Saturday, December 21, 2019

Making a Fiddle - Day 7

This day made a big difference in how my fiddle looks.  It is actually starting to look like a fiddle!  I have all the ribs glued to the blocks now.  Here are the steps I completed this day.

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!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Making a Fiddle - Days 5 & 6

Okay.  It's holiday season.  My time has been severely limited and my patience tested.  Nevertheless, I managed to get all the blocks done and the two ribs trimmed.

This is all tedious work -- at least to me!  The good news?  I actually got a workbench!  I have been doing repairs of all kinds on a table for 15 years, so this was especially welcome!  It is hard to work on a table because it isn't tall enough for some work, and tables are very wobbly.  I had no place for vices, as the table didn't have a thick enough top and was not sturdy enough for vices.  It was also hard to clamp anything to the table for the same reasons.

When using the gouges to cut the blocks, I had to use very small cuts and make sure the gouges were super sharp.  The wood splits and cracks easily, or else digs in too far if you try to take a shortcut here and take larger cuts.  It is even worse when cutting the maple ribs!  No matter how small a cut I tried to take, it was very difficult to keep the maple from basically crumbling under the gouge.  Angling the cut seemed to work better, as did only taking a partial cut (half of the height of the rib, then turning and gouging the other half from the opposite direction).  I used a file when I got within a half millimeter.

And, as always, a square is a must!  The blocks have to remain perfectly square or else the ribs will be twisted and the top and back will not fit properly.

To make nice looking, asymmetrical corners, it is important to measure the distance from the center point of the mold to each corner.  For instance, if you are working on the lower corners, mark the center point of the mold in between those two corners, then measure from the center point to each corner.  Do the same thing for the upper corners.  If this measurement is not exact, the fiddle won't look exactly right when finished.  I used a caliper for this, but you can also you a protractor.

This is what is looks like now.

What's next?  I will be bending and gluing ribs next!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Making a Fiddle - My Day 4

This was an exciting day because I bent the ribs for the C bouts!  Before doing any actual rib work, there were several steps I had to accomplish first.  I started by putting the metal template in place over the steel pins, and then I used an awl to trace around the template onto my blocks.  I had to do this on both sides of the top and bottom.  Then I used a pencil to go over the awl tracings so it would be easy to see my lines.  These are the lines that I had to cut the blocks up to.

I used a special wooden "corner" of sorts that goes over the edge of the workbench today.  It is actually clamped to the workbench so it doesn't move.  The mold is put either on top of the wooden corner, or on the side of it when cutting the blocks.  I used gouges that are sharp on the inside edges to cut off the areas of the blocks where the ribs will be attached.  I only did the two inside C-bout corners to start with.

Once again, this is very exacting work.  The blocks have to remain perfectly square when you cut the curves for the ribs.  I used a small square over and over again to check for squareness.  Sometimes I worked on top of the wooden corner, and sometimes I worked on the sides of it.  I had to keep flipping the mold over to make sure I was cutting evenly from both sides and didn't go through any of my lines.

The ribs are cut from larger pieces of rib stock.  This is heavily flamed maple.  If you want the fiddle to look really beautiful, then it is important to cut the ribs and back from the same piece of wood.  This makes all the flames match in size and intensity.  Once the ribs have been cut, they have to be measured for correct height and thickness, and then ultimately for correct length based on where they will be placed on the fiddle.  To get the thickness accurate all over, I used a special caliper that I slid the wood through.  When the gauge showed an area that was too thick, I marked that area with a pencil.  Then I used a rough rasp to remove the pencil markings.  I did this over and over again until the ribs were fairly uniform in thickness.  I used sandpaper to smooth out the rasp marks. 

The edges of the ribs were planed so that they would be level, square, and the correct height.  Once again, I used the wooden corner (and Greg) to help.

Next, we measured the area where the rib would be bent and glued, and marked and cut the rib to the correct length.  The rib will be cut slightly long.

Now, it's finally time to bend the ribs!  I used an old piece of rib material to practice with first.  Everything went good, so then it was on to the real thing!  I used a bending iron, bending strap and a small block of wood to help bend the rib to fit the C bout.  This is the toughest one to make because it has the sharpest curves out of all the ribs.  Highly flamed maple is also hard to bend because the wood tends to break at the flaming.  I put the first rib into a bucket of water for a few seconds, and then I used the bending strap and iron to bend it.  I had the mold right beside me so I could fit the rib into the area in which it would be glued to make sure it fit correctly and tightly.

That's an overhead view of the rib, bending iron and bending strap, so you have to look closely to see there's a rib in there!

When the rib looked to be bent correctly, we did a "dry" clamp of the rib to make sure there were no gaps that would require me to keep working at getting the rib bent correctly.  I used a special clamp that Greg made called a step clamp.  It is really neat because it can be resized and used for both violins and violas.  You'll see how it works in the next couple of pictures.

Before gluing the ribs to the blocks, wax is put on the edges of the mold where the ribs will be touching.  This is just to keep the ribs from sticking to the mold in case a little glue gets in between the ribs and the edge of the mold.  The only place the ribs are glued is where they attach to the blocks.  They hold their shape because the step clamp puts pressure on them until the glue dries.  Violin making uses granular hide glue that is melted in a pot because of its superior strength and bonding with wood.  It is actually stronger than wood glues and other specialty glues, and it will release under heat so that repairs can be made later on without damaging the wood of the instrument.  It is not okay to use liquid hide glue that comes in a bottle for construction and repair work because what is added to the glue to keep it in a liquid state in the bottle weakens the glue and it won't hold under pressure.

After sitting overnight, I removed the clamps and here is what it looks like!

Making a Fiddle - My Day 3

Now this day was definitely full!  It took a long time to make all the blocks.  They all have to be perfectly square on all sides, and they have to be exact heights in millimeters and tenths of millimeters.  I used a caliper to help me with the measurements because my rulers only go to millimeters.

The first thing I did was mark where I would cut out the blocks from the piece of spruce I had.  The grain of the wood has to go a certain direction at an angle.  This makes the blocks stronger.  I used a band saw to cut out the blocks.  The spruce I was working with was very thick, and I got a little too aggressive with a corner turn and popped the band saw blade off right away!  Woops!  At least I didn't break anything.

After I cut out the blocks, I had to plane all the corners to the exact height and make them all perfectly square on all corners.  Because I have bad hands right now, I am unable to use a hand plane for this step.  I leveled the disk on my belt sander using a small square, and then I used the disk sander to sand the blocks to the correct measurements.  That is unbelievably difficult to accomplish because there is not a square side at all when you first cut out the blocks, and once one side is square, you can't tilt the block even a tiny bit or you'll throw off the squareness on a different corner.  I was dealing with measurements of 31.2 mm and 31.8 mm, so I had to be very careful when I got close to the correct measurement.  One block broke when I got it close, so I had to do that one over. 

After all the blocks were cut out, sanded to the correct measurements and squared, I glued them to the mold.  The mold has to be 7 mm above a perfectly flat surface for this step.  I used a piece of thick safety glass with two wooden risers that are exactly 7 mm in height.  I placed the mold on top of the wooden risers.   Here is what it looks like now.  You can see in one of these pictures how the metal template fits on the steel pins and over the top of the mold.

Making a Fiddle - My Day 2

For this work, I needed a drill press...which I didn't have.  So I took a trip over to Greg's Violin Shop to use his drill press.  I marked the eight areas on the mold where I would drill large holes.  These holes are used to help clamp the ribs in the next step.