Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

a classical ground system?


Recommended Posts

Steps 1-5 below may constitute a classical ground approach or system.

Without getting into recipe details, It seems to me that this list is the proper sequence of finishing goals that makers ought to be aiming for:

1. CLEAN the wood chemically with a recipe that also seals

2. PROTECT the wood with a second, more durable sealer



5. DECORATE the wood by using some combination of the above 4 water-based recipes, which are exceedingly thinned

6. (Your favorite varnish system)

The above is based upon experimentation in fine finishing, but I am no maker, so all feedback is appreciated. Thank you,

otter (edits added)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 205
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Some of your steps I don't understand. What do you mean by 'clean' ? how does a sealer clean the wood?

Filler I understand but would disagree with using it. I think a sealer would close any open pores so no need to fill them with something else.

what is a fixative?

What do you mean by decorate the wood with water based recipes? Do you mean to stain the wood? with some water based colored stain?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The above is based upon experimentation in fine finishing, but I am no maker, so all feedback is appreciated. Thank you,

otter (edits added)

If you are talking fine furniture, you will overlook the problem of the spruce violin top. Grain runout in the bouts presents open channels and they LOVE to absorb liquids.

Also, there is no tonal problem with furniture. Optically, one can do a lot of things, most of which cause too much absorption in exposed endgrain. It may or may not be desireable to have soaking in in the maple flame, but I prefer to keep oils and resins out of the spruce endgrain.

I suppose the fixative is a second sealer of some kind. I have read in places such as the magazine "Fine Woodworking" that the traditional finish starts with "seal - fill -seal." That is a very old practice.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would like the focus of this thread to be on sequencing properly the finishing goals of the Italian violinmaker.

The sequenced list of goals I've proposed is the harvest of my research, after my having concocted many, many water-based recipes, and inferring goals from the experimental successes and failures of these various recipes.

Because I'm focused on finishing goals, this thread is not about recipes which implement the finishing goals, and so for this reason among others (I am assisting a violinmaker in his work), I will give no recipe secrets away.

I will say this about my "cleaner," however, that though it has only three ingredients, all found in nature, the chemistry is quite complex. One cannot bypass some study of organic chemistry in order to come up with simple recipes that "just work."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

wow I lost my reply, I hate widowz 7.
anyway here are my steps so far

1. suntan the wood. (takes about a week in hot GA sun)
2. ground layer. (beautifies and seals at the same time. (luminesence Joe :) ) two applications with a full day of sun after each. Because it will not dry in the shade.
3. Colored varnish.

(edit: this picture was taken in sunlight. It doesn't glow as much as that in artificial light)


Link to comment
Share on other sites

The goals I have are:

1.That I am looking for a sealer that brings out the beauty of the wood grain especially the chatoyance of the maple but even spruce has some chatoyance. Also it would be nice if it has the golden color of a Cremona ground but I've never seen one in person so I don't really know what that looks like.

2. It should also seal the wood so that subsequent substances do not soak in.

3. The sealer itself should not soak into the wood.

number 2 and 3 eliminate linseed oil unless it is applied very sparingly and carefully.

4. The sealer should be durable / wear resistant. This part I have only partial success.

5. The varnish should be highly colored without having to add much pigment. In other words, I like the color to be from the resin itself.

6. None of these applications should have a detrimental effect on the sound of the instrument.

I am only experimenting with finishing materials at the moment as I don't have the resources for a from scratch build.

This is still a work in progress...

Edit: From what I hear, Joe already has professional grade finishing system. So if I didn't have such a keen interes in making things myself I would just buy his.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Build up your own system, please don't buy it, because that way you'll know what you're getting into with no loss of artistic control, not to mention loss of instrument longevity.

Sounds like your first recipe could sugar based? Can't you come up with another one that is lemon juice based? Work in this direction, and I promise you will get a cleaner that also seals. Redox is certainly implicated, but why on earth would you want to sun-tan wood? What craft goal is served by doing such an abhorrent thing?? Strad's letter praising sunlight has no bearing on constructing grounds.

Why not make the second sealer casein-based?

What ingredients might the two sealer recipes have in common? And why is this?

Just recipe ideas to consider.... I'm confident you'll be able to come up with your own soon enough.

I urge you to focus instead on sequencing properly your finishing goals. Recipes will come soon enough, and you won't need experts to get them.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Otter, Some people just build violins and have no interest in making varnish or other finishing materials. For those, Joe's products or maybe a few others would be as good as you can get. But for me I do like the idea of making all of it.

There is no sugar in mine. I've tried that and didn't like it. The ground I like so far has some pine rosin as an ingredient and I've also experimented some with copal resin.

Suntanning gives the wood a nice cinnamon brown color without clouding the wood as a stain or pigment might. So then the wood has some base color that is not a stark white. I suspect that Strad and the other Cremona guys probably did not suntan.

You mention Strad's letter about needing to put the violin in strong sunlight. I find that interesting since my ground will only dry fully in strong sunlight. (I don't have a UV drying cabinet)

Something else interesting about that letter. If the Cremona varnish is thermoplastic meaning heat sensitive then would it not run and drip in the full heat of the sun? Just something to ponder.

I hadn't thought of lemon juice but now that you mention it, I do remember something interesting about it that may cause it to have an application in the finishing process... I'm going to try that tonight.

And finally casein. I wouldn't put it on wood.  It would only make one big glue ghost!

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Why would you need to clean wood before varnishing, if it's worked quickly and with clean hands, it should be spotless. Or do you mean something else by cleaning.

I think that suntanning wood is wonderful, it makes for the best colour by far beneath varnish. Why do you think it's an 'abhorrent thing'?

Lastly, I'm afraid that until one has settled on a system, one often has absolutely no 'artistic control', and I would be very slow to cast aside the work of those who have spent years developing a system and offering it, ready to go, for sale.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

My personal feeling is that the Ol' boys ...Strad & Co. Most likely Built during the fall, winter and spring and then, with a big clean and a drink ,sat down and varnished like crazy ...just makes scene from a craftsman goal standpoint...that is, any system used must at it's heart have efficiency and simplicity,in the case of sun tanning,this would be a natural outcome of such a process, I to am wondering why you say this process abhorrent? As near as I have ever witnessed, the results are fantastic and long lived.

As a side note ,I'm also wondering why the subtext in the title "grounds Burgess classic"? Are you suggesting that MR B. has something to do with your system? or just trying to have this thread pop up when googled?

Also how does creating ones own system insure longevity ...Most of the evidence suggest that the Cremoness maker went to varnish makers for varnish...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cleaning the wood means, among other things, chemically stabilizing the wood.

My commitment is to a ground system that is entirely water-based. I insist the water-based approach is classical. The term "ground" to me is simply the name I use for the result of a long water-based finishing process. That process uses a definite sequence of 4 solutions that is applied flexibly, conforming to the nature and problems of the wood being presented for finishing, to achieve the sequence of goals that I have outlined in my original post of this thread.

I do not rely upon more familiar nonacqueous varnishing ideas, or varnishing chemistry, or varnishing recipes to arrive at the formation of the ground which receives the varnish system.

Others may be using finishing schedules that employ sequences of finishing goals that differ from mine. I'm eager to hear about what is working for them, without our having to inquire into the make-up of one another's recipes.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

You mentioned sugar. One member here Jezzupe has posted a thread on using a sugar seal. That is something that would be water based initially. I tried it though and it didn't seem to do anything spectacular. J said that sugar has an afinity for the wood... or words to that effect, to paraphrase. But I'm thinking what would have more affinity to wood than the raw resin that comes from it in the first place... ;)

I was thinking Strad and the boys would not have suntanned because he was all about production and also because of the aesthetic sense of the times. If you're making something for the king or whoever then you would want it shiny and new looking... bling bling :D

but on second thought there could have been many instruments hanging in the sun waiting their turn to get varnished.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a side note ,I'm also wondering why the subtext in the title "grounds Burgess classic"? Are you suggesting that MR B. has something to do with your system? or just trying to have this thread pop up when googled?

I have no involvement whatsoever, to the best of my knowledge. And if a six-step system is proposed, even if it should produce good results, I'd be working to refine it into something much simpler.

Also how does creating ones own system insure longevity ...

I'm wondering about that too. There's no shortage of self-created systems which haven't stood the test of time very well, even if they weren't immediate disasters.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Otter, you don't like suntanning the wood, does that mean that you would not want any color in the wood itself prior to varnishing? You would apply whatever sealers, grounds, varnish etc. without coloring the wood in anyway? Although the finishing materials may give the wood some color?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Perhaps this thread has run its course. Some comments to wind up --

In this thread I have proposed a 5-step process to deliver the "ground" result, with recipes to be determined quite naturally from each step in the sequence of finishing goals. I did try hard for something simpler and shorter, but without success! Perhaps Mr. Burgess knows better than anyone else at Maestronet how violin finishing differs from the brevity that is characteristic of modern finishing schedules in furniture making.

Without getting into recipes and details of implementation, can anyone offer or lay out his own sequence of finishing goals in order to produce a Cremona-like result? I took a chance in doing this today. Here's hoping someone else will stick his neck out, also for the greater good and possible education of the forum community.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Otter, is your goal to reproduce any specific historical varnish/ground that you have seen?

I agree with David. Your process sounds overly complicated, but I may be trying to achieve something different to what you are.....

Years ago I saw some beautiful specimens at Kenneth Warren's in Chicago. The candied edges really got to me, among other things.

What you are trying to achieve can only be expressed by listing the sequence of your finishing goals. Why not do so?


Link to comment
Share on other sites


I was writing a post, but it seems to have disappeared. Here goes again:

Is 'simple' so obviously desired?? Prepared tube paint and one pot finishes evolved as part of the commercialization of art materials. Perhaps this explains part of what was lost after the classical era.

Also, note that some of the successful modern varnish makers advocate systems that aren't exactly simple: Old Wood, Magister.

If we accept that classical finishes have a differentiated layer under the 'varnish', then that's already at least two steps.

If we go further and accept that at least some classic finishes seem to involve a strongly charge color layer between the yellow/golden under layer and the 'varnish', then we have at least three steps.

If we acknowledge any prep of the wood before the golden layer, we now have four steps or more.

If we then allow that most violins were later over polished, and might have originally had some kind of flowing final coat, then we have a five plus layers in the typical finish of a classical instrument as used today.

Given the complexity of materials and layerings of art work of the same era, it doesn't seem far fetched that 5 distinct processes might have been only a very stingy version of the general finishing techniques.

Who really knows?

For the original poster: why so convinced of water base?


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...