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Nik Kyklo

The old and the future. Am I on the wrong path?

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I was 8 years old when I was watching my father making a violin. We were a bellow the middle (financially) family. He had 2 books (Stradivari's live from Hills and Strobel’s Measurements). His tools: a saw, 2,3 chisels, a knife, he was borrowing some tools because did not have the money to buy them, and little by little he was sculpting. He made some violins and tenths of classical guitars with … his nails. So few tools, no internet, he didn’t know foreign languages to read books. I am wondering today how he did all that.

He was repeating many times that the old “masters of the wood” had fewer tools than him.

“They were making all these things with their nails! I don’t know how!” were his words.

I finished University, languages, music etc. I buy a lot of tools, books, tons of information, I travel to meet luthiers, I educate myself every day, I spend money.

The point: My results are not much better than my fathers’.  Why I cannot work with simple tools and I need a "laboratory"?

Am I on the wrong path?

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I,m pretty sure Strads shop was a bit more developed than the average, though Del Gesu might have worked with less. The standard rule of thumb is that a first rate crafts man can do more with less , than a second rate can do with more.  That said, modern makers and probably those of the past as well tend to place a emphasis on highest quality, suitable  tools , within reason and purse of course. Continuous Education also is a pattern among modern makers as well.. almost a central tenant to the work , good education, good tools , good wood, good eye, good hands. Good work. You just might not have talent....or you might , but do not recognize it, without seeing your work ...who,s to judge. Can,t say what anyone’s path should be, that,s up to you.alone.

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you need a laboratory?  Why?    You can get by with good hand tools and wood working skills.   But thats something that takes practice.  If you don't want to take the time and effort to develop skills then you can take the easy way out and let machines do it all for you.  

That's not all you need though...

 

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I completely understand your point, Nik.  My great grandfather and grandfather made fiddles, quite literally in the middle of the kitchen.  My great aunt, my grandfather's younger sister wrote me to me about her memory of them bending ribs over a pan of boiling water and weaving them through a pattern of nails to hold their shape while they cooled.  She was allowed to watch, but never touch.  She wrote of whittling the scroll with a knife.  I am amazed at what they achieved with so little - and more than a little curious about the unconventional methods. 

She also wrote about the "kitchen sweats" that happened every Saturday - a bunch of neighbors fiddling and dancing the night away while the younger kids laid in bed and listened to the music.  My aunt was thrilled when she turned 10 and was old enough to join in.

...better times.

 

 

 

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10 hours ago, Nik Kyklo said:

I was 8 years old when I was watching my father making a violin. We were a bellow the middle (financially) family. He had 2 books (Stradivari's live from Hills and Strobel’s Measurements). His tools: a saw, 2,3 chisels, a knife, he was borrowing some tools because did not have the money to buy them, and little by little he was sculpting. He made some violins and tenths of classical guitars with … his nails. So few tools, no internet, he didn’t know foreign languages to read books. I am wondering today how he did all that.

He was repeating many times that the old “masters of the wood” had fewer tools than him.

“They were making all these things with their nails! I don’t know how!” were his words.

I finished University, languages, music etc. I buy a lot of tools, books, tons of information, I travel to meet luthiers, I educate myself every day, I spend money.

The point: My results are not much better than my fathers’.  Why I cannot work with simple tools and I need a "laboratory"?

Am I on the wrong path?

Hi Nik - I may be wrong but I think that the answer is in two parts. One physical and the other mental.

The physical path is easy to understand - the best tonewood, the best tools, how-to books - many books, more tools and a whole forests of wood.

It was while learning from Brian Lisus how to build a violin that the mental aspect of good workmanship crystallized for me.

Most of the students struggled to scrape the plates "flowing-smooth". No matter how much Brian angled the plate to show how the shadows revealed where wood had to scraped away, most of the students just couldn't see them. A lot of those violins left the workshop as "that's good enough" quality. I looked on as they glued  up the body and moved closer to completion. I sighed and kept scraping away chasing those pesky shadows.

Eventually I thought that I had finally "got" them all and took my plates to Brian for his comment. He looked - square on, tangentially, angled them this way and that, flexed them and quietly handed them back saying "those will make a fine sounding violin" 

I returned to my corner of the workshop thinking about how the quickest of our batch of students had completed her build inside of a year (classes were 1 evening a week) while I was half way through year 5 and was only at the body closing stage. It wasn't of any concern, I was more than satisfied that Brian hadn't pointed out something that needed more work.

It was then that the thought crystallized that it was the mental approach that is most important. How many tools you have is totally immaterial.

If you had a piece of tonewood and only a scraper, there's nothing preventing you ending up with a perfectly finished plate - and I'll bet you that when you have finished, you will then be able to give a lecture on every aspect of scraping.

It is the ability to identify and strain towards the completion of an immediate end point that makes the difference. The goal or final endpoint arrives when you have run out of all intermediate end-points.

As it says in the Good Book "Good things come to those who practice and more shall be given to those that practice more"

- so get to the bench and make the perfect chip - and then improve on it.

cheers edi

PS:

That was a bit of a "Eureka" moment for me and I wondered if that approach could had relevance to any of my previous interests.

I found that, unconsciously, I had already been doing that.

While rock-climbing - I was regarded as something of a "tiger" - while others looked at the face and saw all sorts of imaginary difficulties I would just rope up and set off and climb the darn thing. Early on I had realised that your world as a climber is the extent of your reach and there's no use in worrying about anything else. (Decision time - about 1 every minute or so. Result - a height gain of 150 to 200mm)

While  sailing to windward in seas with a swell -  as the boat pitches over the top of the swell, the mast (and sail) is  arced through the air at greater than boat speed and for a few seconds it generates slightly more drive. I would make use of this and pinch a little more to windward. Often I was ahead of the fleet by the windward mark. (Decision time - 1 every 20 seconds. Result - a gain to windward of ~ 50 - 100mm) 

Similarly when flying sailplanes. Here the decision making frequency had increased to 1 every 5-8 seconds or so. The results showed that I usually had achieved the longest flight of the day.

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Interesting topic.

I think we are living in a world where people think the more sophisticated the equipment is, the better will be the result. Just comparing tool catalogs from 40 years ago with those of today speaks for itself. 

While it seems to be true that in most fields more sophisticated equipment does bring better results the same is not really true for violin making. However if tools are too limited the working speed might be slower..But as Edi pointed out this is mostly a question of your brain set. (Though I wouldn't recommend trying to rough out a cello back with a tooth pic sized gouge.)

Concerning the tonal quality of the finished instrument the cleanliness of the workmanship does not really matter. When we study instruments from the 18th century and before we can even see in some cases that some recognition features come from the use of certain tools.

From my personal experience I walked a similar path. In my younger days I accumulated tons of tools which I bought or designed myself and now 30 years later I look at them with a smile and 'hop into the garbage bin'. Tools teach us how to work and it is not that we are teaching the tools how to work. The more we understand our tools the less we need.

Concerning the theoretical backup however I think it is necessary to broaden the view on what we are doing in our workshop. Having the hill book and a set of measurements is probably almost the minimum you need (or it seems that some beginners without books just open a HELP ME PLEASE thread on maestronet) but is certainly not enough backup to hone your skills for over average violin making. 

I sometimes wished to live in a world without all the distractions we are facing. Enemy number one: the Internet, then television and last not least phone calls from people trying to sell something.

 

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While you can definitely make violins with just a few gouges and knives  there are a lot of specialty tools which can make for both faster production and better violins. Things like purfling gauges and pickers, peg shapers ,a workbench, saws and a  variety of clamps are certainly helpful. What are not needed are a lot of machines and I see many people spending inordinate amounts of time on making jigs for machinery when they could just as easily learn to use their hand tools efficiently.

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Andreas and Edi think the way that I do. A few well chosen, very sharp tools; and the learned skill on how to use them is the most important thing.  The only power tools I use are a lathe for pegs, and you can buy those, and a 10" band saw that really just makes jobs like cutting out necks, and ripping ribs, and liners out easier and faster.  The outline of the plates is faster too, but I don't cut them to size anyway, so a hand saw works if I thin the edges down first.  This is what I use:

A BIG Ryobi saw for slicing wedges.

A few other sizes of Japanese saws for everything else.

A couple of flat chisels for the head mortise.

A few fingernail chisels for the scroll.

 A set of finger planes, ground down into a shape that really works, with good blades.  

A Lie Nielson convex contour plane for shaping.  

A large Cherry convex jack plane for roughing.

A large plane for jointing.

A flat and a curved scraper.  Both are old plane blades; thick with a 30-40 degree angle on one side. These do all of the finish work. 

A few smaller scrapers from feeler gages.  Maybe .025" thick,  ground on both ends with a different profile. Just for edge work, and maybe on a scroll, but not usually.

3 sizes of Iwasaki 1/2 round files. I don't use flat files anymore.

I do have more than this, but this is about all I use.  I do have a 42 mm radius plane that works nice if you make your own fingerboard.  A smaller flat plane for smoothing the outside after roughing with the big Cherry convex plane. It's faster than the little flat finger plane.

I don't use gouges.  I just don't feel comfortable with them.  I like planes instead.  Oh, I do have a Flexcut gouge that is small that I use for the eye of the scroll.  That's all I use it for.

That's about it.  I counted the list.  30 tools total.  More than I thought.  It's a good thing though.  My nails are not that strong.

Nathan brought up purfling markers.  I made a purfling cutter that actually works! A hand made peg shaper a la Bruce Carslon.  The  purfling picker I bought doesn't work, so I'm waiting for someone to show us one of his that DOES WORK.   And then I'l make one of them.  A box of 100 or so tiny spring clamps for linings, and a box of home made spool clamps for closing.   And a set of wooden clamps for the bass bar from a board of poplar from Home Depot.

I guess they are tools too.  If you count each kind of clamp as one; now I'm up to 36!  I'm like a tool junkie.

Ken

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1 hour ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Interesting topic.

 - snip -

But as Edi pointed out this is mostly a question of your brain set. (Though I wouldn't recommend trying to rough out a cello back with a tooth pic sized gouge.)
 

 

Aah Andreas -  just think of the opportunity - you could corner the market for maple toothpicks!

cheers edi

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2 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Interesting topic.

I think we are living in a world where people think the more sophisticated the equipment is, the better will be the result. Just comparing tool catalogs from 40 years ago with those of today speaks for itself. 

While it seems to be true that in most fields more sophisticated equipment does bring better results the same is not really true for violin making. However if tools are too limited the working speed might be slower..But as Edi pointed out this is mostly a question of your brain set. (Though I wouldn't recommend trying to rough out a cello back with a tooth pic sized gouge.)

Concerning the tonal quality of the finished instrument the cleanliness of the workmanship does not really matter. When we study instruments from the 18th century and before we can even see in some cases that some recognition features come from the use of certain tools.

From my personal experience I walked a similar path. In my younger days I accumulated tons of tools which I bought or designed myself and now 30 years later I look at them with a smile and 'hop into the garbage bin'. Tools teach us how to work and it is not that we are teaching the tools how to work. The more we understand our tools the less we need.

Concerning the theoretical backup however I think it is necessary to broaden the view on what we are doing in our workshop. Having the hill book and a set of measurements is probably almost the minimum you need (or it seems that some beginners without books just open a HELP ME PLEASE thread on maestronet) but is certainly not enough backup to hone your skills for over average violin making. 

I sometimes wished to live in a world without all the distractions we are facing. Enemy number one: the Internet, then television and last not least phone calls from people trying to sell something.

 

I consider that to be very valuable.

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5 hours ago, Eloffe said:

thanks for the sailing tip i could have put that to good use many years ago

Hi Eloffe - the technique was particularly effective in ghosting conditions and with a fully battened mainsail. Needed very, very delicate tiller movements to keep drag to a minimum.

Happy days - just shy of 50 years ago - edi

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21 hours ago, edi malinaric said:

Hi Eloffe - the technique was particularly effective in ghosting conditions and with a fully battened mainsail. Needed very, very delicate tiller movements to keep drag to a minimum.

Happy days - just shy of 50 years ago - edi

Edi, would have loved to have had you along on our last Great Lakes Mackinac race.  A storm came up, so we were sailing up and down 30-60 foot waves. Only two of us on deck, since the rest were below puking, passing up  buckets of puke to empty and return.

At one point, with all the multitasking, we got an overlap on a winch, which put the boat on its side. It wasn't anything which was a serious threat to the boat, or life, but it got a lot of people up on deck really fast. :lol:

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13 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

It was 3 ft waves and the boat kind of leaned?

:lol:

I've worked as a deckhand on a 180 foot commercial crab boat in the Bering sea in 30 foot seas.

Sixty foot seas on the one of the Great Lakes?...in a sailboat?...yeah right  

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28 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Edi, would have loved to have had you along on our last Great Lakes Mackinaw race.  A storm came up, so we were sailing up and down 30-60 foot waves. Only two of us on deck, since the rest were below puking, passing up  buckets of puke to empty and return.

At one point, with all the multitasking, we got an overlap on a winch, which put the boat on its side. It wasn't anything which was a serious threat to the boat, or life, but it got a lot of people up on deck really fast. :lol:

 

Hi David - Thank you - I would have enjoyed that. In  my filing cabinet I have plans for a 20' Tornado catamaran and a 40' Crowther trimaran.

After studying the Tornado plans I chose to build an 18' Unicorn cat - because it was a single hander. Eventually built 3 of them - great fun, proved seaworthy enough to carry full sail in a Force 8 gale and managed 7m breaking swells like a pole vaulter. (separate incidents)

Did you follow Spindrift 2 in her attempt on the Jules Verne Trophy?

cheers edi

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1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

Edi, would have loved to have had you along on our last Great Lakes Mackinaw race.  A storm came up, so we were sailing up and down 30-60 foot waves. Only two of us on deck, since the rest were below puking, passing up  buckets of puke to empty and return.

At one point, with all the multitasking, we got an overlap on a winch, which put the boat on its side. It wasn't anything which was a serious threat to the boat, or life, but it got a lot of people up on deck really fast. :lol:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2014/11/08/bering-sea-storm-now-strongest-on-record-in-north-pacific/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.65b6ef419916

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An early mentor of mine came to America with little more than the clothes he wore after escaping

communist Czechoslovakia. He made his first violin on a kitchen table using a butter knife and spoon resharpened in various ways.

He ended up selling that instrument to Yehudi Menuhin.

After many years of research and many thousands worth of fine tools I have not succeeded in making a better violin.

 

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6 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

From my personal experience I walked a similar path. In my younger days I accumulated tons of tools which I bought or designed myself and now 30 years later I look at them with a smile and 'hop into the garbage bin'

10 hours ago, edi malinaric said:

If you had a piece of tonewood and only a scraper, there's nothing preventing you ending up with a perfectly finished plate

Since my background is on philosophy I remember a fragment from presocratic phil. Democritus and found it on wikipedia :

 There are two forms of knowledge, one genuine, one obscure. To the obscure belong all of the following: sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling. The other form is the genuine, and is quite distinct from this...Whenever the obscure [way of knowing] has reached the minimum sensibile of hearing, smell, taste, and touch, and when the investigation must be carried farther into that which is still finer, then arises the genuine way of knowing, which has a finer organ of thought.

When we say that violin making (and generally instrument making) is a kind of "art", I realize that Democritus was right. Something more than senses, tools and measurements gets involved (of course nothing from esoteric researches, mysteries, and black magic...). 

 

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50 minutes ago, Nik Kyklo said:

Since my background is on philosophy I remember a fragment from presocratic phil. Democritus and found it on wikipedia :

 There are two forms of knowledge, one genuine, one obscure. To the obscure belong all of the following: sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling. The other form is the genuine, and is quite distinct from this...

Taking on the high risk of disagreeing with a philosopher, I'll argue that if sight, hearing, smell, taste, and feeling,  combined with a lot of diligent practice aren't cutting it, one or more of the former is seriously deficient,  absent, or occluded.

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If you know what your goals are and have the patience almost anything will work,,, pocket knifes butter knifes, spoons sharpened on a rock. one chisel, one gouge, a broken piece of glass,,,,the goal is the deciding factor, not the tools, we are not making micro chips here, as in transistors, we are working in a soft substance, your skill makes the difference not the tools..

However that may be,,,,

I do love tools, I am a Smith by lineage, by trade, not in name only. An us type of folks always have to find a better faster more precision, predictable way of doing things. If I need to I can have both plates cut out to shape and the purfling in in under two hours dependably. Not that I always do it that way, but some times I do,, when the mood strikes and it will still look good. I don't like the feeling of being constrained to a covered wagon with two old horses dragging me through the desert day after day,,, sometimes I just like to get'er done. But I like it to be controlled and the outcome predictable. If the tools are functional and do their job well then they stay. But like many others I have tried a few things and later wonder what kind of drugs I was on as I chucked it away in the dust bin. I'll work on 8 at a time so when I reach  a point that I say,,,,, this time through I'm not in the mood to line up such and such, or remeasure something a thousand more times, then I decide that it is time to stop and make another tool, a jig, some sort of contraption to do the job for me.

Actually,, don't need any of it, beyond just the few basic tools,,,,, personal choice.

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