Day One, Southern California Violin Makers Workshop

I survived my first day at the workshop, but I’m way out of my league! Everyone here seems really great at violin making, and I’m struggling just to keep my tools sharp…

The SCVMW is at Pomona College
The SCVMW is at Pomona College

There are all kinds of people here. There’s the 89-year old Italian who taught school for 50 years. There’s the microbiologist who told me how to make my own yeast (somehow the topic of authentic breads arose). Then there’s the Bass player from the NY Philharmonic who makes his own Basses. That’s audacious! Who makes a bass? I mean a big, upright, acoustic bass? And I met a man who owns a construction business and is just working on his first violin. He said that making a violin would be the ultimate achievement. That’s how I felt when I got started.

My work area
My work area

Our instructor is Michael Darnton. He spent a lot of time photographing old violins, as well as restoring and making. He’s had a lot of Masterpieces pass through his hands, and he knows his stuff.  The first thing he taught me was to plane across the grain when flattening a violin back blank. In my workshop, I don’t plane them. I stick them on the 8″ sanding belt and zip them across that. Planing produces a much nicer, flatter result, and I think I’ll do it that way from now on. Plus, it’s great exercise.

Planing a back plate
Planing a back plate

I also discovered how beautifully my rubbed joint turned out, once I got those violin tops planed flat. I’d been putting my plates in bar clamps and compressing them. You can get a good joint that way, but check this out:

Compression Joint... Well...
Compression Joint… Well…
Rubbed Joint... Nice!
Rubbed Joint… Nice!

Another thing I started to learn was sharpening on the hand-operated sharpening wheel. My stuff is always dreadfully dull. I was attempting to sharpen a knife at the the grinding wheel, and Michael came up and asked, “What’s he doing?”

“I’m sharpening my knife,” I replied.

“You’re doing it wrong,” he told me.

Well, that was a little embarrassing. What sort of violin maker can’t sharpen his own tools? But we discovered my knives are bad. They are glued in to their handles, and a good knife can be pulled out of the handle for sharpening. So I spent some time busting down my knives and making a new handle from a bass bar (guess I won’t be doing bass bar work his week! 😉 )

Making a new knife handle
Making a new knife handle

Michael taught me how to do proper del Gesu corners, and I ended the day with a back rough-cut and the initial channel carved down to 5mm depth around the edge. Today I need to find out what to do about the slight warp that has developed in that plate. Hmmmm…

Today's work
Today’s work

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