Posts Tagged ‘coffee’

Beginning the Finish

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Beginning the Finish

Pre-varnish Scraping and Shaping

Before any finish materials can be applied, the wood has to be about as perfect as I can make it: so I scrape it to its final shape, then dampen it with coffee, to simultaneously raise any fibers that had only been flattened by the scraper blades, but not smoothly sheared off, and, hopefully, add a slight “tan” to the wood, while doing no harm.

Thus, having removed the fingerboard (which had only temporarily been installed) and having applied two coats of coffee, allowing the wood to dry between coats, and having sanded lightly, all over, with 400-grit paper, to remove the raised fibers, and any excessive “corduroy” effect, the instrument went from looking like this:

Shaping complete, but wood un-treated.

Shaping complete, but wood un-treated.

 

To looking like this:

Coffee-stained, and sanded with 400-grit.

Coffee-stained, and sanded with 400-grit.

 

Then it is time to begin the real finish: I first coat the wood with a coffee-suspension of very fine, powdered gypsum, hoping to add more color as I fill the grain with the gypsum. I vigorously rub this suspension into the wood, hoping to encourage the tiny particles of gypsum to actually settle into the pores of the wood, so as to fill them, and to slow down the absorption of varnish. It is considered undesirable, in general, to have the varnish really soak into the wood, as it tends to dampen the vibrations that make the sound. Some varnishes are more detrimental than others, but this is something I learned by reading Roger Hargrave’s notes. He is a world-class expert, so I tend to believe him that this is a good idea. I try to remove as much as I can of the excess mineral “ground” before it completely dries, rubbing hard, with a rag, but any that has settled into grain irregularities, I simply skim over, and leave it there.

So, after the gypsum has been applied, it looks more like this:

Mineral ground applied, front view.

Mineral ground applied, front view. A little darker color, and the grain is more obscure.

 

Back grain quite obscured by the gypsum.

Back grain quite obscured by the gypsum. That will clear up entirely, with the application of the sealer.

 

The sealer locks the gypsum into wherever it has been lodged, and clears the obscurity, making the gypsum completely invisible. The sealer I am using now is a concoction of pine resin, turpentine, and alcohol, with a little yellow tinting. The turpentine and alcohol evaporate, leaving the resin in the wood.

Sealed Front.

Sealed Front.

 

Sealed side.

Sealed Side.

 

Sealed Back.

Sealed Back.

 

After the sealer dries (a day or so), I begin applying the various coats of varnish: the first two or three coats are fairly yellow varnish, but after that, I begin adding the colors that will characterize the finished instrument.

Front with yellow varnish.

Front with yellow varnish.

 

Back with yellow varnish.

Back with yellow varnish.

 

From this point, forward, the instrument will become increasingly darker, leaning toward reds and browns. Ultimately, I will try to emulate the look of the 1715 “Titian” Stradivarius violin, after which this insrument is supposedly modeled. We will see how it turns out.

 

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Varnish Process

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Varnish Process

Sealer Coat is Dry: Start Varnishing!

Since the sealer was dry, I gave the violin a careful rub-down with worn 400-grit paper, and began to add varnish. I am using a spirit varnish, the first coat of which was a yellow varnish, which I had actually hoped would be a little more “amber” in color, but I think it will be OK.

First coat of varnsih on back plate.

First coat of varnish on the Back plate.

 

1st coat varnish on side.

First coat of varnish on the Side.

 

First coat, Front plate.

First coat of varnish, on the Front plate.

 

2nd Coat of Varnish

The first coat of varnish was really only intended to lay down a yellow under-coat, and I am satisfied that it accomplished that purpose. From here on out, though, I will be trying to lay down more color in the areas indicated, to try and match the original after which I am modeling this violin. So, here are coats two and three. Notice that I leave some areas light, as the original violin has fairly severe wear in those areas.Ā  (If you are interested, click here to see photos of the original.)

2nd coat of varnish.

2nd coat of varnish, on the Front plate.

 

2nd coat on side

2nd coat of varnish, on the Side.

 

2nd coat on back.

2nd coat of varnish on the Back.

 

3rd Coat of Varnish

And, a third coat, in the same manner:

3rd coat, front.

3rd coat of varnish, Front plate. The light was a little better, so it looks brighter.

 

3rd coat, side.

3rd coat of varnish, Side view.

 

3rd coat, back.

3rd coat of varnish, Back view.

 

4th Coat

The first few coats are thin enough that it is difficult to see the changes…but it is gaining a little more color and gloss.

4th coat, front view.

4th coat of varnish, Front view.

 

4th coat, side view.

4th coat of varnish, Side view.

 

4th coat, Back view.

4th coat of varnish, Back view.

 

5th and 6th Coats

It is pretty obvious, now, even on the ribs, that certain areas are getting less color added. As I explained above, those are the areas that typically get the most wear, so, to imitate the wear patterns on the original instrument, I am minimizing the color added to those areas.

Also, I have been making the varnish coats quite thin, right now, trying to adjust the color early, instead of trying to fix it later…so, from here on, I posted the pictures as I saw relevant changes, rather than after every coat of varnish. I also switched over to a more intensely colored varnish for the 5th and 6th coats:

6th coat, front view.

6th coat of varnish, Front view. Lots of changes still to come.

 

6th coat, side view.

6th coat of varnish, Side view.

 

6th coat, back view.

6th coat of varnish, Back view.

 

Starting to look closer to what I had in mind. šŸ™‚

 

Final color coats, and two clear coats

I gave a careful look to the poster, again, and tried to get the “wear areas” closer to the original. It is still far from accurate, but it is beginning to at least have the “flavor” of the original. My color is still too bright, and some areas still too light, but it is getting closer.

Front, nearing completion of color coats.

Front, nearing completion of color coats.

 

Side, nearing completion of color coats.

Side, nearing completion of color coats.

 

Back, nearing completion of color coats.

Back, nearing completion of color coats.

 

“Dirt” and “Age”

There were a few areas to which I wanted to add more color…and to rub some pigment into the grain, to emulate dirt. (I had already rubbed in some real dirt, but it wasn’t very convincing-looking.) Then, I locked it all down with a clear coat or two, and will polish it to completion. But this is pretty much the final color:

Final color, with

Final color, with “dirt” and “age”.

 

Side, with final color.

Side, with final color.

 

Back, with final color,

Back, with final color, “dirt”, and “age.”

 

What’s Next?

The next thing will be to re-fit the fingerboard, dress the fingerboard, and begin set-up. I will continue to address “polish and finish” issues as I see them.

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Beginning of the Finish

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Beginning of the Finish

Gypsum Mineral Pore Filler

A world-class luthier in Germany (Roger Hargraves) shared this publicly…he accomplished it a little differently, in that he prepared his gypsum by hydrating plaster of paris very thoroughly, and using the carefully washed fines as his filler. I used the finely-ground gypsum available in gardening stores, stirred it into a suspension of strong coffee and ethanol (only there to keep the coffee/gypsum mix from developing mold, sitting on the shelf), and brushed and rubbed the mixture into the wood of the violin. Then I rubbed it back off, using a soft rag, getting as much as possible back off while it is still wet. The goal is that the fine particles of gypsum will plug the pores of the wood, so that the subsequent coats of varnish will not penetrate into the wood. I can’t say whether my method works anything like that of Mr. Hargraves. Perhaps someday I will try something else. But for now, that is what I do.

First, I removed the fingerboard, and did some miniscule corrections to the scroll, pegbox and button. Then I painted on the stirred-up suspension, coating everything except the handle area of the neck.

Corrected scroll, before gypsum.

Corrected scroll, before gypsum.

 

Corrected pegbox before Gypsum.

Corrected pegbox before Gypsum.

 

Gypsum mixture on the back...still wet, but already beginning to dry.

Gypsum mixture on the back…still wet, but already beginning to dry.

 

Side view with wet gypsum suspension.

Side view with wet gypsum suspension.

 

Lots of uneven coloration.

Lots of uneven coloration. I’m not certain why, and it may present a challenge during varnishing. Not my usual experience.

 

Gypsum on scroll, beginning to dry.

Gypsum on scroll, beginning to dry.

 

Gypsum on back-- dry.

Gypsum on back– dry.Ā  Notice how the flame is obscured.

 

Side, with dry Gypsum.

Side, with dry Gypsum.

 

Front, dry.

Front, dry.

 

I’m not certain why the spruce acted the way it did. I had wetted it with coffee before, without any mishaps. I am wondering whether I somehow compressed certain areas, in re-scraping, and they responded differently. I can’t be sure. But I have enough experience with varnish that I am not worried about the outcome. (After all, it was a very old, worn instrument I was copying.) šŸ™‚

 

What’s next?

So…the next step will be to rub off all the excess dry gypsum, and clean up any rough areas where the grain may have raised again. (I’m not really expecting any, but I will be looking for them. Then, tomorrow evening, I hope to apply the sealer that will lock in the gypsum. It is always a little astonishing to me, to see the grain and flame suddenly “pop” out and become very visible. The gypsum becomes completely transparent, and is never evident again.

 

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Varnishing Sequence: Part One

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Varnishing a New Violin

Finishing Sequence: Sealer coat first

In the last post, I showed the photo of the violin with just the turpentine/pitch sealer coat in place, and not totally dry. Remember that this was applied over a coffee stain, and a mineral ground that I had rubbed into the wood.

Sealer coat.

Sealer coat.

When that coat was finally dry, IĀ checked for any distortions (from the coffee stain, I guess) and corrected them with plain water, just moistening any low areas with a damp rag, and watching them come back to normal. Since I just barely moistened those areas, they stayed in the correct position after drying the second time. This has beenĀ a rare occurrence in my experience, but I was grateful that it turned out to be a relatively easy fix.

Then I sanded lightly with worn 400-grit, to remove any bits of loose debris and/or any little fibers of wood that had lifted above the smooth surface. I had already done this after staining (both times), but it always pays to go over things again.

First Coat of Varnish

The first coat on this instrument was a very blond spirit varnish; not my usual. I am not entirely pleased with the result, but it is acceptable.

first varnish coat

First varnish coat, side view.

 

First coat of varnish, back view.

First coat of varnish, back view.

Scond Coat: Darker Yellow

I sanded it lightly,Ā again, and then applied a darker yellow varnish. Fortunately, spirit varnish dries very rapidly, so I can sometimes get two or three coats in one day, early in the sequence. As the varnish gets thicker, it dries more slowly. I assume that this is because it can no longer soak into the wood at all, so every bit of the drying has to happen from one side of the varnish film; but perhaps there is more to it than that. At any rate, as the instrument nears completion, I have to allow longer time for drying. The other side of the “fast-drying” coin (or two-edged sword) is that it is extremely sensitive to the next coat of varnish, as the solvent in the new coat can easily lift the previous coats, forcing me to completely start over, in some cases. I really need to be patient, and work carefully, applying many thinner coats, rather than fewer thick coats.

Second coat of varnish-- darker yellow-- side view.

Second coat of varnish– darker yellow– side view.

 

Yellow varnish second coat.

Lots of room forĀ improvement, here– and that is how spirit varnish works. I keep adding color, and “evening things out” until it looks right.

 

Yellow varnish back second coat.

Yellow varnish back– still pretty pale-looking, after that second coat.

Third Coat: Red-Brown varnish

After the yellow varnish dried I beganĀ adding (several coats of) a darker red-brown varnish, allowing each coat to dry, and sanding lightly between coats, to make sure the finished result is good. This is the first coat of the red-brown varnish, so, actually the third coat, overall. It will get at least five or six more coats of varnish before it is done, but the differences becomeĀ less and less obvious, as the varnishingĀ nears completion. I am enjoying looking at the beautiful European maple andĀ spruce. I ordered this wood from International Violin Company, in Baltimore.

third coat of varnish

Third coat, using red-brown varnish.

 

third coat of varnish on back

Back, with the third coat of varnish. (Quite an improvement isn’t it?) You can see the brush-marks in the varnish, but they will be sanded smooth before I apply the next coat.

 

The Plan:

As I continue to add coats of varnish, I am keeping an eye on the general “flavor” of the instrument. I may skip certain areas for several coats, to leave the varnish thin in those areas. I deliberately Ā try to emulate the look of some of the more gently-used “Old Master” instruments. I am not attempting to “fake age”, so much as attempting to capture some of the charm and appeal of those intruments. If anyone has a question about my motives, all one has to do is check the label: every instrument is signed, numbered, and dated. The dateĀ on the labelĀ is the day I actually closed the corpus, so, perhaps a few weeks prior to final completion, but no more than that.

I also may switch back to a yellow varnish at some point, to shift the color back toward gold, rather than just a red-brown. And, occasionally, I have stripped everything back off and started over. As the original maker, I have that option. and, invariably, the result the second time was far better.

I will post more varnish photos as the violin nears completion.

Set-up:

Once the varnishing is complete, I will replace the Fingerboard and begin the final fittings and set-up of the violin.

  • Fingerboard
  • Saddle
  • Tuning pegs
  • Nut
  • End Pin
  • Soundpost
  • Bridge
  • Tailpiece
  • Strings
  • Chinrest

Hopefully, all of that will be covered in the next post.

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