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Tool marks on violins/cellos/violas - style, tradition, or mistakes?


BassClef
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Tell me about tool marks. I have often seen knowledgeable members refer to tool marks distinctive or suggestive of a certain maker or maybe even school. Were they done to make instruments look aged? Were they mistakes that a maker commonly made? Even very well respected makers in my memory have been identified in part due to tool marks that match other instruments by them. In my novice understanding of things, tool marks are mistakes that I would try to avoid if I were to make an instrument. Set me strait and let me know what I'm missing. Any images or examples to help me understand would be useful too. Thanks in advance.

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40 minutes ago, BassClef said:

Tell me about tool marks. I have often seen knowledgeable members refer to tool marks distinctive or suggestive of a certain maker or maybe even school.

They can provide valuable clues.

40 minutes ago, BassClef said:

Were they done to make instruments look aged?

I doubt it, since finely detailed tool marks are among the first things to be obliterated by wear. Fake varnish wear has become much more popular, and a poor job of that is much more forgiving, to the casual observer.

40 minutes ago, BassClef said:

In my novice understanding of things, tool marks are mistakes that I would try to avoid if I were to make an instrument. Set me strait and let me know what I'm missing.

In my early days of making, I would try to make process-inherent tools marks go away. I no longer do, and no longer consider that to be a desirable goal.

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5 minutes ago, BassClef said:

“In my early days of making, I would try to make process-inherent tools marks go away. I no longer do, and no longer consider that to be a desirable goal.”

Why is that?

I can't answer that for David, but I much prefer objects that evoke a sense of connection with their maker. Perfection - in the modern/machine-age sense of the word, at least - doesn't leave much room for personality.

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21 minutes ago, BassClef said:

“In my early days of making, I would try to make process-inherent tools marks go away. I no longer do, and no longer consider that to be a desirable goal.”

Why is that?

Because it seems a shame to make something pretty, and then sand the shit out of it

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46 minutes ago, BassClef said:

In my novice understanding of things, tool marks are mistakes that I would try to avoid if I were to make an instrument. Set me strait and let me know what I'm missing

A maker of Markneukirchen descent once explained to me that many of the instruments and bows from there had such a boring look because their makers thought that tool marks were something bad and extincted them.

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As some one who has made a career out of making instruments where the “manufacturing artifacts” are part of the style I would say that there are a number of reasons not to get to carried away with removing them. While I did rather clean work as a student and refused to even shade the varnish on my first instruments to make sure I was not using “character” as an excuse for poor workmanship I soon realized that making a fetish of removing every tool mark could result in boring instruments which might as well have been done by a machine or a computer. While there are some makers such as Ansaldo Poggi who was capable of making instruments where the shapes themselves were good enough to carry the instrument, for most makers some degree of surface texture adds interest and life to the work. I was also influenced in this by the teaching of my grand father, a fairly successful sculptor who taught me that the direction of carving gave energy and life to a shape even if the tool marks were removed and that the quickest way to ruin a shape was to fuss with it. Cut it once and get it right was always better than going back over a carving. I also think that there is a spontaneity to working quickly which is evident in most of the great classical Italian instruments. I have seen one Stradivari cello which showed saw marks, toothed plane marks and scraper marks all on one c-bout rib which had held the original varnish and now added a dash of bright red which caught the eye in a very nice way.
 

While adding tool marks to an already finished surface generally just looks silly, leaving the traces of the tools is a whole different matter. I use only hand tools and will rough down as close as I can using a large gouge then remove all but the faintest traces of that process with  toothed planes, the marks of the teeth with smooth planes and the marks of the planes with a scraper. At each step I leave just the faintest traces of the previous tools resulting in an instrument which simply cannot have been made by a machine and which will tell the story of how it was made as the varnish wears. Like wise using a gouge alone to finish the edge work can leave a rippled frame like effect which sets off the smoother central area of the plates. Lastly these types of surfaces allow any subsequent nicks or scratches to blend right in so that the instrument never goes through the awkward phase where each scratch is traumatic for the player and requires a trip to the shop for some usually not too successful retouching.

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18 minutes ago, BassClef said:

“In my early days of making, I would try to make process-inherent tools marks go away. I no longer do, and no longer consider that to be a desirable goal.”

Why is that?

My wife recently resigned her job in the corporate/manufacturing world, and is trying to set up a new business in the artisan world. She often gets obsessed with "machine-age" type finishes and tolerances, and I need to remind her that this is not what the artisan world is about.

http://jillsthings.com

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Leaving obvious toolmarks is not my goal, but neither is removing them at all costs. Simply working with manual cutting tools leave toolmarks, the skill with which you use these tools determines wether they are more or less evident under the varnish. I leave a lot of toolmarks, but most of them are only seen by me who can recognize them, and they are definitely more evident in the violin in white, not so much in the finished violin. I also believe that many of the toolmarks visible today on ancient instruments would not be so obvious if the varnish were intact.

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1 hour ago, jacobsaunders said:

Because it seems a shame to make something pretty, and then sand the shit out of it

Can one not make something pretty and also not leave tool marks on the instrument? Are they a necessary part of the process?

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1 hour ago, Three13 said:

I can't answer that for David, but I much prefer objects that evoke a sense of connection with their maker. Perfection - in the modern/machine-age sense of the word, at least - doesn't leave much room for personality.

Can’t the maker add his/her own flair to the instrument somehow without tool marks? Is that all you have to make an instrument have “personality?”

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1 hour ago, Blank face said:

A maker of Markneukirchen descent once explained to me that many of the instruments and bows from there had such a boring look because their makers thought that tool marks were something bad and extincted them.

I am hoping that people can post photos of tool marks that add personality to instruments, I am serious about this I want to learn about tool marks and how they add to the character of instruments rather than making them look like they were made in error. Wonderful anecdote thank you.

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10 minutes ago, BassClef said:

Can one not make something pretty and also not leave tool marks on the instrument?

Yes, to some extent. But this doesn't necessarily make an object better or more desirable. And someone who is well-versed in whatever process was used will always be able to detect artifacts (tool marks?) of whatever process was used.

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1 hour ago, Three13 said:

I can't answer that for David, but I much prefer objects that evoke a sense of connection with their maker. Perfection - in the modern/machine-age sense of the word, at least - doesn't leave much room for personality.

Yes, personality.

If I may add, if we are trying to compete with machines in making things cleaner and more precise, we will loose the race. IMO a man made object should always show the hands of human work somewhere.

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19 minutes ago, BassClef said:

Can one not make something pretty and also not leave tool marks on the instrument? Are they a necessary part of the process?

 

4 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Yes, to some extent. But this doesn't necessarily make an object better or more desirable. And someone who is well-versed in whatever process was used will always be able to detect artifacts (tool marks?) of whatever process was used.

Agreed

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24 minutes ago, BassClef said:

Does anyone have favorite tool marks by other makers? Which tool marks add personality and which simply come across as mistakes? Photos are appreciated but not necessary, thanks for all of your thoughtful and interesting replies.

Those who do not disturb the lines of the violin, and those who disturb them.

Favorites: Amati toolmarks on the scrolls2100903963_ViolaAmatiStaufferscroll.thumb.jpg.2a0f21dfb6d627be28f4956f9f210020.jpg63128594_ViolaAmatiStaufferscrollcompassmarks.jpg.8a02b7603ca8fd35bc70db065528d2f8.jpg

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22 minutes ago, BassClef said:

Can’t the maker add his/her own flair to the instrument somehow without tool marks? Is that all you have to make an instrument have “personality?”

You need to think of tool marks like ‘ornamentations’. Best example are the vertical cuts on the volute of a scroll. It needs pretty skilled and controlled tool handling skills to make this nicely and evenly all around. And once you have learned that, it’s faster anyway.

 

Edited by Andreas Preuss
Correct auto correct
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2 hours ago, Blank face said:

A maker of Markneukirchen descent once explained to me that many of the instruments and bows from there had such a boring look because their makers thought that tool marks were something bad and extincted them.

I always say the Italians made beautifully flawed instruments and the Germans made perfectly ugly ones. Many exceptions in both directions but as a rule...

 

Some of my favorite marks are Scarampella"s tooth plane marks and Andrea Amati's gouge mark down the center of his corners. Also once saw a 1/2 sized Scarampella which had flat facets from a hatchet on the back and then the whole thing looked dipped in a beautiful ruby red varnish.

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34 minutes ago, BassClef said:

Does anyone have favorite tool marks by other makers? Which tool marks add personality and which simply come across as mistakes? Photos are appreciated but not necessary, thanks for all of your thoughtful and interesting replies.

‘Favorite tool marks’ is probably not the right expression.

There were makers in the past, who learned their craft and made as young masters clean instruments within the demands of their tradition. But we can see, as time passes by, a sort of routine develops and the visual aspect of an instrument becomes the x ray picture of an individual method. We find this most often when makers worked under difficult financial conditions forcing them to work faster and concentrate on the essentials. In those terms the combination of all tool marks tells the story of the making process and are for this reason quite fascinating. Most famous example is of course Guiseppe Bartolomeo Guarneri, but even on late instruments by Antonio Stradivari (and his sons?) you see more toolmarks and more asymmetry. Then there is Giovanni Battista Guadagnini whose work shows a similar development. 
 

In any case the lesson to be learned is that toolmarks which come out as the result of a natural process are nice and for the understanding viewer at times beautiful and fascinating, toolmarks implemented by purpose can be very ugly.

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1 hour ago, BassClef said:

Can’t the maker add his/her own flair to the instrument somehow without tool marks? Is that all you have to make an instrument have “personality?”

Yes you can but a violin, unlike a painting or a sculpture, has to fit ia pretty narrow set of criteria to be useful and accepted by musicians. The small allowable differences between outlines and arches are only really visible to educated eyes while Burgesses rippled backs or my plane marked ribs and heavily corduroyed tops make it easy to identify our work. These kind of marks are different from torn grain or broken out edge crests. a clean tool mark is just that and while it is easy enough to obliterate them the violin is really not better off for it. A strong shape is much more important than a smooth surface. There are areas where one should demonstrate your ability to do clean work such as the neck and the bridge but for the rest of the instrument texture is another aspect of making an interesting instrument.

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I worked for and with a master sheet rock finisher for a while. He could apply and shape the surface with his tools and he was done; no sanding necessary. Those who can not do that have to sand and sand till they make a mountain of dust. The tool marks of the masters as Amati testify to the fact that they could shape the surface of the wood perfectly with their knives and gouges, etc. They had no need to do more than that. Their tool marks are a great testimony to their skill. I guess Guarnari was so skilled that he could use gouges to do the edge work on the plates and then be done, with only a few tool marks left to testify to the process and that he did not have to scrape or somehow finish what his hand could not do. The tool marks of these men testify to their skill. That is why they are beautiful.

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Tool marks are ok when they are "natural". I really don't like the "artificial" ones we see in many instruments today.

I think tool marks are a bit like symmetry....  The maker never wants to make an asymmetric instrument, or leave tool marks, but eventually he does that as a natural result of the method used to make the instrument.

 

And I agree with Davide Sora, tool marks were not so visible when the instrument was new and well covered with the original varnish.

 

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