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Stradivari's secret was a concept?


Andreas Preuss
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On July 16, 30 Heisei at 4:48 AM, martin swan said:

Yes, surely just more skilled hands on the job ...

Stradivari was a small workshop, not some lone genius in a garret.

Maybe not the professor type of genius but certainly a very ambitious craftsman who made everything to work fast, efficient and perfect.

I think it is possible that he used fly wheel driven machines. Here is how I reconstructed the f-hole cutting saw. It is faster and preciser than our modern equipment. Cutting both holes takes about 45 minutes, cleaning the cut another 40 minutes. 

The fly wheel of this saw is very small , because I don't have enough space for a bigger one. This made it necessary to build a transmission gear which was difficult in Stradivaris time. 

A drawing by Leonardo da Vinci shows us that the fly wheels for wood turners were almost man high and therefore extremely powerful even at low speed.

the square cylinder is made of iron wood because of its self greasing properties. The saw blade is hand made from an old file.

 

 

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Edited by Andreas Preuss
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2 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

And that's the way they look like.;)

 

Not really.

i think you underestimate the huge saving in effort (physical and intellectual) that comes from serious tool skills - the kind of skills you simply can’t acquire when you get past a certain age.

 

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5 hours ago, martin swan said:

Not really.

i think you underestimate the huge saving in effort (physical and intellectual) that comes from serious tool skills - the kind of skills you simply can’t acquire when you get past a certain age.

Tool skills are certainly a factor. We see the speed work in C.A. Testores instruments. Yes it was possible in the 18th century but only on the cost of precision.

Do we have somewhere a comparative workshop today? How many instruments would the workshop of Carl Becker produce per year? However I think I read somewhere that Kantuscher produced with a one man help in his workshop 10 violins per year. Later his production diminished because he had to do maintenance work on previously made instruments.

 

 

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When I see that sharp contrast between a N. Amati shape and a Testore or late DG shape, I don't think 'working fast', though my explanation is closely related to that.   With these old Italian makers, I think the one maker was etching clean guides to cut the shape, and the other was skipping that step.

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My FFs might not be as good as Strads but they have won a couple of prizes. I do them with tools that were certainly available in any early violin shop and cannot imagine spending more than an hour on the whole process.

I do think that fly wheel machines may have been used for some work but more in the way of fatigue reducing in rough sawing applications.

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5 minutes ago, nathan slobodkin said:

My FFs might not be as good as Strads but they have won a couple of prizes. I do them with tools that were certainly available in any early violin shop and cannot imagine spending more than an hour on the whole process.

I do think that fly wheel machines may have been used for some work but more in the way of fatigue reducing in rough sawing applications.

Maybe I am wrong, but I started the fly wheel idea when drilling the points of the f holes. Later I thought this could be used for more things. 

Here is my question to you: If you work by hand how precise is the gap at the narrowest point at the top and bottom of the f holes? Do you always get exactly  the same width (+- 0.1mm)? On Strads this amazingly consistent. The width of a saw blade would very naturally explain this. 

When using a fly wheel rough sawing, especially in maple, becomes quite exhausting.  The young guy in my workshop who turned the wheel for the film was pretty hard breathing after it was done and this was only a 3.5 mm thick spruce board

 

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7 hours ago, David Beard said:

When I see that sharp contrast between a N. Amati shape and a Testore or late DG shape, I don't think 'working fast', though my explanation is closely related to that.   With these old Italian makers, I think the one maker was etching clean guides to cut the shape, and the other was skipping that step.

David, what do you mean by 'etching clean guides'?

Testore is more  or less 'free hand' for all the aesthetic elements: the outline, the f-holes and the scroll. To me he had everything in his head and worked from basic measurements like body length central width and stop length and this was it. This saves a lot of time.

I still have the suspicion that Strad worked with a sort of modern design concept for some aesthetic details. I think the f-hole design was made to fit the employed tools. I see the same on the scroll. (More of that later)

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2 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

David, what do you mean by 'etching clean guides'?

Testore is more  or less 'free hand' for all the aesthetic elements: the outline, the f-holes and the scroll. To me he had everything in his head and worked from basic measurements like body length central width and stop length and this was it. This saves a lot of time.

I still have the suspicion that Strad worked with a sort of modern design concept for some aesthetic details. I think the f-hole design was made to fit the employed tools. I see the same on the scroll. (More of that later)

What I mean is I think most of the classical making worked very directly with the geometry, using the compass and other tools to scribe guides to almost all the outline shapes carved.  To me, this is part of the sharpness of work in Strad, Amati, Ruggieri, and much Guarneri family work.  In contrast, you see some exceptions where makers clearly skipped this.  Late DG scrolls and soundholes, Testore also, scrolls in early Guadagnini.

Obviously it's also possible to execute the design geometry using templates or transfers, and  with a very good hand and eye it can be done freehand and you won't necessarily detect much deviation from the underlying geometry ideas.   But I tend to believe actually etching the geometry to guide clean work probably happened much more than our modern culture would imagine -- or at least working very directly with compass in hand to ensure proper shapes. 

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1 hour ago, David Beard said:

What I mean is I think most of the classical making worked very directly with the geometry, using the compass and other tools to scribe guides to almost all the outline shapes carved. 

While I have found scribed lines to be much more accurate than pencil lines, there is still a lot of room for interpretation and execution of scribed lines. I struggle with this every time I make an instrument. But if you are happy and satisfied with where you are, by no means would I want to force you into my personal hell. :lol:

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3 hours ago, David Beard said:

What I mean is I think most of the classical making worked very directly with the geometry, using the compass and other tools to scribe guides to almost all the outline shapes carved.  To me, this is part of the sharpness of work in Strad, Amati, Ruggieri, and much Guarneri family work.  In contrast, you see some exceptions where makers clearly skipped this.  Late DG scrolls and soundholes, Testore also, scrolls in early Guadagnini.

Obviously it's also possible to execute the design geometry using templates or transfers, and  with a very good hand and eye it can be done freehand and you won't necessarily detect much deviation from the underlying geometry ideas.   But I tend to believe actually etching the geometry to guide clean work probably happened much more than our modern culture would imagine -- or at least working very directly with compass in hand to ensure proper shapes. 

The only evidence that they used circle constructions is purely circlestantial.

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6 hours ago, David Beard said:

What I mean is I think most of the classical making worked very directly with the geometry, using the compass and other tools to scribe guides to almost all the outline shapes carved.  To me, this is part of the sharpness of work in Strad, Amati, Ruggieri, and much Guarneri family work.  In contrast, you see some exceptions where makers clearly skipped this.  Late DG scrolls and soundholes, Testore also, scrolls in early Guadagnini.

Obviously it's also possible to execute the design geometry using templates or transfers, and  with a very good hand and eye it can be done freehand and you won't necessarily detect much deviation from the underlying geometry ideas.   But I tend to believe actually etching the geometry to guide clean work probably happened much more than our modern culture would imagine -- or at least working very directly with compass in hand to ensure proper shapes. 

Now i see what you mean. But  etching doesn't guarantee a fast clean cut. 

Andrew Dipper is convinced that Strad used a tiny hand saw. He mailed me one for this purpose and I only found it difficult and time consuming to use. So I thought there must be a better way.

 

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I cut my f holes with an ordinary fret saw, and each takes a couple of minutes. I don't go too near the line, just enough to let the knife through is really enough. In fact I like a body of wood to cut against, so the knife has some resistance. This way I can cut a smooth line quite fluently and quickly.

I had a maker work with me who didn't bother at all with a saw, just pierced through with his knife.

I really think the speed thing is a red herring. Look at all those beautifully crafted French trade fiddles. They were very quickly made, with great tool skills. Unfortunately they can lack personality and perhaps good taste. 

I admire the ingenuity of your saw however!

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On July 18, 30 Heisei at 5:58 AM, Michael Darnton said:

Tool skill: 

 

This kind of speed only works if you repeat the same job every day.  

(For conspiracy theorists: Marco Polo not only imported from China ^_^ the idea of spaghetti to the Italians but also how to work really fast.)

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7 minutes ago, Conor Russell said:

I cut my f holes with an ordinary fret saw, and each takes a couple of minutes. I don't go too near the line, just enough to let the knife through is really enough. In fact I like a body of wood to cut against, so the knife has some resistance. This way I can cut a smooth line quite fluently and quickly.

I had a maker work with me who didn't bother at all with a saw, just pierced through with his knife.

I really think the speed thing is a red herring. Look at all those beautifully crafted French trade fiddles. They were very quickly made, with great tool skills. Unfortunately they can lack personality and perhaps good taste. 

I admire the ingenuity of your saw however!

Were there fret saws in the 18th century? Not that I know. Just manufacturing the blades looks extremely time consuming if done by hand.

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