Today is that point where we cut holes in the front of the violin plate which we just spent 4 days making contoured, inlaid, smoothed, and very thin. We are going to draw intricately curved lines, drill four holes in the middle of the plate, cut between the holes with a jewelers fret saw, and use a free hand knife to carve squiggly lines between the holes. Any mis-step will render the painstaking work of the last 4 days a piece of firewood. Do you feel my nervousness? Today we mark and cut the f-holes, or sound holes.
The pattern of the f-holes must be laid out very precisely, there are little nicks on the inside edges that must be 195mm from the top edge of the violin. These nicks identify the location of the violin bridge, which defines the string length and ability for a violinist to play the correct note when a finger is placed on a particular spot along a string. The top holes must be 42mm apart, which defines the width of the bridge feet, and the position of the base bar running under the G string, the lowest note on the violin. Then the bottom hole must be exactly the same distance from the nick as the top hole, but larger, and in the opposite direction. For all these precise measurements you would think that makers would have standardized the f-holes with an exact shape over the past 400 years. Sorry, no such luck, the final shape of the f-holes is ‘artistic’ it shows the variation and style of a particular violin maker.
Once the f-holes are cut we can locate the position of the bass bar on the inside of the plate. The bass bar provides longitudinal strength to the thin spruce top connecting the top vibrating chamber with the bottom vibrating chamber. The violin bridge will exert around 105 pounds of downward pressure on the center of the top plate (which we just weakened by cutting holes), the bass bar will help support this weight and carry the vibrations on the lower, G string, side of the bridge. This 5.5 mm thin piece of wood is contoured exactly to the inside plate. We used chalk on the plate and rubbed the wood against the chalk, then carefully (redundant word in violin making) filed the chalky high points off the bass bar until there was even chalk on the whole complex curve of the bass bar.
Days 7&8 were spent shaping the outer curves of the top and bottom plates. With the purfling done, the height of the outer edges is set. The purfling line will be gouged down with a small gouge (approx 6mm) and then a larger gouge will carry the curve into the body of the plate a bit below the edge line. This curve will then be smoothly extended to the top line of the plate.
This work is started with gouges, continued with finger planes, and finally finished with scrapers. Finger planes are small planes that you push with your fingers, the pushing continues for hours on various parts of the plates. Finger planes cause blisters and numb fingers by the end of the day, at least in this trainees fingers…
Once the outside curvature is near perfect we start the inside graduating. The graduations of the inside of the plate will go from 2.2 to 3.5 mm. This work is started with gouges, then finger planes, and finally scrapers. Once the spruce on the top plate gets down to 4.5 mm, light will shine through the plate, by holding the plate to a bright light you can see the thick and thin sections. We also measure with calipers, and use our (numb) fingers to ‘feel’ the thickness always striving for uniformity.
Below is the top plate inside graduations at about 4.5 mm.
Three days of learning and building. We started by making a model template out of aluminum, transfering that to a plywood mold, making and gluing top, bottom, and corner blocks,
thinning the side pieces, bending and gluing the side pieces to the mold,putting linings on the bottom side of the mold.
Then gluing the plates together, tracing the outlines and cutting the plates, and the final step to day was beginning the roughing out of the maple back plate.
I’m ready to sleep tonight 🙂
Since I was in my teens I’ve dreamed of making a violin. My first book on the subject was a Christmas gift from my Dad when I was 20 years old along with a scooping gouge for hollowing a violin plate.
Dad was an avid wood worker until a stroke took away his coordination in August of 2009. The bunk bed’s my brother and I grew up on were made from walnut that Dad had cut, milled, and worked. Most of the furniture in our house was from his hands. He crafted spinning wheels, roll topped desk, chairs, carved figurines, wooden ducks, and decorative birds; the list goes on and on.
From that first book, I’ve continued to read what I could find on the topic of violin making. This Bibliography (howeryviolins.com/bibliography/) is the list of books I’ve read and some brief comments on their contents. While nothing can replace hands on training from a master, knowing and understanding the corpse on the subject is critical to mastering the Art and Craft of violin making.
Until this point in time, Howery Violins has had a face book presence at facebook.com/howeryviolins, now a WordPress site is being built to carry the blogs, news and happenings of William Howery’s journey in violin making