Introduction: How To: Make a Steel Violin (BODY)
- large sheet of paper (medium weight)
- masking tape
- 28 gauge sheet steel
- steel (or aluminum) pop rivets (1/8" di x 1/4" L), (3mm di x 6mm L)
- 3/16" di (5mm) steel rod
- tin snips
- small round-top anvil
- ball peen hammer
- hole punch for sheet metal
- needle files
- pop riveter
- pliers (standard and needle-nose)
- vice grips (2 or 3 pair would be best)
- center punch
- permanent marker
- straight edge
- measuring tape (cloth)
- micrometer (optional)
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
Once you have all your tools and supplies, Google "violin dimensions" to get the proper measurements for the violin (or viola) you would like to make.
Step 2: Make a Pattern
Make a paper pattern for your main body shape.
I found it easier to fold the paper down the center, draw one side to my liking, then trace the other side for a more perfect match. Cut out your pattern.
Step 3: Transfer Your Pattern
Trace the pattern onto your 28 gauge sheet metal using your marker or your scribe. Taping at least two sides of the pattern to the metal may aid in keeping your tracing consistent the whole way round.
Do this twice, once for the front of the violin body and once for the back.
Use the tin snips to cut out your shapes, then clean up your edges and remove burrs using the needle files.
*Cutting sheet metal with tin snips causes the metal to curl up. The cutting is made easier if you first do a rough cut close to your scribed lines to avoid bending your whole sheet, then come back and trim up to the line (the thinner pieces of metal curling up easily without distorting your panel).
Step 4: Shaping the Body
Use the ball peen hammer over the round-top anvil to dome out both the top and bottom body panels. (photo is of general guidelines - by the end you will have hammered over the entire surface, not just along the lines drawn)
The use of reference photos (if you don't have a violin handy) should guide your shaping process. I recommend watching a few videos on shaping sheet metal with a hammer and anvil before you begin.
Be sure and form a small reverse curve at the edge to add rigidity.
*This step will require patience - work slowly and deliberately. As you hammer away, periodically check your panel against a flat surface (domed side up) to make sure the piece as a whole is not becoming too distorted. You will eventually be adding side structures, so the more your edges are in line with the table top the less trouble you will have fitting everything together. That being said, the cutouts WILL NOT be level with the leading and following edges and will require an extra step which we will get to shortly.
Step 5: Make Side Structures
Measure along the outside edges (excluding cutouts).
*If you're nervous about precision, cut your pieces a little long and trim them down once you have mounted them to the body.
Cut out strips to length with a width according to the dimensions you've chosen (add 1/2", 14mm for mounting tabs) i.e. 1 1/8" + 1/2" (30mm + 14mm). Scribe one line 1/4" (7mm) from the upper and lower edge for cut outs and another line 3/16" (5mm) from each side for the placement of your rivet holes.
*Using your micrometer to scratch the lines on your side strip makes for easy and consistent measurement.
Map out the mounting holes 1/2" (14mm) apart with your permanent marker along the line you scribed previously, then center punch and punch out (using the 1/8", 3mm die). Punch out small cutouts in between each pair of mounting holes (up to the line scribed for the cut outs using the 1/4", 7mm die - trim with tin snips) to allow the strip to maintain a curve once the tabs have been bent for mounting.
Bend the strips to match the shape of your pattern and bend each of the tabs OUTWARD 90 degrees, all the while preserving the proper curve.
Repeat the process with the other strip, matching the curve of the other side of the violin.
Step 6: Mounting Side Panels
When your side panels match your pattern and all the mounting tabs are bent outward, clamp each strip to the corresponding side of the BOTTOM body panel.
Use your permanent marker to mark a point on the body panel for each mounting hole on the side strip. Remove your clamps, center punch each mark you've made on the body, then punch out each individual hole. Re-clamp the sides to the body and begin adding your pop rivets.
*When riveting the sides to the body I would begin with a rivet at each end, then one in the center. Then add one in between the two rivets on one side and the same on the other. Split the difference between rivets until all the holes are filled. This will help to prevent distortion.
Step 7: Making Patterns for Cutouts
Clamp the top plate on to your bottom structure, then take a small piece of paper and trim to fit along the curve of your cutout. Trace onto another piece of paper and add 1/4" on either side for mounting to the body and two tabs on the ends to attach to the front and back side panels.
Trace the shapes on to a piece of sheet metal with your scribe or marker.
Step 8: Mounting Cutout Panels
Once you have your cutouts prepared, map out your mounting holes as before (see step 5). Bend the pieces to correspond to the curves, then bend each tab INWARD, maintaining your curve.
Bend the end tabs to match the angle of the adjacent side panels.
When you are happy with the fit, mark - center punch and punch out matching holes on the body and side panels
Rivet the panel to the lower structure (*using the same method mentioned in step 6).
Step 9: The Base Bar
For this step, the measurements from step one are very important.
The base bar helps to transfer the vibrations of the strings across the length of the body, so it must be placed directly under the (left foot - facing the front, smaller side up) foot of the bridge.
Once you've measured for the placement of your bridge, trim a piece of paper to match the inside curvature of the topside body panel parallel with the long centerline of the body in line with the foot of the bridge. Trace your pattern onto sheet metal with your scribe or marker.
Next - cut out a strip of sheet metal 1" - 1 1/2" (25 - 40mm) wide and prepare ONE side with mounting tabs using the same method as before and the other side, punch out a series of holes 3/4" (20mm) apart for mounting to the body. Bend the tabs at a 90 degree angle, then bend the whole strip to match the curve of the piece you prepared previously. Mark the mounting points both on the body and the curved piece - center punch, punch out and rivet.
*Add rigidity by bending the protruding edge of the base bar all the way across (no further than a 45 degree angle - see photo).
Step 10: F-Holes
Make a pattern for and trace your f-holes on the topside panel.
*Note the measurements you made before for your bridge placement as the center of the "f" on each side should line up with the bridge.
Roughly punch out the pattern with your sheet metal punch, then clean up the shape with needle files.
Step 11: Mount the Top
Clamp the topside body panel (with base bar attached and f-hole cut out) to the bottom structure. Mark each mounting hole with your marker.
Remove the clamps and center-punch and punch out each hole.
Re-clamp the panel to the body and begin the riveting process, starting with the corners and the ends and splitting the difference between rivets to avoid distortion.
Step 12: Sound Post
Whereas the base bar is mounted under one foot of the bridge, the sound post will be placed under the other.
The sound post helps to sync up the vibrations of the strings on the front panel to the rear, giving the violin a fuller sound.
Measure the thickness of the violin body at the point where the foot of the bridge will sit. Cut your 3/16" steel rod to the measured length.
Using you needle nose pliers, insert the sound post in through the f-hole and wedge it in (friction will keep the post in place).
*If you do not get enough friction, or the fit is too tight, you may need to cut a new post or trim down your original.
Step 13: Final Notes
Though I did attempt and, to a degree, succeed at making the rest of the violin out of metal - I was not entirely satisfied with the process nor the final outcome. Until I refine my process, I recommend you order the remaining pieces (neck, tuning pins, finger board, saddle, etc.) in their traditional form. I have ordered and been satisfied with product from StewMac:
If you are lucky enough to have a local violin shop, show your support for the small business and visit them first :)
I feel you will have the greatest opportunity for a functional violin if you use parts available - though if you are determined to make the whole thing of metal, I will not discourage you from taking on the challenge.
Thank you for your interest and I wish you success in your efforts.