Cox Violins Blog

Finishing the Exterior

VSO Violin #934 in the greenhouse, March 1, 2017.

VSO Violin #934 in the greenhouse, March 1, 2017.

Violinmaker-in-Residence #18

Having all the parts of the violin in place there is an opportunity for me to revisit and clean and refine all the surfaces and lines; producing one harmonious whole out the various parts. Fine work with scrapers and finally a bit of sandpaper does this.

With a 300-year-old violin, such as the one that inspires this VSO violin, there is a rounding and softening of the edges capturing the wear of human hands and bodies, plush cases, tables and work benches, music stands, dropped bows and random events of all sorts. I like the warmth and inviting softness this gives to a violin. The VSO violin will therefore show the moderate wear of a violin that has been used a good deal, but lovingly cared for.

The violin is washed several times with warm water and then re-sanded to remove any raising of the grain of the wood. If this is not done at this time the grain will raise when the humidity rises.

Particularly in a violin intended to look old, it is essential to give the wood the color and luster of old wood. This can’t be put on top of the wood, but must be a glow coming from inside the wood. I have developed a process using strong tea (adding tannic acid to the wood as well as color), potassium dichromate that reacts with the tannic acid in the wood to produce a warm brown salt in the cells of the wood, and an application of ammonia fumes. This is allowed to settle for several weeks and any color on the surface of the wood is washed away so that what is left comes from inside.

In the greenhouse during the summer

Summer greenhouse with tomatoes.

The instrument is then sealed with a drying oil to which I add some golden colors. This sealer provides a protective coating for the wood, should the varnish be damaged or worn. I will apply the colored varnish after the ground is fully stabilized at the end of March.

The exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun both hardens the oil in the sealer, produces some fading of the colors applied, and accelerates the natural oxidation and browning of the surface of the wood. I am fortunate to have the time and location to use natural sunlight for this as we did at the Mittenwald Geigenbauschule (violinmaking school). I aim for six months of average sunlight to harden and stabilize the surface of the wood before proceeding with the varnishing. My violins share our greenhouse with spring garden starts and early summer tomatoes.

So the VSO violin is now on vacation in the sun, although this time of year in Vermont it is a vacation that builds character.

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