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When to use power?


Ron1

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It seems everyone uses at least some power tools in their making process- band saw, drill press, dremel-type rotary with various cutting/sanding tools, etc.; yet some tools seem to be taboo, such as planer, jointer, surface sander, etc. Power tools can make for better accuracy/appearance of work, and for ease/speed of some operations- is this reason enough to warrant their use? Or should they only be used when followed by "hand work"? (This seems to make some sense except in the case of cutting purfling grooves). Why do some folks use certain power tools, but wouldn't dream of using certain others? Is there any rule of thumb?

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I think people use power tools when it makes sense, and don't when it doesn't. What on earth would you use a power sander for in violinmaking? [edit: actually I use an oscillating spindle sander to carve the corners into the end blocks, when I first read this I thought you were asking about flat power sanders] Same thing goes for a power planer and a lot of other tools. I don't believe a jointer will result in the same smooth as a baby's butt and perfectly flat joint for putting together plates as a hand plane with a very sharp blade. I could be wrong, but that's what I think. I think there'll always be a very small but extant rippling of the surface.

Where I could have used a power planar is on my one-piece back I'm making now. The chunk of wood was fully 30mm thick, which means I've got to knock 10mm of wood off just to be at the same starting place as I would have been with a normal two-piece back. It's a lot of work, and given my tools situation I'm using a hammer and #7 sweep gouge to chip it down by hand. A planer would have been very nice.

Other than that I think the rule of thumb is where a power tool can do a good job and save a lot of time, such as cutting a purfling groove, or hogging off lots of wood with a lancelot, people will do it. Where it can't do a good job, people won't.

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I use power tools all the time for boatbuilding, but when it comes to violin making, I prefer to do as much as possible by hand. I do use a bandsaw to cut out the mold, and to cut out the profile of the head. I use a coping saw to cut out the front and back, as I feel that there is less chance that I will inadvertently cut off the button. (sorry Seth, that was mean)

Seriously - I do cut the plates out by hand, as it hardly takes any longer, and is less noisy and dusty. Working on violins can be a meditative thing, and this is less likely to be disturbed when doing the work by hand. When using a power tool, one can ruin a piece very quickly; I find it much more satisfying to destroy it in a slower, more methodical fashion by hand.

A production shop may need to use power tools for reasons of efficiency and economy, but I think that many of the best makers of handmade instruments still do the bulk of it by hand. Maybe my attitude is an overreaction from too many years of boatbuilding, using power tools for thousands of hours. For me, violin making is a refuge from the noisy, dusty monsters, and the less I use them, the better.

David

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David, having cut off two buttons now I deserve the chiding. Note, however, that the cause was not the speed of using my bandsaw, rather my forgetting to draw a button onto the wood after tracing around the ribs.

I'd agree with the meditative thing. Using the bandsaw to cut out the plates doesn't distract too much from the meditation, given that there are so many more hours of work to do after cutting the plates out, I've got plenty of time for the meditation part.

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I think that power tools may only save a few hours work on a violin. The more instruments I make; the fewer power tools I use. I really don't use any now, except to prepare wood such as willow for blocks and linings. A while back, I made a violin in an Alaska camp ground. There certainly weren't any electrical outlets in the woods! I think it gives me a greater sense of achievement and satisfaction to do things by hand. It also improves your skills; and that makes the rest of the violin turn out better.

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How did you join the plates? Did you hold the wood with one hand while planing with the other? Or did you clamp the wood down onto the picnic table with your knee and have a buddy plane it?

Yeah I'm trying to improve my tool skills and learn to do things with knives and planes that I did with sandpaper on my first instrument. I flattened the back of the one-piece maple with my 14" jack plane this time around, rather than rubbing the wood on sandpaper glued to my granite slab. I got a satisfactory surface. At some point in the future I'd like to be planing my ribs/linings down to the blocks rather than rubbing the ribs on sandpaper, but I used the sandpaper this time around. Other than using the oscillating spindle sander to shape the curves on the corner blocks, that's probably the only sandpaper I'll use on this violin.

I'm not into cutting out the plates by hand, however. Especially not with a 30mm thick slab of maple. No thanks, my bandsaw will do just fine. And I wish I had a saf-t planer thing for my drill press to help me plane the plate down to 18mm or so so I can start shaping it. I'm doing the reduction in height by hand now and it's a pain.

My daughter's cello is going to suck if I have to hog away all the excess wood by hand. I'm going to have to find an alternative, probably the safe-T plane thing. I don't have a grinder I could install a Lancelot onto.

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So what all the answers boil down to is this: use a power tool when the benefits are not outweighed by downsides like noise, danger of going too far, mess, keeping you at a distance from the work, incompatibility with your esthetic goals, etc.

For me the latter is the main issue. The opening post of this thread referred to machines giving us "greater accuracy", well, perhaps. But what they also do is round things off, regularize the shapes, and eliminate variation either purposed or accidental. There's a kind of 'esthetic statement' which a skilled hand leaves in the work, which for me personally is one of the great values to be found in high craft. If that's not one of your concerns as a maker then, uh, more power to you.

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I actually did clamp the plates to a picnic table to plane them. I also had a "Work Mate" along to hold the parts while I worked on them.

As for sawing out plates, a good, coarse coping saw blade works surprisingly fast. I sawed the plates for my cello in about 20 minutes each. ( I didn't cut the button off either.) I think power tools can cause mistakes if you aren't used to using them all the time.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I absolutely can't stand it when somebody else gets that much attention. I've cut off two buttons myself, so there...

Obviously I don't do that any more, being the hardened professional that I am. I do however have this weird habit of making my tops with buttons too.

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Quote:

LOL...poor seth, i fear he'll go down in the violinmaking books as the maker that always cut his buttons off.


Just so I go down in the violinmaking books at all...

Sorry Jacob, this trademark is taken. Might I suggest you become the violinmaker who always leaves a brush hair in the varnish under the tailpiece?

David, I've racked my brains for an appropriate response to your little poem. I just haven't yet tapped that reservoir of genius and produced the appropriate comeback. Don't worry, it'll come in due time.

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"Sorry Jacob, this trademark is taken. Might I suggest you become the violinmaker who always leaves a brush hair in the varnish under the tailpiece?"

I can do better than that. Although my varnish does not contain the blood of a dead wife ("The Red Violin") every violin of mine is quaranteed to have some of my own blood on it somewhere.

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Seth:

Don't feel to bad about using your band saw to cut out your plates.Just remember one rule of thumb. Machines don't make mistakes.Only the operator.I found this out after many,many mistakes using them and then sometimes I foul up on something.

Monroe

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I suppose you figured this out already. Keep the scrap cutouts when making a violin. I am sure you know by now, but if you don't, the obvious repair is to route a channel on the flat surface of the back and put in a 2mm thick piece of maple. On top of that glue a piece from the scrap on top of this, so that the joint is where the purfling will go. It will be undetectable if you are careful. Even if you are stuck with a one-piece button, it will look neat.

I mated a small router to a drillpress quill with a heavy peice of wood with two holes of the appropriate sizes. I need only tighten the central screw (through this block) in order to mount the router. The router is in front of the quill.

An overhead router is a bit dangerous, but VERY handy in many circumstances. Michael uses a rotary file for his edge trimming, but I use this router setup.

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Just dive in, it is no big deal. You have to understand that much of the intimitdation is BS from "experts" who have actually never even made one. With a few rational thought patterns, and available litterature, you should have no problem to make a first violin with not much trouble. Buy a band saw ( a two-wheel one) and a few other tools if expense is not a problem.

The number one rule is, don't be intimidated. Most of the lore and discussion is economically-motivated. If you have any mechanical sense at all, you can make a respectable violin.

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Quote:

If you want to know my own Achilles Heel, it's varnish. I'm pretty proud of my violin, at least for a first try, but the varnish job is HIDEOUS. So now you have a subject for your poem.


A poor colorblind luthier

Couldn't give any fiddles away.

The players all said

Violins should be red,

But all of his work was in gray.

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