And, the Finish!

This is how a violin is completed:

Last time I posted, I had just completed the commissioned five-string fiddle, up to and including the sealer.

Sealed five string fiddle handmade in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop
Sealed instrument, Front View
back view of sealed five string fiddle, handmade in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Sealed instrument, Back View.

Varnish:

The “magic” of the sealer was that it caused the mineral ground to disappear forever. The instrument instantly went from stark chalk-white to a natural wood color. As a result, the mineral will never be visible again. I always enjoy that transformation.

The varnish, on the other hand, is a series of relatively small changes, wherein the violin achieves the color we want. Furthermore, the increasing clarity and depth of the varnish gives the impression of being able to “see into the wood.”

I always begin with a couple of coats of deep yellow or amber varnish, as an undercoat which will shine through the later color coats.

Yellow First

Here is the violin after the two coats of yellow varnish:

Yellow varnish base coat on a commissioned 5-string fiddle handmade in Oregon by artisanal luthier, Chet Bishop
Front View, with Yellow base coat.
Yellow base coat varnish on treble-side of commissioned 5-string fiddle, handmade in Oregon by artisanal luthier, Chet Bishop.
Yellow base coat, Treble Side View.
Yellow base coat on back side of 5-string commissioned instrument, handmade in Oregon by artisanal Luthier, Chet Bishop.
Back View with Yellow base coat.

Color Coats

Next, I bagan layering the color coats, building to the look I planned. (Each “coat,” in reality, is usually two coats, applied in quick succession. There were about eight total color coats, but I will call them “first through fourth.”)

First color coat on front of 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop
First Color Coat, Front
First color coat on treble side of commissioned 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier, Chet Bishop
Treble Side, with First Color Coat.
First color coat on back of commissioned 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier, Chet Bishop
First Color Coat, Back
First color coat on bass side of commissioned 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Bass Side, with First Color Coat.

This maple is really beautiful wood. I wish I had a lot more of it, but, sadly, I only was able to salvage a little of the tree from which it originated. The “donor tree” was removed from the property where my wife and her siblings grew up. It had finally rotted and was becoming dangerous, so they removed it. But the wood is gorgeous. You can see the stump in this article….

Continuing color coats

As you can see, the yellow base coat is still showing through pretty strongly. That is good, but I still wanted to move the color toward a deep reddish brown,  with the golden yellow shining through. Therefore… I needed more color coats!

Second Color Coat on 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop
Second Color Coat, Front
Second Color coat on back of 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop
Back, with Second Color Coat.

The color is headed in the right direction, but still needs to be deeper. I will add extra color in any areas that should be darker.

Third Color Coat, front side of 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by Artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Third Color Coat, Front.
3rd color coat on back or 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop
Oregon Big Leaf Maple Back, withThird Color Coat.

I was getting pretty close to correct, so I began taking the instrument out into natural light, to check the color there.

Fourth color coat on five string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Fourth Color Coat, Front.
4th color coat treble side of 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop
Treble Side with Fourth Color Coat.
4th color coat, back side of five string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by Artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Back, with Fourth Color Coat.
4th color coat bass side of commissioned 5-string fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by Artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Bass side, Fourth Color Coat.

The color was pretty close to what I had hoped to produce. Therefore, I felt that I was ready to  reinstall the fingerboard, Afterward, I would hand-rub the varnish to a good polish.  Finally, I allowed it to hang in my dining room and cure a little more fully. The varnish was still quite soft, though dry to the touch.

Fingerboard

First I carved the underside of the fingerboard to remove extra mass. This affects the sound, as well as the feel of the instrument. (Extra, unnecessary mass tends to absorb vibration rather than resonate.)

Underside of fingerboard
Underside of fingerboard beginning. It was fully carved and smoothed before installation.

Then I carved a tiny notch, dead center on the upper end of the backside of the fingerboard, where it would contact the neck. After carving the notch in the fingerboard, I drilled a shallow 1/16″ hole in the neck, to accomodate a tiny nail.

That nail is temporarily installed, at an angle, to serve as a guide and an anchor while installing the fingerboard. (The hide glue is very slippery while it is still hot, and liquid. There is a tendency for the fingerboard to “drift” under the clamps, before the glue can gel.)

The notch in the fingerboard fits on the nail. The nail, then, serves as a temporary stop, so the fingerboard stays put. (I remove the nail after the glue has set.)

Fingerboard installed on 5-string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Fingerboard installed. Notice the tiny nail used to temporarily position the fingerboard.

Beginning Set-up

After a few more days, I began set-up. First, I installed the soundpost, saddle, nut, and end button. Next, I fit the pegs, and was ready for the bridge and the strings.

Nut installed on 5-string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Nut installed: it will be filed lower before installing strings.
Saddle
Saddle installed, still requiring final smoothing and retouch.

You can see in the above photo that the varnish was still very soft. Everywhere I touched it, it also resulted in my leaving fingerprints. I had to “French-polish” the whole instrument afterward, and let it hang until the varnish was harder. Then it would be easier to handle. (But it was good to have the set-up nearing completion, too.)

Completed five-string fiddle ready for retouching.
Completed five-string fiddle ready for varnish retouch.

Pegs

After the varnish had hardened a little more, I then installed the pegs.

Pegs installed, front view of five string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop,
Pegs installed, Front view.
Bass side with pegs, Five string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal Luthier Chet Bishop.
Bass side view with Pegs.
Back side of five string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Back Side View with Pegs.

Final Set-up

I installed the Bridge and Strings and Tailpiece, and then the fiddle was complete. I still let it hang in my dining room for a week or so, too, so that the varnish would continue to harden without damage.

competed 5-string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Hanging up to cure.

Final photos

Final front
Final look at the Front before delivery.
Close-up look at the f-hole area.
Close-up of the f-hole on the Oregon Douglas Fir Front.
Bass side final look before delivery.
Bass side: final look before delivery.
Close up of the Scroll.
Close up of the Scroll.
back side of five string bluegrass fiddle handcrafted in Oregon by artisanal luthier Chet Bishop.
Final look at the back of the fiddle before delivery.

I prepared the instrument’s documents (Bill of Sale and Provenance Document) and afterward, when the varnish had cured for another two weeks, the customer took delivery at the end of July, 2023.

He was delighted, and played the instrument for a long time at my house. Further (which is a joy to me,) he has contacted me since then, expressing his continued joy in the new fiddle. That is the kind of thing that makes this work a great pleasure.

 

Thanks for looking.

 

New Commissioned Five String Fiddle On the Way!

New Commission!

Unusual  Woods

A customer ordered a new, custom-made Five String Fiddle, and it is on the way!  He chose heavily spalted, heavily-flamed, Oregon Big Leaf Maple for the back plate, the sides, the neck and scroll. My wife’s parents gave me the wood from this maple tree.

Ann used to play under and climb on this tree as a child, and we hated to see the tree cut down. Her parents still live there, less than four miles from our house, but they had to remove the tree because it was dying. I have salvaged wood for a few instruments from that tree and they all look and sound wonderful!

Given a choice between Spruce and Douglas Fir, the customer chose the Douglas Fir, for his front plate. This tree was also cut a just few miles from my home. (A famous violin and viola maker, Otto Erdescz  (1917-2000) used to make violins and violas with Douglas Fir soundboards. Some of them are still being played professionally, today. But very few luthiers use Douglas Fir. I didn’t either, until a few years ago!)

Not my usuaI Choice in times past

For many years, I refused to try such a thing. But a friend gave me a load of very straight grained Douglas Fir firewood, a few years ago.  As I was splitting it, I heard the split-off piece hit the ground, and it rang like a bell! I had never seen such straight-grained, clear Douglas Fir, with zero runout!

Unfortunately, that particular piece was too short for a fiddle. I had to search through the pile for a piece that was long enouigh for a violin plate.

Since then, I have made several such instruments, and they all sound great. (I find that the Spruce is definitely easier to work with, though, and, for classical, orchestral instruments, I still use only European maple and spruce.)

Customer Preferences:

This man showed up at my shop and he played all the five string instruments I had. (He really had not been used to 5-string instruments before, and he laughed for joy, hearing the rich deep C-string on each one.  After a short while, he declared, “OK, I’m addicted!”) He played the full range of all of them, and finally settled on my earliest unsold 5-string (#3 on the “Chronology” page) as being exactly what he wanted.

But not to buy that instrument. No! He wanted a commissioned instrument “just like that one!” He had thought things over, and he wanted one that was built especially for him! (Sure! We can do that!)

And, as it turned out, that was a good thing:  A week later, the next customer who came to try out all my instruments  also loved that fiddle, but she bought it that day, and drove away! So it is gone!

Which Mold?

I knew which of my molds was the source of that fiddle: I have made at least four off of that specific mold. All of them have sold, now, so, for the moment, there are none available. (This instrument will “solve that problem” momentarily, but it will be gone immediately after completion.)

The commissioning customer also wanted local wood, so that he could say, “My violin was made from a tree on that hill!” So…choosing the wood was the first step.

Choosing the Wood

The model I would use had already been chosen, so that was not an issue. I also knew what the wood source would be: I still have a little of the maple my wife’s parents had given me. And, with the customer’s approval, I chose a clear piece of Douglas Fir, salvaged from the firtewood I mentioned earlier. He loved both pieces.

Maple and spruce for five string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier
“Fiddle in the rough!”

Here is a closer picture of the maple:

Heavily Spalted and Heavily Flamed Maple for five string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, luthier.
Heavily Spalted and Heavily Flamed Maple

I book-matched the spruce, by cutting a single billet in two equal halves and gluing them together to make the front plate.

Douglas Fir for five String bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Douglas Fir, cut and ready to joint and glue the Center seam

I laid out the neck outline on the billet I had chosen for the neck, and I drilled the pilot holes for the tuning pegs. Then I cut out the side profile on a bandsaw.

scroll billet for new five string bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Scroll profile cut out, and pilot holes drilled.

Mold Preparation

Meanwhile, I got the blocks glued into the mold. Then I  traced their shapes from my template, so the whole job could begin. I also  planed away the rough surfaces of the maple to ascertain that it actually would serve well as the back plate of a new five-string fiddle. And, I found that it was just a little too narrow in the lower bouts.

So, I “transplanted” a small piece of wood from the area above the upper bout on each side and grafted them in on the lower bouts. (This practice is not at all uncommon: It will be every bit as strong as the center seams on two-piece backs. And, once the double purfling is installed, the joints will be nearly invisible, under the varnish.)

wood for new five-string bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Back plate in progress, blocks in the mold, and the shapes traced from the template.

Preparing the Ribs

I had chosen wood for the ribs, as well, and I sawed them to a thickness of a little over 2 mm. I thinned them, using a wooden fixture I made, clamped to my oscillating spindle-sander. The fixture allows me to  gradually reduce the thickness to 1 mm.

Here are the ribs:

Ribs for new five string bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Rib-stock, sawn and thinned: ready to be cut to size and bent.

Installing the Ribs

Next, I cut the ribs to the correct length and width. I carefully considered which grain from one side would “mirror” which grain on the other side. I had already been tinkering on the neck, as you can see in this photo, but I will explain that process later.  (It isn’t always possible to do everything in a precise order. While I am waiting for  glue to dry on one section, for example, I may jump ahead on another piece.) You can see the bookmatched front plate, too.

Wood for new five string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Bookmatched top plate, neck and back billets in progress, and rib samples, cut to size.

I cut all six ribs, and marked them as to inside, outside, upper and lower ends, etc, as well as which side of the fiddle they would call their home…treble or bass side.

Then I bent the ribs using a hot “bending iron” (actually made of aluminum, but, in the old days, they were iron.)

(I forgot to take photos of the shaped blocks: Sorry.)

I had cut and shaped the corner and end blocks, already, so I applied a generous coat of hot hide glue to one block at a time. then, I clamped the rib into the block surfaces, making certain that everything fit correctly before tightening the clamps.

First, I installed the center bout ribs, and when the glue had dried, I used the spindle-sander to trim the ends of those ribs to match the curvature of the outer faces of the corner block, so I could install the upper and lower ribs. Here are the upper ribs, glued and clamped:

ribs installed for a new 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Center and Upper bout ribs installed, using hot hide glue and clamps.

The lower end of the bass-side center bout rib was not fully tight, so I reglued it and reclamped it. (left lower side of photo.)

Then, when that glue was dry, I installed the lower ribs, by turning the mold upside down in the vise, so I could see clearly. It also meant that both hands were free to adjust the rib position, and apply clamps.

All ribs installed on new 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
All the ribs are installed, but still need to be trimmed, before installing the linings.

Linings bent and installed

I also did not take photos of bending and installing the linings. (Sorry.) Here are two photos of the result, still in clamps.

Linings installed in new 5-string Bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop. Luthier.
Front view of linings clamped in place.
Garland with linings installed, for 5-string bluegrass fiddle handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Side view of lining clamps and rib garland.

Tracing the plates

Once the linings were installed and the ribs thus strengthened, I could trace the shape of the plates, and begin cutting things out.

Completed garland and billet for front plate for 5-string bluegrass fiddle, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop, Luthier.
Garland and Front plate billet cut to shape.
New 5-string bluegrass fiddel in progress, handmade in Oregon by Chet Bishop Luthier.
And, that is the progress, so far!

Thanks for looking! I will try to keep everyone posted as to progress.

Five-String Progress

Handmade 5-String Fiddle coming along!

Oregon Douglas Fir Top Plate

Otto Erdesz, 1917-2000 often made top plates for violas and violins out of Douglas Fir. Professional players bought and played his instruments. They are still playing them today, although many classical players insist that European spruce is the only “proper wood” for an instrument soundboard.

Frankly, I usually agree: all my experience with Douglas Fir has seemed to indicate that it would not be a very good choice. (I believed this, even though I have played one of his instruments, and it was excellent.) So, I simply didn’t try it, until this instrument.

Game-Changer!

Earlier this winter, a friend gave me a load of clean, dry Douglas Fir firewood. I use wood heat, and we had all been told it would be a bad winter (it wasn’t.) So I felt truly grateful for the gift. Later, as I split some of it, I noticed that, unlike most Douglas Fir, it had no twist at all, and it split easily and cleanly. I picked up a chunk and tapped it, and it gave a very clear, bell-like ring. (Hah! That spells “time to try some Douglas Fir!”)

So, I searched through the pile, and found one of the few pieces long enough to use. Then I carefully split it into useable billets. Next, I sawed along the center-line to book-match a plate.

Douglas Fir billet with Rib Garland
Douglas Fir billet with Guarneri Rib Garland

I frequently use a pattern modeled after the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri del Gesu. And…I like it, so I installed blocks in the mold, bent the ribs, and got going!

I had one more piece of “scrap” of Oregon Big Leaf Maple. Happily, I had saved it, too, from the 5-string Double bass I built last year. Understandably, I was looking forward to making a fiddle out of it. I had already made one 5-string fiddle from scrap from the other side of the bass-back, (which I sold to a bluegrass fiddle player in Ohio.)  It had turned out very well, so I was anxious to get the “sister” instrument made.

Back Plate Arching Nearly Complete:

Back arching nearly complete.
Back arching nearly complete

 

And, the Neck

I obtained the neck billet from a tree on my wife’s parent’s place. Every time I looked at it, I found the wood very attractive, so I got started on it, as well:

neck billet in progress
Neck billet in progress.

 

First. I began to carve the scroll and pegbox. I find that this task requires a lot of saw-cuts, to outline the actual curl of the scroll, and then to remove the waste wood. Alternately, I can use either a saw or a gouge, but I find that the saw saves a lot of effort. Here, I use the saw.

beginning the scroll cuts
Beginning the scroll cuts

 

Continuing the scroll cuts.
Continuing the scroll cuts.

 

Then, I used various gouges and chisels to complete the scroll and the inside of the pegbox.

Scroll and pegbox nearing completion.
Scroll and pegbox nearing completion.

 

I prepare and attach the fingerboard after the scroll and pegbox are very close to complete. Then I can carve and shape the two as a unit. That hasn’t happened, yet, so the handle portion of the neck is still rough and untouched.

Scroll ready for fingerboard; Arching complete on back plate.
Scroll ready for fingerboard; Arching complete on back plate: ready for Graduations.

 

Completing the Front Plate

Meanwhile, I completed the carving of the front plate. Then, I laid out and cut the f-holes and began the purfling. Cutting the purfling slots by hand on Douglas Fir is quite difficult, because the winter reeds are exceedingly hard, compared to the softer summer reeds. The knife just “pops” over them so that it feels as though it is running over corrugated roofing.

As a result, I took much longer to purfle this plate than I usually do for a spruce plate. (Ah, well! Perhaps that is one reason so few luthiers are willing to use it!)  But, I still have high hopes for the power and tone of the resulting instrument. This plate has exceptionally strong and clear tap-tones.

Purfling the front plate.
Purfling the front plate.

Garland leveled and Front Plate installed!

(Unfortunately, I neglected to get photos of the bass-bar process. I made it also of Douglas Fir, from the same billet. I hope to show it after I remove the mold…sorry.)

Front plate installed and waiting for glue to dry.
Front plate installed and waiting for glue to dry.

 

Well…I’m tired. I nearly completed the graduations for the back plate, but today was a long day. So, I will simply have to finish them tomorrow. However, the progress stands here, for tonight:

Completed front plate on garland, with nearly completed back plate.
Completed front plate on garland, with nearly completed back plate.

 

Tomorrow! (yeah, tomorrow!)

I hope to get the back plate completed tomorrow, except for the purfling, which will have to wait until after I install the plate. Then, I will prepare the fingerboard and get it glued onto the neck, and I will feel as though I am “On the Home-stretch!” (But it won’t really be true: there still will be a great deal of work left to do, before it is anywhere close to completed.)

 

Thanks for looking!

 

 

Wintergrass 2020 Exhibit

Guitars and 5-string fiddles at Wintergrass 2020

For most people, the Wintergrass Bluegrass Festival is an opportunity to hear dozens of dynamic players and bands. For a maker, like myself, it was an opportunity to present my instruments to a variety of players. for examination and “test-drives.”

My son (Brian Bishop, of Bishop Guitars) and I, had only heard of Wintergrass a month earlier, from a wood vendor and Mandolin-player, Bruce Harvie of Orcas Island Tonewoods.  We attempted to contact Wintergrass, to ask whether any exhibitors’ booths remained available, and ultimately, Bruce Adolph, one of the main organizers, contacted me to say that one exhibitor had backed out at the last minute, so, if we wanted it, that table was available. (Yes, we wanted it!)

As it turned out, we were squeezed between two other outfits, both with huge, prominent signs, so there was occasionally a little confusion, as folks assumed we were part of one or the other of our neighbors’ companies, and never even saw our lovely sign.

One little table fro two makers of guitars and five-string fiddles.
One little table fro two makers. But we got a lot of positive attention.

People frequently thought we were either with Thompson Guitars or with Peghead Nation. We had to point out the sign (It got a little crooked in the photo below.) Notice, too, that Brian and I had traded ends of the table. Why?

Because the big outfit two booths over to our right evidently persuaded the maintenance people to change the lighting, during the night, which robbed both Thompson Guitars and us of light. So Brian and I just swapped ends, so that Brian’s guitars would glow in the light, and my violins would be a little more subdued. It was an improvement for both of us, and we were fine, but Thompson was really robbed, with no such remedy. Sad. Not a good way to treat your neighbors.

Our little table. Room for two guitars , two five-string fiddles, and one violin.
Our little table. Room for two guitars and three fiddles. Brian (in the red shirt) had a third guitar, which we handed to interested players.

 

We were the only actual makers in the Dealers’ Hall where our table was located…the rest were big instrument factories, mostly: Taylor, Eastman, Yamaha, etc. Our instruments were each individually handmade by a single luthier. Brian’s parlor guitars and OM guitars were very well received, as were my 5-string bluegrass fiddles and my 4-string fiddle.

Dealers' Hall, before the show opened: our guitars and five-string fiddles were apparently the only handmade instruments in the hall.
Dealers’ Hall, before the show opened. (We were just past the second post on the left.)

 

We got a fair amount of attention, though we were small and obscure, as players came by the table. Some had come there to perform in the show, and just decided to check out the makers. Others were there to enjoy the show, but, as players, they wanted to try out the instruments. It was very enjoyable.

Joe Craven, a well-known entertainer, and a friend of the lady who commissioned this Five-string fiddle.
Joe Craven, a well-known entertainer, and a friend of the lady who commissioned this instrument. (I was hoping he would play it, but he was exhausted from his work and chose to not try it out.)

 

Very good fiddler...wish I knew his name! Playing the commissioned Five-string fiddle.
I wish I knew this young player’s name! He was very friendly and a great player.

Everyone loved our handmade instruments (both the guitars and the fiddles) and some sales may eventually result. Either way, we will be back next year!

Thanks for looking.

 

Carving the Five-string fiddle Back Plate

Five-string fiddle Inside Complete

Before I could prepare the back plate of this five-string fiddle, I had to complete the rest of the corpus (body of the violin:) First, the inside willow blocks and willow linings had to be tapered and shaped so they are completely smooth. Then, the back of the entire corpus (including the heel of the neck) has to be leveled, so that it will lie flat on the back plate. So, here is the main part of the 5-string violin, with the interior clean and smooth, and the back leveled and flat:

Five-string fiddle Inside complete, and back leveled.
Inside complete, and back leveled.

 

Beginning the Back Plate

I clamped the corpus flat on the back plate billet, then traced around the ribs, using a small washer to establish the correct rib overhang. Then I corrected the corners, using a straightedge and a series of circle patterns. Finally, I cut out the plate “footprint”, and began the arching process. Oregon Big Leaf Maple is a relatively soft maple, but it is still a good deal harder and tougher than Sitka spruce, so the back plate is a lot more work to carve. Here is the beginning:

Beginning Five-string fiddle Back Plate arching.
Beginning Back Plate arching.

In the above photo, the back plate is sitting in a work cradle, so that it will stay in place while I carve it. The Ibex plane in the photo has been slightly modified, to add the palm-fitting handle. This reduces the stress on my fingers and transfers the force to the palm of my hand as opposed to my thumb and forefinger. (To Ibex plane-owners: you will observe that I have removed the adjusting screw and reinstalled it upside down to allow insertion of the maple handle.)

I have been on vacation for two weeks, which has allowed me to accomplish more work than usual, in a shorter period of time. I go back to my regular job, on Monday, though, so things are about to slow to a crawl. (Sorry…that’s life. :-))

 

Thanks for looking.

More 5-string Fiddle Progress

Five-String Fiddle Progress

(Further progress on building a custom-made 5-string bluegrass fiddle.)

Neck Set

The neck was ready to set into the neck-block, late last night, but I had reached my physical limit. So, today, I prepared both the neck and the garland, by ascertaining that all angles and dimensions were correct, and then laying out the shape of the neck mortise on the neck block of the garland.  This is a critical step in violin-making and always raises my blood pressure a little, as I know that, if I make a mistake, it will require serious rework to get back to a usable status.

However, this time, the job went pretty smoothly, and I was able to set the neck in a fairly short time. One thing I do a little differently than I was originally taught, is that I set the neck before installing the maple back plate. This allows me to achieve a good fit with the rib garland and neck block, and not have to worry about the fit against the back plate button. Then I saw off the stub of the neck heel, and plane and file it flush with the rib garland. After I remove the mold and add the back linings, I will level the back of the garland, and be ready to trace the back plate shape.

 

Five-string fiddle neck Set Complete.
Neck Set Complete: still have to remove the neck-heel stub.

 

Here is the completed corpus (Sitka Spruce top plate and Big Leaf maple ribs still on the mold) with the wild-grain Big-leaf maple back plate billet.

Completed Corpus of Five-string fiddle with Back Plate Billet.
Completed Corpus with Back Plate Billet.

 

Mold Removal

So, the next step was to remove the plywood mold. This is another stressful step because it involves literally using a hammer and chisel, to break the glue-bond between the blocks and the mold, so as to release the garland from the mold.  I used to have a difficult time doing this, because occasionally a drop of hide glue had seeped between the rib and the mold, and anchored the fragile rib material to the very solid mold. The likelihood of breaking a rib at that point became nearly 100%. Eventually, however, I learned to liberally coat all the non-gluing surfaces of the mold with candle-wax (paraffin,) by vigorously rubbing a candle over all the areas I felt were likely to get a drop of glue on them.

The result today was that, when I removed the mold, it went smoothly, and I could see a place where glue had definitely intruded but it had dried with zero adhesion to the waxy mold. (What a relief!)

Five-string fiddle mold removed, ready for back linings.
Mold removed, ready for back linings.

Installing the Back Linings

The linings are important for two reasons: they strengthen the fragile rib-edges, and they triple the gluing surfaces between the rib-garland and the front and back plates.

So, I cut the mortices in both sides of each of the six blocks to receive the lining strips, and then inserted the linings dry, to get a perfect fit.

Afterward, I removed each lining, one by one, coated them liberally with hot hide-glue, and re-inserted them, clamping immediately with small spring-clamps.

Five-string fiddle back linings installed, glued and clamped.
Back linings installed, glued and clamped.

Shaping Blocks and Linings

If you look closely you can also see, in the above photos, that I had trimmed the blocks on the front side, before removing the mold. After the glue is dry on the back linings, I will also trim the back side of the blocks, to achieve a smooth, curved surface on the interior of all the blocks. At that same time, I will taper the linings so that they are very thin on the edge toward the middle of each rib, but still 2 mm thick at the edge where they will contact the back and front plates.

After that, it will be time to level the back surface of the entire corpus (garland and neck-heel) so as to fit tightly against the back plate billet. Then I can trace the final shape of the back plate, cut it to shape, and get going on completing the back plate.

For now, I am satisfied to allow the glue to dry, and take the rest of the evening off.

 

Thanks for looking.

Commissioned Handmade Five-string Fiddle Beginning

Starting a new 5-String Fiddle

The Materials:

A few weeks ago I announced that a new fiddle would be beginning. Now I have a few photos to show:

The top plate is Sitka Spruce, from Bruce Harvie. The customer wanted “Oregon wood,” and the Big Leaf Maple is definitely from in my neighborhood, here in Oregon (I helped harvest it;) but the Sitka is just a species that grows here…I don’t know where it was harvested.

Wild-grain Big Leaf Maple for Five-string fiddle back and ribs!
Wild-grain Maple for back and ribs!

 

Fine-grained Sitka Spruce for Five-string fiddle top plate.
Fine-grained Sitka Spruce for the top plate.

 

Preview of the grain in the Five-string fiddle neck billet.
Preview of the grain in the neck billet.

 

Beginning the work of building a 5-string fiddle:

I book-matched the spruce, to form the basis for the front plate: a solid plate with a tight glue-line down the center.

I used the mold (or form, as many people prefer to call it) that matched the fiddle the customer liked best. Then I added willow blocks to become the corners and end-blocks, and I traced the intended shape of the blocks from the mold template onto the back-side of the blocks, where they are flush with the mold.

Blocks and mold with Five-string fiddle template.
Blocks and mold with template.

 

Five-string fiddle Preliminary block-shaping complete.
Preliminary block-shaping complete.

 

Added the ribs, of the spalted maple the customer liked, and glued them to the willow blocks. Afterward, I added linings, also of willow, and let them into the blocks and glued them to the ribs and the blocks.

Spalted Maple ribs and willow linings on beginning of Five-string fiddle.
Spalted Maple ribs and willow linings.

 

Five-string fiddle Rib garland nearly complete.
Rib garland nearly complete.

 

Then I traced the shape of the garland onto the top plate material, using a small washer as a spacer, and a ball-point pen as a scribe. I completed the corners using a straightedge and a series of circle templates. Finally, I marked the edge at exactly 4 mm thick, and carved the arching, using gouges and planes and scrapers.

Sitka top-plate arching complete for Five-string fiddle.
Sitka top-plate arching complete.

 

Then I marked the layout of the double purfling and the f-holes, and began incising them into the Sitka Spruce.

F-holes and purfling traced and cutting begun for Five-string fiddle.
F-holes and purfling traced and cutting begun.

 

Sometime in the midst of all the above work, I laid out and began carving the scroll and pegbox. That wild grain is very tricky to carve, as it changes direction constantly.

Rough-carved scroll and pegbox of Five-string fiddle.
Rough-carved scroll and pegbox.

 

I went ahead and completed the purfling and the f-holes, so that I could prepare the plate to be glued to the garland.

Completed top plate and neck work with garland for Five-string fiddle.
Completed top plate and neck work with garland.

 

I also added the bass-bar, chalk-fitting it to perfection, and gluing it in place, with hot hide glue. The bass-bar will be carved, planed and scraped to the proper shape after the glue dries.

Five-string fiddle Bass-bar glued and clamped.
Bass-bar glued and clamped.

 

Five-string fiddle Top plate glued and clamped to the garland, fingerboard glued to the neck.
Top plate glued and clamped to the garland, fingerboard glued to the neck.

 

The fingerboard is Ipé, as requested by the customer. It is an extremely dense hardwood, but not threatened as Ebony is beginning to be. It finishes to a dark brown and looks good, as well as wearing well. It is extremely difficult to work, though, so it may take time to become popular with makers. The saddle and the nut will also be Ipé, but the pegs will be ebony, simply because I have never mastered the lathe-turning of tuning pegs.

Working on the fingerboard for the Five-string fiddle.
Working on the fingerboard.

 

And that is pretty much where things stand, for now. I will try to post pictures as they become available.

 

Thanks for looking.