The top and the back of the violin – referred to as “plates” – are carved into an arched form. The arch is a classic way to get maximum strength in a structure with minimum weight: think the Roman aqueducts. Given what the violin needs to do, getting maximum strength with minimum weight is very important.
The steps in the roughing process are:
- Marking the outline onto the plates, using the template that matches the form
- Cutting the outline with the bandsaw
- Flattening the surface that will join with the ribcage
- Planing the outside to the finished arch height: 15.5mm for the VSO violin
- Marking the edge thickness: 5.5mm rough, to be finished to 4.0mm
- Rough carving the inside with a gouge
- Rough carving the outside with a gouge
I let the rough plates rest for 2-4 weeks. This allows any tension that might be in the wood – from the way the tree grew or from the way the wood has dried – to work itself out before the final shaping is done.
See “Building the Ribcage”
After the ribcage is built, the actual rib outline is drawn on the plates and the outline drawn earlier is carved to a 3mm overhang using finger planes and a knife. The edge is milled to its finished thickness (4.0mm) and the arch is carved to its approximate shape using finger planes.
The process is the same for the top and back, although the shapes of the arch are slightly different on Strad patterns.
The rough carving of the top and back give me the clearest sense of the quality of these particular pieces of wood: how hard, how reedy or stringy, how stiff or pliant. These qualities will inform the right arching shape for this wood on this instrument.
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