Posts Tagged ‘varnish’

Two for the Show!

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Two Fiddles for the Show

1735 “Plowden” copy finally completed

The varnish is still pretty soft (so players at the show will just have to be gentle); but the Plowden is finally complete, and playing well.

Completed Plowden Front

Completed “Plowden” copy front

 

Completed Plowden Back.

Completed “Plowden” copy back.

 

The 1715 “Titian” Stradivari copy and the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri del Gesu copy will both be there at the Corvallis Hilton Hotel, for the “Violin-Tasting Event” hosted by Jon Franke, from 12PM to 5PM March 10th.

I’ve been playing them, to my best ability, to get them opened up and the strings settled in, a bit, but I hope that far better players will be there tomorrow at the show.

Playing them in.

Playing them in…sort of. I’m not a very good player at all.

 

Anyway, here they are (finally): completed, and ready for a lifetime of music.

Two for the Show!

Two for the Show!

 

I also expect to exhibit violas, five-string fiddles, and a cello.

 

Hope to see you there!

 

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Plowden Nearly Completed

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Plowden Nearly Completed

Varnishing process nearly finished

I have been in a mad rush to complete this violin before the upcoming show (“Violin-Tasting Event”) this coming Sunday, at the Hilton hotel, in Corvallis, so I took very few photographs, but here are a few:

Varnished front, before pegs, saddle, or endpin.

Varnished front, before pegs, saddle, or endpin.

 

Varnished back, before pegs, saddle or endpin.

Varnished back, before pegs, saddle or endpin.

 

Once the varnish had hardened, I sanded it back very gently, installed the endpin, pegs and saddle, and then applied one more coat of varnish. It is very soft, now, so I scarcely dare touch it, to re-install the fingerboard, let alone set a bridge and add strings. I have it hanging up in our dining-room, where the woodstove is keeping things warm, in spite of the snowy weather we’ve been having. Hopefully it will be dry enough, by this evening, so that I can add the fingerboard and then complete the set-up tomorrow. I don’t want to rush things, but I am running out of time.

Anyway, here is how it looks right now:

Varnished front with pegs, endpin and saddle

Varnished front with pegs, endpin and saddle.

 

Varnished back with endpin, saddle and pegs.

Varnished back with endpin, saddle and pegs.

 

The instrument definitely still needs a rub-down, and I hope I will get to do all that before Sunday.

It looks and feels as though it will be a very good violin. Time will tell, of course.

 

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Finishing the Finish

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Finishing the Finish

Color Coats

When I last posted, I had only the yellow, base coats of varnish in place, so the violin looked like this:

Yellow Varnish

Yellow varnish

 

I added a rapid series of color coats; very thin, deeply-tinted varnish, and then it looked like this:

Color coat front

Color coat, front; emulating the wear patterns on the original 1715 “Titian” Stradivarius violin.

 

Color Coat, Back.

Color coat, back. Sorry for the poor quality photo…I used the zoom on my phone. Bad choice.

 

After that coat was good and dry, I continued to build the color in the areas that needed more, and trying to leave it appropriately light in the areas where the Old Master instrument had the most severe wear. I also noticed that there was a “bump”–a ridge in the spruce, near the purfling, which I had not been able to see in the clean, fresh wood, but which, under a reflective layer, became quite apparent. (Sigh...) So, I used a sharp scraper to bring the ridge down flat, and then began rebuilding the varnish layers to match the rest of the area.

Corrective

Corrective “surgery”…removed a ridge in the spruce that I had missed earlier. Rebuilding the varnish, now.

 

The back was looking pretty nice, though:

Back nearly complete.

Back nearly complete.

 

And, today, I installed the soundpost, and then applied two coats of clear varnish. Afterward, I installed the end-pin, the tuning pegs, and the fingerboard. Here it is with the clamps still in place.

End-pin, fingerboard and pegs installed

End-pin, fingerboard and pegs installed; pegs still need to be trimmed to length.

 

Endpin

Endpin couldn’t be seem in the previous photo…here it is.

 

Violin front, prior to set-up

Violin front, prior to set-up.

 

Violin back, prior to set-up.

Violin back, prior to set-up.

 

So: That’s as far as I got, today. Next time; the saddle, the nut and final set-up. This violin is nearly completed!

 

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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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Sealer Coat

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Sealer Coat

Cleaning off the Excess Gypsum

I used scrapers, very gently, in tight corners, and very worn 400-grit abrasive paper, more aggressively, on the easily accessible areas, to remove all the loose, or overly thick areas of the gypsum pore-filler from yesterday. It took longer than I expected, but this was the result:

Front, ready for sealer.

Front, ready for sealer.

 

Side view.

Side view.

 

Back, ready for sealer.

Back, ready for sealer.

 

You can see that the grain is somewhat obscured, and the color is quite light. I am wondering whether I did not succeed in rubbing the gypsum into the wood, as thoroughly as usual. Usually, the color has been nearly chalk-white. I can see the gypsum in the wood, though, so I am going to press on with the sealer coat.

 

Sealer Coat

This time, the sealer consisted of ordinary rosin in a solution of “pure spirits of gum turpentine”.  I probably should have made it a little thinner. It was about like light syrup; so, afterward, I dipped the brush in plain turpentine, and went back over the instrument to help the stuff penetrate a little better. The turpentine will all evaporate over the next few days (I hope), leaving only the rosin, solidifying in the pores of the wood.  It is always impressive to see just how completely the gypsum disappears, under the sealer.

The back plate, with the sealer coat applied.

The back plate, with the sealer coat applied.

 

Front plate and side, with the sealer coat applied.

Front plate and side, with the sealer coat applied.

 

Different angle

Different light angle shows the curl in a more attractive mode.

 

Now What?

Until that sealer dries completely, I will have to find other things to do.  But it is hanging in a warm room, so it should dry rapidly.

After that, It will be varnish coat after varnish coat, until it it is all done. Then the final set-up can occur.

 

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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.  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.) 🙂

 

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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Final Shaping and Scraping

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Final Shaping and Scraping

The Channels and Edges

The last time I posted, the back purfling had been installed, but the back channel had not been begun, nor were the edges trimmed and rounded. I drew in the edge crest line, just as I did on the front plate, and carved the channel with a gouge, then began scraping the channel and fairing the curve of the channel up into the curves of the arching.

Beginning Channel

Beginning the channel

 

Sample corner, after preliminary scraping.

Sample corner, after gouging and preliminary scraping.

 

After I had gone over the entire instrument under a low-angle light, looking for “lumps and bumps” (any little discontinuity that will be visible under the varnish…and they all are), I wetted a cloth with black coffee, and rubbed the whole instrument down with the damp rag. This accomplishes two things: it begins to lend a very light yellow cast to the wood, and, more importantly, for now, it raises the grain, so that every little splinter that was pressed down by the scraper, instead of being severed and removed, will now stand up and be visible…easy to find and remove, using either a very sharp scraper or, eventually, a very fine abrasive. (In general, I avoid abrasives, because I am not convinced that the surface left by fine abrasives is the same as the surface left by a sharp scraper. But, as a means of smoothing between varnish coats, or just before varnishing, I feel it is viable. I also use it on the edges of the plates…especially the spruce.)

So…here is the instrument, dampened with coffee. When the coffee is dry, I will continue the smoothing and shaping process.

Coffee rubdown.

Coffee rubdown. When it dries, it will leave a pale yellow stain…very slight.

 

coffee surface

You can see the pale yellow color, and the shape of the corners. The surface actually feels rough, now, though it looks smooth.

 

Scroll with coffee dampening.

Scroll with coffee dampening. Notice the splinters on the edge of the curves.

 

Front of scroll.

Front of scroll. See how rough the wood looks…lots of scraping still to come. And maybe some abrasive smoothing.

 

Back plate with coffee stain.

Back plate with coffee stain.

 

Final Scraping of the Whole Surface

Once the coffee was completely dry, I went to one of the few places in the house where I can get a fairly dim, very low-angle light across the violin, and went over the instrument, intently searching for either rough patches or places where the smooth continuum of the arching is interrupted by a ripple, a ridge, or a bulge, etc. I want the arching to be as close to perfect as possible, and every transition from curve to curve to be flawlessly smooth.  (I have never actually achieved this level of perfection, but that remains the standard. Every time, however, after the varnish is applied, I find things I missed.)

After scraping every surface, very gently, with a sharp scraper, until all seem to be very smooth, I rub the instrument down with coffee again. Usually, this time, the grain will not raise as agressively as before, because I did not press the grain with the scrapers but just “brushed” the surface, taking off mere dust, but leaving the channels and transitions looking finished and shiny-smooth.  This is an important time to watch for anomalies of any sort, because once the varnish is applied, it is very difficult to go back and “fix” things. Several of my earlier instruments have an odd pattern of dark stripes in the upper front bass bout, following the curve of the outer edge, and adjacent to the neck. These could have been avoided by careful scraping under a low-angle light.  They remain as permanent record of my “learning curve.” (sigh…)

Here is how the instrument looks, ready to begin the finishing process:

Front plate, ready to begin finishing process

Front plate, ready to begin. (I will remove the fingerboard first.)

 

Side view

Side view.

 

Detail of Scroll.

Detail of Scroll.

 

Back view.

Back view.

 

Detail of button and neck heel.

Detail of button and neck heel.

 

Detail of Center bout, ribs and corners.

Detail of Center bout, ribs and corners.

 

As you can see, there are are a few things I will probably want to touch-up just a little more before I actually varnish, but, overall, I am satisfied that I am ready to move forward. There will always be little things I change at the last minute, but that is just my nature.

 

What’s Next?

So…the next “big” thing is to remove the fingerboard (easy to do…I only held it on there with three dots of hide glue), and then I will rub very fine gypsum mixed with coffee into the whole instrument, and rub it back off before it dries. The goal is to fill the pores, so that the varnish will not saturate the wood.

After that is dry (and it will look chalk-white), I will apply a coat of sealer (rosin dissolved in turpentine, at the moment), to lock the gypsum down, and further seal the pores. After that; varnish time!

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Button and Back Purfling

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Button and Back Purfling

Trimming the Button and Heel

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

Back plate installed; button and heel not yet trimmed.

Back plate installed; button and heel not yet trimmed.

 

Tools for completion.

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

 

Button shape.

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

 

Side view of heel and butto

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

 

Installing the Purfling

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

Purfling slot lines lightly incised.

Purfling slot lines lightly incised.

 

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

Purfling slot, half-depth.

It looks good, but it is not deep enough.

 

Purfling slot ready for purfling.

Purfling slot ready for purfling.

 

Back purfling installed...glue still wet.

Back purfling installed…glue still wet. 🙂

 

Front view

And the Front!

 

Back to Work!

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

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

 

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Closure!

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Closure!

Leveling the Garland

Last time I posted, I had installed the back linings, shaped the blocks and linings, and was nearly ready to close the box. It looked like this:

The blocks and linings are shaped.

The blocks and linings are shaped…but the garland is not leveled, yet.

 

To the unassisted eye, the back of the garland really looked pretty flat. In fact, I had used a hand-operated abrasive tool (a Sandvik tool…they apparently went out of production, years ago…but I love the few I have) to try to level it all the way around, thinking it might be easier. But when I clamped it up, to test the plan, it was not even close to level…so, back to the sanding board!

To level the garland, I made pencil marks all around the mating surface of the garland, and then rubbed the entire structure on the abrasive surface until all the marks disappeared. Presto! Flat!

 

Installing the Back Plate

Then, while the glue was heating up, I carefully went over the perimeter and inner surface of the back plate and made sure the curves were smooth and consistent. Once I was satisfied with it, I carefully aligned the back plate on the garland, pushing and pulling a little to get the overhang even, all the way around. I clamped only at the blocks, initially, then began using a thin-bladed palette knife to insert glue into the joint. I removed the clamps at the bottom block, first, and inserted glue so that the joint between the bottom block and the back plate was fully coated, then slid the blade left and right, as far as it would go, spreading glue on the joints between ribs/linings and back plate. I quickly reapplied the clamps at the bottom block, and added more between there and the corners. Loosened the next set of clamps, and repeated the routine.

Once the entire perimeter was glued and clamped, with an extra clamp at the button-to-heel joint, I could set the whole assembly aside to dry. It is closed!  (I really like looking at that one-piece European maple back.) 🙂

Closed corpus, back view.

Closed corpus, back view.

 

Closed corpus, side view.

Closed corpus, side view.

 

Closed Corpus, Front view.

Closed corpus, front view.

I will let the glue dry overnight, then remove the clamps and trim the heel to the correct profile, trimming button to match the heel, so that they are shaped as one unit. Then I will carve the slot in the back plate for purfling, install the purfling, and, finally, prepare the whole instrument for varnishing. I hope to be ready to begin the finishing process by this weekend.

 

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