed the final edge of the plate, rather than installing the purfling first, and later finding that the garland has changed shape slightly, so that the plate no longer fits perfectly, and I have no option to modify the plate, because the purfling has permanently determined where the edge is supposed to be. Ah, well…I am just a slow learner, I guess. 🙂

So, here is a sort of “after and before” picture: the one on the right has been arched close enough to correctly, that I will be ready lay out and incise the f-holes next. The one on the right has only been traced and cut out, so all the carving remains to be done.

 

“After and before”: one plate fully arched, the other ready to carve.

 

Arching the Top Plates

I derived my arching-plan from the “The Strad” magazine posters. On this particular pair of posters, there are not only the traditional photos and line drawings, but they actually printed out CT scan images so that one can see exactly the shape and thickness of all parts of the violins.

I first mark the edges at 4mm thickness, then plane down to the lines. Most makers use gouges for this part, but I prefer small finger planes. I am sure that there are many good reasons to use the gouges instead, not the least of which would be speed in making, and I have certainly carved plates that way…but I prefer the planes. So, here is the carving of the second plate:

Second plate beginnings.

Second plate beginnings.

 

Rough Arching

Rough Arching

 

I use shadow lines to check the actual shape of the cross-sectional arching.

Using shadow lines to check the actual shape of the cross-sectional arching.

 

Finally, I use sharp scrapers to renove any lines or dents left by the planes, and narrow bamds of shadow to check the actual cross-sectional shape of the archings. I may still make later improvements, as I add the f-holes and the bass-bar, and, of course, after I install the purfling. But the archings of the two top plates are very nearly complete, so, the next time I post, it will be about f-holes.

So, here are the two plates, ready for f-hole incision, before being carved from the inside to be exactly as thick as I require. Other than the F-holes, bass-bars and purfling they are nearly complete. 🙂

Two Plates, with completed arching.

Two Plates, with completed arching.

 

I will try to keep going on photos.

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Button and Back Purfling

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Button and Back Purfling

Trimming the Button and Heel

When I installed the back plate, the heel had been trimmed flush with the back of the garland, but the upper surface of the heel was still quite irregular, and the upper end of the button was ridiculously oversized. The excess wood made it easy for me to install a clamp, and get the back plate glued on securely. So…when I removed all the clamps, this is what it looked like:

Back plate installed; button and heel not yet trimmed.

Back plate installed; button and heel not yet trimmed.

 

Tools for completion.

Next, I will trim the button and heel, then add purfling, then scrape. These are the tools I will use.

 

Button shape.

This is roughly the shape the button will be, but a little more refined, I hope.

 

Side view of heel and butto

Side view of the heel and the button. The closeness of the camera warps the picture a little.

 

Installing the Purfling

The next thing was to scribe in the purfling slot. I used the purfling marker to scribe the double line exactly 4mm from the outer perimeter of the plate, except the corners, where I used a sharp pencil to sketch the “bee-stings” in by hand. Then I incised the lines all the way around, just barely deepening the lines, so that they are more visible, and a little easier to follow with the blade of my small knife.

Purfling slot lines lightly incised.

Purfling slot lines lightly incised.

 

Then I slice in pass after pass, trying to get the lines deep enough for the purfling I will install. I usually find that, especially on the hard maple, I have to cut the slot in two layers: the first gets about half the depth I want, and the second finishes the slot. Here is the slot at half-depth:

Purfling slot, half-depth.

It looks good, but it is not deep enough.

 

Purfling slot ready for purfling.

Purfling slot ready for purfling.

 

Back purfling installed...glue still wet.

Back purfling installed…glue still wet. 🙂

 

Front view

And the Front!

 

Back to Work!

As most of you know, I had undergone hernia surgery, just after Christmas, and had a 6″ x 8″ polypropylene mesh patch installed in my abdomen. I have been convalescing, and just this week, have finally been feeling better. So…I just received word that I will return to my work at Gunderson, Inc., tomorrow at 6AM. I think I had better call it a day, and try to get some sleep. 3:30AM comes at the same time, every morning, whether I am ready or not. I will get home sometime after 4PM, I expect. Maybe I can jump back in where I left off. 🙂

Tomorrow evening, then, I hope to complete the purfling channel and the outer edgework of both the front and back plates, and begin the final scraping in preparation for varnishing. Any little glitch, regardless of how tiny, will be very visible under the varnish. So this part has to be done with great care.

 

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Carving the Archings

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Carving the Archings

Why are Archings so Important?

I wish I could give a scientific, rock-solid answer, based on the physics of sound, plate vibrations, etc., but I can’t: All I can say for certain is that the arching of the plates is possibly the single most important factor in producing good sound in a violin…with choice of wood being the closest other contender…maybe.

I was told that, during his career, Bob Bein of “Bein & Fushi” violins, could tke a single glance over the individual archings of a pile of violins, and immediately sort them into the “keep” pile and the “discard” pile…and he was consistently correct. The ones he kept became great-playing instruments and the others…well, who knows? They went elsewhere, and someone else struggled with them. But all he was seeing were the archings. These instruments were not even set up– and he was not thumping and listening (as I still do)…his eye told him what the possibilities were. I wish I could explain that, but I can’t.

In the last few years, mainly due to the research of other makers, I have become convinced that a particular curvature, predictable by mathematics, and, importantly, by mathematics that were completely available to the Cremonese makers, may be largely responsible for that sought-after sound. These curves are called either “hypo-cycloid” curves, or “curtate cycloid” curves.

Is it possible, still, that some “holy grail” of tonewood was the key? Sure…but other makers of the same period, using what seems to be the same wood, were not able to capture that tone. Furthermore, some modern makers have managed to acquire wood from that time period and area, and have made violins of it. Nothing remarkable resulted.

Could it still be the subsequent treatment of the wood…some arcane chemical treatment, that gives that special sound? I suppose it could be, but every time someone does chemical analyses of the tiny, precious chips of wood from those instruments, after repairs, all they seem to come up with is that it may have a mineral ground of some sort (jury is still out on that one), and that, otherwise, it simply has a varnish comprised of linseed oil and larch resin, or pine resin, or something similar. Nothing special there, either. Annnd, all the modern-day experiments done with rabbit urine, horse manure, potassium silicate, and a variety of unlikely-sounding candidates for “the secret” have all turned out pretty unimpressive, to the best of my knowledge. So…no secrets to reveal, today. Sorry.

Personally, I had finally come to the conclusion that the Cremonese makers simply were the best makers the world had ever seen. But the hypo-cycloid archings (also called “curtate cycloids”) may actually hold a key. I do know that, since I began attempting to use the curtate cycloid arching curves, players have picked out those particular instruments, and said “Whatever you did on this instrument, keep doing it! This one is the best!” (Or similar accolades….) And (so importantly) it turns out that virtually all of the Cremonese master instruments match these curves with amazing accuracy. (Just as if they planned it that way!)

So…No more “by guess and by golly!” I have done it with compass and straightedge and calculator, for my own models, but this time I lifted the arching template designs from the poster. Incidentally, when I take my arching templates directly off the posters, I get the same curves, so…I made the arching templates, both front and back, longitudinal and transverse, and I do try to use them.

Edge Thickness:

The beginning step is to establish the edge thickness. This particular Guarneri model seems to have begun with 4 millimeter edge thickness, which in some areas ended up more like 3.7 or 3.8. So, I set my wheel marking gauge to 4mm and scribed a line all the way around both plates:

Using a wheel marking gauge to scribe the edge thicknesses.

Using a wheel marking gauge to scribe the edge thicknesses. I moved my hand a little while taking the photo…the brass wheel is held tightly against the flat of the plate.

 

Resuts of edge marking

The result is a line parallel to the flat side of the plate, exactly delineating the right thickness for the edge.

 

Arching, and Arching Templates

Then I carve away the excess wood, down to the line, making a flat area at least 10-12 mm wide, all the way around the perimeter of the plate, and begin carving away the excess thickness, curving up from that “platform,” up to the center high spot of the plate. At this point I know the arching is still far too high and puffy, but I will begin using arching templates, along with gouges and finger-planes, to bring it into some semblance of an ideal arch. The final shaping will be done using sharp scrapers and low-angle light, to reveal irregularities of any sort. Here is the (very rough) preliminary arching for the front plate:

Preliminary arching (very rough) of front plate.

Preliminary arching (very rough) of front plate. It is still far too high and “puffy”.

 

I use arching templates, either derived mathematically, or traced from a poster, to adjust the shape of the plates.

Longitudinal arching template.

This is the longitudinal arching template, specifically for the front plate. Once this curve is right, I can adjust the transverse archings.

 

Beginning the transverse archings.

Beginning the transverse archings. The fit has to be nearly perfect, to maximize the benefit of the arching plan.

 

Things are beginning to smooth out.

Things are beginning to smooth out. There are definitely a host of humps and hollows to remove, but I am pleased with the beginnings.

 

The view from the bottom of the plate.

The view from the bottom of the plate. It’s hard to see the curves, but they are looking pretty good.

 

The back plate arching, though different from the front, is accomplished in exactly the same manner. I will show pictures of it another day. I’m getting pretty tired. Once the outer archings are as close as I can get them, I will flip the plates over in the cradle, and carve the inside arching, carefully monitoring the thicknesses all over the plate. This pattern of thicknesses is called “Plate Graduation”, and they seem to be fairly important, too, though not nearly so much as the archings.

More later.

 

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3/4-Size Violin Completion

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Completed the 3/4-Size Violin!

I had a number of other projects going, so I neglected to maintain the website presence…the only post lately has been of another violin resurrection. But…I hope to change that.

The last post was of the neck-set on the 3/4 violin. It looked like this– but the back plate was not made, yet. Most makers complete the entire corpus, then set the neck. I complete the rib garland and the front plate, then set the neck while the inside mold is still in place. This allows me to get the neck-set perfect, and to level the back of the garland, including the back of the neck-heel, before making the plate. When I install the plate, it fits perfectly, only requiring the final trimming of the heel and button together, to establish the optimum height in the center of the curve of the heel.

Neck-set side view

Neck-set side view

Completing the Back Plate

So, the next thing was to trace the back plate, and complete it:

Corpus with back plate blank

Corpus with back plate blank

 

Beginning to carve the back archings

Beginning to carve the back archings. There is a long way to go!

 

Once the arching is complete, I cut the purfling slot

Once the arching is complete, I cut the purfling slot

 

 install the purfling, dry

Then I install the purfling, dry, to make sure everything fits correctly. That strip of aluminum is my bending strap.

Then I glue the purfling in place.

Then I glue the purfling in place.

 

Edge Crest marked

Then I mark the edge of the crest, so I know where to carve the channel.

 

channel complete

Then I carve the channel, using a gouge, and use planes and scrapers to fair-in the curves of the channel and the archings.

 

Arching and purfling complete

Here, the arching and purfling are complete…but the graduations (inside arching) are not begun.

 

Graduation

I begin by measuring the thicknesses all over the plate, so as not to run into any surprises and make the plate too thin. Then I use gouges and planes to bring all the thickness close to what I want. But, to make sure I don’t go too far, I measure and carve out small spots all over, to the exact thickness I want in each little “polka-dot”. That makes a “graduation map” that allows me to follow my plan to completion, by removing all the excess wood between the dots, thus “connecting the dots.”

There are other ways to do this. One involves a special tool, commonly called a “Strad-Spike”, because one was found among the tools of Antonio Stradivari. I have seen them and and have actually used them, but have never gotten around to building one. So…

 

graduation map laid out

Graduation map laid out.

 

Final thicknessing in progress.

Final thicknessing in progress.

 

Graduations almost completed.

Graduations almost completed.

By the way, I think it is interesting to hold the plates up to a lamp and see how much light comes through:

translucent spruce

That is a lot of light coming through that spruce plate…it is about the thinnest plate I have made.

 

translucent maple

Even the maple lets a little light through.

Closing the Corpus

Finally, to install the label and close the corpus. (I always forget to take a picture of the label…sorry.) Most makers put their label in after everything is fully completed. I used to do that, but I found it so frustrating to get a glue-coated label through the f-hole, line it up correctly and get it smoothed out on the back plate…all working through the f-hole…that I decided my labels will go in when I close the corpus; always. That means the label predates the completion by a few weeks at most, as a rule. I think one time there was a long wait,  but that was the lone exception.

Closing the corpus

Closing the corpus

 

Fully glued and clamped, using hot hide glue and spool-clamps.

Fully glued and clamped, using hot hide glue and spool-clamps.

 

Closed corpus from the back.

Closed corpus from the back.

 

Closed corpus from the front.

Closed corpus from the front. Dainty little thing, isn’t it? This is my first 3/4-size violin, and it feels pretty tiny.

 

Finishing

I removed the fingerboard so as to be able to easily access the entire exterior, for final scraping and finishing.

After that, I had a lot of “scraping and looking” to do. (Scrape and look, using a low-angle, dim light, then scrape and look some more.) When everything was as smooth as I could make it, and exactly the shape I wanted, I stained the entire violin with coffee, to get rid of the stark-white bare, new-wood look. It takes at least three coats, usually, to get the color dark enough that it will not shine through the varnish. The collateral effect is that the grain raises because of the water. So, I sand it lightly, to smooth the grain “just enough.” I want the grain to be visible in the final state, but not too visible.

Coffee stain

Coffee stain

 

Then, I rubbed in a coat of the mineral ground. I brush it on liberally, rub it in hard, with my fingers, then wipe it off as hard as I can, using a rag. When it dries, the instrument will be whiter than ever– chalk-white, all over. The first time I did this I was pretty alarmed at the look, but I had just watched Roger Hargrave do the same thing, and knew that the white mineral would completely disappear with the first coat of sealer or varnish. And it did!

Here is the violin with the sealer applied:

sealer front view

With three coats of coffee, and the dark sealer, the wood looks pretty dark. But it will look good under the varnish.

 

The back, with the seal-coat.

The back, with the seal-coat.

 

After that it was a case of applying several coats of golden varnish, then a few coats of red-brown varnish, and a final two coats of the golden stuff.

 

Front varnish nearly complete

Front varnish nearly complete

 

Back varnish nearly complete

Back varnish nearly complete.

 

front with the final coat of varnish.

There is the front with the final coat of varnish.

 

Set-up

Standard set-up, and the violin will be done! That includes the saddle and endpin, as well as re-installing the fingerboard, fitting and installing pegs, a bridge, the nut, the soundpost, tailpiece, and strings. A chinrest completes the instrument.

Bottom of the violin before the endpin

Bottom of the violin before the endpin and saddle were installed.

 

Endpin installed

Endpin installed: saddle is next.

 

Heres the plan: a rounded saddle

Heres the plan: a rounded saddle to prevent “saddle cracks”. They work because there is no sharp corner to act s a stress riser.

 

 footprint of the saddle

There’s the footprint of the saddle: no further shaping is done until I cut out the mortise in the front plate.

 

Traced saddle mortise

I traced the footprint onto the front plate, and began cutting out the mortise.

 

cut out saddle mortise

Then I cut out the mortise using sharp gouges and a small knife. Any nicks in the varnish will be retouched later.

 

The varying thicknesses of the top plate can then be traced onto the saddle itself, and final shaping can begin.

 

Saddle and endpin complete

Saddle and endpin are nearly complete. The saddle will be filed a little more, and the varnish retouch will happen later on.

 

fingerboard and pegs installed.

I reinstalled the fingerboard, and while the glue is drying, I fit and installed the tuning pegs.

 

Fingerboard and pegs complete.

Fingerboard and pegs complete. Notice the nut is also intalled.

 

Completion

Finally the little violin is complete!

 

Front view of completed 3/4-size violin

Front view of completed 3/4-size violin

 

Side view...

Side view…

 

And the back view.

And the back view.

 

finished scroll

Close-up of the scroll

Thanks for looking. Please keep in mind that the Marylhurst Musical Instrument Show will be April 29th and 3oth. If you can make it, I hope to see you there. This little violin will be there for you to test drive, along with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3/4-Size Violin Progress

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3/4-Size Violin Still in Progress

Last time… if you remember… it looked like this:

Progress as of January 2nd.

Progress as of January 2nd.

F-holes and Bassbar

So, I went ahead and cut out those f-holes, using an f-hole “drill” my children bought for me, and an X-acto knife.

F-holes

F-holes cut out and ready for the bassbar…outside view. They still will require a good deal of refinement.

 

Then I chalk-fit a bassbar blank, and glued it in place, using special clamps made by Jake Jelley, the friend who encouraged me to continue building instruments.

Bassbar blank with clamps.

Bassbar blank with clamps. You can see the f-holes cut out…they still need more trimming.

 

Shaping the Bassbar

I carved and planed and scraped the bassbar into what I judged to be an appropriate shape for this instrument. Both it and the f-holes will receive a bit more scraping and shaping before they are varnished. The whole instrument, actually, is fair game for tweaking, refining, and perfecting, until the varnishing begins.

F-holes, bassbar and graduations

F-holes, bassbar and graduations nearly complete. Outer edges have been rounded to approximate their final shape.

Installing the Front Plate

I aligned the front plate as closely as I could with the rib garland, and applied six spool clamps–one for each inner block. Then I loosened one clamp at a time, and, using a thin palette knife, I slipped hot hide glue between the plate and the blocks and linings. I rinsed the edge, overhang and rib quickly with hot water, and wiped it with a rag, then re-tightened the clamp, and added more clamps between that clamp and the next, repeating the procedure untill all the edges and especially all the blocks were securely glued and clamped, and relatively clean.

Front plate installed, using spool clamps.

Front plate installed, using spool clamps. Ann thinks these look like hair-curlers. 🙂

 

Back view of mold with front plate installed, and spool clamps.

Back view of mold with front plate installed, and spool clamps. The mold will be removed after the neck is set.

 

Purfling Comes Next

Not everyone does things in the same order. I have had trouble, in the past, getting my edge overhangs even all the way around. If I install the purfling first, then I am locked in, so to speak, and if the overhang is uneven, there is nothing much I can do. But if I purfle after installing the plate, I can take time first to adjust that overhang, using files and scrapers, until I am satisfied that it is the way I want it, and then purfle, following my adjusted edge shape.

Installed front plate, from the mold side, showing the overhang.

Installed front plate, from the mold side, showing the overhang. Notice that there are no back linings, yet.

 

Purfling laid out and lightly incised.

Purfling laid out and lightly incised. (The shadow is my head– I was too close to the plate.)

 

The idea at this point is to just deepen the lines a bit, not to try to cut the full depth of the purfling slot. You can see that, in some places, the waste wood begins to pop out on its own. Most will have to be removed using a purfling pick. Here is a closer photo of the incised purfling lines:

Close-up of the incised purfling lines.

Close-up of the incised purfling lines. That corner will still undergo significant shaping and refining.

 

So…next time, I will show the completed purfling, and the neck-set– I hope. 🙂

 

Thanks for looking

 

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Progress on a 14-inch Viola

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Continuing on the 14-inch Viola

Arching and Graduation

The outside arching for the front plate is essentially complete, though there will be a lot of scraping, later on. I began the graduation (inside arching) of the front plate about the same time as I took off and “sprinted for the finish line” with the “Plowden” Guarneri-model violin (see recent posts), but all I accomplished was that the center of the plate is about the right thickness– everywhere else it was still way too thick.

So! Back to work! You can see (below) that the f-holes have been laid out and deeply incised, which allowed me to accomplish the last stage of the front arching (explained in an earlier post.) Now I need to carefully carve away the interior, until all the plate is the thickness I want it to be…which varies by region, all over the plate. I have to be very careful to check certain areas with a caliper before I begin to carve, or I may easily go too far and make the plate too thin. (Voice of sad experience….) The area around the lower ends of the f-holes are very likely victims of this error, so I try to check regularly, and avoid carving away too much in those areas, especially.

Outer arching small viola top

The outer arching of the small viola is complete, not counting the purfling channel.

 

Side view of small viola arching, before purfling and edgework.

Side view of the small viola’s arching, before purfling and edgework is done.

 

Inside arching of the small viola.

Inside arching of the small viola. The Graduation is complete. Next, I need to cut out the f-holes, and add the bass-bar. I do realize the corners are too long…I will trim them later.

 

Coffee Stain

One thing I decided on this instrument was that I should begin the coffee staining very early, so that, if there is any distortion, due to the wetting of the wood, I can correct it before the plates go on the garland. In this photo, it is hard to see how much the grain is raised, but, those wide summer grains of the Sitka Spruce are all swelled up like corduroy!

Accentuated grain lines, due to coffee stain.

Accentuated grain lines, due to coffee stain.

I will let it dry, and then gently scrape it smooth again. The issue, here, is that the summer grain swells more than the winter reeds, but when we scrape the wood, the summer reeds compress, while the winter reeds resist the blade and are cut away. The result is that the summer reeds are already raised, even before I wet it down and deliberately raise the grain, before leveling it again.

Things remaining:

When the plate is nearly perfect all over, I will finish cutting out the f-holes, and finish their edges as well as I can. I nearly always see something later that I have missed, so I just accept the fact that I will be making corrections right up until the time I begin varnishing. The same thing applies to the scroll. It will never be “perfect”, and I accept that.

I will lay out and fit the bass-bar, trying for an air-tight fit between the bass bar and the inside of the front plate. I install it using hot hide glue and clamps, but will trim it to the proper shape after the glue is dry.

After the bass-bar is fully completed, I round the inner edges of the front plate, so that it is ready to install on the garland.

Post Script:

All of the above was accomplished three weeks ago, before we left on vacation, so it should have been published then, too…but I kept thinking I would get a little more done before we left, so it simply did not happen.

We are back, and progress is once again happening, so I will post more in a day or two.

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Current “State of the Fiddles” report.

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Slow Progress, But Moving Along!

Scroll-carving

I spent most of Saturday working on carving the viola scroll. I am not as fast as a lot of luthiers seem to be. It takes me more than eight hours to carve a scroll, and I can’t go at it for eight hours straight, anymore, anyway. So, between the heat and my other responsibilities, this is pretty much all I got done. It is still not complete, of course, but it is looking closer to complete, and it feels encouraging, to look at it.

This is a Big Leaf Maple scroll and back, on top of a Sitka Spruce top plate. It is interesting to carve domestic maple in close proximity to European maple. They are not the same at all. The big leaf maple is much softer, and feels almost fuzzy, under the scraper. Much lighter-weight, too, and has a different ring, when I tap it. European seemsto be  superior for violins, though domestic maples seem to work fime for larger instruments (or possibly it is the lower tones involved.) This instrument will be a good “experiment” in that regard. If  this instrument is very good, then the lower tone is the issue– if it is questionable, I may repeat the experiment immediately with European Maple and see if that corrects it. If it does, then the size of the instrument may be what is the problem.

But I suspect it will be a very good viola. I have made other very small (14-7/8″ on the body) violas using the same woods, before, and they were very good. This will be the smallest I have made, using domestic woods.

Partially completed scroll for the 14

Partially completed scroll for the 14″ viola

 

Planing and flattening the plates

Actually, come to think of it, I did do a little more– I went and used my son’s tools and planed the two violin plates to appropriate thicknesses to start working them.  I was shooting for about 17mm thick, to begin with, so that my finished arching will be close to that thickness, after everything else has been carved away. Then I laid-out the shapes of the plates by tracing them from the completed garland, and cut them out at home. So, here is what the whole pile looks like today. Last week, some of the plates were still square and flat, and very thick…this week they are all the correct thicknesses, and one scroll is nearing completion.

The lines on the right-hand maple plate (the viola back) are sketching in where the carving will happen on the inside of the plate: I will carve the outside first, to get the exact arching I have planned, then carve the inside to a similar shape, to get the exact thisknesses I hope to achieve (called “graduations” because the thickness is different in different areas, and changes gradually from area to area.) Both the arching and the graduations are critical to the final resulting sound. In my opinion,  the arching is probably more important, but I can’t prove it.

do know that when I accidentally arched some of my early violins the way (I later was taught) a viola is supposed to be arched, those violins sounded like violas, in spite of everything else about them being “violin.” It was very perplexing to me, at the time, as my ear was not well-enough trained to hear the difference, and all I knew is that it was a violin! And these crazy players kept telling me it sounded like a viola! They were right! The arching was the issue that decided the character of the sound. Good learning experience.

Current State of the Fiddles

Current State of the Fiddles

The wood on the left is European maple and spruce I bought from International Violin Co., in Baltimore, MD. I have used their wood before, and it has worked well. Both have linings and blocks made of weeping willow.

As you can see, both instruments have one-piece backs, and two-piece, book-matched fronts (sometimes referred to as tops, or bellies). In both cases the ribs and necks/scrolls are of  wood matching the back plate.

I will keep you all posted.

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5-String Progress #10; arching the back plate

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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.

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