I started by deciding which way I wanted the flaming on the wood to go. The flames on my ribs are slightly angled, so I decided to make all the flames angle back towards the bottom (end block area) of the fiddle. I marked the ribs lightly in pencil with LL (lower left), LR (lower right), UL (upper left) and UR (upper right). I also drew arrows that faced the endblock (lower ribs), and the neck block (upper ribs). Then I started measuring and cutting the length of the ribs. I marked the center of the upper and lower blocks. I used a very flexible, clear ruler for measuring. It conforms to all the curves so I could get a very accurate measurement. I added a little bit of length to the measurements so that the ribs would extend beyond the corners. (They will be trimmed later, but this makes for an almost invisible corner joint.)
The lower ribs have to fit perfectly so that there will not be a gap at the endblock. I used the square and a file to get this correct. After the lower ribs are bent, the ends are glued together, taped and clamped with a counter block. (I'll explain counter blocks in more details later on in this entry.) This keeps the fit perfect when you clamp the ribs to the endblock.
To bend the ribs, I first had to dip the ribs in a small bucket of water. Then I used the rib bender and sometimes the bending strap. I personally prefer not to the use the strap because I can't feel when the wood starts to "give." When the wood starts to give, it can be bent without it cracking or breaking (but sometimes it does anyway). Sometimes it was necessary for me to use the bending strap because the wood needed the support on certain curves, or because I needed to work so close to my fingers that the heat and steam would have burned me. I kept the mold nearby so that I could keep checking to see if I was making the curves correctly. The ribs have to fit the mold and blocks with no gaps. It was a little tedious, but not too bad. I had to constantly look to make sure I wasn't bending a rib upside-down or backwards. The arrows and markings that I penciled onto the ribs were very helpful for this.
After all the ribs were bent, it was time to glue the ribs to the blocks. This is where the counter blocks come into play. Counter blocks are small blocks of wood that are used to clamp the ribs to the blocks. They fit perfectly into the curves of the fiddle ribs and give you something to clamp the ribs against. If you label all your counter blocks after you make them, it makes it easier to know which ones are for which curves. (Notice the "UL" that is visible on the end of one of the counter blocks in the picture below. All of these blocks are labelled, but for some reason, only one label happened to be facing up so that it was visible in my picture.)
First, I positioned one rib where it would be glued. I used a pencil to mark on the rib where the blocks were. This shows me where I will be putting the glue. The ribs are only glued to the blocks and not to the mold itself. It is a good idea to wax the edges of the mold so that any stray glue will not adhere to the ribs. I got my counter blocks and my clamps ready. I put hide glue on the block and also on the rib, then I positioned it and clamped it. This has to be done on a flat surface. I used a large piece of safety glass. The ribs stay in contact with the glass, which keeps everything perfectly level and flat on the bottom. Having another person to help when you are gluing and clamping the ribs is a very good idea! This makes it so much easier to hold things in place and clamp at the same time. After the clamp is in place, I wiped off the excess glue with a damp cloth. I did this as I clamped each rib rather than waiting until I was done with all of them. Hide glue sets pretty quickly.
It is important to make sure the clamps are positioned in the center of the counter blocks so that pressure is applied evenly to the rib and there are no gaps. After all the clamps are in place, I picked up the mold and wiped off excess glue from the bottom of the ribs and blocks. This is what it looked like with all the clamps in place.
This is what it looks like after I removed the clamps.
It won't be long and I'll be starting on the top and back! Yay!