5 String Fiddle Progress Report #6: Front Plate Installation and Purfling

Please share with your friends!

Five String Fiddle Front Plate Installation

Back to Work!

It was fun working on the Sawmill, and just as we got that done our daughter came home (from Switzerland) for a visit, so, between that and all the overtime at work (teaching print-reading classes), it has been hard to get going again, but the fiddle has been patiently waiting on the dinig room table for me to get back to work.

Installing the Front Plate

I levelled the garland by scrubbing it back and forth on a sanding board, then aligned the plate on the garland and clamped it with spool clamps. After heating up the glue, I removed a few clamps at a time and inserted the glue with a thin pallete-knife, and re-applied the clamps. In this way, I can work my way around the perimeter, accurately and easily gluing the plate in place without fear that the glue will gel before I can get the plate clamped in place.

front plate with garland
Front plate glued in place

Ready to begin Purfling

The purfling is an inlay that is partially decorative, and to some degree a protection against cracks and splits– an edge reinforcement. There are some (usually very cheap) instruments that have the purfling simply painted on, so that it only looks good, but has no other function. They are usually seen as sub-standard, though, and I will not consider making an instrument that way…so, here is the beginning point: the purfling marker. Two blades set apart by the exact thickness of the purfling to be inlaid, and the distance from the edge set, as well.

Purfling marker
Purfling marker

Some people call this a purfling cutter, but it really does not workwell if you try to use it to cut the slot. I mark the slot with this tool and then cut the slot with a sharp, thin knife. In use, the purfling marker should be held exactly perpendicular to the plate, and tightly against the plate edge.

Purfling marker in use.
Purfling marker in use: see the double lines.

The purfling marker will not complete the corners, and they are fairly critical to the overall look, so I carefully sketch them in with a very sharp pencil.

Sketching the corners
Sketching the corners

Cutting the Purfling Slot

I usually use an X-acto knife to cut the slot, and pick the center out with one of several tools made for that purpose.

Purfling tools.
Purfling tools.

The first trip around the plate it is important to go lightly but very accurately, so that I am barely deepening the marks left by the purfling marker: after that I can cut more deeply.

Incising the Purfling Slot
Incising the Purfling Slot

Cleaning the Purfling Slot

After I am satisfied that the cuts are the correct depth all the way around, I carefully pick out the center of the slot and clean the slot, using a purfling pick. I have some that I made myself, but this one was given to me by Jake Jelley, and it works very well.

Purfling Pick in Use
Purfling Pick in Use
Ready to Install Purfling
Ready to Install Purfling

Installing the Purfling

Some people make their own purfling…maybe I will try it someday, but for now, I buy mine in three-ply strips. The strips are too brittle to bend, so I use a bending iron to make them flexible and to bend them to the correct curvature for the tight corners.

Purfling strips with prepared frot plate
Purfling strips with prepared front plate


I try to install the C-bout purfling first, then force the mitered ends of the upper and lower bout purfling against the mitered ends of the c-bout purfling. It takes practice to get good at this: I do not claim to have “arrived”. But it does seem to be getting easier. (I read the other day that someone asked Pablo Casals why, at 93 years of age, he was still practicing the cello for three hours a day. He said, “I think I am seeing some improvement!”) (Good one, Maestro!)

C-bout Purfling installed
C-bout Purfling installed dry

Then I install the rest of the purfling strips: I want the slots to fit snugly, but not so tight that I will struggle to install them once I apply the hide glue.

Purfling installed dry.
All Purfling installed dry. Spliced in some places, but after gluing the splices will be invisible.

Gluing and Trimming the Purfling

I lift each section up out of the slot, one at a time (tilting them, so as to try to leave the mitered ends in their places), and use the palette knife to slip thin hide glue into the slot, then press the purfling back into the slot, all the way down. I use a roller made for installing the rubber trim around window screens to force the purfling all the way home. The glue squeezes its way into the mitered corners, and secured them. The plastic roller is easy to clean afterward with hot water.

Once the purfling is glued in place, I mark a line around the margin of the plate, using a compass, with the pencil set to about 1.6mm (1/16″ or so), so that I have a guide to follow as I cut the “channel” (trimming the purfling below the surface into which it has been glued.) I want the wood surface and the purfling to make a smooth curve that begins near the edge of the plate, cycles down through the purfling, and sweeps back up to join the curve of the violin plate. I carve the channel with a gouge, then scrape to complete the curves. The faint pencil guide line can be barely seen in this photo.

Trimming the purfling and cutting the channel
Trimming the purfling and cutting the channel.

And there is the finished work, ready for the next step.

Completed Purfling.
All the purfling is trimmed, the channel is cut, and the scraping is complete.

The outer edgework will be completed after I install the neck. I used to wait and install the neck last, but I eventually decided that I prefer to install the neck and fingerboard while the front plate and rib garland are still on the mold, then trim the heel of the neck to be in plane with the back of the rib garland so that the back plate can be installed last. But that is a subject for another post….

If you found this post helpful, please share with your friends!

Sawmill Adventure

Please share with your friends!

New Sawmill

Rationale: Why buy a sawmill?

Brian was given a large maple tree, partly cut up, which has a great deal of curly, highly figured wood in it. Ann’s parents had paid to have the tree removed, because it was rotten in the center and beginning to be dangerous. But there was a lot of very good wood, too, especially in some of the larger branches.

Maple tree
The maple tree that ispired the purchase of the saw. For size comparison, that is Grandma and Grandpa with the main trunk.

We did not have a way to mill it, and people who do that sort of thing usually charge a good deal for their services. We had read a number of positive reviews online regarding the Harbor Freight sawmill, so we decided to buy the saw, mill up the wood, and, if we really didn’t need it any longer, then we could sell the saw after we were done. (Rigghht, like that’s gonna happen!) Also, we had to hire a young neighbor who logs for a living to bring his big chainsaw and slice that big log into pieces we could more easily move around. (Still very heavy.)

Purchasing the Saw

All of us did a lot of looking, online. There were many reviews of this particular saw, all stating that “for what it is (a home-owner’s sawmill, not a commercial machine)” it is a great buy. Everyone complained about the assembly manual (it is problematic, yes, but we got it done), and everyone said there were things they would want to improve, or modify (that’s fine, too.) But all concluded that the saw worked amazingly well. And…it was affordable. So we bought it and waited for it to arrive.

Getting it Home

I decided that the best way to get the thing safely home was to meet the truck at the distribution center, so I drove Brian’s pickup to the Con-Way trucking “will-call” center, and they kindly loaded the seven-foot long, 746-lb. crate into the pickup, pallet and all. They gave me a length of bright yellow 1/2″dacron line with which to secure it, and I headed for home.

But, having gotten it home, I realized that unloading it was going to be an issue…no forklift on this end. So, I used an engine hoist to lift the back end of the crate high enough to get the pallet out and insert a sheet of plywood to protect the bed-liner, then three 4 x 4 posts to serve as an off-loading ramp.  Then I lowered the crate, and began shifting it inch by inch, using the rope. I threw a bowline around the top rear bar of the ladder rack, then stuck the dacron line through the front bottom of the crate, used a “trucker’s hitch” to cinch the line as tightly as possible, and a few turns around the bar to hold it. Then I threw my whole weight (the “incredible bulk” at work) on the rope, transverse to the tension, deflecting the rope by maybe six inches and moving the crate an inch or so. Re-tightened the rope and repeated.

It took me 2 hours to get the crate off the truck, and on the ground, using this method, but I got it off safely, and without damage to the saw, so all was well. By the time Brian arrived, we were ready to uncrate the saw. We used the engine hoist again, to lift the saw mechanism out of the crate, and set it on blocks.

Harbor Freight Sawmill Machanism
Uncrated saw, balanced on blocks. (That’s the crate, on the left.)

Then we had to sort through all the pieces, look at the manual, and figure out how to put it together. The manual was definitely not the worst I have seen, but could surely be better.  All that said, we didn’t really have any complaints. Here are the parts: very heavy duty steel, and a nice finish. (Yes, I do like green!)

Sawmill track and miscellaneous parts.

We began assembly, following the manual step-by-step. It was not too difficult to do, even though we had only hand-tools. (Some of the online reviews were done by people using pneumatic wrenches…that does speed things up a bit.)

assembly in progress
Assembly in progress.

The track went together pretty smoothly, though we did find that it is a good idea to use a c-clamp to align the track ends, because the finish is so smooth that when we tried to tighten the last bolts, the track would shift slightly, so that the track ends were out of line. The clamp held securely until the bolts were tight, and no further movement was detected.

track assembly
The nearly completed track: to those sharp-eyed observers among you, yes, I am aware that the log-clamp mechanism is backward– I realized it after the fact, and we had to take it apart and reverse it. (oh, well…)

Grandma and Grandpa showed up to enjoy the process…we were all pretty enthusiastic.

Grandpa and the new saw.

We lifted the saw mechanism onto the tracks, and were nearly ready to go.

Completed saw
Whole crew (Ann was taking pictures).

Here’s a photo of the other side of the saw:

Other side of the saw.

Finally, we leveled the track, using “line-of-sight” and wooden shims.

leveling the track
Leveling the track: line-of-sight, pry bar, and wooden shims. Dead straight. (Notice the log-clamp thingy is pointing the right way, now…)

Then we decided to experiment with a very dry, old, willow log.

First log: old willow. This will be used for linings and blocks in my instruments. willow bends easily, cuts like butter, when shaping it, and still is strong and very light.

We filled the engine-sump with oil, the tank with fuel, and the blade-coolant jug with water, and started the engine (301 cc Predator–a four-stroke gasoline engine comparable to a 9hp Kohler, I am told). It started on the very first pull, and ran very smoothly… no problems at all. So we made a trim-cut to get the lumps off the log, and a few very thin (7mm) cuts to experiment. The saw cut with virtually no effort. In the photo it looks as though Brian was pushing hard, but in reality, he was bending down to see what was happening…it was getting pretty dark by that time.

Trim cut
Trim cut–getting dark.
Several more cuts.

We decided to call it a day. Brian came back the next day and finished cutting the willow up into slabs that I will later shape into blocks and linings for cello, viola and violins. Here is some of the salvaged willow (the old log had a lot of ant-damage):

Willow lumber
Salvaged Willow lumber from Ant-damaged Log

It was a good day, all in all. (Obviously Brian was still feeling like clowning. 🙂 I was pretty tired.)

completed machine
End of the day–everything works fine!

Now we just need to get the maple chunks to the saw, and learn how to handle them safely (they are still quite heavy and unwieldy.) I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I need to get going on that five-string fiddle. It will take priority for the next month. Brian knows how to run the saw, so I will let him play with it, while I make a fiddle.

If you found this post helpful, please share with your friends!