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Violin Making


From a Presentation by Fred Sandoval (Woodworkers Club of Houston) at the April 2015 meeting.

Fred Sandoval, a long-time member of WWCH, gave a talk to club members about the precision craft of violin making.  He addressed sources of wood, plans, instructional books, tools,  and went into detail on many of the techniques involved in hand-crafting a violin. 

The first item Fred talked about is the wood.  Where do you get it?  Fred named several reputable sources but he said that the best place and most honest place is Orcas Island Tonewoods, situated in Olga, Washington.  The owner, Bruce Harvie (who has a PhD in wood), has wood that has been air dried for many years, is really good and is, although still not cheap, less expensive than other places.  Ideally you want tight rings, not for your fingers, but in the wood itself.

Fred talked about making the F-holes, the opening in the top of the violin, and how it influences the tone of the violin.  Fred said that the details of how the F-hole is made speaks to the maker of the violin and professionals can recognize who made the violin by the uniqueness of the F-holes.

The top of the violin affects the tone as well.  Thinner tops project more sound whereas thicker tops are for more intimate surroundings such as a parlor.

Fred showed numerous molds that he uses to craft the violins and explained how he uses them.  Fred demonstrated a hot iron (vertical and clamped down) that he uses to soften the thin side woods for bending.  Using a damp piece of denim jean fabric and the strip of wood, Fred demonstrated how the iron would create steam from the fabric which helps to soften the wood for bending.

Fred went into some detail with the peg holes and how to properly drill them.  Although Ebony looks good, the best pegs are made of Boxwood. Fred showed the tools he uses to straighten out holes that have loosed over time.

Fred explained how he uses the myriad collection of tools and planes of various sizes, from hand size down to finger.  Precise gauges help Fred determine the progress of thicknesses on the neck as well as the top.

An interesting tool is one that Fred uses to measure the precise length required for the sound post, a small piece of dowel inside the violin spanning the space between the back piece and the top and held in place by friction.  It is referred to as the “soul” of the violin.

A good collection of books was recommended by Fred, for example:

Useful Measurements for Violin Makers by Henry A Strobel

The Art and Method of the Violin Maker by Henry A. Strobel

Violin Making: A Practical Guide by Juliet Barker

Fred talked about where he acquires patterns for his molds and how he uses them.

Animal hide glue is the only glue used for assembly because it can be heated to allow the parts to be disassembled for repair.  Fred will finish with an oil-based finished as was done 400 years ago. 

Fred noted that it takes 75 years for a violin to “settle” down and bear its real sound. With today’s modern medicine maybe Fred will be around to hear some of his work.

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