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Mike Atkins' Messy Bench


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For those who have seen my posts, you already know I'm very new to violin making, but am enthusiastically enjoying the frustration and the challenge. I'm going to pretend my 1st attempt at building a violin doesn't exist, as I would be embarrassed to show the disaster it's turning out to be. We'll call this next one "1a" I guess, and I'm optimistically assuming this one will be better.

For this first (non-existent) violin, I built my form based on a photo of the 'Forma PG'. I didn't realize however until after building the rib structure and cutting the outline of the plates, that this photo has the distortions inherent in all photos... never the less, it is and was a tremendous learning experience simply building an instrument... er, if it would have existed. I intend to soldier on until it's complete, before casting it into the fire never to be heard from again. I would actually keep it as a reminder of my venture into the world of violins if it existed.

For my next 1(a), I have used the 'Forma P' Frankensteined together with the 'Forma PG', and I've made so many adjustments so many times, for now we'll call it version 3? At some point I just printed it out and used it as I could meddle with things forever. The second is the Strad 'Forma P' sort of "as is". I've taken the forms from the "Forma by Addie" and tweaked them to a degree in Adobe Illustrator. To smooth out the dings and bumps, as well as to tweak the block sizes I guess to something I think might be ok, though I have no idea what a good neck block for example should be. I'm going to call it roughly 60mm X 18mm. Hopefully it will work. I've also squared up the corner blocks, though now I see how angling them could assist in getting the grain direction correct. I've messed up two of the P corner block angles, but I've glued a thin piece of "extra" (broken) rib to straighten things out on one at least.

My Frankenmould which I'm calling my A mould, is built using a walnut plywood (roughly 12mm thick or 1/2in), because of course using walnut moulds is I'm sure the secret of Stradivari! I've used double sided tape to stick the printout to the wood before cutting it out, hoping that it will not deform as a wet glue might do, though the plywood isn't as truly flat as I would like. My P mould is made from actual walnut lumber, jointed to produce a handy, permanent centerline. This is roughly 14mm thick, I say roughly because I did the old fashioned hand plane thicknessing from 4/4 dimensional lumber and it's probably not as precise as I would like. For this I taped down the printout, and very carefully scribed the outline with a knife, hoping this will hone my skills for purfling later. It seems I may have trouble with putting in both sets of linings with the thicker form, but I'm sure I can get through it somehow. I've maintained the asymmetries from the forms, as I don't feel qualified to 'fix' Tony Strad's work, and I actually believe them to be purposeful. (I do have some ideas about disproving this wild theory in the future... once I can actually build something worthwhile.)

I've already jointed the backs for both instruments, the first (for the P), I may have gone a little thick with the hide glue and there seems to be a bit of a visible glue line. I did also pretreat the joint with hide glue before glueing. I did the same with the second (Frankinmould A) but a slightly better job of it so not the seam like the first. I used my trusty Lie-Nielsen rip saw, which I love and works very well. Though my concerns about the blade width and tonewood dimensions might lead me to try and make my own rip saw for this purpose. For now that would interfere with making progress on my violin(s) so that's a future project. I do have a frame saw, with a presumably thinner blade, but I'm not as confident or comfortable with a frame saw, particularly for book matching expensive tonewood. For these backs I'm still over 20mm thick, and only seemed to lose about 1/8in (3mm) from the sawing, so it's fine. I have my rib wood selected, though I wish they matched more closely the wood from the back and neck... not sure how often tonewood suppliers actually give back, neck and ribs from a single piece of maple. Incidentally I got this particular tonewood (p) from https://www.tonewoodforviolin.com, and for the Frankenmould, from https://www.internationalviolin.com. I do like seeing and selecting the wood from the websites, though I'm not sure I know what to look for. I do prefer a broader, random flame pattern to a tight and consistent one, but I do like both pieces. I didn't measure the density of the back for this project, but will in the future. The tops (not yet jointed) are .38 and .40 respectively. The lighter top has a couple of darker lines along it's length. I'm not overly bothered by this but I wonder if it could be lightened somehow. 

I've also accumulated more tools than I have found places for, so my bench is more often a disaster than a good working environment, but I'll try to hide the mess from view when sharing photos of my progress. With any luck, I'll at least learn some more lessons about 'what not to do'... and eventually the 'what to do, and how to do it' will be all that's left! Hopefully I don't destroy too much tonewood in the process. This will take a long time as I'm not afforded many opportunities to get in the shop these days, but I truly enjoy the work and hope that I can get to the bench as often as possible. My Frankenmould is attached for those interested... I realized after the fact that I can't cut out the block templates if they're adhered to the mould...

Frankenmould-A-v3a.pdf

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Just now, MikeC said:

Thats some nice looking maple!   Looking forward to following your progress.   I'm in the middle of my first build.  

Yes, and thank you! The first is from Tonewood which I selected from a photo, the second from International Violin which I bought sight unseen. Good luck with your first build!

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It has been suggested that I build 3 violins at once to start, in order to "get all my mistakes out of the way". I happen to think this is a good idea, so I think I might also make a copy of the Forma PG for my third. I do have enough wood for 6 violins, so why not? Incidentally I do have a set of wood from https://www.goldentonewood.com that actually does have the neck, back and ribs perhaps from a single tree. The ribs are simply a chunk of maple, so we'll see how well I can do slicing it into ribs by hand. I do have a small bandsaw, but it's not a particularly good one and I do enjoy working with hand tools.

Incidentally, this particular set of wood I ordered some time ago, and it was mistakenly shipped to a luthier on the west coast. A gentleman who clearly knew the wood wasn't for him, as he mentioned he uses thin guitar tonewood and bends his plates. He was kind enough to ship the wood to me after sending him a check for the shipping costs, and we corresponded a bit about violins. He also sent me a mould design, which was somewhat more complex than I might venture to build, and was designed to allow for creating your own outline as the bouts were sort of missing. He was certainly friendly and generous to share his design, but alas I'm more inclined to use a traditional inside mould. I forget at the moment this gentleman's name...

No3.jpg

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I just carved a bit of time out of my lunch hour to sharpen up my saw in preparation for book matching 3 pieces of spruce and the third piece of maple. As fun as it sounds, this is exhausting labor... I should probably reset the teeth as it's been binding a bit in cuts lately, but the thinner I can keep the blade the better. This is going to take a while!

bookmatching-fun.jpg

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13 minutes ago, MikeC said:

 Giving the teeth a little more set and sharpening is the way to go.   I have an antique Diston that was binding like that but it cuts great now.   

You're right, I should probably set the teeth. I just see that thin spruce and worry about the thick kerf. But it will cut more easily and presumably more accurately if it's not binding.

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One of the advantages of living in this Corona world, is that I've been working from home for 1 1/2 years, which occasionally allows me to sneak down to the workshop. Planing the wood for #3 it's starting to look kind of nice too. I may try to have the flames pointing upward on the back of this one. I kind of think that's interesting when I see it.

I've been using waterstones for sharpening for so long... and getting an amazing edge, but it's so messy and especially for the curved tools used to make a violin which I'm not so used to, I've spent so much time flattening the stones. So I recently purchased some diamond stones. They're aggressive, and not as fine a grit but it sounds like they will get more refined with use. Stropping seems to help but hopefully soon they'll be broken in. The blade just doesn't feel like it used to.

planing.jpg

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I've found an "online violin making" course by Lucas Fabro which appears to offer a lengthy 37 hours of video. Not sure I'm willing to drop $500 for what may already be largely available on YouTube, but perhaps buying a few chapters might provide some in-depth information that might otherwise be glossed over in the usual freely available videos?

I'm not familiar with Lucas Fabro, but he's got some pretty and nice sounding instruments on YouTube. His Amati violin sounds good IMO. I am interested in building a baroque instrument in the future as well. But for now I've likely already bit off more than I can chew with 3 instruments.

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I've been playing around with concoctions for wood treatment/ground... I have no idea what I'm doing but thanks to Mr. Mike Molnar I've tried a couple of things. This isn't deeply flamed maple and a photo is never quite representative of the real thing... but... I have the original image taken by a window on an overcast day, and an adjusted one in photoshop attempting to get it looking more like the real deal. I think the ultra yellowness calms down over time, and I just applied this this morning. I've tried using some pigment Rublev "Italian Yellow Earth" Aqueous Dispersion which is a Hydrated Iron Oxide applied prior to a casein/potassium hydroxide/saline solution.

1. Pigment is very much thinned in a saline solution and didn't do too much. The casein treatment raised the grain moreso than 2

2. Pigment rubbed directly into the bare wood, then wiped off right away to prevent it from obscuring the grain. Though this is a relatively transparent pigment I think so it might not have been bad to just burnish it in more? The grain didn't raise up much at all on this sample from the casein.

I was kind of hesitant about using pigments with concerns about clouding the wood or obscuring it, maybe I was too timid about it as it in no way has any similarity to how Mr. Molnar's ground appears, and there's little difference between the two. Though in truth I have no idea exactly what he does. I threw this in a lightbox for a few hours, then did another quick coat of the casein treatment before taking the photo. Hopefully I'll get something somewhat figured out before it comes time to varnish 3 fiddles!

ground.jpg

ground_adjusted.jpg

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The #3 back has been glued up, and one top has been re-sawn and glued up as well... I really need a decent bandsaw, this is hard work and I'm not doing it particularly well either. But, I will soldier on! I'm also almost done with the PG mould #3. Progress has been made, and I'm content that things are moving forward. Mika (my puppy) on the other hand is not thrilled that I've spent so many hours in the shop rather than with her. I think it's about time for us to play in the yard!

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BTW I've also taken time to make new scrapers, a few are yet to be filed to their appropriate shape... I have some spring steel I'm planning to use for my future saw project so... why not? Sharpened one up and man it's nice! I'm feeling accomplished today! Incidentally, this slice of maple is one of the several slices I got out of the maple rib chunk from Golden Tonewood... I was able to successfully slice it into ribs, which was fun.

new_scraper.jpg

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On 9/4/2021 at 1:19 AM, Mike Atkins said:

I've been playing around with concoctions for wood treatment/ground... I have no idea what I'm doing but thanks to Mr. Mike Molnar I've tried a couple of things. This isn't deeply flamed maple and a photo is never quite representative of the real thing... but... I have the original image taken by a window on an overcast day, and an adjusted one in photoshop attempting to get it looking more like the real deal. I think the ultra yellowness calms down over time, and I just applied this this morning. I've tried using some pigment Rublev "Italian Yellow Earth" Aqueous Dispersion which is a Hydrated Iron Oxide applied prior to a casein/potassium hydroxide/saline solution.

1. Pigment is very much thinned in a saline solution and didn't do too much. The casein treatment raised the grain moreso than 2

2. Pigment rubbed directly into the bare wood, then wiped off right away to prevent it from obscuring the grain. Though this is a relatively transparent pigment I think so it might not have been bad to just burnish it in more? The grain didn't raise up much at all on this sample from the casein.

I was kind of hesitant about using pigments with concerns about clouding the wood or obscuring it, maybe I was too timid about it as it in no way has any similarity to how Mr. Molnar's ground appears, and there's little difference between the two. Though in truth I have no idea exactly what he does. I threw this in a lightbox for a few hours, then did another quick coat of the casein treatment before taking the photo. Hopefully I'll get something somewhat figured out before it comes time to varnish 3 fiddles!

ground.jpg

ground_adjusted.jpg

Unless you do a full varnish the bright ground will show somewhere. And this effect is visible on violins which had been made this way in the past and worn down in some areas. So I’d try something which doesn’t look so bright.

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2 hours ago, Mike Atkins said:

BTW I've also taken time to make new scrapers, a few are yet to be filed to their appropriate shape... I have some spring steel I'm planning to use for my future saw project so... why not? Sharpened one up and man it's nice! I'm feeling accomplished today! Incidentally, this slice of maple is one of the several slices I got out of the maple rib chunk from Golden Tonewood... I was able to successfully slice it into ribs, which was fun.

new_scraper.jpg

Definitely a good idea. Tool suppliers make us believe that only their products work well.  I have made quite many gouges and knifes from old Grobet Vallorbe files. That’s a very good steel and makes good handy chisels. Doesn’t take too much time either, only the noise of the grinder for a prolonged time gets on my ears. 

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46 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Unless you do a full varnish the bright ground will show somewhere. And this effect is visible on violins which had been made this way in the past and worn down in some areas. So I’d try something which doesn’t look so bright.

I'm probably going to skip the attempt at using pigments, I clearly have no idea what I'm doing. But the potash/casein does mellow out a bit after a couple of days and isn't quite so bright anymore.

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Got my second top re-sawn and joined this morning. With a bit more care the result was much cleaner than the last one, which is good because it seems each billet is slightly thinner than the previous. Maybe I need to start ordering Viola wood? I see videos of people working with really thick pieces of wood... where the heck do they get that stuff? My third top is only 40mm thick so I'm going to have to be very precise with my hand saw to ensure I end up with something useable. If I waiver at all from a straight line I could end up with a lower arch than intended. But I'm up for the challenge.

For the P mould I've decided to use the Gibson/Huberman Strad poster as a reference. I'm not sure about the PG, the only poster I have that presumably is built on the PG mould is the Messiah. Maybe that's the one I'll reference but I'd like to try something else. For the A "Frankinmould" I'm not sure but maybe I'll just make some arching templates from the Huberman poster and use them for all?

I've also been working on thicknessing my hand cut ribs... they're over 2mm thick so it's taking some doing especially getting the thickness even, but so far so good and I got 6 slices roughly 300mm long so there's even room for my inevitable mistakes. It seems to be slow just getting everything prepped for building 3 violins and I still have more to do, like making clamping blocks for each of the moulds, prepping the neck blocks, etc. But hopefully taking my time and not getting in too big of a rush (my usual issue) is going to help make this project a success!

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Day two and the intensity of the yellow has simmered a bit. It remains definitely yellow, but more golden. I haven't kept this in a light box, but I wonder if I should try it. The heavier treatment of pigment seems to have slightly obscured things and I'm definitely leaning towards dismissing it altogether as, other than not having any idea what I'm doing, I'm sure it's not the way... The potash/casein ground does seem to give the wood a bit of a shine too in certain light.

Once again, the original photo and my attempt at adjusting it in Photoshop. The adjustment seems pretty true to the real thing.

 

ground-day-2.jpg

ground-adjusted-day2.jpg

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Had a bit of a glitch, I noticed that one of the top's joints was slightly opened from clamping pressure on a thin, non-square edge... I had to re-re-saw it, plane it again and reglue it. This time I did more of a rubbed joint with very, very light clamping after squaring the thin edge as well and it came out nice. I can see why some people cut notches in the pieces before clamping plates, but I haven't done that.

I've got the blocks glued into all of the forms, and started making 'clamping' blocks as well. I'll need to make quite a few more, plus the block templates, and dowels for what seems to work best for me, tying vs. clamping the ribs. Lots to do yet, but progress is being made. Then I'll be thicknessing all of the ribs, making linings from a large willow block I have and it'll be time to start bending (hopefully not breaking)!

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