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.


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Violin Progress

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Violin Progress

The Front Plate is Complete, except for the Bass Bar

This morning I got back to work on the scraping, and completed the outside of the front plate. The interior is also essentially complete, but still lacks the bass bar, so there is still that to do. I spent some time cleaning up the f-holes, and I am somewhat satisfied with them, but undoubtedly will do some tinkering later, just because I always do, and am never quite satisfied with them.

Front plate
Front plate


Back Plate Graduations have Begun

I knew I probably needed to get going on the neck, but I really wanted to begin the back plate graduations, so I started in. This is about as far as I got. I will probably complete it tomorrow, but my hands were getting tired, and I needed to do something easier for a bit.

Back Plate Progress
Back Plate Progress


Neck Beginning

You may recall that the neck block had been delivered to me in a trapezoidal cross-section. This is quite common, but it poses a problem for me, because, once I have the side profile of the scroll and pegbox laid out, I prefer to drill a pilot hole for each peg, using my small drill-press, so that the holes are all perpendicular to the centerline of the scroll. That is hard to do, with a sharp angled shape. So, I set my bandsaw for 1/4″, and sawed off a triangular slab from each side of the big end of the trapezoid, reversed them, and glued those slabs back onto the sides, near the thinner end of the trapezoid. I checked with my little square, to make sure I had them at an appropriate location, then clamped them home. Once the glue dries, I will square up the block, lay out the neck, drill the holes, and get going on carving the neck. Those wedges will be completely removed, long before the neck is done.

Slabs removed and rotated up to square up the neck billet.
Slabs removed and rotated up, making it possible to square up the neck billet.


Slabs glued and clamped.
Slabs glued and clamped. When the glue is dry, I can square the billet, and proceed with neck layout.


A Break-time Treat

Ann and I decided to take a break and go for a walk, as Spring seems to have arrived early. As we neared home again, a pair of Bald Eagles passed by, flying low over our place, and landing in the trees at the front of the property, on the far corner. I had never before heard eagles “chatting” with one another. It was interesting hearing their clear, high-pitched chirps, and whistles, as they “talked” back and forth.

One of them almost immediately re-located to a thicker stand of trees across the road, but the other obligingly remained in sight, preening herself, until a passing hawk began diving at her, and she, too, moved into the thicker cover. I only had my cell-phone, but I did manage to get one photo.

Eagle in the distance.
Eagle in the distance.


Back to Work:

Squaring the Neck Billet

Once the glue was dry, I could square the billet, by sanding or planing off excess wood. Removing those slabs had left me with a few milimeters extra on the thickness, and much more on the depth, from front to back. So, since I had tried to plane it, but it tore out badly (as curly maple frequently does) I straightened the sides using the oscillating spindle-sander, and then laid out the neck details. I have made a new neck template, but it is just thin plastic. I will eventually make a light aluminum template which will be more durable. I first laid out one side, including the locations for the peg holes. Then I drilled the 1/8″ pilot holes for the pegs and cut the profile out on my small band-saw. After that, I was able to lay out the other side, and all the rest of the details; including the width of the heel, the width of the button, the width of the neck at the nut, and the taper of the pegbox into the actual scroll.

I forgot to take photos during that step (sorry) so all I can show you is the sawing procedure I used to remove the excess wood from the scroll:

Dcroll carving, first step.
I cut tangents to the curves, down to the scroll outlines from both sides.


Curve sections ready to remove.
Once I have cut sections all the way around, I can easily remove those sections and begin carving.


I will try to complete the back plate, the bass-bar, and the neck/scroll tomorrow. If I get that far, I will feel as though I am “on the home stretch,”, as the neck-set will then be the only difficult step left to do. We’ll see, though. There may be other priorities to pursue.


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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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How I carve a Scroll

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Cello Scroll Carving Made Simple 🙂

There is nothing special about the way I carve scrolls. As far as I know, this is how everyone else does it, too, more or less. I am only sharing how I do it.

Start by tracing and sawing out the profile of the whole neck.

I don’t have a photo of the scroll as a simple profile, but I begin with the billet (About 6″ x 3″ x 20″), and trace my template onto it, then use a bandsaw to cut the shape of the profile. I use a oscillating spindle sander to remove the saw marks, and perfect the profile right to the line. While the profiled block is still “square”–that is, while the sides are still parallel, I lay out the peg hole locations and use a drill press to make 1/8″ diameter pilot holes where each peg will be. I drill all the way through, so that the holes are clearly marked, and are perpendicular to the center plane of the neck.

Next cut out the pegbox and at least a few inches of the neck

I hollow out the pegbox before carving the scroll proper. Some people use a drill to get started. I have done it this way, but it seems a little risky, unless you put some sort of limiter on the drill, to avoid going too deep– and even then it is easy to go out of bounds. I use a narrow chisel to remove most of the rough wood, then a wider chisel to smooth the inside cheeks of the pegbox. I also saw off the excess wood on the outside of the pegbox, and plane those faces flat.

Then draw the shape of the scroll itself.

Usually we use a template for this, as well. Some people plot out each scroll with a straight-edge and compass. I have neither the time nor the inclination. In this case, my templates came from a poster of the 1712  “Davidov” Stradivarius cello, now being played by Yo Yo Ma. Some information was lacking, and I filled that in from Henry Strobel’s book on cello making.

And begin cutting:

Once the scroll is drawn out, I clamp the neck to my workbench and, using a Japanese-style pull-saw, I begin cutting slots nearly to the layout lines of the volute. I rotate my position a few degrees, and make another cut. I have to be careful to avoid cutting too deeply, but this method allows me to chip away the waste wood rapidly, and the scroll begins looking like a scroll rather quickly.

Beginning the scroll, proper.
Pegbox is complete, volute partially carved. The cut lines are visible on the portion of the volute that has already been carved. Now we will carve the scroll, proper.
Cutting more kerfs to remove wood.
Care must be taken to avoid drifting across the line into the turns of the volute.
Cutting a series of kerfs for wood removal in carving a scroll.
You can see the direction this is going…I will continue to slice down nearly to the line, rotating a little each time, until I have gone all the way around.
Using a gouge to outline the eye of the scroll.
Once the kerfs are all in place, and to the correct depths, I use a gouge to outline the eye of the scroll, so as not to damage it with the saw.
Kerfs in place, and eye of scroll deeply incised. Carving can begin.
All the kerfs are complete, and the eye is deeply incised with the gouge–I am ready to start carving.
Use a flat chisel to remove the waste wood, and the scroll begins to emerge.
I use a flat chisel to remove the waste wood, and the scroll begins to emerge.
Once the waste wood is completely gone the
Once the waste wood is completely gone the “undercut” carving can begin.
Bi-lateral symmetry
I try to make sure the two sides match symmetrically, before beginning undercut. I do the outside fluting last, to avoid damaging it while carving other parts of the scroll.
Bass side of cello scroll, nearly complete.
Here is the bass side of the scroll, nearly complete.
Treble side of cello scroll, nearly complete.
And, here is the treble side.
Cello neck and scroll, nearly complete.
The neck and scroll are nearly complete. I will continue to fine-tune and scrape the scroll, perfecting it as best I can, right up to the day I begin varnishing.
Fingerboard installed on Cello neck, with hide glue and clamps.
I have prepared the fingerboard, and now I have installed it, using hot hide glue and clamps.

So– that was entirely enough for today. Tomorrow I will continue to refine the scroll and neck, and try to get the neck set. If I succeed, then I can remove the mold and install the back plate.

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