Me making a violin

By Sam Harper

Let us begin

May 14, 2009

Unfortunately, I can't show you everything. I didn't originally intend to do a build-along, so I haven't been taking pictures and stuff. But so many people have been asking me how the violin is coming along that I figured I'd do this just so they'll know.

Lemme catch you up.

Making the templates

The first thing I did was to make some templates out of plexi-glass.

But how did I get the shape for those templates? Well, I searched the internet for them. I found a photocopy of a Stradivarius, printed it out, taped the two pages together, and then used a spray-on adhesive to attach it to the plexiglass. That's how I got the templates for the body. The one on the left is for the top and bottom plates. The one on the right is for the mould and the ribs. I cut the templates out with a band saw, and then used a sanding drum attached to a drill press to perfect the edges. Plexiglass comes with a thin plastic film that peals right off, so once I was done shaping the templates, I just pealed the plastic off, and they came out nice and clean.

I got the shape for the scroll from a picture in the violin making book my brother and his wife got me. Those tiny holes I drilled in there are so I can make pencil marks on the scroll, which will help me carve it out later.

The little doohickie in the middle on the bottom gives me the correct radius for the fingerboard. I'll use it as a guide. I also got that from my book.

Making the mould

The next step was to make the mould. The purpose of the mould is to give you a way of glueing the ribs onto the corner and end blocks. I used the template on the right (in the picture above) to get the shape of my mold. The template has two pin holes on one edge where the middle of the violin will be. I used tacks to tack the template onto a 3/4" thick piece of plywood and trace the shape onto one side. Then I flipped the template over, putting the tacks in the exact same spot, and drew the other side. That gave me a perfectly symmetrical shape.

Next, I cut the mould out with a band saw and perfected the shape with my drill press sanding drum. Then, I cut the corners off so I'd have a place to put the violin's corner blocks to glue the ribs onto, and I cut a section out of both ends for the end blocks. The end blocks provide a sturdy place to attach the end pin, and the neck, as well as the ribs. I also drilled holes in the mould for clamps.

I used just a dab of glue to attach the blocks on the ends and the corners so I can easily break them off later. You're supposed to use hide glue when you make a violin. That allows you to easily take the violin apart for repairs. I'm using Titebond III, though. I doubt this violin will be worth repairing, and I don't feel like messing with hide glue.

On the bottom of the mould, there are four screws. By adjusting the screws, I can adjust the height of the mould when it sits on a table. That allows me to center the blocks and the ribs when I attach them to the mould so that I've got some working room on both sides. You see, the mould is only 3/4" thick, but the blocks and sides will be more like 1-1/4" or 1-5/16". I want there to be space between the mould and the edge of the ribs so I can shave or sand the ribs and attach some lining that will give me a better gluing area for the top and back of the violin.

Here is the mould with the corner blocks and the end blocks attached.

Those blocks are made of eastern red cedar, which I love. I'm going to make an English longbow out of some of it. Most of the instructions I've looked at recommend using the gouges to carve the corner blocks into the right shape after attaching them to the mould. But it seemed to me that the drill press with the sanding drum was a lot easier, so I did it that way.

Making the ribs

The ribs have to be really thin. The book and the tutorials I looked at recommended that after bandsawing your ribs that you use a block plane to plane them thinner, and then a cabinet scraper to perfect them. Well, I have tried to use a block plane before, and they are just too difficult for me to use. So, I took advantage of some of my bow-building experience and used my home made lam grinder to get my ribs close to final thickness. Here's my lam grinder.

Once they were close, I used my cabinet scraper to bring it to final thickness and get it nice and smooth.

Before you can attach the ribs, you have to heat bend them into shape. They'll break otherwise. In my case, they broke anyway. Most people who make violins have a contraption that consists of a flat piece of iron bent in a ring with a propane torch that burns on the inside. The wood is then pressed against the hot iron contraption and bent around it with a strap of something--a piece of leather or whatever. I don't have an iron doohickie, so I improvised. I took a block of wood, traced the c-bout of my violin from the template, and cut it out, then perfected it with the sanding drum. Then I clamped that to a chair. (It would be nice if I had a vice.)

I used a 1/16" thick strip of aluminum to press the wood against the egg-shaped mould, and I used a heat gun to heat it up. That's where the trouble began. I tried several times, but I kept breaking it when I'd make that sharp bend at the top.

There are a few possibilities for how I could solve my problem. I could make the wood thinner. I could use a different kind of wood (I've been using walnut). I could apply the heat for longer before bending. I could use steam instead of dry heat (the problem is that it will lift the grain, and it won't be smooth anymore). I got discouraged and haven't worked on the violin in a long time because of it. But that is as far as I've gotten. Since so many people have been asking about the violin, and since I hate telling people I haven't worked on it, I'm probably going to pick it back up soon. Stay tuned.

May 26, 2009

I came up with a super brilliant idea today. Instead of trying to bend one thin piece of wood, I could make two super thin pieces of wood and laminate them together. They would be so thin, I may not even need to heat them at all. I can glue them up in the bend, and they will hold their shape just like a laminated bow. Brilliant, I tell you!

May 28, 2009

Success! The wood for the sides of the violin is supposed to be 1.5 mm thick. I had been doing it at 2 mm because that's as thin as I could get them. But I made a sled for my lam grinder, which made it easier to make thin laminations. I made them 0.75 mm thick, and had no problem bending them into shape.

The leather belt turned out to be a lot easier to use than the aluminum I was using before. I put a couple of squeeze clamps on it to hold it there while it cooled down. And here is the c-bout clamped into place.

You gotta be careful not to let any of the glue get on the form--just the blocks. Otherwise, you'll never get the violin off. I guess it might've been a good idea to put some plastic wrap between the form and the walnut just to make sure.

I will probably put another thin lamination of walnut on those c-bouts since they are so thin. I'm just happy I was able to bend them without breaking them.

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