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Peter White

darkening the violin wood

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Impregnation, staining, clear coat and final color coat.

Does it make sense to you violin makers that Stradivari (and others) could have worked in this 4 step, relatively simple (to him), probably traditional, efficient method of finishing his instruments?

What would make most sense to me, if I was running a shop that cranked out an instrument every couple of weeks, would be using 1 step to perform the functions of the first 3. Perhaps some thick ground, rubbed in thinly, that wet the wood without soaking in, provided a slight measure of filling and leveling, and yellowed with age to give us what we see today.

No, I haven't researched any of this, and from what I'm hearing, the researchers don't find the same things anyway, much less interpret them the same way. I just envision these old guys getting things done in the absolutely simplest way possible, not just "relatively" simple.

Just a semi-uninformed opinion. I don't put much stock in my own opinion, for reasons stated, and none of it really matters for what I do anyway.

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Peter,

By "steps" do mean:

The use of 4 sucessive products?

or

Four invidual one-time applications?

Also as one reads the Stradivari Varish Book, it is helpful to remember that one of the authors is a very respected scientist and the other is a very respected violin maker.

Joe

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Back in the olden days ..... Stradivari had trouble getting electricity for his drying box, so using the Sun was more efficient! :o

 

If you varnish all of your instruments at one time a year, then it really does not matter how many steps you have since you are streamlining the whole process

by running an assembly line of sorts.  So I don't think the primary goal was to make varnishing quick, but more along the lines of making it look the best,

since it is likely heading to some Royal court.  If that is the case then cutting corners would not be an option.

If anything, the tendency would be to go the extra mile, rather than take the short cut.   We also see that approach in other areas of Stradivari's work.

 

Of course all this assumes that Stradivari was not antiquing his instruments. :unsure:

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When he died didn't he have something like 100 inprocess instruments in the shop?  Seems like I read that somewhere.  So you could have multiple steps and still have high production just by having lots of instruments in construction at the same time, not just one at a time. 

(parallel processing in computer terms.. I'm a computer geek)

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Just imagining I had such a shop, I wouldn't care too much if there were a bunch of instruments in various stages in-process, but I wouldn't be too keen on multiple varnishing steps, with a lot of those things hanging around.

Do we know what the state was of those in-process violins? Any in the middle of the varnishing operations? If so, that would have been a huge clue as to the steps that were done.

And "making it look the best"... may have been a different idea then than it is today, and a freshly varnished violin then might look quite different after 300 years.

Just being argumentative today, throwing out ideas just to show it's hard to be convinced of anything in particular.

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Joe:I have mentioned several times here that the science is first rate, and I will check this out with material scientists here at the university where I teach. That the words are so qualified is evidence that the science is as legitimate as possible. I also know that Stefan-Peter is a very highly regarded violin maker.  I have written to him and don't know if I will receive a response.  As far as steps go:  I was referring to the structure of the book in the first part of the book. Steps one and two may have been done at the same time, but step three, clear coat, and step four color coat, seem to be one time applications.  I looked hard to find out if this is what they meant. So, think of the implications of this system outlined in Stradivari Varnish.  Most of the violin makers I know do not varnish in four steps. And further, the genius of Strad may be that he evolved a system, taken from his teachers and others, that greatly reduced the time to produce a varnish he was satisfied with. Most violin makers spend a great deal of time on varnish, but perhaps Strad did not. He could also have varnished in cold weather as linseed oil/resin varnish will dry in the cold sun. The authors imply that often Strad delivered specific instruments shortly after they were ordered.  Multiple coats and long, involved processes of varnishing, particularly in the winter would have made this difficult.  I am not after speed---I am personally mystified about how four "steps" could have produced the varnish on the Messiah, for example.

So quick work does not mean inferior work.  It may mean professional systematic working to produce quality and quantity.  If the book is as I read it--this is an amazing feat.  Peter

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When he died didn't he have something like 100 inprocess instruments in the shop?  Seems like I read that somewhere.  So you could have multiple steps and still have high production just by having lots of instruments in construction at the same time, not just one at a time. 

(parallel processing in computer terms.. I'm a computer geek)

I have read that there were instruments not sold, but nowhere have I run across unfinished, or partly varnished instruments left behind.

 

"The famed stringed instrument collector Cozio di Salabue (1755-1840) purchased all of the remaining instruments, forms, and tools from the Stradivari workshop." - from this link -  coziodisalabue.com

 

No mention of unfinished instruments being bought.

 

Maybe someone better versed in the history can point us in the right direction, or if you can remember where you read that?

And don't say in a book ...  :o  :huh: ...  in a library! :P:D

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Joe:I have mentioned several times here that the science is first rate, and I will check this out with material scientists here at the university where I teach. That the words are so qualified is evidence that the science is as legitimate as possible. I also know that Stefan-Peter is a very highly regarded violin maker.  I have written to him and don't know if I will receive a response.  As far as steps go:  I was referring to the structure of the book in the first part of the book. Steps one and two may have been done at the same time, but step three, clear coat, and step four color coat, seem to be one time applications.  I looked hard to find out if this is what they meant. So, think of the implications of this system outlined in Stradivari Varnish.  Most of the violin makers I know do not varnish in four steps. And further, the genius of Strad may be that he evolved a system, taken from his teachers and others, that greatly reduced the time to produce a varnish he was satisfied with. Most violin makers spend a great deal of time on varnish, but perhaps Strad did not. He could also have varnished in cold weather as linseed oil/resin varnish will dry in the cold sun. The authors imply that often Strad delivered specific instruments shortly after they were ordered.  Multiple coats and long, involved processes of varnishing, particularly in the winter would have made this difficult.  I am not after speed---I am personally mystified about how four "steps" could have produced the varnish on the Messiah, for example.

So quick work does not mean inferior work.  It may mean professional systematic working to produce quality and quantity.  If the book is as I read it--this is an amazing feat.  Peter

Peter,

 

I think you are hung up on semantics. A "step" to my way of thinking can be a procedure or process that can involve a group or collection of applications. For instance, a ground "step" can incorporate several applications of material, some in varying degrees and concentrations that can run the course of several days of work. My reading of B&G's book concludes that a step is indeed a process, not one simple application.

 

Mike

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""Comparità l’tardanza del violino che è stato la causa per la venice per le gran Crepata che il sole non le facia aprire."
“Please excuse the delay with the violin; it is a result of varnish for the large crack, so that the sun won’t open it again.”

Writing was not Stradivari’s strong suit, and the original letter is full of spelling errors. For example, the second line contains “statto” in place of “stato”, and in the third line “solo” appears instead of “sole”.
This suggests a slow-drying varnish with an oil base, applied in multiple layers. It is interesting that Stradivari emphasizes the protective function of the varnish with respect to irradiation from the sun [13]."

 

----[13] W. H. Hill, A. F. Hill, A. E. Hill, Antonio Stradivari, His Life and Work, London, UK, 1902. Reprint: Dover Publications, New York, USA, 1963.

 

 

Fig12.gif

 

Chemical Secrets of the Violin Virtuosi — Part 2

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Maybe someone better versed in the history can point us in the right direction, or if you can remember where you read that?

And don't say in a book ...  :o  :huh: ...  in a library! :P:D

 

 

I probably read it in a thread here somewhere :D   If I ever run across it again I'll save a link to it.   It may be completely untrue who knows. 

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Peter,

The information presented in the varnish book can be taken as a method, though I doubt that the authors thought of it that way when they were compiling the book. 

It is generally accepted that the Stradivari instruments were seldom varnished "the same way".  However it is also clear from the consistent appearance and quality of the finish, that experimenting and creativity were done within a framework of known and tested materials.  This structure would allow instruments to be prepared and varnished within a familiar time frame and so facilitate delivery.

When I was doing commercial varnishing I tried quite hard to set up a system...ignoring what I knew well from a lifetime as a cabinetmaker: Every piece of wood is different...so every varnish will need some adjustment.

Some years ago I did a workshop with a famous maker.  His part of the workshop was to demonstrate a varnish that could be applied in 2 coats.  It was a success as a varnish, though a bit opaque for my taste as color that builds that fast need a great deal of pigment.

Are all things possible under the sun?  I don't know, but I am still trying to find out.

on we go,

Joe

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Just in case this was not clear. I have said elsewhere on this site that although I do find casein an interesting subject, especially with regards to construction. I have not used it in my various varnishing systems for at least 30 years. I suspect that the traces that have been found are residue from the gluing process; in particular the rib to back and belly. See earlier post # 65 here. The del Gesù glued back just fine. The animal glue adhered nicely to whatever it was that had fixed the back to the ribs. 

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If one washes away glue residue from purfling, rib joints, top and back seams, it's pretty hard to keep from contaminating a large part of the instrument. And if one uses a former glue cleaning rag to moisten or "raise the grain" on the rest of the instrument, analysis of intent gets even harder.

 

Before I started wearing cotton gloves, combined with frequent hand washing when I got close to finishing an instrument, I probably deposited protein all over the place.

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I am indeed surprised that keratin was not detected on basically all the violins studied (unless they didn't check). But again, when it comes to a layer of protein destined to be a sealing protection I don't see how such a layer would pass unnoticed under microscopy. I don't really see how you can brush enough protein to prevent varnish from penetrating the wood and keep it thin enough not to show up. Especially on the corduroy of spruce.

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If one washes away glue residue from purfling, rib joints, top and back seams, it's pretty hard to keep from contaminating a large part of the instrument. And if one uses a former glue cleaning rag to moisten or "raise the grain" on the rest of the instrument, analysis of intent gets even harder.

 

Before I started wearing cotton gloves, combined with frequent hand washing when I got close to finishing an instrument, I probably deposited protein all over the place.

 

So...in the [distant] future D. Burgess late instruments will be identified as those WITHOUT a protein layer.

 

on we go,

Joe

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So...in the [distant] future D. Burgess late instruments will be identified as those WITHOUT a protein layer.

 

Or by the white cotton fibers :)

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well back to darkening wood... I didn't suntan this because I ran out of patience and wanted to see what the curl looked like so even the ground can cause some darkening.   Compared to fresh rasped wood.   white paper plate and black counter top for contrast.   That is destined to become a redneck bottle opener by the way. 

IMG_1241.jpg

post-31367-0-22525000-1371603896_thumb.jpg

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It could be that the clear coats and the color coats are many applications resulting in a single layer.  I would be more likely to think this way as opposed to a layer being a single coat or application.  I don't have the book (Stradivari Varnish) with me now so I can't verify if a "layer" is a single or multiple coats. When I read back through the book last month, I came away with the idea that the clear and color coats were single applications.  If this is not what the authors meant, then I am sorry to have confused the whole issue.

I wonder what the authors meant to say about single versus multiple applications? 

Peter

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It would be interesting to have an opinion from a EM specialist to know if it's really possible and easy to distinguish several layers of varnish or if the different layers blend with time.

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well back to darkening wood... I didn't suntan this because I ran out of patience and wanted to see what the curl looked like so even the ground can cause some darkening.   Compared to fresh rasped wood.   white paper plate and black counter top for contrast.   That is destined to become a redneck bottle opener by the way. 

This is bigleaf maple,  isn't it.  Most maple is not so dark.  I quit using Bigleaf because of its texture and lack of medulary rays.

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Yes, Bruce Tai found 12 layers in Strad's varnish (VSA h Journal 2007) but this is one reason why I started this thread. B and G did not find 12 layers.

And they used the same technology as far as I know.

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