Stainer #1, Update

The first of the two Stainers is complete.  The final varnish color is a deep maroon red.  The strings chosen for the instrument are Pirastro Passion sheep gut wire wound stabilized strings.  The instrument is very easy to play and has a deep tonal color and these strings give it an extra kick in complexity.  I’m still in the process of photographing the one piece pillow maple back, but here’s what the front looks like.


And if you’rCamera and lights, mid angle.jpge curious about the photography setup, here’s a peak at that too.  Look for an article in the near future on how I put together and use this inexpensive setup.



Stainer 1679: f-holes

Stainer 1679: f-holes

I’m placing the F-Holes on the Stainer model, to do so I first tried following the paper written by Alvin King “The Cremonese System for Positioning the F-Holes“.
His method includes Amati models, which should be similar to Stainer, but the layout did not work for the Stainer model.  Mostly due to the shortness of Stainer’s f-holes and the length of his top bout.


Failed Layout of F-Hole

In the end I set the f-holes based on The Strad poster measurements, a safe upper eye-width, and a comfortable notch location with respect to the stop location.

New Davide Sora Videos

Check out the latest videos from Davide Sora.  Davide’s videos are fantastic demonstrations of tried and true violin making.

His latest is a set of 23 videos on making a violin scroll.  You can find this list and indexes of his other videos on my Best Practices page in the Resource section.

Also he’s made a time-lapse of making the scroll from neck block to finished product in 3 minutes and 15 seconds.  Check it out!


Jigs: Vee-Board

A vee-board is very useful for fine fret saw work, such as for rough cutting the f-holes, I also find it quite useful for work where the edge of plate (belly or back) needs to overhang, such as using a purfling marker or cutter, or filing edges to shape.

Roger Hargrave outlines how he uses a vee-board in his article Purfling & Edgework in Cremonese Instruments in the library section of his website.


Book Review: The Art of Violin Making

art of violinThe Art of Violin Making by Chris Johnson and Roy Courtnall, first published in 1999, is a step by step guide for making a violin based on traditional methods with an inside mold.  One of the most popular books on making, its also a great shop reference for the new maker, and my personal go-to book on violin making.

The book’s primary focus is the process of making a violin using traditional (non-power tool) methods.  It has brief overviews on historical and modern makers, tools and sharpening, material selection and glue use, and sound adjustment, but does not delve into detail in this matters.

With about 400 illustrations over 253 pages, including a few color examples of violins from historic makers, and many black and white pictures of the making process, it has plenty of graphic references for the reader.

The book is separated into these sections:

  • Part I The Violin Makers
  • Part II The Maker’s Workshop
  • Part II Violin Construction
  • Sound Adjustment
  • Appendices: Technical terms, Metric/imperial conversion, Suppliers, Collection

Part I The Violin Makers

A 16 page write and color pictures of violins from significant historical and modern makers.  The historical section includes chapters on the Amati Family, Antonio Stradivari, the Guarneri family, and Jacob Stainer.  In the contemporary section there are bios and opinions on violin making from Paul Bowers, Glen Collins, John Dilworth, Roger Hargrave, Patrick Jowett, and Patrick and Andrea Robin-Frandsen.

Part II The Maker’s Workshop

This part of the book focuses on the workshop, tools and materials.  As noted above the method of making in this book focuses on traditional hand-tool focused making of instruments.

This section first touches on the working environment, lighting and humidity control.  Then goes on to document the tools needed for making an instrument by hand (without power tools), breaking them into common woodworking tools and specialized violin making tools.  The specialized tools include a description of each.  A brief section on sharpening follow, as well as short sections on types and selection of materials (such as tonewood).  Lastly this section includes a brief section on hide glue and its use.

Part III Violin Construction

This section comprises the bulk of the book, about 170 pages.  It goes through a step by step process of making a violin utilizing an inside mold right from preparing the mold to varnishing the violin.  Of course there is no substitute for hands on instruction, but this guide is a great aid and reference.  Plenty of illustrations demonstrate the steps, jigs and tools and critical dimensions.

Sound Adjustment

This three page section was written by Gerald Botteley and discusses instrument setup, particularly the bridge and soundpost.


This section contains a list of Technical terms, tables for Metric/imperial conversion, Addresses of materials, tools suppliers and journals, and finally a collections of instruments around the world.

Jigs: Edge Fluting



This swivel cradle is ideal for edge fluting.  The cradle rotates in a vice.  It’s designed so that tightening the vice locks the rotation of the jig.

The jig is also useful for final shaping and finishing.  The jig is hollowed so that the inside of plates can be worked as well.

The four corner holders are lined with cork and are slotted so that they can fit a variety of plate sizes.

Cutting the Purfling Channel

I’ve tried a new method for cutting purfling channels, this uses Roger Hargrave’s interpretation of the Stradivari method.  Among Strad’s artifacts, now in the Museo Del  Violino in Cremona, Italy, are two single bladed purfling cutters.  Roger believes that Strad used these to cut independently the outside and inside edge of the purfling groove.

I used this method on my most recent violin and found it worked well on the back, but was especially useful on the top, where year growth rings can cause a freely held knife blade to be pulled into the soft summer wood.

To do this I re-ground two of the blades from an Ibex-style purfling marker to be double edged (pointed) so they could cut in both directions.  A narrow taper ensures the blades won’t over-widen as they cut around the turns and corners.  I then mounted each blade in its own purfling marker.  I added a small brass ‘L’ to act as a depth stop which meant less checking of my depth of cutting.  The cutters worked well, but I did occasionally use my knife.

To setup the cutting position, test with a scrap of wood with the purfling you plan to use for the instrument under construction.  Also in the pictures above you’ll see a file which i converted to purfling picker.

Rib Thicknessing: Scraping Planes

One option for taking down the thickness of ribs prior to bending is a scraping plane.  I was taught to use a low angle block plane to reduce rib thickness and added a few passes with a Lee Valley Scraping plane for final finishing of ribs.  The is a perfectly valid method and works provided that the plane is super sharp and the cutting depth is kept very small.  The downside is that it’s a slow process if your ribs are thick, due to the need to keep the cutting depth small.  Two ways to improve the amount of material taken with each pass include using a toothed blade or increasing the blade bevel angle.  Another option is a Scraping Plane with a toothed blade set at 70 to 90 degrees, or a York/Pitch plane with a blade set at about 50 degrees.

I have been researching traditional Japanese planesDai Noshi and became aware of  Sole Flattening planes (Dai Naoshi) which are traditionally used to adjust the soles of wooden Japanese planes.  For the interested, the soles of Japanese wooden planes are not flat, but are relieved in front of the blade and behind the blade leaving three or four contact points.  Also worth noting is the use of tapered laminated steel blades and specially shaped chip breakers in Japanese planes. Traditional Japanese joinery is amazing, check out this video.  For our purposes, the Dai Naoshi form is a useful model for a scraping planes for rib thicknessing and is a tool easily in reach of the construction skills of a violin maker.

While I was pondering a new plane to speed up my rib thicknessing, I saw Davide Sora’s video on rib thicknessing.  He uses a toothing plane with a toothed blade set at about 90 degrees.  Check out his use of the plane here.  Given his success I decided to build one of my own.

Here is my version.  Using separate sides makes it a quick build.  In my design the wedge goes behind the blade, while a wedge is not usually included in Japanese Dai Naoshi because it has a wedge shaped blade, it is necessary here as my blade is flat.  The dimensions of my plane were roughly based on the recommendations of this post.

Scraping Plane

I’ll keep you posted on how well it works.