I finished building my new workshop a few weeks ago – something I decided to start building to get me out of my super-cramped garage as soon as the Covid-19 lockdown was announced back in March.
I went for a simple wooden framed design on a concrete base with a flat roof to give me as much headroom as possible whilst staying within the 2.5m permitted development limits on height. Plenty of rockwool insulation in the walls and ceiling and a few inches of celotex on the floor should keep things toastie in winter as well as keeping the machine tool noise inside. I clad it in Siberian larch feather-board for a good and long lasting look.
I now finally have room to swing a cat while making musical instruments (or anything else) although there is still quite a lot of stuff still left in the garage! Here are some pictures of the finished workshop:
At last I have reached the fun bit where the beauty of the wood finally comes to light.
The first step was to clean up the instrument all over using a scraper a 600 grade emery paper to get rid of any remaining tool marks and surface blemishes.
Then the fingerboard was easily popped off and replaced with a guard piece held on with a weak glue solution to make access to the top while varnishing much easier.
Giving it a Sun Tan
Then into the UV cabinet for a few weeks to start the ageing process and give the wood a natural darkness and bring out the figure on the maple.
I put a bowl of water in the cabinet to stop things getting too dry.
While it was getting a tan a made a simple peg shaver to deal with tiny (compared with the cello) violin pegs.
I just squared up a piece of maple thick enough to tak a peg hole and wide enough to take the full peg length. I then drilled and reamed a peg hole to fit the peg blanks and then cut a quadrant out so i had a surface to mount the blade. Previous shapers I have built had the blade mounted near the top of the peg a bit like a pencil sharpener but I found these tended to grab the grain. So on this shaver I took a blad from a cheap chinese scraper and mounted it more like a scraper halfway down the side of the peg secured with a few 5mm set screws and then fitted a few fine adjusting screws through a side block.
Seems to work really well.
This is what it looks like after 1 week in the cabinet
After 2 weeks I made up some ground coat the same as for the cello and rubbed in with a rag, Once dry I sanded back with 600 grade emery paper to make it flat and gave it 2 coats of wiped on shellac sanding back between coats.
I had to repeat the process after flattening with 600 grad a few times before adding the colour glaze. I made this up from golden brown varnish, linseed oil and artist colours (burnt sienna and a little alizarin red). Rubbed a couple of thin coats of this in with a cloth and this what it looks like.
Next for a coat of golden brown varnish before I decide whether or not to do any more colour adjustments.
Still needs more colour so another colour glaze going on next.
The maple back is looking much better now with the flame really shining through. Once I have finished the varnish coats and cut it back the glossy shine should change to a much more pleasing satiny finish.
I think the front still needs a bit more richness before the next colour coat so colour glaze again.
So now for one more colour coat and a few clear coats.
Clear coats went on very easily making sure I sanded very lightly between coats to get rid of any surface dust and hairs.
The violin has a lovey glow and colour has been kept light as this client wanted.
Now into the light box for a couple of weeks to dry /harden the varnish properly before cutting back, polishing and then fitting the fingerboard and finishing the back of the neck.
After cutting back with progressively finer emery cloth down to 4000 grade I used rotten stone and linseed oil to finish.
Then I re-glued the neck after re-flattening the fingerboard and neck which had both moved very sightly.
I had already decided to try my hand at making a violin after 2 successful cellos when someone in the orchestra actually commissioned me to make them a violin on the strength of my cellos!
I already had the Harry S. Wake book on violin making from the cello work but bought another book on amazon by Juliet Barker which I found I could not put down once started because it answered a whole load of questions that had been floating around my mind from the process of building the 2 cellos. Interestingly I also discovered that she only wrote the book because of encouragement from David Dyke who supplies me with my instrument wood! – small world.
As with the cellos I decided to draw my own plans – not because I think I can do better than Stradivarius – but more so that I understand the basics of how the shape can be produced, have something I can repeat without access to 3rd party plans and so I have a clear reference point if I need to adapt the design in future.
I used the solvespace parametric drawing package again referring to the Strad design in Harry Wake’s book for key dimensions. The result is within a gnat’s whisker of the strad outline but achieved very simply.
Here is the inside mold outline as a result and the solvespace file if anyone wanted to adapt it.
After cutting out the perspex and carefully sanding to get an exact profile, I used the template to mark out the outline of the inner mold on a piece of 18mm plywood. After careful sanding down to the exact dimensions, cutting out the recesses for the corner/end blocks and adding a few coats of varnish it looked like this:
Having completed the rather rewarding finishing process I can now set up the instrument ready for stringing.
Fitting the pegs
The first step was to build my own peg shaver as the cheap Chinese one I had bought together with a peg reamer and end-pin reamer was way too small for the pegs I have.
I found a piece of maple off-cut and cut it down to the length of a peg and drilled it slightly larger than the thin end of the peg reamer before reaming out a hole with the thick end matching the thick end of my pegs (about 14mm). Then I planed away one face until I had a nice parallel slot showing about 5mm wide. Then I glued another capping piece over the slot and re- reamed the hole. Finally I fitted the blade from my Chinese shaver together with a very simple fine adjusting mechanism.
The result is shown below.
I also built a very simple jig from 2 pieces of hinged oak to sand a finish onto the pegs.
Then I reamed out the pre-drilled holes in the peg box (using a few reverse turns at the end) so that I had a little more than the target 21mm between the edge of the box and the decorative rim of the peg to allow for the wood to compress a bit.
I then set up a simple jig to hold the pegs while I cut them to length and drilled them. I marked the hole positions a few mm from the centre of the box towards the thicker end of the peg and drilled the holes using a 2mm bit and then chamfered the openings.
Fitting the soundpost
I rough cut a 13mm square sction from a piece of close and straight grained spruce taking care to ensure no runout and then planed it down to an 11mm square section. Then I carefully planed it down systematically to an octagon and so on till I had a perfect cylinder 11mm diameter.
Actually fitting it could be quite an adventure with the fitting tool and retriever I purchased!
Yes – quite an adventure but eventually got the knack – certainly got my money’s worth from the sound post retriever! The f-hole was only just wide enough to fit the post through though – must remember to make it a millimetre wider on the next one – took me 2 hrs of frustrated attempts! Phew.
Fitting the nut
I filed down the ebony nut blank to fit the fingerboard profile and also added a 2mm T-extension as some makers have suggested this improves the look and I needed it anyway to get back to the designed dimensions. I tack glued the nut to the end of the fingerboard with a few drops of Titebond.
Nut ended up proud of the fingerboard by 1mm at the A string to about 1.4mm at the C string.
String spacing was set with dividers at 8mm and slots cut with a fine saw and then nut files before lubricating the slots with graphite (pencil lead).
Fitting the saddle
Filed down the ebony saddle blank to match the curve on the bottom of the cello and marked /cut the top with a sharp knife to fit. Glued in with hot hide glue
Fitting the bridge
I built myself a simple jig to hold the bridge during fitting:
I used a piece of carbon paper to highlight the area on the feet to remove.
Then marked the bridge height using a marked up stick on the fingerboard to give 4mm action clearance over fingerboard for the A, up to 6.5mm for the C string and cut the bridge profile on the band saw giving it a few millimetres extra to allow for final adjustments.
Next I used a small plane to get the thickness profile right before hand carving with a sharp knife to get the bridge to target dimensions. Finally hand sanded to get rid of any tool marks and marked the string positions with dividers (15.8mm string centre to centre) and cut the slots with fine saw and then nut files. Ordered some parchment to protect the A and D slots.
Finally got to the exciting bit of fitting the strings and seeing what the result of 9 months labour sounds like!
Held the bridge in place with the bridge holding jig I made earlier while I fitted the tailpiece and started stringing it all up with a set of large scale. Everything seems to work ok – need to do a bit more on the pegs to get a more even grab between the two ends and the bridge needs a bit of tweaking to bring the action down to target and also a coat of linseed oil and the parchment protectors for the A and D strings – but it sounds wonderful! Very responsive, lovely sweet tone, good depth and well balanced across the strings and right to the top of the fingerboard. Quite a strong wolf note on F but a 7g eliminator on the G string sorted that out.
Will be taking it to our cello-nite on Saturday night to try out on the felli celli!
Cant wait to see how the sound develops as it gets played in.
I have decided to call her ‘Anna’ – I think she deserves a name after all that work!
Link to all the specifications for the finished instrument are here.
Link to some better pictures and recordings made with it by my good friend George Shilling.
After much reading on the Internet I decided to go for the following approach:
Finish the surface after raising the grain with water
Colour the wood in a UV light box
Deepen the colour by fuming with ammonia
Shellac sealer/ground coats
Coloured oil varnish coat
Artists colour rubbed in with fingers
3 more coats of coloured oil varnish
Clear oil varnish (2 coats)
Cutting back and polishing
I found an excellent supplier of ready made varnishes and varnish ingredients in Germany at Hammerl and ordered the oil varnish and a few extra ingredients.
I then set about designing a UV light box for both giving the white cello an initial suntan and for drying the oil varnish coats.
I settled on a design that I could assemble and disassemble easily for flat storage when not in use.
The base is 1/2″ ply 610mm x 400mm into which I routed some 6mm grooves to take the hardboard sides, front and back. The sides are braced with vertical triangular cross section struts at the edges and onto which are mounting UV fluorescent fittings (4 off 18W 600mm UVA fittings on each side).
The box is 1500mm high and a top piece of similarly grooved 1/2″ ply and with a small USB fan to extract heat/varnish fumes holds it all together.
All the inside surfaces are coated with aluminium foil.
I lightly glued a piece of scrap on the neck to hold it straight and clean during tanning/varnishing. Then the cello got a final wipe down with water and a final scraping all over before going into the light box for a week or two depending on how fast it darkens up.
Here is the result after 10 days.
I then tried fuming using household ammonia (only about 9% but seems to work quite well). Here is the result after 10hrs.
Next I sealed it all with a few coats of a 1lb cut of shellac.
And then the 1st coat of coloured varnish. This is incredibly thin and only a tiny amount was enough for the whole cello.
Then back into the light box to dry.
Once dry (I left it 2 days) I rubbed down with wet 2400 grade micro-mesh and then used a mixture of burnt umber and burnt sienna artist colours rubbed in with my fingers and wiped off with a kitchen towel until the colouring was even.
Another 2 coloured coats but still looking too light so had another go smutzing with artists colours.
Next step is a final coloured coat and then 2 clear coats.
Next I cut it back with 3200 grade micro-mesh and water and then pumice and linseed oil on a felt pad. Still left some corduroy grain on the top. Finally polished to a nice matt sheen with rotten-stone and linseed oil.
Then popped off the keeper on the neck before gluing back the fingerboard.
In kitting out my workshop with guitar luthier tools, I really wanted to get one of these but they seem only to be available in the USA and the postage is as much as the vice so I decided to build my own.
Here are some very loose plans I sketched for the vice I built from oak firewood!:
Here is the finished vice:
Extremely useful when carving the cello necks too.