UNH Violin Craftsmanship Institute Workshops for 2018

Check out theUNH Workshops summer workshops, including three free workshops (at bottom) being offered from the University of New Hampshire’s Violin Craftsmanship Institute for the summer of 2018.  Credit to the Violin Society of America for distributing this to their membership, their email follows:

New Instructors & New Programs – June 18 – July 20, 2018

Click here for complete brochure.

The UNH Violin Craftsmanship Institute carries on the tradition of luthiers, dating back to the 16th century European craft guilds. UNH’s Institute is one of the oldest string instrument repair programs in the U.S. Current internationally renowned instructors are respected masters of their craft.

Repair shop employees, string instrument teachers, musicians, and professionals from any background with a passion for woodworking and music looking for a second career, a source of income, or to study the craft.

All levels of experience will learn the trade from our accessible and knowledgeable instructors. You must be 18 years or older to attend.

Summer Workshops

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Update: Stainer 1679

After a quiet summer, I think an update on the 2nd Stainer 1679 is due.  Since last update I’ve assembled the corpus and attached the neck.


I had planned not to setup the instrument ‘in the white’ but had a change of heart.  So I’ve cleaned up the nut and added a saddle.  As soon as the bridge has been cut I’ll put on some Evah Pirazzi stings and try out the sound.  I’ve been working on some new ground techniques which I’ll be trying out once I”m satisfied no other adjustments need to be made.

Stainer 1679 and Guarneri 1743 Update

An update on progress.  The 2nd Stainer 1679 is nearly complete with the back now glued to the ribs.  Next the top will be attached and the neck mortised into the body.


Stainer 1679 #2

Its usually at this point that I start looking forward to the next project.  For the next instrument i’ll be following the ‘Il Cannone’ 1743 Violin by Giuseppe ‘del Jesu’ Guarneri.


My mold and materials for a ‘Il Cannone’ 1743 inspired Violin

The neck, back and ribs are aged European maple, chosen for similar figure patterns to the original.  The belly will be made from Newfoundland black Spruce.  This wood has higher strength than other species, but tends to be smaller and twist as it grows, making it very difficult to source.  As a final touch the nut will be made from Tagua to simulate the ivory nut on the original ‘Il Cannone’.  Known as vegetable ivory, its actually the nut of a tropical palm tree.

My ‘Il Cannone’ will have an outline which is an approximation of the original.  This was a design choice.  I went with a symmetrical outline, whereas the original has large variations.

Cannone Back

Il Cannone back outline variation

Hi Res Photos from Museo del Violino

In reviewing the Museo del Violino website I came across the Google Cultural Institute pages.  There are some fantastic high resolution images of some the artifacts from the Museum in Cremona, including some of the violins.  Check it out here.

Included are the images below:

  • Violin grand (G) mold
  • Contraldo viola (CV) mold
  • Francesco Rugeri “Per” violin  1675 – front
  • Nicolò Amati 1684 “Hammerle” violin – front
  • Antonio Stradivari 1679 “Hellier” violin – front
  • Giuseppe Guarneri filius Andreae 1689 “Quarestani” violin – front
  • Antonio Stradivari 1727c. “Vesuvio” violin – front
  • Andrea Amati 1566c. “Carlo IX” violin – front
  • Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù 1734 “Stauffer” violin – front
  • Antonio Stradivari 1679 “Sabionari” guitar – front
  • Girolamo Amati 1615 viola – front
  • Antonio Stradivari 1700 “Stauffer” cello – front
  • Antonio Stradivari 1669 “Clisbee” violin – front
  • Antonio Stradivari 1715 “Cremonese” violin – front

You can also virtually tour through the Museum.

Stainer 1679: Assembly

Check out some pictures of the assembly of the my Stainer 1679.  Now ready for finishing.

Violin Knives

v-knifeA “Violin knife” refers to a traditional tool used in both violin making and in broader luthier and wood working.   The basic violin knife is a long relatively narrow piece of tool steel sharpened with an angled ‘blade’ at one end, double beveled and inserted in a removal wooden sleeve handle.  What the knife is used for varies on the width of the steel, the angle of the blade portion and the bevel angle.

The  blade portion can be made by tempering any high carbon steel, or ready made blades can be purchased from suppliers like Pfeil or Hock.  The handles typically are separate and can easily be made in the workshop.

The size of the knife describes the width of the stock.  Because the blade can be moved forward in the handle it can have a very long working life, making it an economical tool.


Top to Bottom: For comparison a Flexcut Detail Knife and Pfeil Detail Knife #11, a 3/4″ mill blade in shop made maple handle, and finally 6mm and 3.5mm  Pfeil violin knife blades in shop made ebony handles

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A UV Varnish Drying “Cabinet”


Drying Varnish

There is a saying in violin making that it takes about only a few years to learn the basics of constructing instruments, but it takes the rest of your life you learn varnishing.  A UV Varnish Drying cabinet can speed up the entire finishing process.

Traditional oil varnishes are a combination of drying oil (for example, walnut or linseed), a resin (for example, copal or amber), and a thinner.  While initial drying of varnish is accomplished by the evaporation of the thinner, the curing of the varnish is a chemical process; the varnish alters at an molecular level.   The curing, or polymerization, of the varnish is accelerated by UV light.  Alcohol based varnishes, notably used in the French tradition after the Cremona golden period, do not require this method.  Based on my research, I’m certain that the Cremonese makers used oil varnish.

Tanning instruments (both in the white and after coats of varnish) is a common technique in violin making.  Exposure to artificial UV light effectively replaces exposure to sunlight.  This is useful in areas which have lower sunlight exposure due to winter, or where exposure to direct sunlight isn’t practical (the glass in household windows blocks a large portion of UV light).  Aside from curing varnish, sunlight is also used to ‘tan’ an instrument which darkens the flaming of maple.

CAUTION: exposure to UV light causes cataracts and skin cancer, just like over exposure to the sun.  The bulbs I recommend below should be fairly safe for short period of exposure, but its best to avoid prolonged exposure.

The UV cabinet is a tool which provides a way to accelerate the exposure of the instrument to UV both for tanning of the bare wood, and accelerating the curing of the varnish between coats.  An instrument may be tanned for one or multiple weeks, while varnish exposed to UV will cure overnight.



The UV “Cabinet”

A simple, cost effective method of building a UV cabinet is the steel can cabinet.  Not glamorous :), but certainly low cost and functional.  This consists of a galvanized steel rubbish bin or garbage can, with UV florescent lights mounted vertically inside the can.  A small amount of electrical expertise is required.


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Its all about pitch (angle)

Hand planing is a fast and effective way to achieve a great finish on ribs.   Hand planes are also key for getting a good flat surface on plates, necks and the back of finger boards.  How well your plane works for you will depend on its setup, including the pitch angle.  Check out my new addition to the best practices page, Hand Plane Setup to learn about this topic.

Low-Angle Bevel-up block planes are great for a variety of tasks, but only with the correct blade bevel.  Knowing which blade bevel to use for which job will vastly improve your making experience.  Check out the page to learn more.


Traditional Bevel Down Terminology

Best Practises: Davide Sora Videos

I’m working away on the Best Practises page.  While you wait for those, I have added to the Best Practises page an index of the Youtube videos by Davide Sora (website).  Davide is an award winning violin maker for aesthetics and tone.  Davide and I clearly have the same philosophy in violin making, clean, neat and traditional hand made violins.

His videos are a great guide to new makers, and an inspiration to practising makers!  Check out his youtube channel, my list of his videos and the wealth of videos and photos on his blog.