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Jordan McDowell's bench

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Hello maestronet. I am a violin builder currently living in Greensboro NC. This is how it all began.

In 2015, having played the violin for a number of years, I was looking to upgrade my instrument. I came to the realisation that I was going to have to spend a large sum to get what I wanted. I also somehow knew that not just one fiddle could ever satisfy me.

So instead, I read the Henry Strobel book,  bought some good tools and tonewood, and started the project. My first violin was finished sometime in the spring of '16. I will be assembling #6 this week. I've poured a lot of time over the past two and a half years into building, reading, researching violin making. It's become quite a passion. I've now read Sacconi's book and most of the Johnson Courtnall book which have both been extremely useful. 

I recently attended the WM Mason Violin making workshop in Fredericksburg VA with Joe Thrift. It was an excellent learning experience. It's worth every dime for anyone who is interested. Bill and Elaine are perfect hosts and their violin shop is top notch. I felt very much at home there. Had a hard time leaving and can't wait to do it again next year. Thank you Joe, Bill and Elaine. I'm also very grateful for the new friendships that developed while there.

I've been creeping around on MN for quite some time now and have found lots of very helpful information. So thanks to everyone who contributed to my journey and thank you Jeffrey for keeping this thing going for us. 

Here are a few photos of #6 for your viewing pleasure. The next steps with this instrument will be to trim the bassbar, assemble and set the neck. Then it's time for fitting up and setting up. 

You may like to know that I will be using Michael Darnton's method for shaping the bar which I've had success with in the past.

Ps. Don't worry, I'll fix the purfling.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask. 


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Hey Jordan, It was a pleasure meeting you and seeing your work. Hope to see you next year!   We’ve hit the ground running in week 2. We’re actually starting earlier and finishing later.  Lots of ground applications today and varnishing planned for tomorrow. 



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  • 2 years later...

I've been doing some varnish/ground research lately and am experimenting with some new techniques. I'll probably post some various images of successful and failed processes and results therefrom with both good and bad outcomes. This is, of course, a running record for me and possibly other learners like myself. I'm rather inexperienced in almost anything involving raw materials. Feel free to critique my methods and products. That is, after all, why I'm here. So far, I've kept it simple and achieved mediocre results at best. My usual sequence would be something like this:

Sun bath


Pumice/dilute shellac mineral pore filler

3 or so thin coats of garnet shellac

1 coat Amber or clear IVC oil varnish

Glaze with artist oil paint

2 or 3 coats of clear oil varnish



On the right is a is white, freshly carved fiddle back for comparison.

The process thus far for the fiddle on the right has been

8-10 days in the light box

Tea stain (1 family size bag of orange pekoe from food lion in 1 or 2oz of boiling water and allowed to steep for 5 hours. applied tap water to areas of endgrain to limit soaking in then applied tea to the whole fiddle)

Placed fiddle in large plastic tub along with a small fan and 1/2cup of ammonium carbonate for about 5 hours. I can see that given more time in the fumes, it would probably kick over to green/black. 

It's been 20 hours since it left the fuming tub

A few questions. 

Would it be ok or even beneficial to put water in the ammonium carbonate for fuming? Does the AC lose its potency out of the jar? It seemed to have lost some of its smell. 

Did I make up a new word?... therefrom 


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Last night I cooked an oil varnish. Very small amount with some "dance rosin". Just an experiment really. Seems to be a good all purpose clear. 

This morning I brushed on a rather strong instant coffee stain. I then mixed a pumice mineral paste using my new varnish(very small amount). The paste was then rubbed vigorously into the pores. It's in the light box now. 



Edited by jordanmcdowell15
Left out a step
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Thanks Jim. I've been studying varnish recipes. The Michelman recipes are pretty intriguing at the moment. Within the next few instruments, I'll be trying some of them. Not sure I'll be ready to put one on this one. So it will probably be the Hargrave recipe from the bass book. I hope to make it on Friday. And I may antique it a little.


Hope you've been well 

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Thanks Jim. Andreas. I'll keep that in mind about the patchiness. May even fix it before it sets. This is my 9th instrument. It was time for some experimentation. I'm still not happy with a few characteristics of the overall appearance of my varnish in general...the flames need more contrast, the sheen(after polishing) is too glossy, film not transparent enough...etc. And I'm trying out different methods to see what's what. Thanks, Andreas, for the critique.. It's nice to have someone to tell me what Im aiming at.....things I wouldn't naturally think about, things I've yet to study about. Anyhow, I have 4 more fiddles ready for tops so I'll have plenty to practice on soon. 


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