Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shaping C Bouts on the Mold

Friday, March 21
More work on the mold: 

The 1" belt sander worked really well on the convex curves, but to get inside the concave curves around the corners, the sanding bands on the drill press (or are they called spindle sanders?) worked so well to get the right curve. Elmer picked a size that nearly matched the radius in that corner, which was awesome. 

I spent soooo much time trying get those corners right. It was so hard to get then pointed; my first one is not perfectly pointed, so I'll just have to lengthen that point and compensate on the actual top and back plates. 

I stamped my name on the mold when it was done being shaped and put on a few coats of min-wax wipe on poly to seal the wood. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Luthier's List of Tools: Outfitting a Violin Maker's Workshop

I've compiled a list of tools one might need to create a violin, including the most necessary items and a few "nice-to-have" items. The bulk of these tools are listed in Chris Johnson and Roy Courtnall's book, The Art of Violin Making.

Tenon or dovetail saw
coping saw
smoothing plane
jointer plane
block plane
Oil or water stones
Slip stones
honing gude
Hand drill and bits
Steel rule
Woodworker's square
Engineer's square
Adjustable bevel
Marking gauge
G clamps
Electric bending iron and strap
Thickness calliper
Vernier calliper
Purfling marker
Purfling pick
Long-reach clamps
Spool clamps
Thumb planes
F-hole cutters
Peg-hole reamer
Peg shaper
Soundpost setter
Machine tools
1" Belt Sander
Hide glue
Glue pot
Back plate
Front plate
Neck block
Bass bar
Bridge jig
Bridge lifter
Linseed oil
Paper towels
Tool hanger

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Common Instrument Repairs: Drilling New Peg Holes

A friend's daughter's violin strings kept breaking, and I was surprised her orchestra teacher didn't catch on to what was happening. This is another common violin repair/issue that happens ALL the time, especially with newer violins.

The ebony peg is harder wood than the maple in which it resides. So as the ebony is pressed and pushed into the peg holes repeatedly, the peg hole naturally gets a little wider as the wood responds to the pressure and compresses just a tiny little bit. The hole is then a little bigger, which means the peg is pushed in a little further, which means that the peg hole in which the string is threaded moves from its centered position closer and closer to the pegbox/peghole wall.

This happens especially quickly in fractional violins because the pegbox and pegs are so small. So be super careful not to press in pegs with more force than necessary on the little ones. Take it easy on the kids. There's a parenting metaphor for you.

Anyway, so if that peghole creeps too far in, it will go into the peghole, and that will clip off the string like a pair of scissors.

It takes one look to see where the pegholes lie. If a string breaks near the winding/top of the string, definitely look for that.

If they're coming close or are already drifting into the pegbox wall, drill a new hole. Use the smallest bit that will allow the string to fit. I can't remember what size I usually use--it is the same bit for the E, A, D, and G holes, even though the E is thinner than the rest. (Good luck trying to find a bit as small as an E string--not necessary.) If the holes are too big the ends of the strings just don't stay in as well and may slip out.

Tips for Planing Wood: Working with the Wood Grain

I've always had trouble planing, and I didn't realize most of my issues were related to my complete ignorance of wood grain properties. If you plane against the grain, the wood will splinter. You plane with the grain. If the grain is rising, you plane "up the hill," not "down the hill." Understanding the cut is also hugely important, whether it's quarter-sawn or rift-sawn, for example.

Wood shavings on the cat. "Such a high price to pay for pest control," says Elmer.
Boards in the vice keep the metal from damaging the wood in the vice. 

Carving Violins: Rough Arching

At Elmer's workshop I tried my hand out with a gouge on this rejected viola back I got from Tom Kennedy, viola maker in Oregon. Tom started it, and I took a few minutes to get the feel of a gouge in my hands. I had so much trouble making basic cuts towards the edge without nicking the corners. 

I obviously need a lot of practice, as well as a decent gouge of my own. As Elmer said, you build a personal relationship with your tools. It's true, I have my favorites, like my good Japanese knife, that will always be my go-to even if I'm surrounded by knives (like whilst being chased down by angry thieves). Like it's one thing to loan out books, but another to loan out your tools. Maybe not as big a deal as loaning out your girlfriend, but close. 

Is this violin worth repairing?

You can find old violins at antique stores alllll the time, and its often hard to judge whether one is worth fixing up or not. Here's one I was tempted to pick up for $40, but I decided it wasn't worth it--I currently want to focus my energy on making an instruments rather than resurrecting one that's already been made--and not particularly well, at that. 

There are though, those ones that simply need basic setup: fresh strings and a new bridge, essentially--maybe some update fittings (tailpiece, chinrest, etc.) and a good polish. And with a few hours of attention, who knows, that $40 violin may resell for $300-$2,000 depending on its origins, sound, and quality. You may never know until you put it back together. 

Cutting Out the Violin Mold and Plexiglass Template

Hour No. 10 of a supposedly 200-hour project. I bought a fine-grit 30"x1" sanding belt at Sears today to get a really smooth edge on this mould. 

I lost my 1/4" dowel, so I used my knife to cut down a pencil instead--the pencil pieces are angled so they can be tapped in tight like conically cylindrical wedges. I sanded down the narrow ends so they wouldn't stick out on the other side so as to keep the base lying flat on the painstakingly-adjusted-to-90-degree table on the sander. 

This felt so much like cozily sitting at a sewing machine, but with the pressure to create an extremely smooth and perfectly curved line. 

And while nothing about this project will be perfect, that is the charm of a handmade craft. 

These last two photos show how I had originally drawn a line on the plexiglass with a permanent marker, the line was too fat, wobbly, and inaccurate to use as a final cutting line. Acetone was a thought to take it off, but before resorting to liquids I used a piece of micro mesh on hand which took it off like an eraser, still leaving a clear surface. 

With the plexiglass clear again, I could see my thin pencil line clearly on the wooden mold. Because the shape of the mold is more important than the template because it's what will be used to shape the violin in the end, I started by cutting the plexiglass to the outline on the mold on one half, shaving down the wood and plexiglass together to the same line. 

Then I flipped the template over to the undone half, pinning it in with my pencil pins, and tracing a new clean line on that half that would then match the first side that was shaped. This time, I sanded down the wood to meet the plexiglass as closely as possibly without touching or changing the curve of the template. 

So far so good. 

The very last step to shape this mold will be using a round rotating sanding bit in a drill press to cut inside the concave C bouts. This flat belt sander only works for the convex curves. 

Also, someone asked what the holes are, to which I responded with a description of the mold:  

This mold will never be a part of the violin, but it's like the most important part in the sense that the violin is built around it and the final shape will match how your mold turns out. The wood for the ribs (sides) are heated and shaped around the mold, and then your top and back plates will be glued on the ribs. The holes allow you to clamp or tie corner blocks to the mold. 

Its a fascinating project! 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Working on a Stainer Violin Mold

More work on my violin mould at Elmer's shop. Today I finished drilling the clamp holes, rough cut the mould outline, drill-pressed holes in the plexiglass template and mould for dowel pins to hold them together.

The next step of filing and sanding those curves to perfection will only take, oh, forever.