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Tag Archives: purfling

This tool, designed and made by Brian Hart, is a purfling marker. As violin makers will know, when moved around the edge of a violin plate, it marks closely spaced parallel lines a few millimetres inside the perimeter to guide the subsequent cutting and chiselling-out of the narrow channel into which the purfling is laid.

If necessary, the distance between the lines can be altered by placing shims between the marking blades and there’s a screw mechanism to change the offset of the blades and allow precise adjustment of the distance of the purfling channel from the edge of the plate. A feature of the design is that the handle and centre of gravity are below the marking blades. I find that this makes it easier to use than the usual design of purfling marker, which has the handle on top.

Here’s the corner of a cello where the purfling was marked out using this tool.

But of course it only works where there’s an edge. It’s no use if you want to imitate the Brescian makers and create an elaborate pattern of the sort seen on the violin below.

(I’m grateful to Andrew Sutherland, a violin maker and restorer in Lincoln, for providing this photograph and information about the violin. It was made in Dresden, Germany around 1870. Andrew reckons that the ornamentation was done by a purfling specialist in the workshop where the instrument was made after it had been completed and varnished. There are more photographs here.)

 
 
 

A possible solution occurred to me when I read Jeff Peachey’s description of how he sharpened the tips of a pair of jeweller’s forceps to make a tool to cut thin strips of tissue for book restoration. I wondered if the same idea could be adapted to make a freehand purfling marker.

Here I’ve re-shaped the tips of a pair of stainless steel forceps using a slip stone to create bevels on the inner faces, and drilled and tapped a hole for a small machine screw.

With the addition of a fold of brass shim stock between the blades, the width of the gap between the tips of the forceps can be adjusted precisely.

It works fairly well and can be used either freehand or to scribe around a template. I found it best to make one pass with the marker and then use a knife to deepen the cuts rather than trying to use the forceps to cut deeply. Here are some first experiments.

A little decoration goes a long way and not everyone believes that violins are improved by a double line of purfling and stylised floral motifs. On the whole, I think this ornamentation works better on cellos and viols than it does on smaller instruments. Still, there are times when a flourish is desirable – the fingerboards and tail pieces of baroque violins, for example – so my new purfling marker will probably be used occasionally.

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The starting point for the back was two pieces of nicely figured book-matched maple.

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I glued them together and cut out the outline roughly on the band saw. Then followed quite a lot of hard work, finalising the outline and establishing the arching – at first roughly with a gouge, but later smoothly and precisely with thumb planes and scrapers.

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Here a channel has been cut for the purfling.

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After hollowing the back to a thickness of around 6mm in the centre and 3.5mm at the edges, the weight of the plate had been reduced to 630 grams and the tap tone had fallen to somewhere between C and C sharp and I was ready to glue it to the rib and neck assembly completed earlier.

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After the clamps have come off, it begins to look something like a cello.

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The binding and purfling went in quite neatly. It’s a simple scheme but I think it will look fine on the finished instrument. You can judge for yourself from the pictures. The apparent staining of the wood in some places is where I have brushed on some shellac to stop the white maple picking up dirt or, worse, turning an orange colour from contact with the cocobolo. It will disappear when the next coat of shellac goes on.

The next tasks are to prepare a fingerboard and make a bridge.

Now that the repair that I wrote about in my last post is complete, it’s time to get back to the guitar that I’m currently making. I’ve routed the ledges for the binding and purfling to sit in – a job that I never approach without trepidation since it’s so easy to ruin weeks of work by a moment’s inattention when you’re using a tool whose cutter revolves 25,000 times a minute. Fortunately, there were no mishaps. I never much like using an electric router – nasty, noisy, top-heavy things. But the next task of preparing and bending the binding strips will be easier to enjoy.

Here are some pictures of the last stages of building this guitar.

The one immediately below shows the binding scheme that I settled on – ebony with a narrow band of maple.

Here’s the upper part of the top showing the gently radiused fingerboard and the purfling, the decorative border immediately inside the binding.

I’ve shaped the neck and heel and added an ebony heelcap, again with a thin lining of maple.

And here is the bridge being clamped while the glue sets. I’ll leave it undisturbed overnight and string it up tomorrow.

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