The Making Process & The Tools
The Making Process
In making a copy I begin with tracing, measuring, and photographing. None of these methods capture or tell the whole story, and none give the visceral sense of the real violin and the ability to experience the play of light through the varnish and off the subtle surfaces of the wood. Nor do they capture the feel of holding a great violin and how it responds to the voices and other sounds around it.
The making process begins with creating a template from the tracings which define the inside shape of the ribs, and from that template I make a form board on which the rib cage is built. Patterns are also made defining the shape and proportion of the scroll and sound holes – the “ƒ-holes” or “ƒ’s.”
The materials are chosen to match the original, or to achieve another tonal or aesthetic goal. The top and back plates are roughed to shape. I then use a treatment process to improve their tonal properties. The plates are allowed to rest for a month or so to allow any tensions in the wood to work themselves out.
The rib cage is built around the form board from ribs bent to shape on a hot iron and glued to interior blocks carved to shape. Liners are added to stiffen the ribs and provide additional gluing surface for the plates.
The plates are matched to the rib cage and the arch and outline gradually brought to shape with small planes and scrapers. Purfling (black & white inlay) is set into the edge to prevent cracks from entering the body of the violin and to visually accentuate the outline. The plates are graduated — brought to the appropriate thickness — to achieve the desired stiffness and flexibility and the sound holes and bass bar are added to the top. The labels and identifying marks are added, the interior sealed, and the body is closed. The neck and scroll are carved using knives and gouges, the fingerboard attached, and the neck mortised into the upper block. Through most of this work I refer to photographs as a guide to style. After final cleaning of the surfaces of the violin, the wood is stained and sealed, and the violin hung in the sun so that ultraviolet light will harden the surface and darken the color of the wood. Varnish is applied to protect the wood from dirt, give light the ability to penetrate and reflect off the surface of the wood, and provide a hard surface to improve acoustic connection with the air.
The violin is then set up with pegs, sound post, bridge and strings.
At this point the violin is half finished. It will be the playing, weather changes, accidents and repairs over the next 200 years that will give the violin its identity and soul.
In the craft process, the craftsman learns from the materials and tools he handles as much as from tradition and imagination. The tool is the extension of the hand to move and shape, and also to feel, experience, and know. The tool is not only the instrument through which the intent of the maker is applied to the materials, but more importantly the portal through which the craftsman experiences and comes to understand the material: what it can do, what it wants to do, what it is meant to do.
Despite the development of power tools and digital processing, 95% of the work of making a violin is hand work, and the tools I use are only slightly evolved from the tools Stradivari used 300 years ago.
As the process is mostly subtractive (removing wood), the tools are mostly cutting tools of various kinds and shapes:
The materials must also be held and measured — clamps and jigs of various kinds become old friends.
Tools specific to violin making:
Finger planes used in shaping the top and back
Purfling cutter and chisel (purfling is a black and white inlay inside the edge of the violin)
Dial thickness gauge
Soundpost setter (the soundpost is a spruce dowel fit between the top and back near the bridge)