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.

Making a Fiddle - My Day 1

My newest endeavor is to make my own fiddle!  This is a very special thing to me not just because I play fiddle and I have been repairing fiddles for over 15 years, but also because I consider it a family tradition.  My dad's father made fiddles.  I am very thankful for Gregory Krone, violin maker in New Haven, Missouri, for sharing his time, skill and many other things to make it possible for me to make my own fiddle.

Some things Greg provided me with, such as the mold and template that I am using to build my fiddle.  The metal template is copied from a paper pattern and then cut out with a jeweler's saw.  The mold is also copied from a paper pattern, but it is cut out of plywood.  You need both the mold and the template to build a fiddle.

For me, the first step was to mark on the mold where I would saw out the areas where the blocks would be glued.  I have a booklet of information from Greg's violin making school that I am using to get my measurements.  Everything is very precise!  I also had to mark the center of the mold.  You can see two small holes drilled in the mold in my pictures.  There are steel pins that fit into those holes, and the template fits over those two steel pins to keep it perfectly in the correct place.  (I failed to get a picture of that before I started working on it.)

After I marked the corner block areas, I drilled tiny holes in the corners of the areas I was going to cut out.  Since the mold will not actually be part of the fiddle, but the blocks have to be glued to the mold temporarily, these small holes make it easier to dislocate the blocks from the mold.  The blocks will be glued to ribs and will actually be part of the fiddle.  I used the band saw to cut out the areas I marked for the blocks.

If all of this doesn't make sense yet, it will as I continue to post my progress!  Here is a picture of all the work I completed on my first day. 

Stay tuned for more!