Friday, December 22, 2017

Cleaning Up the Borders

Not to the final borders yet, but looking more like fiddles.  A little spit on the end-grain of the spruce sure can make cutting easier.  Plus, cutting spruce just smells like Christmas.  Not sure what the maple smell reminds me of, but I like cutting the edges on the maple.  Smooth and buttery.

Trying to snow outside my door now.  Will warm up some nice drink and relax for the evening.  Enjoy your holidays.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Sunrise on a clear day, low horizon

Rough arching a viola back.  Just liked the image.  Maybe at the point I wanted to stop working on this project for a few minutes.  Maple is a hard wood.  I can touch up the gouge, maybe do a little more tomorrow.  Other projects need attention.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Two New Fiddles

Every once in a while, I actually finish an instrument, or two. 
This has been a real-live 5-string fiddle for about two weeks now.  Played the contra dance in Boise with it the Saturday before last.  Also played it last Saturday, sitting in with the Serenata Orchestra in Boise, for their sing-along/play-along Handel's 'Messiah'. 

Scroll is based on the stern-piece of the Oseberg Viking Ship. Here's an earlier shot, during the varnishing.

As we say when we're being vocally emotional: I am not completely unhappy with it.

 The body form is based on the Brothers Amati that I drew several years back, following Francois Denis' method, and the f-holes are del Gesu inspired. 

My most recent, being a violin for about a week now, is based on a del Gesu, the 'Plowden'.   The form comes from my tracing of a CT scan from the poster put out by Strad Magazine a few years back.

 Also del Gesu inspired f-holes, which I like so am using them wherever I want to.

I'm not completely unhappy with this one, either.  Both are still stretching and growing.  Kinda fun to play them each day, note the changes.

I also just shipped off a fiddle, constucted here, that is a Christmas present, so I won't spill the beans yet. 

And an eastern European white viola that I had been varnishing and set-up went out the door to a very happy customer.  She actually got it before it was really ready, having had a bad accident with her then-current viola, and needed an instrument for a few holiday concerts.  But she liked it enough as-was to buy it.  Just did the final intial adjustments this week, after the concerts.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Manual of Violin Making

  I've made a few violins, that work to some degree, so I know at least a couple ways to build one.  But violin-making is like so many other intellectual activities: the more we learn, the more we realize how little we actually do know.  We start to get a glimpse of possibly what might be out there to be discovered. 
   When I write 'we', I certainly mean 'I', but maybe also 'you'.
   When I first read of Brian Derber's new book on violin-making, I said to myself that I did not need another expensive violin book, that what I needed to do was to just keep cutting wood.  If I had extra money, buy more wood.  Or maybe a new tool.
   I made the mistake of looking on the web-page for the book.  It has a couple sample pages.  I made the further mistake of looking at those sample pages.  From them, I learned a way of looking at the fluting in f-holes that I thought was just spectacular.  It made sense.
  Within a couple days, I contacted Brian Derber via e-mail to order the book.
  It's good.  I have not read all of it.  It is huge.  But I have read the sections pertinent to the viola and hardanger fiddle I had already started making.   In the spirit of an adventure -- not to mention I paid for the book, so I'm going to use it! -- I altered the way I am doing the rough arching (photo above) to follow the process in the book.  Not a conversion necessarily, but an experiment, a playing with a new-to-me method.
   In any book, there is a chain of knowledge.  In 'how-to' books it might go something like this: From what the author thought, to what the author wrote, to what was finally printed, to what the reader read, to what the reader understood, to what the reader could convert into a physical object.  We do what we can and adjust from there.
  So I have the new book. I am also continuing to cut wood.  Learning.  It's fun.
  If you are interested in the book, you can find the link here -- The Manual of Violin Making, by Brian Derber.
  If the link does not work, you can find Brian at the

  • New World School of Violin Making
  • 6970 Red Lake Dr.
  • Presque Isle, WI 54557
  Current price, including shipping in the US, is $375.  This edition is limited to 500 copies. 
  There's nothing to beat the experience of attending a workshop, seeing the work being done in person, getting feedback, and so on.  I've attended the Southern California Violin Makers Workshop several times, and can recommend it.  I also attended the now-defunct violin-making workshop that was held at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California, lead by Boyd Poulsen.  There are other good workshops out there.  You can go to one. 
  Brian's book is really good supplement to that experience.  Good text, plenty of photos.   And if you can't attend a workshop, but are determined to build fiddles, it would be useful.

  In other exciting news, my car's odometer rolled over 100,000 miles last night on the way back from Scottish Country Dance.  It's been a good car, a 2010 Kia Soul that I bought new in 2009, and I hope to be driving it for several more years.
  Combining the current craft-beer renaissance with good cars and good information on violin-making,  I conclude that we live in the best of times.

Thursday, December 14, 2017


After an hour of slicing off maple, 10 minutes on the spruce is a real pleasure.  Outline here is still quite rough, to allow for any weird chipping out at the edges.  I know how I work.  Maybe a little too fast at this point, but I compensate for that failing by leaving a good margin.  It's easy enough to work down as the plates get thinner.

Here are the back and the top, with the edges cleaned up a little, still out from the final shape.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Learning from the Humble

 A call from a local middle-school orchestra teacher.  "One of my students broke the scroll off a viola, and I need it repaired.  It's borrowed from another school!"  So, here it is.  Not just the scroll, but the entire pegbox.  A really bad break.  Financially not worth repairing.  It is, at first glance, an older 15" student viola, which has put in plenty of years work.  Just replace it.

"Can't do that.  It's borrowed.  I can't say her viola is broken."

It will cost _________.

 Pause.  "I don't have that much money in my budget."

So here it is.  I'm trying to figure something to do, and I think I have.  Not charging enough.  Hoping  the work also serves as pennance for some sin, past or future. 

But the back --

It just amazed me.  It has long been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that it is impossible to photograph varnish.  Photos, even video, can not catch the reflections as you or the instrument move through the light.  Even with a camera as nice as a cell-phone.  But here are some photos.

A one-piece back, with great clarity and motion.  It could be as simple as amber shellac and clear spirit varnish.  The wood, underneath, is aging to something of a grey-green.  It's a great combination.

So, even if I don't gain any pennance from it, at least this one may have a chance to make music again. 

And I have a new conceptual model for varnish color.