Friday, December 17, 2010

A Milestone

Today I finished my purfling. This is the time in many makers' opinions that signifies something. From here on things go a little quicker, I am told. Brian asked me if I was going to celebrate. Yes! Jam tonight at the arts center. That's really all I have to say. See you soon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Good times

Okay all you excited onlookers! I am now working on purfling my beautiful and unique violin. All I have to say is SHIM! This is when, because of cutting the channel for the purfling too wide, you have to fill it with wood shavings, otherwise there will be gaps between the instrument and purfling. I have also been creating the wonderful bee stings. And it is said Strad took the easy way out and created his bee stings with black soot, not messing with actually cutting the purfling that way.

Friday is our final, which will consist of a written test over the Stradivari book we have been reading written by the Hill brothers. Next semester we will read about Guarneri.

Man I am excited to come home for Christmas. I feel like I need to make a list of all the people I need to see and things to do...Shelby is flying here this weekend and we will fly back to KC Wednesday. Shopping this weekend! Gifts, gifts, gifts, luckily if it all works out, I will be making most of mine. Something that made me happy today was getting up extra early and working on my Christmas cards. It has been lots of fun making them. Let's see what else has been going on.....not much. Happy Holidays Everyone. And now I'm off to work on gifts at the art center!

Friday, December 3, 2010

You know Brian was telling one of the students about when he was little. These are the stories I wish I had when I was little; maybe I just don't realize them yet....Anyways, he was saying he could remember when he was five years old he built a wooden ash tray. He said it felt like he spent hours on it. He would go in the basement to work on it and it took a couple days. He ended up giving it to his dad as a gift. He said from then on he knew he was going to be a wood worker....can kids really come to that realization??? That's amazing to me. I would like to find my niche.

Today I continued practicing purfling. Still working on those curves. I didn't want to show Brian my first try, but he told me, believe it or not, he has seen much worse. Haha that was a little uplifting I guess.

House sitting is soon coming to an end. It was nice.....oh I think I should get snow tires.


Thursday, December 2, 2010


I am jamming out to Crooked Still at the moment....well not really jamming, more like intently listening. I spent about an hour listening to a couple of their songs today and singing along; it was great....Ok well house sitting is going well. The other night I watched Julie and Julia, about the two cooks. And one of the girls blogged about her cooking. Her blog took off so much that she was getting calls to be on T.V., to write a book, to make a movie. It was based on a true story too. I just thought it was cool how her blog became really really poplar and started her off on a career. You never know, you know?

Today I began practicing purfling. We use three different tools for this. A purfling marker, pick, and a knife grounded specifically for this process. There are always stories Brian tells us about when he was in school at Chicago, like when it was time for him to start his purfling he just did it with a regular knife. No one told him you made a new knife for purfling, which doesn't seem like a big deal, but let's see you try it. Ya but he said all the students came over to him and were asking what he was doing. He wasn't told a lot of things when he was going to school that he fills us in about. It sounds like we have it easy compared to "back in the day".

Ok so Monday I brought my violin in to school to glue the upper seem together and Brian told me all the things that could/should be done to my violin. And guess what Allen you were right. I need a new bridge. It wasn't that I didn't believe you....I guess I am a little finicky about working on it. I guess I will have to wait a while longer to do it myself. I also continued finishing my outline on the violin I am building.
Tuesday I worked on making a handle for my purfling knife and grinded some on my purfling marker.
Wednesday, I finished grinding and honing the blades for the marker and learned how to install them properly. I also finished my handle, which I was informed took too long. I take too long often. Haha....
Today, I started practicing purfling on scrap wood. Doing straight lines wasn't too bad. The curves are another story. You want the channel about 1.7mm deep. The second try I got my channel as deep as 4mm or close to that. I was told I had made the grand canyon literally :P  whupps.....

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

BEWARE Very Personal Post

"Things turn out best for those who make the most of the way things turn out." ~ Jack Buck

I feel this is just a short chapter of my life and I am wondering how long it will last. School is fine. I have been better. I would love to write that everything is wonderful, that I am having a blast, but this experience is kinda hard for me. And why you ask.....I am not at a highlight of my life. I am not happy. I am discontent, self searching. This is the truth and maybe I should not be writing this for everyone to see, but everyone I have talked to thinks what I am doing is great...How come I don't see that? It is unique I agree. I have never been lonelier and so discontent though. I keep waiting for things to get better, don't want to jump in or out of things too quickly. I have met some great people up here. I would think I could find some solitude living up here, but so far this is not the case. I know there is also another quote out there that says something like don't wait for the world to change, be the change you want to see in the world. So something needs to change, and I need to be the one to take action. I am lost though....what do I want I ask myself?? Will things get better if I keep with what I am doing?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Be Well

Boy do I feel better after ordering more tools. I feel like I'm keeping up, which could normally be a bad thing. One thing my roommate mentioned after making a hefty purchase on scroll gouges is after spending that much money, you feel like you can't quit building, you are stuck. I feel that too sometimes.....but wow what a week! It went by so fast. Yesterday I spent all day scraping. Can you imagine...7 hours of scraping. That is how a lot of the process is right now. Somewhat slow and precarious. The other students are all a little ahead of me, but I keep plowing along. Which reminds me....snow is in the forcast and my wardrobe isn't quite cut out for -40 weather, but I guess I can't do much else than take it as it comes.

We did some technical drawing today of our violins which went better than the first time, but I still got aggravated because I can't see what the drawing needs to look like. It seems like the teacher is sooo picky, but that's not really it. He has a good eye.

I have found a band I am getting interested in Crooked Still out of Boston, Massachusetts. There's some good and haunting music for ya.....anyways getting late/early. Be well.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Today at school

Today at school I finished my edge thicknessing. I used a fingerplane, uneven divider, and channel gouge to slowly bring the edge to 4.2 on the maple and 4.4 on the spruce. That gives me .2mm to file on each. Which I will be doing tomorrow, so yes that is all I have been doing for two days now. One thing I have to constanly keep in mind is grain direction. It the grain and tool don't agree, one thing that may happen is tear out. Instead of taking out nice slivers of wood, you end up taking chunks.....not ideal.

In one of the earlier steps of sawing out the rough shape of the violin, which we established with the rib assembly, we used a bow or frame saw...another handy hand tool. I really liked this saw. It had twine that you would twist to put tension on the blade which you need to use it, and the blade could also move for cutting curves and C bouts. There are still techniques on using it that we were showed, but it was definitely less terrifying than a machine. I felt very in control. It is something I could see myself having in the future.

I also asked my teacher about why he has stuck with using hand tools for so long and what he thought about tuning the plates. He says the note the plates ring at is not as important as FLEXIBILITY, but I can see how they might go hand in hand. And for the reason he does not use machines.....he is a purist and has been there, done that. I admire that he only uses hand tools, but I'm not sure what road I will be taking, but then again I have just started and don't have much choice right now anyway. We are becoming good with hand tools and using our eye which will inevitably help us be better machinists if that's the route we take.

I thought I would have more free time not working anymore...nope I am excellent at filling that up. Haha and now my roommate wants his computer back so so long everyone!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A little preview

My  mom came to visit me this weekend and it was great. We met some very cool people who are going to "adopt" me and tell me places to go and people to meet and be there if I need anything. I have lots of support and I think it's great!

Monday after school, our class made a trip to go see Carl Becker, a prominent builder here in America. He is 91 years old and still building! He of course does some things different in the process of building. And he doesn't use a bending strap to bend his ribs. He uses lead! It was nice to have met him, but I think the only thing I regret is not playing one of his intruments or his dads. That was the only thing missing during the visit, yes he had great craftmanship, but I still don't know about the sound. Some people from the Strad magazine interviewed him recently and might be coming out with an article soon. Brian pulled out some of his old Strad magazines, and it seems they write an article about him about every decade....  tonight the guys and I are going out for chinese! :)

This weekend is a bluegrass show going on at the Cozy Cove which hasn't been open since I've been up here, so we will see how jumpin' that is.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A short account

Oh boy so much has happened since the last time I wrote......where to start. Ok well Friday I finished making a handle for my 12mm violin makers knife. It looks pretty good and was quite fun to make. I am now working on putting my lining in. I guess I left off talking about flattening my plates, well since then they have been glued (making a solid back and top) and I started planing them again to reachieve flatness. I have chiseled my blocks, bent lining and ribs, and glued them to the form. I have grounded my block gouge, and one of my knives. An interesting tool we used for test clamping our ribs is called "zulogin". They are blocks of wood with little steps on the sides for the ribs to rest on. They look like the bottom half of a pyramid and are pretty handy. Oh and in the process of bending one of my C bouts, I did break it. But hey it's all good and my violin and I recovered nicely.

Work at the Blue Bayou is about to end. I might actually miss it some. It is a nice place to work. Last night I went to a show at the Ironwood theatre and watched a gypsy jazz band, Clearwater Hot Club and guest artist Tim Klipheus, from Finland, perform. It was a great show. I had fun, quite enjoyable. Well it seems my posts are getting shorter and shorter, maybe I should stop writing them at 10 o'clock at night.....sleepy time, goodbye everyone.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A year in progress

     Well for anybody who is wondering I am not exactly getting the "college" experience. There are six people at the school, and I am living with two of them and really there is not much to do around here. I guess that's good so I can concentrate on making violins! I am working two jobs at a couple different restaurants now. One will end at the end of October and the other is just for weekends. I also know I could make a lot of money staying here over the summer, but would rather come back visit friends and family and take some college courses. I don't know, we will see. Ok so I have some catching up to do as far as school, for all you curious people out there.... Well on Tuesday Brian talked about hide glue which is made out of animal skins and is hydroscopic. He keeps his glue in a sauce pan that he drilled holes in to fit baby food containers which hold the glue. Nifty idea if you ask me. He also gave us some instruction on how to make the glue. You can buy the powder in different strengths. So after all my blocks were cut I glued them onto the form I am using. We are told to then wait 8-10 hours before working on them. While those were drying I began the awesome (some sarcasm) process of planing my maple and spruce. Talk about labor, pain, frustration. I have the blisters to prove it! It took me all day Thursday to plane the maple and tomorrow I will finish planing the spruce. That block plane and I haven't been the best of friends...we used what Brian referred to as chopsticks to lay the form on to glue the blocks. The dimensions of these depend on the form and the ones we use are 9mm by 11mm, the 11 side being used for violas. Ta ta for now!

Friday, September 3, 2010

New stuff to learn everyday

Ok so here I begin after finishing the lining of the violin, we work on the ribs. For the lining we used willow and for the ribs curly maple. Our teacher gave us our first rib to work on even though we each bought our own. The first thing you usually do on the ribs is use your tooth blade to get rid of machine marks from the company you got the wood from, however, international violin company sends out ribs that are already very close to thickness, so thankfully I didn't have to spend forever planing them down like I did the first rib. So after planing, one should see tooth marks evenly across the wood then one takes a sharpened and burnished scraper, which you have to do on your own, and scrapes the rib to get rid of all tooth marks. Once that is done you flip to the other side and tooth plane to 1.5mm, then scrape to 1.3mm, then 1.2mm. The next step is then cutting the ribs to length. Once that is done we do something called bookmatching which is just matching the flame of the ribs with the wood for the back of the violin. After the ribs are ready to go we work on the blocks.

Our teacher provided our first form which is based off a guy named Lee who he worked with and studied at the Mittenwald school. It is based on an Italian style. We had a bit of a history lesson. Brian said many thought a man named Gasparo defined the violin, but he was born after Amati. However this Gasparo guy did begin the Brescian school of violin making (my spelling of the names might be wrong here). It was Nicola Amati however that started the Cremonese school of violin making. Also Amati is credited with making the violin in parts. They used to just carve the ribs and backs together out of a log like you would imagine them doing for a boat. Just making a log hallow in the center, but it was Amati's idea to do the ribs, back, and top separate and then join them. He also started using a mold or form which lute makers had been using already that's how we got the idea today. Very early on Italian, English, and Dutch makers made instruments without forms so you can imagine their instruments being very asymmetrical. You also don't have to use an inside form, some makers use an outside form instead (like the French).

So we were given our forms which are solid inside forms made of plywood. There are also collapsible inside forms that make it easier to get out. We will eventually have to make our own. The next step is cutting out our blocks. The wood needs to be strong, lightweight, and easy to carve of course which may include spruce, willow, poplar, basswood, beach, walnut, and butternut. Amati used spruce and Strad used willow. We are using spruce. One thing to avoid in wood is twist. An average tree has twist but too much is very difficult to work with. The growth rings of these blocks have to be a certain way also. Then begins the famous procedure of flat, smooth, square. This is done to two of the sides and both ends of each block. The end blocks are a little different.

I did ask Brian the question of how to build a violin with a darker sound, and he told me three different ways: 1) to use willow or poplar for the backs which is usually used on violas or cellos 2) to select spruce that the growth rings are more spread out 3) create less arching but with that comes thicker plates which adds brightness. One thing that really made my day Tuesday was when I finally got done scraping my rib and showed it to him Brian said it was the most even and consistent meaning it was the best one he saw from all three of us new students. Boy was I proud!

On Wednesday I worked on one block all day getting each side flat, smooth, and square. I also met my violin teacher. Her name is Jennifer Anderson. I haven't heard her play yet, but she has a lot of experience under her belt.
Thursday on finished 4 out of the 6 blocks and after splitting my top block while trying to cut it out was successful on my second try. To cut them out we just use a sharpened butter knife and mallet. It usually splits the wood nicely but on my fist try with my top block it split the block right in the middle. Brian wasn't too

Something interesting Brian mentioned was arithmic(i think), giometric, and harmonic ratios. Something early makers tried to incorporate into instrument building. I have yet to look them up but find it interesting. So this is our four day weekend because of Labor Day....I was thinking what is Labor Day...what are we celebrating exactly? Anyways I have a chance to stomp grapes tomorrow (which is on my list of things to do before i kick the bucket) and will work again Sunday at the Blue Bayou. My feet kill me working there, but I'm too cheap to get a better pair of So I am pretty tired of writing now and it is getting late. My roommate and I are suppose to be practicing right about now for some shows we have lined up. I thought he would come looking for me by now especially since I am writing this on his computer...ha...guess not. Talk to you all soon. Oh and one more thing before this computer dies on me...Brian said most of his students go into repair after school. I know there is more of a job market there, but I don't necassarily want to be stuck in repairs. I think I am going to want to make.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


So here I begin my very first blog and two days ago I began my journey into becoming a luthier. I am going to school now at the New World School of Violin-making. I wanted to start writing a blog because I thought it would be fun, help keep my sanity in the long winter months here in Wisconsin and of course so friends and family could keep up with what I am doing.
Day 1 and 2 at school went well. We had discussions on softwoods and hardwoods (which I am still in the process of committing to memory) and scientifically what the differences are which are that softwoods have and keep their needles and have cones and hardwoods are from decidous trees. Also there's this idea that hardwoods have a taproot and soft woods do not.

Something also interesting we learned about is something called bear claw figure found in spruce which is created when the tree tries to shoot out branches but is unsuccessful. Some say this wood has good acoustical properties and makes the wood stiffer. Also something I didn't realize is violas, cellos, and basses aren't necessarily made out of spruce and curly maple. They may be made out of poplar or willow instead of the maple.

We also discussed slab and quarter cut and how slab is more efficient. In the olden golden days they used slab, but we are using quarter cut wood to build our violins. It was said that curly maple is rare and how broad leaf maple is becoming good for making.

Oh, and I had no idea how many ways there are to sharpen a darn tool! There is hallow grind, flat bevel, round bevel, and micro bevel which is based on old traditions but becoming more popular. Then we familiarized ourselves with our block planes. The blade of this plane can either be found as O1 or A2. O1 being oil hardened, easier to sharpen, and traditionally used and the A2 being air hardened, a tougher steel making it harder to sharpen but making it less likely to get dull. Well after sharpening our blades we got started on planing down a piece of willow going to be used as the lining inside the violin. Once the willow was down to the right thickness all across we started a process called shooting and cut the willow into strips that would then be used as the lining. We were then told to cut the strips into 12, 14, and 18 cm strips. We only needed four of each. I ended up cutting all mine up.....whupps :) but that's okay. I will use it eventually. I had some problems with the lining marker which is what we used to cut the strips. We were told that sometimes the marker will move on you when it doesn't agree with the wood. I experienced that first hand and some of my lining is cut up a little.

That's about the extent of what I have been doing at school for the past two days. Tomorrow I will sharpen my card scraper :) all fun stuff.

And now a little about what's going on with me...... I am now employed at the Blue Bayou my first restaurant gig....unfortunately I don't play fiddle often but bus tables and am in charge of getting people their salads and pushing around the salad cart. One thing I don't like to do is fill out W-4 forms, kind of a pain because I don't really understand them. Ah just another part of life's lessons. I went to a music festival over the weekend which was refreshing. The Porcupine Mountain Festival in Michigan. It was right by lake superior and what a sight! It took place on a skii hill actually in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness state park.
For all those wondering, I am living in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin which is northern Wisconsin not more than ten miles from the Michigan border. The town is very small but right across the road is a park(also very small) and lake. Time to sign off for the night. Good-days everyone! Comments are always appreciated.