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This is my first entry in the start of my violin-making hobby. I first became interested in violin-making when I was studying music at the University of Texas almost 20 years ago. I even bought the (then) fairly recently published, The Art of Violin Making by Chris Johnson and Roy Courtnall along with a few others: Antonio Stradivari by W. Henry Hill; Violin Making as it was and is by Ed Heron-Allen; and Acoustical Systems of Violins by Isaak Vigdorchik. Being a broke college student at the time, the books sat in storage, collecting dust after I had read skimmed through them. 

 

Here I am now, still feeling the itch to learn the craft, but with the means to make it happen. By day, I'm a legal aid attorney (i.e. not the rich kind). I live in Lubbock, Texas with a wife and a toddler. . . and a mortgage. My days of serious violin-playing are long behind me but I do take out the 'ole fiddle every now and then. Before COVID, I even played with a community orchestra in town that put on two concerts per year. My instrument was made in Austin, TX by William Townsend in 2002. My parents bought it for me as a college graduation present. Eventually, my goal is to play on one that I've made with my own hands. 

 

Beyond the basic woodworking instruction I received in my high school shop class, I'm starting from scratch with no in-person guidance. I understand it will be a long and slow journey before I can make anything that looks and sounds decent but it's all about the journey for me. I'm starting this post in part to motivate myself to keep it up.

 

Right now, I'm still setting up my workspace and collecting basic supplies. I plan to dedicate a part of my garage to this endeavor. Next to that space there's a small recess where I plan to put in a small workbench with a vice or two. I don't have much else yet. In the pictures you can see a scrap piece of granite that I picked up at a local store which will serve as my surface plate. I don't think it's perfectly flat, but I think it's good enough. Apart from that, Santa brought me a few tools for Christmas. A few more items and soon I'll be ready to rock. I think 2022 will be the year. Check back later for updates!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Continuing to build up my toolkit while I study my making manuals.
 

Went to my local used-tools store and picked up an 8” hand file, crossing file, old-timey little hammer, and a 6” coping saw, all for the price of a Chipotle burrito!
 

I would’ve picked up a rip hand saw and cross cut saw if I knew how to evaluate them. They were all rusty and I can’t tell if they can be tuned up to good working order. I might just buy a new gyokucho saw instead. 
 

Going with the Paul Sellers sharpening system using 3 diamond stones (extra coarse, fine, extra fine) lubricated with auto glass cleaner. No grinding wheel in my near future I’m afraid. These I got new. 

 

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I like the Japanese ryoba saws. Rip and crosscut. Replaceable blades. Sometimes you can find them on sale. I have a giant one I use for resawing billets and slabs. It's been 20 years or so since I started. I remember having a list. I got a set of cheap Chinese finger planes. They needed a lot of work, and I changed the blades to laminated Japanese blades. I don't even know if you can find them now. Same with my go to rougher, the Lei Neilson concave plane. I'd make one if I couldn't get that. They aren't hard to make. Andreas Preuss showed a trio of Chinese scrub planes that he uses: somewhere, I don't remember, but it was recently.

I've just never been a fan of gouges. Planes don't move the bench around as much! I have half and half old chisles, and laminated chisels. Old ones are cheaper, and the steel is usually good. They may need handles. Some people love gouges, and have entire sets of them.

Old junk planes are a good source of scrapers, or blades to use for other planes.

The only real specialty tools are the peg reamer, and something to bend ribs on. Different sizes of drill bits.

It is a lot of fun. 

Probably the most useful thing that I had in the beginning was a workmate bench. Really. It is big enough, and clamping is needed. It is small. It can fold up! I use mine now to set my shop air circulator/filter on. But at the beginning, hundreds of dollars on a beach was out of the question. 

 

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2 hours ago, David Rosales said:

Going with the Paul Sellers sharpening system using 3 diamond stones (extra coarse, fine, extra fine) lubricated with auto glass cleaner. No grinding wheel in my near future I’m afraid. These I got new. 

I recently switched from water stones to diamond stones... particularly for the curved tools that rip up water stones. The diamond stones take quite a bit to break in. At the start my 300 grit was acting more like 80 grit, 600 grit acted like 200 grit, 1200 grit more like 600 grit. I would take some time working on kitchen knives or something to wear them in before using them on expensive tool blades. Plus I would recommend making a strop to finish like Paul Sellers too. Just my experience.

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@Ken_N This is all good info. I've made a list too! B) I'm slowly working through it, prioritizing what I need for the first steps. My next purchase is a cheap workbench with a vise and dogs. I was planning to get the 48" Olympia workbench (currently about $160) and just bolt it to the wall for stability but I may think about the workmate now. Thanks for putting it on my radar. 

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@Mike Atkins I recently found out I have to break in the diamond stones so I've been doing exactly what you suggested, sharpening an old kitchen knife for the past few days. The strop is on my shopping list. I'm thinking a nice piece of horse butt leather with the green compound will do. I also plan to set everything onto a piece of plywood for a sharpening station as a less fancy version of what you might see the guys on Youtube doing.

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Hey!  I just picked up my first coping saw too!

But not for violins...I finally had enough of the old, broken plastic trim on the patio doors.  Coping saw worked well.  Trim still looks like sh*t, but not nearly as eye-catchingly sh*tty as before. ^_^

Perfect project to practice my sawing skills!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Making the Template

So I thought about just buying a pre-made mold to get started but the only ones I could find were 3/4" (20 mm) thick and I wanted one no more than 1/2" thick. So I was set on making a mold. Then, I thought about buying a premade template. I was looking at the Herdim template sets. But, I thought since I was making the mold I might as well make the template too and I set off to try to make one from Addie's drawing of the Stradivarius G mold.

I had it printed and laminated at Office Max on legal sized paper instead of the original A3. It was just large enough. I cut it out and I was even able to use a file to smooth out the edges. That worked well enough except on the corners where the lamination began to peel. A dab of super glue would probably fix it. Honestly, the laminated version would probably work just fine to make the mold but I wanted to make a metal one from it to have something that would be more durable and reusable.

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I picked up a sheet of .024 inch thick aluminum at Home Depot. What a pain to work with! I used Brian Derber's method of using machinist's fluid sharpie marker to trace out the rough outline before tracing out the actual outline with a carbide-tipped scribe. The scroll outline came from the Johnson and Courtnall book. I just traced it on a sheet of paper and then scribed it on the aluminum sheet. I punched out the holes in the scroll with a nail. That might have been a mistake because it made the scroll outline a bit concave. 

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Then came the painful part, literally and figuratively: cutting the thing out. I bought a set of left-straight-right tin snips and thought that would do the job well. I bought a cheap set and maybe that was the mistake, but they were not easy to work with and I couldn't really cut out the C-bout area or around the corners at all. For those areas, I used a utility knife and made several passes before snapping or rolling the pieces off with a pair of pliers. I left more material next to the line than I wanted to which I tried to file off with a mill file. It was so slow to remove material and the file quickly clogged up so I had to stop. I'll be getting a file brush and attempting to finish out the template next time. 

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Nice progress!  I’ve made templates from a variety of materials including aluminum as you are using. Now I use 1/16” modeling plywood. So much easier to work with and you can use your good wood files on it. If you continue making (I think you will), you can be sure to make many more templates. 

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5 hours ago, Jim Bress said:

Nice progress!  I’ve made templates from a variety of materials including aluminum as you are using. Now I use 1/16” modeling plywood. So much easier to work with and you can use your good wood files on it. If you continue making (I think you will), you can be sure to make many more templates. 

Thank you! I may end up making one out of plywood to see what I like better. Unfortunately it looks like I’ll have to order it online or make it a little thicker. There’s a Hobby Town nearby but the thinnest they carry is 1/8”. 

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Update to the template:

 

I received the file brush today so I put it to use and cleaned my files. Its seemed to make a big difference in the performance of the file. I finished out the outline using a half-round crossing file exclusively. I think it worked quite well. Then, I finished it off by removing the sharpie marker with some tequila I had in the pantry! I decided to save finishing off the scroll template until I'm ready to actually start carving out the scroll much much later down the road.

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Making the Mold

Having finished the template, I moved on to making the mold. First, I cut out a blank from a sheet of 1/2" birch sanded plywood that I found at Home Depot. I tried using a coping saw but I couldn't cut a straight line to save my life. I brought out the Black & Decker jig saw and soon realized that the only blade I had was completely worn down and wouldn't even cut butter. That's when I made a trip to my local Harbor Freight tools store and got a japanese style hand saw. I intended to buy a saw from a better known brand but this one was available and had good reviews. It did the job. 

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Next, I clamped down the template onto the blank and drilled the pin holes and block holes through the template and mold. Brian Derber recommends using a drill press for this which I don't own so I just used my cordless drill and eye-balled it. I later realized I made some mistakes on the template and the pin holes such that my centerline wasn't lining up when I flipped the template over. I fixed it. Somewhat. It's a learning experience!

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Anyway, I finally traced out the full pattern onto the plywood blank and finished drilling the block holes. I then drew the cut-outs for the blocks and the center clamping hole. I ended up with the following measurements:

Length: 350 mm

Upper Bout: 160 mm

C-Bout: 103 mm

Lower Bout: 202 mm

Close to the original (347-161-103-201). Not sure where the extra 3 mm on the length came from though.

 

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Next time, I'll need to cut out the mold and finish the edges before sealing it with shellac or something. I'll need to practice with the coping saw to get clean lines or figure out another way to cut it out. A band saw or bow saw are ideal, but I don't have access to either. Maybe a compass saw as an alternative? We'll see. 

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1 hour ago, David Rosales said:

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Anyway, I finally traced out the full pattern onto the plywood blank and finished drilling the block holes. I then drew the cut-outs for the blocks and the center clamping hole. I ended up with the following measurements:

Length: 350 mm

Upper Bout: 160 mm

C-Bout: 103 mm

Lower Bout: 202 mm

Close to the original (347-161-103-201). Not sure where the extra 3 mm on the length came from though.

The original G form is 350.4 mm long when measured on the center line by reconstructing the curves of the blocks.

The 347 mm measurement is the one indicated by Pollens in his book, and is taken on the corners of the block recesses (left side, to be precise) because it is an accurate measurement that can be taken with a caliper, while the one on the center line is only theoretical because you have to add the curve of the blocks, which does not physically exist in the form.

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You should get a table top band saw and drill press.  They are not very expensive and are very useful.   It can all be done with hand tools of course but I do use the drill press for the peg holes and band saw to rough out the plate outline.  

 

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@Davide Sora That's very good to know! I had read a few older posts on the topic herehere and here, but that point wasn't clear to me after reading them. 

 

@MikeC I might do so in the future. I don't have a ton of space for workshop machines and, to be honest, I don't like the risk involved in using them, even if it's a small risk. For, now I'm going to try to get as far along as I can using hand tools only...and a power drill. I like the romanticism of the hand tool approach. I don't do this for a living so I have the luxury to have that mindset. 

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In that case you can use a coping saw or jigsaw to cut the outlines of the plates.  don't get too close to the lines, finish with rasp and files.   I have a Gramercy bowsaw but it's not that good for the purpose, the blades are too thin and the handle pins are not tapered.  I plan on building a better one.   How are you going to drill the peg holes?  It can be done with a hand drill but you have to be careful to keep the hole lined up properly.  Drill half way from each side so they meet in the middle. 

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18 minutes ago, MikeC said:

In that case you can use a coping saw or jigsaw to cut the outlines of the plates.  don't get too close to the lines, finish with rasp and files.   I have a Gramercy bowsaw but it's not that good for the purpose, the blades are too thin and the handle pins are not tapered.  I plan on building a better one.   How are you going to drill the peg holes?  It can be done with a hand drill but you have to be careful to keep the hole lined up properly.  Drill half way from each side so they meet in the middle. 

Oh that's interesting you mentioned the Gramercy because I had thought about buying that one later on just for that purpose. I'd be interested to see your bowsaw when you finish it. I think I'm just going to practice making accurate cuts with the coping saw for now. As for the peg holes, I'm a looooong way from having to tackle that problem, but I was thinking that a drill guide like the Milescraft 1318 DrillMate Portable Drill Guide might work for that and any other time I need to drill a hole. 

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1 hour ago, David Rosales said:

I don't have a ton of space for workshop machines and, to be honest, I don't like the risk involved in using them, even if it's a small risk. For, now I'm going to try to get as far along as I can using hand tools only...and a power drill. I like the romanticism of the hand tool approach. I don't do this for a living so I have the luxury to have that mindset. 

A drill press can also be manual, no electric power:P

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Here's a picture of my Gramercy bowsaw.  I used it. It works.  Just not what I would call ideal.  The brass pins in the handle are cylindrical rather than tapered so they tend so turn when you don't want them too.  and the blade is long and thin so you just have to be careful of it binding in the cut.  

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