Varnish Process

Please share with your friends!

Varnish Process

Sealer Coat is Dry: Start Varnishing!

Since the sealer was dry, I gave the violin a careful rub-down with worn 400-grit paper, and began to add varnish. I am using a spirit varnish, the first coat of which was a yellow varnish, which I had actually hoped would be a little more “amber” in color, but I think it will be OK.

First coat of varnsih on back plate.
First coat of varnish on the Back plate.


1st coat varnish on side.
First coat of varnish on the Side.


First coat, Front plate.
First coat of varnish, on the Front plate.


2nd Coat of Varnish

The first coat of varnish was really only intended to lay down a yellow under-coat, and I am satisfied that it accomplished that purpose. From here on out, though, I will be trying to lay down more color in the areas indicated, to try and match the original after which I am modeling this violin. So, here are coats two and three. Notice that I leave some areas light, as the original violin has fairly severe wear in those areas.  (If you are interested, click here to see photos of the original.)

2nd coat of varnish.
2nd coat of varnish, on the Front plate.


2nd coat on side
2nd coat of varnish, on the Side.


2nd coat on back.
2nd coat of varnish on the Back.


3rd Coat of Varnish

And, a third coat, in the same manner:

3rd coat, front.
3rd coat of varnish, Front plate. The light was a little better, so it looks brighter.


3rd coat, side.
3rd coat of varnish, Side view.


3rd coat, back.
3rd coat of varnish, Back view.


4th Coat

The first few coats are thin enough that it is difficult to see the changes…but it is gaining a little more color and gloss.

4th coat, front view.
4th coat of varnish, Front view.


4th coat, side view.
4th coat of varnish, Side view.


4th coat, Back view.
4th coat of varnish, Back view.


5th and 6th Coats

It is pretty obvious, now, even on the ribs, that certain areas are getting less color added. As I explained above, those are the areas that typically get the most wear, so, to imitate the wear patterns on the original instrument, I am minimizing the color added to those areas.

Also, I have been making the varnish coats quite thin, right now, trying to adjust the color early, instead of trying to fix it later…so, from here on, I posted the pictures as I saw relevant changes, rather than after every coat of varnish. I also switched over to a more intensely colored varnish for the 5th and 6th coats:

6th coat, front view.
6th coat of varnish, Front view. Lots of changes still to come.


6th coat, side view.
6th coat of varnish, Side view.


6th coat, back view.
6th coat of varnish, Back view.


Starting to look closer to what I had in mind. 🙂


Final color coats, and two clear coats

I gave a careful look to the poster, again, and tried to get the “wear areas” closer to the original. It is still far from accurate, but it is beginning to at least have the “flavor” of the original. My color is still too bright, and some areas still too light, but it is getting closer.

Front, nearing completion of color coats.
Front, nearing completion of color coats.


Side, nearing completion of color coats.
Side, nearing completion of color coats.


Back, nearing completion of color coats.
Back, nearing completion of color coats.


“Dirt” and “Age”

There were a few areas to which I wanted to add more color…and to rub some pigment into the grain, to emulate dirt. (I had already rubbed in some real dirt, but it wasn’t very convincing-looking.) Then, I locked it all down with a clear coat or two, and will polish it to completion. But this is pretty much the final color:

Final color, with
Final color, with “dirt” and “age”.


Side, with final color.
Side, with final color.


Back, with final color,
Back, with final color, “dirt”, and “age.”


What’s Next?

The next thing will be to re-fit the fingerboard, dress the fingerboard, and begin set-up. I will continue to address “polish and finish” issues as I see them.

Thanks for looking.

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

Varnishing Sequence: Part One

Please share with your friends!

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.

Thanks for looking.

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

How I varnish a cello (part one)

Please share with your friends!

Beginning the cello finishing process.

Preparation for varnishing

Once I am sure that all the construction, carving, assembling and scraping is done, I go over the entire instrument looking for “bumps”; tiny discontinuities that will definitely catch the eye after varnishing, but are difficult to see in the white. (Violin-family instruments in the unvarnished state are referred to as being “in the white”, as the color of the wood is very light cream colored, as a rule.)

I use low-angle, relatively dim light to make shadows, hoping that even tiny irregularities in the wood will make enough shadow that I can detect them and gently remove them with a very sharp scraper. In may case, my wife has a better eye for these sort of flaws, so I enlist her help, to find ones that I miss (and invariably, she does). Once the edges, corners and all other surfaces are as close to perfect as I can get them, I brush a weak water-based stain all over it…well…actually, coffee, as strong as I can make it, but it makes only a small change in the color of the wood. the spruce becomes a very light tan, after two coats have been applied and allowed to dry. Between coats, as the water swells the grain of the wood, I sand all over, very lightly, to remover little splinters and rough spots that the water raised up.  I happen to like the spruce grain slightly raised, so I am not trying to remove the “corduroy” effect. I just want it to be smooth to the touch, in spite of the ripples.

Seal coat(s)

I have been using rosin for a sealer…the last cello, I used rosin mixed with turpentine, which worked nicely, but took a few days to dry. This time I am running out of time, and do not have a few days…so I mixed the rosin with alcohol, and a tiny bit of yellow dye. I sealed the whole instrument except the handle area of the neck, using the rosin, allowed it to dry, and put on a coat of spirit varnish to complete the seal. The next step will be a color coat that I hope will define what the cello will look like. If that succeeds, then the remaining coats will be pretty much clear spirit varnish.

So here is what the cello looks like with just the seal coats, as described:

Cello front with one coat of varnish.
Here is the front, with the one coat of varnish over the rosin sealer.
One-piece cello back with one coat of varnish
And the one-piece back, with the grain beginning to show. Varnish does wonders, doesn’t it?
Front quarter view of cello with one coat of varnish
Here’s a front-quarter view with one coat of varnish over the rosin sealer.
Back quarter view of cello with one-piece back, and one coat of varnish.
Back quarter view, same light.
Showing the flame of a one-piece cello back, with one coat of varnish.
Showing the flame of that one-piece back.
Neck joint of cello with one coat of varnish.
Interestingly, the sides were actually cut from the same billet as the back, but that portion evidently had a good deal less flame. The neck is a different billet entirely. Nice flame, there.
Cello scroll with one coat of varnish.
And there’s the scroll. Funny, from this angle, I am seeing things I want to correct. It may be too late. I will have a close look at it tomorrow evening, and make a decision.

Anyway– there you have it. The varnishing process is begun. I use spirit varnish which dries very rapidly, so I may be able to make pretty rapid progress. I hope so– the show is in less than two weeks. 🙁

And after varnishing: final assembly and set-up!


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