Posts Tagged ‘European spruce’

Bass Bar, Fingerboard and More

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Bass Bar, Fingerboard and More

Bass Bar Completion

When I last posted, I had installed the bass bar, and left it to dry overnight. (I did remove clamps too early one time…not good.) We needed to chauffeur a family member to the airport, in the morning, but before we left, I did get the clamps off and the bass bar completed. The rest of the day was occupied with other things.

Clamps removed: Bass bar still in raw condition.

Clamps removed: Bass bar still in raw condition.


Bass bar shape sketched

I sketched the general shape and size I wanted the bass bar to end up.


Bass bar profile planed.

Then I planed the profile shape, using an Ibex plane. Notice the Sitka  Spruce color is lightening up, as I plane away the older surface wood.


Bass bar complete, footprint view

Bass bar complete, footprint view; after planing and scraping.


Profile view of completed bass bar.

Profile view of completed bass bar.


Front Plate Preparation and Installation

Once the bass bar was completed, I rounded the inner edge of the front plate, all the way around, to about a 2mm radius. I checked everything one last time, and then carefully fitted the completed front plate to the completed garland, exactly where it was supposed to line up. I held it in place with six spool clamps: one at each block. Double-checked everything, then began removing a single clamp, one at a time, and inserting hot hide glue not only at that block, but as far in each direction as the blade would fit between the plate and garland. Then I re-tightened that clamp and added more spool clamps, side by side, repeating the operation umtil the whole perimeter was fully glued and clamped, like this:

Garland and front plate assembled.

The completed assembly of front plate and garland. (Remember, the mold is still in there, too!)


After I took the clamps off (several hours later,) the whole assembly looked like this with the back and neck:

Back, neck, garland and front plate.

Back, neck, garland and front plate.


More Scroll Work

While the glue dried between the garland and front plate, I completed the neck carving. There are still things to do: I have not carved the volute, yet, nor even the pegbox (usually I complete it before adding the fingerboard), but I was anxious to get the fingerboard installed, so that I could set the neck sometime soon.

Completing the neck and scroll.

Completing the neck and scroll. That gauge, with the cutouts, sizes the neck, top and bottom.


Fingerboard Preparation and Installation:

Once I was satisfied with the neck and scroll, I decided to begin the fingerboard. I first planed it until the edges were a consistent 5 mm thick. Then I  laid out the shape of the hollowed portion underneath the fingerboard, so that I could carve it out. I wanted the hollow to end just a few millimeters from the lower end of the neck, and be about 5mm thick all over.


Fingerboard prep

The hollow is laid out after the fingerboard has been planed to proper thickness.


More fingerboard prep

I carved, planed and scraped away the ebony until the hollow was the size and shape I wanted it to be.


Fingerboard temporarily attached to the neck.

Fingerboard temporarily attached to the neck, with three dots of hot hide glue.


Temporarily attaching the fingerboard allows me to complete the shaping of the handle portion of the neck and the fingerboard together, as a unit. I will then set the neck with the fingerboard still in place, but pop the fingerboard back off while I varnish the violin.

So…that is as far as I got today, but I feel relatively satisfied with the progress.


Thanks for looking.


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More Progress: Plates and Scroll.

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More Progress: Plates and Scroll.

Completing the Back Plate

I continued planing away wood from the inside of the back plate until it was very nearly correct, then switched to scrapers, and completed the inside surface, so that it looks to be a smooth continuum of curves, transitioning without a ripple. The  plate will require no further attention until I am ready to install it. Unlike the front plate, I intend to install the purfling later, after I am completely sure how the garland will respond to having the mold removed (sometimes they can move, and change shape a little.)

Back Plate Graduation complete.

Back Plate Graduation complete.


Scroll Progress

I also continued working on the scroll. My hands were getting pretty tired, so I took a break from that. It is still quite rough, but, here’s how it looked at break time:

scroll beginning

Long way to go.


scroll progress

On the right path, but “miles to go before I sleep.”


Bass Bar Fitting

To fit a bass bar, I begin with a completed front plate, and lay out the position of the bass bar, so that the distance from the center to the bar, level with upper and lower bouts at maximum width, is 1/7th the full distance from centerline to the edge at those respective points. Usually, that means that the lower point will be about 15mm from the centerline and the upper one about 12mm (as it is in this case.) I lay out a line through those two points, and observe where it is, nearest to the bass-side f-hole. If it is too close, I “fudge” it away, a bit, trying not to change the angle. (The bass bar has to clear the f-hole.) Then I mark the two ends, 40mm away from the ends of the plate, and that is the place to fit the bass bar: the “footprint”, so to speak.

Bass bar position laid out.

Bass bar position laid out.


I use chalk to fit my bass-bars. I have never had a good enough eye, and a sure enough knife-hand to accurately fit a bass-bar without the use of chalk, though I have known master makers who regularly did so…perfectly. (Sorry… I’m not good enough for that.) On the other hand, I have had some nasty experiences with the residue of blue chalk mingling with the yellowish hide glue when installing a bass bar: it left a very ugly green stain…and it never completely came out. So…what to do? In the first place, I switched to pink chalk. If a little chalk is left, the glue will simply make it look a bit orange. (No problem.) But, I really don’t want chalk residue at all.

A friend showed me the paper “gauze” tape available in pharmacies. It is thin enough to completely conform to the surface of the plate, and  produce a good fit, and, it is slightly translucent, so I can see my layout lines through the tape, and keep the chalk on just the path of the bass bar. I first use a compass to mark the general shape of the bottom of the bass bar, and then trim it with a knife and a small plane. That gets me “in the ball-park,” so to speak. After that, it is chalk-fitting time.

The front plate is made of European spruce, but I chose Sitka spruce for the bass bar. There is quite a contrast in color between relatively fresh European spruce, and well-aged Sitka spruce. It actually made it a little difficult to see the pink chalk against the dark wood. But it worked.

Bass bar blank, knife-trimmed after tracing the shape with a compass.

Bass bar blank, knife-trimmed after tracing the shape with a compass.


paper gauze tape

This is the paper gauze tape I use for chalk-fitting.


Paper gauze tape and pink chalk

Paper gauze tape and pink chalk, ready to begin chalk-fitting.


Layout lines visible through the tape.

Layout lines visible through the tape.


Layout lines traced over on the tape, to make them more visible.

Layout lines traced over on the tape, in pencil, to make them even more visible.


Chalk on tape.

Chalk on tape.


Chalk transferred to bass bar

Chalk transferred to bass bar


The idea, in any chalk-fitting procedure, is to press the fitted part (being fitted) into the chalked surface to which it is being fit, then trim away only the portions where the chalk transferred. So, in the case of the bass bar, I need to press it into the chalked top plate, and then check the bottom of the bass bar blank, to see where to cut. I trim off the obvious spots, and try again. Ideally, every time I try, I will get a broader transfer of chalk. When the whole area gets a light dusting of chalk at one time, the fit is as close to perfect as I can get it. I remove the tape, wipe off any chalk residue, slather the hot hide glue onto the bottom of the bass bar, and clamp it home. On a good day, it takes me a half-hour. On a bad day? Don’t ask… 🙂  This time wasn’t bad, though.

Chalk-fitting complete; Dry-clamped to check fit.

Chalk-fitting complete; Dry-clamped to check the fit.


Tight fit

The fit is good!


Glued and clamped

Glued and clamped. 

More Scroll Progress

While the glue was drying on the bass bar, I went back to work on the scroll. It was looking verrry rough when I had to take a break, so it is nice to see it progressing better, now. There is still a lot to do. I have to excavate the pegbox, and cut the fluting in the volute. But this is as far as I am going tonight. I am glad to call it a night, and let my hands rest.

More scroll progress

More scroll progress: there is still a long way to go, but it is looking better.


Scroll partly complete.

Final status for tonight. Looking a lot better, and more encouraging to see.


I have other things to do tomorrow, so I may or may not get to work on the violin. At the very least, I expect I will be able to trim the bass bar to the shape I want it, but beyond that, I don’t know.


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The Plates

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The Plates

Shaping the linings

Last time, I had the Garland complete, except for trimming (shaping) the linings, and levelling the front of the garland so I could trace the shape of the plates from the completed garland. I shaped the linings, using a small sharp knife and a scraper:

Shaped linings

The linings are shaped using a small sharp knife to cut the taper, and then scraped smooth, using a scraper.


Leveling the Garland and Tracing the Plates

I leveled the garland by rubbing it on a sanding board (coarse abrasive cloth glued to a flat aluminum plate, in this case), and then used a washer to trace the shape onto the front plate. The washer adds 3 millimeters around the perimeter of the garland, to allow for the plate overhang on the finished instrument. I still have to shape the corners separately, as the washer simply makes them round:

Tracing the plate perimeter

Tracing the plate perimeter, using a washer and a ball-point pen.


The Front plate perimeter as initially traced: notice the round corners.

The front plate perimeter as it was initially traced: notice the round corners.


Corrected corner shapes.

Now the corners have been refined and corrected. I am deliberately leaving them on the long side; I will trim them later.


Cutting out the Plates

I used a bandsaw to cut out the plates, as close to the lines as I could, without touching them. Then I used a spindle sander to bring the perimeter exactly to the lines, and, finally, I used files to smooth out any ripples left by the sander. I am really not comfortable looking at these extra-long corners, but, once the garland is glued to the plate, it is very easy to trim them to the exact length I want; and much more difficult to put wood back, if I remove too much.

Front plate cut out.

Front plate interior, cut, refined, and ready for carving. The lines show the margins, and the corner and end-blocks’ shapes.


I am deliberately leaving my corners abnormally long, as one of the problems noted by my teacher is that I have had a pattern of making rather short corners. (Ironically, I had only done so as an over-correction to an early tendency to make my corners too long. Sigh…)

I handled the back plate in similar fashion to the front, and completed it next. It was very important that I remember to trace the front plate off the front of the garland, and the back plate off the back. The two look very similar, and will match very well when complete, but they are not precisely symmetrical about the centerline, so; if I forget and trace them both from the same side, then one of them will definitely not fit. (Ask me how I know….)

Now I am ready to begin plate-carving. I will begin with the front plate, simply because it is easier on my hands. Furthermore, the pattern of building I follow requires that the front plate be completed first anyway. But, honestly, the older I get, the more it stresses my hands to carve the maple, so it is nice to have the front plate completely done, and to feel good about that while I begin to tackle the back plate.

Both plates, along with the completed garland.

Both plates, along with the completed garland. Looking at the interior of each plate, and the front side of the garland.


To you sharp-eyed observers, the reason the slant of the “flame” on the back is going up from left to right, instead of down from left to right, is that you are looking at the inside of the plate. When I turn it over and carve the outside, you will see that it slopes the same way as the one in the poster.

Over the next few days, I will move toward completing the carving of the front plate. Then…well, you can follow along and see. 🙂

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New Project!

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New Project!

“Pellegrina-esque?” Violoncello da spalla?

I had been pondering (glumly) what to build for the next show at Marylhurst University, and had nearly decided upon one of two “niche-market” items…either a very large “violoncello da spalla”, or an emulation of David Rivinus’s “Pellegrina.” I had spoken to Mr. Rivinus a couple of years ago, and he told me that, for years, he had encouraged other luthiers to use his design, as a partial solution for some of the “work-related injuries” associated with playing large violas…but no one took him up on it, so he just produced them himself for the rest of his lutherie career, ultimately making 100, or so, of the odd-looking instruments. They were all sold, ultimately, and he has stopped taking orders, so I considered “taking up the mantle”, so to speak, and producing instruments modelled after his work. But, as I said, that really is rather a “niche-market” viola.

The violoncello da spalla is possibly even more specialized, as, though it is strung very much like a regular violoncello (cello), it has a fifth string (E), above the standard C-G-D-A of the cello, is only 19-20″ long on the body, and is generally played off the right shoulder, so that the lower bass-side bout is under the chin, and the bowing arm comes up from underneath, so that the player is nearly as comfortable as when playing a small viola, but the sound is that of a cello or extremely large viola–take your pick. Very little classical music has been written for these instruments, so I doubt there would ever be a lot of market for them, though I would love to build them.

But! in the midst of these ponderings, I had sent one of my teachers a couple of sets of photos of two of my recent violins, and, while he was quite encouraging and positive, he took the time to give me a carefully-considered, and quite detailed critique (what a treasure!) of both instruments, telling me what changes he would want to see, when comparing my work to one of the Old Masters (Guarneri del Gesu, in particular.) So! I changed course, and figured that I have just enough time to attempt another copy of the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri del Gesu violin, of which I already have the “The Strad” poster, with actual CT-scans of the original instrument, and exquisite photos of the outside, along with technical drawings and tables of measurements.  Game on! New Project!

Guarneri del Gesu

(Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri 1698 – 1744) was a violin maker  living and working in Cremona, Italy. He was one of the sons of Giuseppe Giovanni, and, though he was not very successful in his lifetime as a luthier (having to supplement his income by other means) compared to the more famous Antonio Stradivari, some of his later instruments are highly prized today, and sell for more than perhaps the very best Stradivari violins. Currently the very highest price (undisclosed, but reportedly in excess of $15M) was paid for the 1741 “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu, on lifetime loan to Anne Akiko Meyers. I have never attempted an instrument modelled after the “Vieuxtemps”, but I have made two or three modelled after the 1735 “Plowden.” So that is the chosen model, again.

Starting from Scratch, Again

Checking the Mold Template against the Poster CT-Scan.

Checking the Mold Template against the Poster CT-Scan…I thought it had been exact, but there were some tiny discrepancies.



The black-marked edges are the places I corrected next. (Not much, really, but striving for perfection, here.)


Strad Poster of the Plowden

These are the photos on the poster front. The poster does not want to lie flat– I store it in a mailing tube, to keep it undamaged.


Checking the mold.

Checking the mold against the corrected mold-template: as it turns out, the corrections were all within the areas of the blocks– the mold is fine.


Blocks cut and fitted

Blocks cut and fitted…notice the differing heights, marked on the ends.


Blocks glued in place.

Blocks glued in place. I use Titebond for this task, but nearly nothing else.


Block shapes, as traced from the mold template.

Block shapes, as traced from the mold template.


The Wood for the New Violin

This will be a one-piece back of European Maple, neck and ribs matching the back, and a two-piece front plate of European Spruce. All were obtained from International Violin Co., of Baltimore, MD.

One-piece back, neck and ribs of European Maple, front of European Spruce.

One-piece back, neck and ribs of European Maple, front of European Spruce.

That trace on the back plate was put there by the wood-source people…it does not reflect the shape of this violin at all.

So! That is the Beginning!

I will carve the inner curves of the center-bout blocks next, so that I can bend and fit the center ribs to match those curves. Afterward, I will carve the outer curves of those same blocks as well as the tail and neck blocks, before bending and fitting the upper and lower ribs.

As a precaution against accidentally gluing the ribs to the mold, I already rubbed a paraffin candle all over the edges of the mold, where the ribs will touch, so that if an accidental drop of hide-glue ends up there, it will not stick. (Been there…broke the rib, before I figured out what was amiss.)

This is as far as I am going today…I am still recovering from hernia surgery last week, and I find I still tire easily. But I’m on my way, and will try to keep you posted, with progress reports, here

Thanks for looking.

Chet Bishop


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Fractional Violin Progress

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3/4-size Violin

3/4-size Violin Coming Along Slowly

Holidays are a hard time to be Productive. (No excuse; just a fact.)

I took off from work from the 21st of December through the 8th of January, partly because my daughter was going to be in town for that period of time, and partly because I hoped to get some work done at home. However, a couple of days ago  (12/29 and 30, 2016) were the first days I had occasion to work (almost) uninterrupted. It was quite a luxury. I had one more such day today (1/2/17), but I have not seemed to have much of my former stamina lately, so I did not accomplish as much as I had hoped. However, I did manage to:

  • Complete the Red Maple scroll,
  • Complete (and temporarily install) the Ebony fingerboard,
  • Complete the neck/fingerboard combination,
  • Dress the fingerboard (still a little more to do),
  • Complete the preliminary arching of the European Spruce front plate (still a little more to do, after purfling),
  • Trim the front linings and shape them, using a knife and scraper,
  • Layout and incise the f-holes (which facilitated the final correction of the arching), and
  • Begin the graduation of the front plate (inner arching).

Wood Choices

The back, neck, scroll and ribs are Michigan Red Maple, which I bought from Elon Howe, years ago: really nice stuff. The belly is European spruce, and feels quite crisp under the blade, as well as possessing a very clear bell-like ring, when tapped. It is certainly interesting to observe the differences in how one type of maple or spruce behaves as compared to another.

3/4-size scroll

The 3/4-size scroll as of January 2nd.


Arching and f-hole layout

Arching and f-hole layout.


Beginnings of Graduations

Beginnings of Graduations


Overall Project Progress as of January 2nd.

Overall Project Progress as of January 2nd.


Remaining Operations

Next, I hope to complete the graduations, cut out the f-holes, and install the bassbar. Then I will really be “on the home stretch”…or I will feel that way at least. I can install the front plate either before or after purfling it, then set the neck and remove the mold.

After that, I will install the back linings, shape them and the blocks, and complete the back plate.

Potential for Trouble

I accidentally left my gluepot turned on a couple of nights ago. Fortunately, all I lost was the glue. No damage to the pot or the glue jar, and no collateral damage. I’m still sort of kicking myself, though…it is a potentially dangerous mistake. My glue warmer only gets to about 145 or 150 degrees Fahrenheit, so there isn’t musch danger of a fire, but still….

I guess if that is my worst mishap for this violin, I will be doing well. No major setbacks, and no injuries, so far. (It doesn’t happen often, but when one works with razor-sharp hand-tools often enough, it is easy to have a “senior moment”, and nick oneself. Gotta be careful.) I have heard horror stories of serious injuries from other luthiers. So far, I have only needed stitches once, from a “slip” when carving the scroll to my #20 instrument, if I remember correctly. 🙂

Other Projects

During one of the several “hiatus occasions”, during the last two weeks, my wife and I built and installed a storm window in the utility room (we are expecting very cold weather, soon), and we hung curtains, too, among other things. Lots of visiting with family members and friends, of course. I did make a bentwood box for my daughter, too, but I already told about that project, of course. 🙂

As I said, holidays are not an easy time to get a lot of work done. But we keep trying. 🙂

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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, I 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 been 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, 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 for 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 began 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 become less and less obvious, as the varnishing nears completion. I am enjoying looking at the beautiful European maple and 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  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 date on the label 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.


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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More Fiddle Progress

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Progress on the Small (14-inch) Viola and the “Plowden” Guarneri model violin

Here are some photos of what is happening with these two fiddles. I decided to add a third instrument to the bench, so to speak, a 3/4-size violin (separate notes on separate thread), so it is slowing me down just a little.

Progress Checklist

Both the viola and the violin are moving along:

  • Arching is complete on the front plates of both instruments.
  • F-holes are laid out on both instruments, cut out and complete on the violin.
  • The bass bar has been fitted, installed and trimmed in the viola.
  • Graduation is nearly complete on the viola, complete on the violin.
  • The scrolls are partially carved…still a fair way to go.
  • The back plates are arched, but there is still some work to be done on each before I would call them absolutely complete.
  • The top plate has been installed on the violin, and purfling installed.
  • The violin top plate and rib garland are nearly complete…the edgework is done, but some refining will still happen.
  • You can see that I trimmed a couple of millimeters off the corners of the violin front plate. I will do the same on the other three plates as well.

Here are some photos:

July 3rd status of Guarneri-model violin.

July 3rd status of Guarneri-model violin. (Wood for back, sides and neck is European Maple. Wood for top is European Spruce.)


July 3rd status Guarneri-model violin back

July 3rd status Guarneri-model one-piece violin back. Arching and graduation are nearly complete.


July 3rd status of Oliver 14

July 3rd status of Oliver 14″ Viola.


July 3rd status Oliver 14 inch Viola front plate

July 3rd status Oliver 14 inch Viola front plate. Arching and graduation essentially complete. F-holes laid out and deeply incised. (Wood is Sitka Spruce.)


July 3rd status Oliver 14 inch Viola back plate

July 3rd status Oliver 14 inch Viola back plate. Arching and graduation nearly complete. (Wood is spalted, highly figured Big Leaf Maple, harvested about five miles from my house.)


July 3rd status Oliver 14 inch Viola scroll and neck.

July 3rd status Oliver 14 inch Viola scroll and neck. (Wood is spalted Big leaf maple…from the same log as the back plate.)


So…you can see that progress is happening. Not at a very exciting pace, but I hope the wait will be worthwhile.

My goal is to produce three very good instruments this summer/fall:

  • the 14-inch viola,
  • the Guarneri-model violin, and
  • the 3/4-size violin,

and then show them, along with a larger viola, to orchestra directors and teachers in the Greater Portland Area.

My rationale is that good small violas are hard to find, and so are good fractional sized instruments. If I can demonstrate to the teachers that I can produce very good instruments in smaller sizes, as well as the larger sizes, then perhaps they will recommend their students to me.

All I can do is try….

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Current “State of the Fiddles” report.

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Slow Progress, But Moving Along!


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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Progress report on two new fiddles

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Progress Report on the 14″ Oliver Viola, and the Violin Modeled after the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri.

“Life is what actually happens while you are making other plans.”

Well…company came and went, and the week didn’t happen exactly as I wanted it to; There were other things to do, and people to spend time with. My only daughter was here all week, which was nice– she flew in from Switzerland, with about a week’s notice. We went to the beach, Monday, and spent the day infiltrating all the art and clothing stores in Cannon Beach, then had fish and chips and headed home. 🙂

My younger brother dropped in for a surprise visit today, with my young neice. That was a nice visit. While they were here, a neighbor couple showed up, too. We ate and visited, and had a nice evening. Afterward, I helped Ann trim a hedge and haul the branches to the burning pile. All good things.

So! Progress report:

I am trying to keep the two instruments on parallel tracks for completion…hoping to keep them no more than a few hours apart in terms of progress.

Progress in building 14” Guarneri-model Viola and Violin:

(Hand-carved instruments begun on May 25th, 2016)

  1.  Cut and install the blocks. (May 25th)
  2. Prepare the ribs, by sanding (using a plywood jig I made to use with my spindle sander). (May 25th )
  3. Bend the ribs, using the bending iron, and install them on the blocks (several steps). (May 26th, 27th)
  4. Prepare, install and shape the front linings. (May 27th, 28th)
  5. Use the sanding board to flatten front of garland. (May 30th)
  6. Prepare the plate stock (book-match and flatten inner side) (Front only—one-piece backs on both fiddles.) (May 30th)
  7. Use the completed garland to establish the shape of the plates. (May 30th)
  8. Cut the front plate exactly to size, including filing and sanding. (Only got the viola cut out. I will cut out the violin tomorrow night if it isn’t too hot when I get home. )
  9. Lay out and cut out scroll and neck. (May 26th)

(Began carving both scrolls using gouges and small finger-planes—spent a good part of May 28th doing that, while waiting for bending irons to heat up, etc. More time as time and strength allow. That maple is tough stuff, and my hands tire quickly anymore.)

Here is the photo-evidence: Handmade in Oregon 🙂

two instruments in progress-viola and violin

May 30th Progress Report.


The instrument on the left is the 14″ viola, and is made of Oregon Big Leaf Maple, and Sitka Spruce. The one on the right is the violin, and is made of European Maple and Spruce. Both have blocks and linings of weeping willow.

I ran out of time and energy, so the cutting out of the violin plates will have to wait until later. Once they are cut out, I can begin arching the front plates, and get these things looking more like fiddles.

As you can see, I am trying corners that are a little longer, this time. I may end up shortening them after all, but I left extra in case I wanted them longer. Usually I make pretty short corners.

Vacation is Over– Back to Work!

That’s all I have to show, for today. I go back to work tomorrow. Classes are over for this term, but I still have to prepare certificates, and arrange make-up tests for those who need them.

(For those who don’t know, I teach Welding Supervision classes at Gunderson, Inc. where I have worked for the last nearly 30 years. I began there as a welder, but nowadays I mostly lecture. Print-reading classes, remedial Math classes, Welding Inspection classes, Safety, Metallurgy, etc. It is not as fun as making fiddles, but it is steady. :-))

Thanks for looking,


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