Friday, June 15, 2018

Hardanger Fingerboard

Shorter, flatter, and with a tunnel underneath.

Using a long pipe-cleaner to remove any possible squeeze-out of hide glue in the understring channel.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"Having lost all sense of direction, we were able to double our speed."

My first totally handmade viola, I've been wanting to make one for some time.  Never could settle on an outline.  Made a form for a Stradivari viola in 2005.  Even got ribs on it.  Then unhappy with the corners.  It languished. 

I like the Brescian violas.  Primitive in a classy way, often with a deep, dark sound.  So, made another form based on a Strad magazine poster.  Got ribs on it, birds-eye maple, which rippled and warped so badly I took them off and threw them in the fireplace.

This year, decided to just follow the pattern in Strobel's book "Viola Making."  It's smaller than I wanted, but there were details to follow.  And I've learned it's better to just make the darn thing, see how it turns out, make the next one better, based on what one learns from the previous.  Besides, the resulting first instrument isn't as bad, or as good, as one feared or hoped.  That's life.  Who the heck do you think you are, anyway?  Some sort of genius?  Well, you're not.  Get back to work.

Strobel's pattern had fine f-holes.  But I didn't want them.  I wanted some del Gesu type f-holes.  Guarneri del Gesu didn't make violas.  I do have a workable pattern for a violin f-hole, so scaled it up to viola size.  Dreams of using the computer to do this quickly didn't pan out, so I sat down with paper, pencil, eraser, straight edges, French curve, protractor.  Eraser, did I mention eraser?  My eraser got a good workout, but I finally came up with something that I thought looked reasonable to me, and the correct size.  I think.  Onward!

So, to lay it out on the viola top, and then start plunging holes in.
With the pilot holes in place, cut the terminal holes, then start sawing out.  I stayed well within the lines, as I have mistakenly pushed this top too far along before cutting the f-holes.  It's near final graduations and quite thin for this sort of work. 

With the stems sawed, time to resort to the knife.  This is it for the day.  Nearly there.  Will look at it again tomorrow with fresh eyes.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Carving and Playing

 After working for what seemed like days to get the maple back plate hollowed out and graduated, starting on the spruce is always surprising.  Very easy to cut by comparison.  Within about 15 minutes, down to the point where the big thumb plane can be used, very gratifying to run out long shavings.  Makes life good.

And speaking of good, we've had the chance to play at some spectacular spots in this past week.  Tim's place (Purple Sage Farms) for rehearsal on Thursday night. New lambs and a surprise new calf.  Sunset still visible at rehearsal time due to the changing day length and the recent switch to (or is it from?) Day Light Saving Time. 
We attended an English Country Dance ball in La Grande on Saturday, and a musicians' workshop Sunday morning, as students.  The workshop was held at one of the local member's home, and has a million-dollar view.
One does not live by music, dance, and views alone.  We also ate lunch, twice, at a new Brew Pub in La Grande.  Side A.  Good spot.  Tasty flatbread pizza, and a good array of beer choices.  Their Swedish Compass Winter Warmer, with a touch of anise, was certainly worth a repeat.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

End of Skiing, for us, this season

Always nice to get out into the mountains.  We work with harvested wood, at the bench, inside, so really worth seeing the trees outside, in the wild.
We've been going to Ponderosa State Park, near McCall, Idaho, for many years now, both in the snow and not.  Beautiful wildflowers to be seen in the Spring.  But we really like it in the snow.

This little aspen grove is one of my favorite places.
We've been cross-country skiing here a few times this season.  Late start to the snow this year, and it looks like it's fading fast.  Snowed the night before, but the trees were shedding it in big plops during the late morning and early afternoon.
Freezing at night, above freezing during the day.
The lake is still frozen over, but barely.  Not too many folks willing to risk being out there now.  It's off in the distance, middle right, in this photo.
We skied up the penninsula a ways, climbing at the end, and stopped for a lunch on the skis.  Hot tea, rye bread, and brunost.
Given our schedule for the next few weeks, we won't get out again until next Winter.  Sad and something to look forward to at the same time.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Hardanger plate hollowing

Flipped the Hardanger plates over, started hollowing.  Mostly done now.  Details to finish up. Edgework I do after the plates are glued to the ribs.  Gives me a chance to not have clamp damage.  Seems that no matter how careful I am, I always bang one or two of the clamps against the edge, then have to spend time restoring it.  So now I leave a little more meat around the edges.
One does not live by fiddles alone, certainly.  There is also bread.  Here's a double batch of sourdough after fermenting some 12 hours or so.
Standard Fiesta-ware coffee cup for scale. 

Dump out the fermented dough, break it up into two parts, form loaves.  I have one rising basket, so one goes in there, the other on a floured towel.

Up on top the refrigerator for a second rise.
And after baking --
A friend of mine, Jan B, is decluttering, gave me a copy of a bread book, "World Sourdoughs from Antiquity".  I recall the book coming out in the 1980s, was tempted, but didn't have the money or need at the time, I suppose.  Anyway, I used my Sahti starter to make a couple "Malt Beer Bread" loaves, the recipe from this work.  I mostly followed it.  Seemed to work fine.
Interesting to note that the book was printed in Cascade, Idaho, which is a town between here and McCall, where we went skiing, as reported in the last post.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Nordic skiing at Ponderosa

Finally some decent snowfall this year in the mountains, with cold temperatures.  We again got out for a day of cross-country skiing at Ponderosa State Park near McCall, Idaho.  Pretty day, with heavy snow flurries in between blue sky & sunshine.  And vise versa.

My lovely bride double-poling on a downward slope.

 Yours truly, taking photos with my fancy phone-machine.

After a few hours of a good workout in the woods, back to McCall for a couple beers and food at Salmon River Brewing.  Payette Lake is frozen over -- it wasn't in January -- and here you can see the frozen-over Lake, with blue skies and a snow flurry in the distance.

With McCall enjoying the snow cover.  Good day.  Back to the bench.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Hardanger f-holes

Following Salve HÃ¥kedal's on-line tutorial, I am tryng to carve Hardanger f-holes.  He has placed a fair number of nice photos there, but even so, I am having a hard time understanding some details of the geometry.  So the carving is painfully slow.  Cut a bit away.  Look at it.  Look at Salve's photos.  Turn the top around.  Look again.  Cut a little more away.  Curse under my breath.  Look.  Cut.  And so on.

The overlapping stems make it tough to carve.  Slice a bit away with a knife.  I have a bent knife which is actually fairly useful in some of the tight spots.  I may still have too much overlap; perhaps the under portion is still too far inwards.  That, however, can be remedied later, whereas if I cut too much away too soon, very hard to put back together.

I think they are finally starting to take shape. Being the first Hardanger I've attempted, I have so many, many things I don't know, every step is a learning experience.  A slow learning experience.

Of course I'm doing this because I'm interested in the music.  One thing I recently discovered, much to my surprise, is that the Norwegian state/public broadcasting, NRK, has an iPhone app where I can stream the Norwegian stations.  They seem to have a very nice folk music station.  Check it out.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Tool marks

Purfling installed on 4 plates (2 fronts, 2 backs) and now working down the arching.  Here is a spruce viola top.  Parallel gouge marks from the rough arching.  Smaller (aka smoother) tool marks around the purfling now, smoothing out the perimeter.  Starting to take the gouge marks along the spine out with finger planes. Then onto scrapers.  Then onto horsetail.  Smaller shavings with each successive tool.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Stephen Shepherd Obituary

Stephen in his Salt Lake shop, 1978.  Photo courtesy of George Stapleford.

Stephen's obituary can be found at this location --!/Obituary

The text of his obituary --

Stephen Arden Shepherd

Stephen Shepherd, was born April 20, 1948 in Salt Lake City, UT, to Arden Warren and Vida Johnson Shepherd. He passed away January 24, 2018, a kind release from the debilitating effects of a stroke. He leaves a sister Merrily Runyan, Clovis, CA, and nieces and nephews.

Stephen Shepherd was a unique individual. Whether known as Stephen Shepherd the author, lecturer, and expert in 19th-Century Woodworking, or as “Tater”, the Mountain Man and adventurer, he influenced many people and sometimes irritated others with his infallible knowledge. Arguing historic technology with Stephen was frustrating and pointless – his knowledge was vast. And he shared that knowledge with anyone genuinely interested.

He was always building, repairing, tinkering and inventing, very often simply to see if he could do it – if it could even be done. Many of his friends are proud owners of a “Tater-made” item, from furniture to walking-sticks to quill pens. He shared his knowledge by writing four authoritative books on woodworking, and re-published two more “rescued” books of great value to historians of 19th-Century crafts.

For the most part he lived a 19th-Century life. Almost all his furniture and re-created items were made and restored using only hand tools. He had no power tools in his shop. His careful craftsmanship, restoration and renown finishing techniques, including gorgeous “painting and graining”, gained him world-wide recognition. His clients over the years included many wealthy collectors and The LDS Church Historic Collections.

He dressed for most of his adult life in 19th-Century-style clothing, including when traveling to other states. In 1976, during the bicentennial re-tracing of the Domingues/Escalante journey to Utah, Stephen and companions met the party in the desert, dressed authentically as fur-traders. Their clothing and accoutrement authenticity far outshone that of the re-creators! For decades he attended Mountain Man rendezvous all over the west, and was always welcomed by everyone.

People loved Stephen Shepherd, and were proud to know him. Sometimes they were friends of Stephen, sometimes friends of Tater, some not even knowing they were one and the same! His cheerful demeanor, his willingness to laugh at society’s faults, and his dedication to his friends make the memory of Stephen “Tater” Shepherd precious to all of us who were close to him.

Per Stephen’s wishes, no services will be held, donations may be made to This Is the Place Heritage Park in his memory.


Stephen (left) and myself (right), Mill Creek Canyon, February 1975.  We camped this way.  We were much younger then.

George Stapleford (left) and Stephen (right) near Moab, Utah, March 1975.  Better camping conditions, still cold.

L to R, myself, Stephen, LaMar Higbee, Taos, New Mexico, May 1975.  Yet better camping conditions.

George, Stephen, and I, September 2016.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Not a Good Businessman

I really don't like the cheap Chinese fiddles being sold these days.  A heads-up: if you are thinking of buying a violin, bow, and case on-line for $100, just buy beer and pizza instead.  You'll be better off.

I have found one place, however, where inexpensive instruments, not bottom-of-the-bucket VSOs, are useful, and that is in the fractional violins that go out on rentals.  Even then, I don't just pull them out of the box and send them on their way.  Typically, new (real) violin strings, work over the pegs, adjust or replace the bridge.  Throw the bow away, substitute in a Glasser or something similar that has a chance of surviving.

And my rentals are rent-to-own, so I move the kids up through various sizes as they grow.  If the kids stick with it, the parents are well into paying for a decent full-size fiddle by the time the child has grown to that size, and has learned, through various mistakes, how to take care of a fiddle.

The other day, this poor 1/4-size violin came in, brand new, from a reputable supplier.  The fingerboard was a ski-jump.  I debated sending it back, but didn't want that hassle.  I debated asking the supplier for a new fingerboard.  That just seemed too demeaning to all of us.  So I decided to waste more time.

Here's the old fingerboard --

And here is the new one --

After all my reading and work with Hardanger fiddle design, I started to get a little interested in the inlay process, something I haven't done much of.  So I found a piece of bone, a cut-off from a guitar-nut blank, cut it quickly to a rough diamond shape, laid it out on the center of the fingerboard in a random spot, and started the inlay.

I didn't notice at the time, but I drifted a bit to one side during the inlay process, something to be on the look-out for if I do more of these things.

I also did a little bit of simple engraving, which is a bit crude, but I think it looks better than just the bone diamond.

Also cut a new bridge, installed new Prelude strings and a Wittner tailpiece.  For a cheap little fiddle, it ought to work well for someone.

On a sad note, my long-time friend, Stephen Shepherd, passed away yesterday.  He had suffered a stroke a few years back, and went from being a vital historic cabinetmaker and author to a semi-paralyzed invalid.  Early on, it looked like he might come out of it.  He didn't.  When I visited him in Salt Lake this past Thanksgiving, he was basically bedridden and bored, starving himself to death.

I will miss him.

Here we are, the Three Musketeers, at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, in 1974.  Stephen is center, I am to the left, and George Stapleford to the right.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Back together again.

From my post last December, Learning from the Humble:

Now back together, and back in the Middle School orchestra room:

I glued the pieces, those that made sense to look after, back together.  Bushed the C and A pegholes, installed internal crossgrain cleats in the pegbox across the C and A peghole locations.  Added a chunk of curly maple on the treble side, where it was missing and badly splintered.  I didn't spend too much time with color-matching, it was a functional school repair that I probably underbid -- but, as in my previous post, the back and ribs were nicely done.  Worth saving, I thought.

I did add some clear varnish to the bare wood on the body, lots of bare real-estate on that body.  But now that, too, is protected a bit from normal use. 

This viola should serve for several more years, barring too rough of use.  Or dropping.  Can't warranty against dropping.