Posts Tagged ‘five-string fiddle’

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.

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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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5-String Progress #8; Neck-set (and more)

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Five string Fiddle Progress: Neck-set and more

Completing the Scroll

Last week, I had left the scroll nearly finished, but still lacking the outer fluting under the neck, and still pretty rough. (Honestly, I continue “fine-tuning” scrolls right up ’til I begin varnishing.) So, the first thing was to get the scroll and neck completed well enough that I could set the neck.

Completed scroll and neck

Completed scroll and neck

 

Completed pegbox

Completed pegbox

I am never fully satisfied with my work, but I have to decide at an appropriate point that it is OK to move to the next step. However, scroll and neck carving is much more difficult after the neck is set, so I want to have them pretty close to how I want the finished product to look, before I begin setting the neck.

Setting the Neck

Setting the neck begins with careful layout of the heel “footprint” on the neck block of the violin body (often called “corpus”). I already had the centerline of each laid out, so it was a matter of transferring lines accurately, and then cutting along those lines so that when the wood was carved from between the saw-cuts, the heel of the violin neck should fit, snug and straight, into the prepared neck-mortise. I always leave a little extra, so that the mortise is too small to begin with: it is much easier to take off a little more, than to replace wood.

I did not take pictures of this procedure– simply wasn’t thinking about photographs, and I forgot. It went very smoothly, this time, though, and I think I had it ready to fit in around 30 minutes, or a little more. (Usually it takes me longer.)

Here’s the neck mortise, ready to receive the neck:

Completed neck mortise

Completed neck mortise

 

Side view of neck mortise

Side view of neck mortise

 

And here is the neck, dry-fitted into the mortise:

Dry-fit neck

Dry-fit neck

Once I knew that everything fit the way it ought, and that it was going to be straight, tight, and at all the correct angles, I was ready to glue. The things I have to check are five points of measurement:

  1. The distance from the upper end of the fingerboard (where the nut will be) to the upper edge of the top plate (both sides) has to be 130 mm.
  2. The neck has to be measurably straight, so that the centerline of the neck and scroll are a continuation of the centerline of the corpus.
  3. The neck can’t be twisted (rolled side to side)…it should be level with the plane of the ribs, side to side.
  4. The height of the upper edge of the heel of the neck (underside of the fingerboard) should be 6 mm above the top plate.
  5. The height of the end of the fingerboard above the top plate should be between 19 mm and 23 mm, with 21 mm being optimum.

I realize that there are different ways of approaching virtually everything in lutherie, and there are sure to be experts reading this, who are shaking their heads, but: this is the way I was taught, and it has worked well for me.

I prepared the hot hide glue, and brushed it into the mortise, and onto the bottom of the neck-heel, and along the edges of the heel. Then I quickly rammed the neck heel home in the mortise, and checked to make sure all my measurements had held (primarily the height of the fingerboard above the plate.) All was in order, so I set it aside to dry. Here is the completed neck joint, with the glue squeezing out around the joint:

Glued neck-joint

Glued neck-joint

 

Side view.

Side view. You can see that I will have to plane off the back of the neck-heel so that the back plate will fit.

 

Back view.

Back view. When the glue is dry, I will remove the mold and trim the blocks.

After the glue dried, I planed the neck heel flat, then removed the mold by breaking the glue-joint at each block (six places) and simply lifting out the mold. Then I trimmed the blocks and was ready for the back linings.

Inside view, ready for back linings.

Inside view, ready for back linings.

 

Exterior view:

Exterior view: Looks good, doesn’t it? But it still has a long way to go.

Installing the Back Linings

The first thing I do to prepare for installing linings is to cut mortises in both sides of each block, into which to insert the linings. I use a thin knife and a very small chisel to cut the mortises.

I make the linings by first sawing the chosen wood to about 2 mm thick, in 2-3″-wide “planks”, about 18 inches long, and then using a wheel-style marking gauge to cut off strips 7 mm wide. I wet each strip and bend them around a hot bending iron, until I can fit them into the corpus. I want them to fit tightly. The center bout linings are bent in such a way that without clamps they would tend to buckle away from the ribs, so I use small spring clamps to dry-fit them. The upper and lower bouts will stay put on their own.

Linings, dry-fit.

Linings, dry-fit.

Then, one by one, I remove each lining and brush hot hide glue along the portion of the rib that will receive it, as well as on the lining itself, making sure the ends are liberally coated, as well as the full length and width of the gluing surface. I quickly re-insert the rib, and clamp it in place with as many small spring clamps as I can fit along its length.

Linings glued and clamped in place.

Linings glued and clamped in place.

That is it for today. I’m tired, and 3:45 AM will come all too early (back to work tomorrow).

The next step will be to level the back surface of the ribs and neck heel, and then trace the back plate from that pattern, so that it will fit perfectly. (The neck heel is still not in the correct finished shape, but the back plate button and the neck heel will be shaped as one piece, after the back plate is glued in place.)

Next time we’ll start carving the back.

Thanks for looking.

 

 

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Five-String Fiddle Progress post #3

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5-string progress #3

Arching and F-holes

Last time, I had traced and cut out the top plate, and actually, I began the work on it, thinning the plate to the desired arching height– but that is when I discovererd that there was a bark inclusion that extended right through the upper bouts. So, for those “sharp-eyed” among you, who notice that the grain has changed; Yep. It surely has! Too bad…I liked the grain of the spruce in the plate I first chose, but it turns out it was just a little too interesting.

So, on this plate, all I have done is the outer arching and the layout and incision of the f-holes. After completing the arching, but before final scraping, I laid out the distance from the upper edge of the plate to the “stop” line (where the bridge will stand) at 195 mm, then laid out the distance between the upper eyes at 42 mm. I used a plastic template that I made years ago (cut out of an old flexible face-shield– the kind welders use when they are grinding steel) to lay out the shape of the holes, then incised them deeply with a thin knife. They would have been virtually invisible in the photos, so I traced them again with a sharp pencil after incising them, so that you could see them in these photos.

Arching and f-holes

Arching complete, f-holes laid out and incised.

Arching: Final Check

Next I checked the arching by sighting edge-ways at the plate, to see whether the main stem of each f-hole is fairly parallel to the rib-plane. Usually I find that I have left the arching a little too “puffy” around the lower stem and lower eye area of the f-holes and need to plane away a few more strokes to get the stems lined up. I don’t think the looks of the f-holes are the main issue, here– the shape of the arching is fairly critical to the sound, as best I can understand, and this is just a “marker” for me to check.

Side view of f-holes.

Checking to see that f-holes are aligned with rib-plane.

Obviously, this alignment is something I have to do before I try to complete the inside carving, or there might not be sufficient thickness left to do the final adjustment. I try to estimate and get this area as close to correct as possible before laying out the f-holes, but I have had to adjust them at least a little, every time, so far.

After I am satisfied with the overall shape of the arching, I use scrapers to reduce all the lines and ridges left by the finger planes into a smooth continuum.

Graduation: Beginning the Interior

Once I have the outside arching the way I want it, I can start on the inside, and the final graduation of the plate. I hold a pencil in my fingers so that about 9 mm protrudes onto the plate, and then run my fingers around the edges…nothing precise about it: it is just a guideline for carving. I want to leave this area untouched until the last bit when I am scraping the inside, before installing the bassbar. I use the same template that I use for the final shape of the end blocks to scribe the shape of the area to be glued to the blocks. I scribe in the corner blocks  with a curved scraper that just happens to fit the shape I want. All this outer perimeter area will be left flat until the last step before installing the bassbar, and/or installing the plate on the ribs. I want just the gluing surface flat when I am ready to install the plate.

Inside front plate, before carving

Inside carving plan.

Preparing for Graduation: Measure First!

It pays to use a caliper and check the thickness all over before beginning to carve. I do have a mental image of the desired shape of the interior, but I do not have a mental map of the thickness of the plate, so I measure at least the areas that already feel pretty thin to my fingers, and decide how much should come off in each area. As it turns out, this time, no areas are really borderline, but some are within 1.5 mm or so, so I will be careful around those places. I am aiming for about 3.5 mm down the middle, fairing down to 2.5 in the upper and lower flanks. and a few places 2 mm, very likely. I will try to leave some areas a little thick, where there is a likelihood of cracking, but in general, I expect this will be a pretty thin plate…the spruce is a little dense (which I have had good results with in the past), so it can stand to be a little thinner than usual.

After the inside is carved and scraped to my satisfaction, I will complete the cutting out and shaping of the f-holes, then chalk-fit and install the bassbar. I will post photos of all that.

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Progress Report: Post #2

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Five-String Fiddle Coming Along Fine!

A day off from work means a long day on Lutherie!

I got up at 5:45 AM (usually I get up at 3:45, so this was luxury), had breakfast, watered some fruit trees, checked e-mail, and got to work. I knew the outbuilding shop where my power tools are was going to get hot very rapidly today (99 deg. F predicted, I think), so I did all I could do out there while it was still cool, then worked in the basement shop for the rest of the day.

  1. I took those rough-sawn ribs and thinned them to 1mm all over, using a fixture I made for my oscillating spindle sander (one of the few power tools I use), and cut out the neck block using my small bandsaw. I have a large bandsaw for cutting up large pieces of wood, etc. That is what I used to divide the back block into the two pieces to be joined at the back center seam (next.)
  2. I then cut out the back and front plate pieces, and joined them, book-matched, so that the grain is nearly symmetrical bilaterally, both front and back. It wasn’t easy this time. I don’t know why. I use a small hand-plane to flatten the edges until they fit nearly air-tight– definitely light-tight. I have a larger plane but this wood was so wild it required a very low-angle plane, set very light, or it tears out at all the curly grain.
  3. I glued the two halves of the front plate together using hot hide glue, and, while it was drying, I cut the ribs to the correct widths and lengths for each of the six pieces, planning as best I could to get the grain to line up appropriately at all junctions.
  4. Once the front plate was dry enough to remove the clamps, I glued up the back plate, in the same manner. Some people get a great center-join using a rubbed-joint method. I have done it that way, but I am more comfortable if I add three clamps after I do the rub.
  5. While the back dried, I planed the front plate to get it more or less level across the inner face.
  6. I took the neck blank and laid out all the measurements on it, and began shaping it a little while I was waiting for other things.

About 11:00 AM I decided I was hungry, so I had a salad and some coffee, and took a picture of the work as it stood:

All the wood in progress.

All the wood in progress.

Back to Work!

  1. I drilled 1/8″ pilot-holes in the scroll block for the pegs. When I drill them early like this I can use the drill press and get the holes perpendicular to the center line. My teacher does not do them this way– he says it risks sags in the varnish, and advocates drilling after all varnishing is complete. (He is probably right, but I can never seem to drill the holes correctly by hand, so I will risk the varnish issues.) I was right about working early in the outside shop– it is really getting hot out there now.
  2. I used the small bandsaw to cut the side cheek excess wood off the pegbox, and trued up the heel where it was too long. From here on out the scroll will all be hand-work.
  3. I used the electric bending iron to bend all six ribs, as well as the front linings. I will have to make some more lining stock– this was all I had for the moment. Fortunately they are easy to make. The linings add strength to the edges of those 1mm ribs, which are otherwise extremely fragile. They also triple the gluing surface of the rib edges, so the joint between the ribs and plates are much more secure. I try to get as much done as I can while the iron is hot, and then turn it off; for one thing, it takes about 20 minutes to heat up: but also, if you forget and leave it on, and then forget it is hot, you can get a bad burn. I keep mine at about 400 degrees F.
  4. I installed the C-bout (center) ribs, and glued them in place with hot hide glue, using wine-cork clamping cauls (donated by a friend) for the small-radius upper corners and broom-handle cauls for the lower corners. (This is really going to be a pretty instrument. The wood is gorgeous. I hope it plays well.) The upper and lower surfaces are an even larger radius, so they will be clamped using a section of large wooden closet rod. Sorry I didn’t take photos of these steps. Wasn’t thinking about pictures…I was just working.

More Pictures

Violin in beginning stages

Ribs and linings bent; Center ribs installed; Upper and lower corner surfaces shaped; Scroll begun.

As you can see, the ribs sprang back quite a bit after being bent. I should have thought ahead and prepared a block to which to clamp them while they were waiting to be glued in place. I have such a block–I just didn’t expect the springback to be so severe.

Close-up photo of the Scroll start

Close-up photo of the Scroll…pretty rough-looking, at this point, but that is how they start out…at least when I carve them.

Scroll layout lines

In this photo, you can see some of the layout lines of the pegbox. The wood is so dark that the pencil lines are hard to see.

As you can see above, after the glue was dry on the center ribs, I worked the final shape on the upper and lower surfaces of the corner blocks to ready them for the upper and lower ribs. Then:

  1. I installed the upper ribs, and, while the glue was drying on those ribs,
  2. I worked some more on the scroll. At this point the simplest way to begin removing excess wood is by cutting from the sides in to very near the layout lines for the scroll volute (the back of the scroll.) I do this by clamping the neck to a work-surface (in this case a lap-board.) and carefully starting the cuts, one at a time, spiraling up the scroll from each side. Usually I can then remove the waste wood with a knife or a flat wood-carving chisel, but the grain in this wood is too wild, so I had to try to follow the cuts around the scroll with the saw, then do the final cutting with sharp gouges and small planes.
Pull-saw and clamp

Pull-saw and clamp.

Wood Removal

Wood Removal.

Meanwhile, the glue was dry enough that I could remove the clamps from the upper ribs and install the lower ribs. When the lower rib glue was dry, I installed the front linings. These little spring clamps are really handy. I got them on a sale once, at Home Depot, for about 37 cents apiece, if I remember correctly. They are just right for this sort of work, and I bought over 100 of them…cleaned ’em out at Home Depot.

Lining clamps

Ribs and linings all installed…waiting for glue to dry.

I had been working on the scroll between other tasks, so it is coming along, too, but I am getting pretty tired, so this is about as far as I expect to get tonight. Here are a few more photos:

Side view of lining clamps.

Side view of lining clamps holding the linings while the glue dries.

Linings

The glue is dry enough to hold, so I am removing the clamps. Here you can see the linings contrasted against the dark wood of the ribs.

Front linings

All front linings visible, here. They will still need to be shaped (tapered and scraped smooth) before the violin is closed up.

Difficult wood.

This is difficult wood to work, but the scroll is progressing in satisfactory manner.

Treble side of unfinished scroll.

Other side (Treble side.)

Back of unfinished scroll.

And, the back; barely begun, but you can see the Volute beginning.

And that is it for today! Too tired…gonna call it a night. It is 11:45 PM

Thanks for looking.

Chet

 

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Progress Notes on Another 5-string (post #1)

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Five String Fiddle Progress

A fellow approached me a few months back, asking whether I could build a five-string fiddle of some exotic wood which he had bought almost 33 years ago, and which he had hung onto all this time. Of course I am delighted to make an instrument that is special to a client, so I said “Sure!”

Wood

Here is the wood (Nice stuff! I can see why he hung onto it!):

The wood from which this fiddle will be built.

The wood from which this fiddle will be built.

 

The neck, back and ribs will all be cut from this block. Actually there will be a fair amount left over, so I will try to use it in an efficient manner so that he can use the scraps for something nice, too. The front plate will be spruce. The blocks and linings are willow…not sure which specific variety.

Templates–Patterns

Here is how the pattern will fit–with lots of room left over:

Wood with patterns

Plenty of extra from which to cut rib-stock.

The section from which the back plate will be cut will be sawn into two pieces, each half the thickness of the original block. The two pieces will be glued edge to edge, so that they are “bookmatched”: that is to say that the straight edge of the mold template will become the centerline of the back plate. (I will show photos of how it is done when I get to that part.) The same thing will happen with the spruce for the front plate.

Progress and Plans

The five string fiddle will be built to my usual “Oliver 5-string” Pattern. So, the first thing I needed to do was to cut the ribstock using a band-saw. (I sliced them off at 2mm thick, later to be thinned to 1mm thick before bending to shape.) I also cut willow blocks for the four corners and the two ends.

Ribs and blocks with wood and patterns

Ribs and blocks with wood and patterns

Then I needed to glue the blocks into the mold, and mark them for their outer shape. This shape will be the inside shape of the ribs, and the blocks will become a permanent portion of the finished instrument. The mold will be removed as soon as the rib structure is safely glued to the front plate (not pictured here.) Once the glue was dry, I laid the mold-template on the centerline of the blocks, and scribed around it with a pencil.

Blocks glued into the mold, and marked for shaping.

Blocks glued into the mold, and marked for shaping.

After the blocks were marked, I was ready to begin shaping them. I really only want the center curves shaped to their final profile: the rest of the corner blocks need to stay a little thick, so as to guarantee they will not deform when I am gluing and clamping the center ribs in place. I went ahead and shaped the end blocks as well, as that does not hurt anything.

C-bouts and end blocks shaped to receive ribs.

C-bouts and end blocks shaped to receive ribs.

Here’s a side view of the same thing:

Blocks and Mold, side view.

Blocks and Mold, side view.

Once the center ribs are bent to the correct shape, I will glue them to the center bout surfaces of the corner blocks, and after the glue is dry, I will shape the outer surfaces to receive the upper and lower ribs. From that point forward, it will begin to look more and more like a violin.

I will keep you posted.

Thanks for reading.

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Latest Five-string Fiddle Nearly Complete

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Maple/Spruce combination Five-string Fiddle

This is the one I mentioned in an earlier post that I hoped to have completed before beginning the commissioned fiddle. It is nearly complete: only varnishing and set-up left to do.

Maple and Spruce

This wood was given to me by a friend, who, many years ago, had gotten the “gotta build a violin” bug, but it never developed into the real “disease” (as it did in my case.) I don’t know where the wood originated…all I can tell for sure is that it is Maple and Spruce. I believe he had bought a “kit” of wood from a company in Oklahoma, which is no longer in business. (Who knows where they got it….)

He finally donated the wood and other supplies to me, with the request that it actually would become a fiddle. So…here it is, with the first seal-coat on, and drying in the sun, on top of my car.

Five String Fiddle Front with first coat of sealr, drying in the sun.

Five String Fiddle Front with first coat of sealer, drying in the sun.

Five string fiddle back, drying in the sun

And the back…

I expect that the flame in the maple will be more pronounced with the varnish in place, but it is a pretty nice-looking fiddle anyway, so I am not really anxious about the moderate flame.

I wanted to get this done before my friend and his wife move away, later this month…but I am cutting it awfully close.

I will post more photos later.

Thanks for looking.

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New Commission! Five String Fiddle!

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Commission Resulting from the Show

One of the results of the Marylhurst Musical Instrument Makers’ show was that a fellow quietly approached me at my table, asking me about building him a five-string fiddle beginning in June (I don’t know why the delay…perhaps he is busy…).

Exotic woods

He had some exotic hardwood he had purchased 30-some years ago, and he asked whether I could build a five string fiddle from it. (Sure!) He asked about a deposit, and I told him that in general it is not needed; that I would rather just build the instrument, and see to it that he is really pleased with it before any money changes hands (see my “Commissions” page).

So…June 9th or soon thereafter, I will meet with him to discuss the particulars that he hopes for in his 5-string fiddle.

In this particular case, the exotic hardwood is one that is no longer legal to cut (or at least was protected for a long time), but he still has the receipt from having purchased it before the cutting-ban, so I am willing to work with it. There are some materials I would be afraid to use, simply because conservationists are essentially making it illegal to own such things, let alone use them in crafts.

Other Five-string Fiddles

I have two other five string fiddle projects in the works, both partly completed: one is a Maple/Spruce combination and the other a Myrtle/Port Orford Cedar combination. I hope to complete the Maple one before I begin the commissioned instrument. I will post pictures of it when it is complete.

Other Instruments

I recieved very good reviews on my newest violin, though it was less than 48 hours old. I know what the differences were in its construction, and can repeat them, so I have ordered more European wood specifically for classical violins, and will be turning out a pair, soon: one modeled after the “Plowden” (1735) Guarneri del Gesu, and the other modeled after the “Dolphin” (1715) Stradivarius. I expect them both to be top quality. 🙂

Cello

I also had reason to begin another “Davidov” model cello: this one will be Red Spruce top with Big-leaf Maple back, sides and neck. I have already begun it as well, but am not far along. I will post photos as it progresses.

So, that’s the news…details later!

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Neck and Scroll Carving Procedure

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Two Hand-carved Five String Fiddle Scrolls in Progress

First: Lay out the Side Profile

I created a template for a five-string fiddle neck and scroll when I made my first 5 string blue-grass fiddle. The template is fairly crude; just a cutout of thin plywood (door-skin material). I have other templates I have made of aluminum, and still others of plexiglass plastic. But that is the starting place, regardless of template materials. I know how thick the billet needs to be, and how long, so I simply place the template on the billet of curly maple, and trace around it with a ball-point pen. (I used to use a pencil, but the ink is easier to see against the wood.)

Violin neck billet laid out for cutting.

Violin neck billet with profile laid out. Notice that the pegbox is a little shorter, because it only has to accommodate four strings.

 Next: Cut out the Profile

I use a band-saw to cut out the profile of plates and necks. I do have a bow-saw that I made for such work, and I can use it if need be. but I find the bandsaw so much easier to control and so much faster, and the results are so much better, that I quit using the bow-saw after about two instruments. It looks nice, hanging on the wall.

Power Tools vs. Hand Tools?

Some people are insistent that the “only right way” to make a hand-made instrument is to use nothing but hand-powered tools. I have built one instrument using only hand tools. I will probably never do so again. There is a reason that bandsaws, drill presses, etc were developed: they not only save wear and tear on your body, they do better work, as a rule. Can they cause damage? Absolutely. So can any tool.

I use a practiced eye and steady hand to guide the billets through a bandsaw. I complete all the carving of each hand-carved instrument using gouges, planes, chisels, and scrapers.

The vast majority of my work is done using hand tools, but there are certain tasks for which I use the appropriate power tool, and make no apology for doing so. (By the way, I live eight miles outside a small town, and when I go to town, I drive…I don’t have a horse, and my time is too valuable (and limited) to walk that far just to satisfy some atavistic “back in time” quirk. I use electric lamps, etc., too, unless we have a power outage.) (sigh… OK, rant over…)

Violin neck billet with side profile cut out.

Here’s that same violin neck billet with the side profile cut out.

Lay out the Front and Back Shapes

I have a table of measurements I use, to lay out the front and back lines of the scroll and neck. The top of the neck is just over 24mm, the widest part of the pegbox front is 26mm, the distance from the leading edge of the nut to where the neck intersects the top plate is 130mm, and so forth.

I lay these out using a metric rule, a compass,  and a flexible straightedge. The main straightedge is just a stainless steel ruler with a cork backing that I bought from a fabric store. But I need a very flexible straightedge when I am laying out the curly portion of the scroll, so I cut a spiral strip out of a large soft-drink can (actually it was one of those oversized “energy drink” cans. Someone at work had it, and was going to throw it out, so I snagged it and made good use of the thin aluminum sides.) It is about 40mm wide, and long enough to wrap around the scroll, giving me a clean, smooth curve to scribe in with the pen. Aluminum flashing would work, too, but this was free. You can see the layout lines in the next step.

Cut off the Excess Wood from the Pegbox

I use the bandsaw, again, to trim all the waste wood from about two inches down the neck up to where the pegbox begins to disappear under the curve of the scroll. I leave the scroll and almost all of the neck full thickness, so that the billet will sit flat on the drill press table, and I can get the pilot holes for the pegs drilled parallel– perpendicular to the centerline of the neck.

Another nice thing about leaving the handle portion of the neck for last, is that it leaves me two parallel surfaces, so I can clamp the scroll in a vise, and use both hands to control the gouge, plane, saw, or other hand tool.

Front and back profiles laid out; excess wood trimmed from cheeks of pegbox.

Front and back profiles laid out– excess wood trimmed form cheeks. You can see, too, that I already began carving the heel (or chin) of the pegbox. Just a personal preference.

Layout and Drill the Peg Pilot Holes

Some people wait until the whole violin is completed, including varnishing, to drill the peg holes, but I find it too difficult to get them parallel with one another that way. If I can drill a 1/8″ pilot hole for each of them, using a drill press, so that they are exactly perpendicular to the center of the neck, I find it much easier to complete the neck later, than if I have to try to get them right with no flat surface from which to reference the perpendicularity of the holes. You’ll see these holes in the next blog post. So long as they get done before I cut the excess wood from the neck and scroll, I will be OK, because the neck will still sit squarely on the drill press table.

Carve the Pegbox

There are several ways to do this. A lot of makers use a drill to hog out the waste wood from the hole, and then use chisels and gouges to smooth and complete the work. I usually just use the chsels and gouges right from the beginning…one mistake with the drill, and the scroll becomes firewood.

I use a narrow, flat chisel to begin the work, and develop some depth, then use a wider, flat chisel to flatten the inside of the pegbox “cheeks,” and to deepen the box floor. I have to be careful to not go too deep. I have (once) cut so deep that, later, when I cut the fluting (volute) from the outside, I cut through into the interior of the pegbox. That is another good way to transform a nice scroll into firewood. Pretty sad when that happens.

I tend to begin by carving the outside of the pegbox heel… it makes me feel better about the scroll, if something about it is already starting to look like a finished scroll.

Four preliminary steps shown all together.

Here you can see all four of the preliminary steps, including the beginning of carving out the pegbox. You can see, too, the extra length in the five string fiddle pegboxes (on the right).

I will show photos of the succeeding steps in the next blog post. What you see above, though, is the beginning of all those nice violin, viola, cello, bass and five string fiddle scrolls you have enjoyed looking at.

Thanks for reading.

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