Cox Violins Blog

Shaping the Edge and Purfling

The corners of the Gariel-Laredo Stradivarius

The corners of the Gariel-Laredo Stradivarius

Violinmaker-in-Residence #9

With the rough plates – the top and back – spot-glued onto the finished ribcage, I carve the outline of the body to its final shape using finger planes, knife, and files. The general shape of the body is set by the ribs and the original design, but the final edge shape, particularly the corners, provide the maker with an opportunity for stylistic expression. The slight swell to the corners in both width and thickness of Strad’s work around 1717 gives his instruments a harmonious boldness and sensitivity of line.

Over many years instruments receive wear to the corners and edges, giving a softness to the visual impression, and to the hand of the player. It is possible to copy a violin as it exists today, reproducing the wear, or as it was when new. While this is a stylistic choice for the maker and player, I have found that instruments made to look old seem to perform better. This may be largely psychological; if the player thinks the violin will sound good, based on its appearance and feel, she is more likely to search for the core of the sound and produce a better sound.

The "bumper" of the Gariel-Laredo Stradivarius

The “Bumper”

You have no doubt noticed that the violin is designed with a bumper: the edges of the plates extend beyond the ribs and above the arch. Any bangs and bruises the violin might receive will most likely be taken by this bumper, protecting the more delicate and structurally important parts of the instrument. This is one of the reasons we have violins of 300 and 400 years ago in good working order.

The edge of the plates—this bumper—also contains an inlay, known as purfling. The wood of the violin, like all woods, will crack along the year rings when stressed. Damage to the edge can thus extend into the delicate body we are trying to protect. The purfling more than a decorative inlay; it prevents cracks from damaging the body of the violin.

I start the channel for the purfling with a special tool set to the width of the purfling and its distance from the edge. I deepen the channel with a sharp knife and remove the wood between with a small curved chisel. The purfling material I am using on this violin is a laminate of white maple and a dense black fiber. I bend and fit it to the channel and glue it into place with hot hide glue.

The purfling also serves to accentuate the outline of the body. I like to think that, despite its small size, the purfling adds strength to the violin’s visual outline in keeping with the importance of the instrument in our lives. While the maker is faced with many stylistic choices here—the size and proportion of the materials, the distance of the purfling from the edge, and the way the corners are formed—I am inspired by the elegance of Strad’s corners on this 1717 violin, which drift in toward the mid-rib and have a slightly elongated point.

Top (channel), Back (purfling), Back (carved), Top (carved), Top (finished)

Purfling and finishing progress: Top, Back, Back, Top, Top

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