Introduction: How to Make a Violin
Following is a basic outline of the construction of a violin in the manner of the old masters.
Step 1: Obtain Aged Wood
Maple wood is typically used for the violin's back, ribs, and neck.
Spruce wood is used for the top or belly of the violin. Spruce is preferable for the top of the violin because it's a softer wood, so it vibrates more easily.
Wood should be aged by at least five years, but the greater the better. 20 years of aging is the most preferable, but that wood is more expensive.
Step 2: Some Tools Used
Shown below are a regular plane, and several sizes of finger planes. A plane is a shaping tool used for removing wood from a larger piece.
Step 3: Select a Mold
Favorite molds include the Stradivari, the Guarneri, and the Amati.
In this picture, the mold is a Guarneri, and surrounded by maple ribs that have already been glued to the corner and end blocks in place around the mold.
This finished stage is called the rib assembly.
The upper portion of the violin (Top Guarneri in photo) is called the upper bout. The lower part of the violin (top in photo) is called the lower bout. The middle portion with two "C" shapes is called the C bouts. On the finished violin, the C bouts are called the waist of the violin.
Step 4: Glue Linings to Ribs
Thin strips of wood called linings are glued along the upper parts of each rib on one side of the rib assembly only. The linings provide extra gluing surface for the plates later on, and provide support for the ribs.
Be careful not to put linings on both sides. The other side of the rib assembly is where the mold is later removed.
Step 5: Joined Plates Ready for Gouging
Shown above are two joined plates that will later be the bottom and top of the violin. They are now ready for the violin shape to be cut out.
Step 6: Gouge the Plates to Form a Rough Arch
The first image shows the gouging of a plate. The second image shows a finished maple arch.
Step 7: Smooth Surfaces With a Scraper to Desired Plate Thickness
Once the planing is complete, a metal scraper is used to smooth the surface even further and bring it down to a correct thickness. Sandpaper is never used for this because, while a scraper cuts the wood, sandpaper only makes it flat.
The second picture shows an example of the thickness of the belly and the back of a Guarneri violin.
(Image from Strad Magazine Vol 122 No. 1455 poster July 2011 )
The third picture shows the measuring of the thickness of a maple plate with a caliper.
Step 8: Glue Base Bar to Inside of Spruce Top Plate for Shaping
Notice the sound holes or "f holes" previously cut into the spruce plate. The base bar is used to dampen the vibrations of the lower strings of the violin, so as to not overwhelm the vibrations of the higher pitched strings.
Step 9: Glue the Finished Plates to the Rib Assembly
Once the pieces are glued together, cut a channel all along the border of both plates and inlay the purfling.
The purfling is a thin sandwich of wood along the edges of the violin used for aesthetics and to prevent cracks from spreading.
The second picture shows the scraping of the purfling to the right size.
Once this is finished, you now have the completed violin body.
Step 10: Carve the Neck and the Scroll From a Piece of Maple Wood
The Guarneri neck template is traced onto the maple neck block and cut out. The peg box and scroll volute are carved out. Then the fingerboard is attached to the neck.
Step 11: Finished Violin
This picture shows a finished varnished violin complete with a chin rest, tail piece, strings, bridge and pegs. Unseen is the sound post inside, near a foot of the bridge.