It’s my last full day at the workshop, and I worked until late tonight. I managed to get another bass bar clamped, this time on my del Gesu top. For some reason, this one gave me a lot of trouble and wouldn’t sit right with the glue on it even after it seemed like it fit. After about three tries, I finally got it installed.
Before I could glue that bass bar in, I had to graduate the top to the right thickness. After roughing out most of the wood, I used a kind of hand-punch similar to what Stradivari had in his own workshop to establish the graduations. How it works is this: You first screw the punch down to the right depth, then you put the plate under it and press the punch in various places around the violin plate, poking little holes into it. The plate is then planed down until the holes all disappear.
Punching the top plate is easier than the back plate, for two reasons. First, the top is spruce and it punches easily. Second, unlike the back plate, the top is typically a uniform thickness all around, within a small margin to account for random human variation. Some makers take these random thicknesses very seriously and imagine that they are deliberate, trying to reproduce the exact thicknesses to within fractions of a millimeter in the belief that it is critical to a good-sounding instrument.
I follow Michael Darnton’s thinking and agree that the old masters probably did not intentionally do this. They simply didn’t have the precision measuring tools that we have today. In looking at the dimensions of various old violins, where the graduations have been exactly measured, we find a high degree of randomness. There are some general things, such as keeping the plate thicker in the area of the sound post, or the back plate that is generally thicker in the center than at the edges; but within the general guidelines, it is likely that the minute fluctuations we see in plate graduations can be chalked up to sheer chance.
In fact, Michael is convinced that the industrial revolution and the invention of the caliper are directly responsible for a general decline in the art of the violin– by producing copyists that unsuccessfully attempt to reproduce old masterpieces in every possible regard.
I neglected to photograph my progress on the back plate. I’m happy to report that I got it arched and am now refining the scoop and am about ready for the tedious hours of scraping ahead of me. I did, however, get this picture of the tool I spent most of my time with today:
Thumb planes are especially useful for carving arches and graduations.
Sometime tomorrow I’ll post a wrap-up and include more pictures of the work I accomplished this week. I didn’t finish a complete build, of course (not even in the white); but I should be able to finish these instruments pretty easily once I am back home in my own workshop– so long as I can keep up my momentum on them! I’m also working on a commissioned project at the moment, so I’ll post more about that as I get the time.