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All information related to the varnishing of stringed instruments, including wood preparation, grounds, colouration and application.

Building a violin - photo essay (Completed)

Violin buildingI recently received another commission to build a violin. I have decided to document the building process through a photo essay. The building process is mostly done by hand. I have no objection to the use of powertools, but there are very few steps in the building process that can be improved or completed in a shorter time using them. And besides, powertools and a glass of wine and a nice CD on the sound system don't mix!

Click on the thumbnails below to see the photo with a description. Enjoy!


Violin making video


Historic gums and resins

ResinsI found the following list here. It contains lots of information on historical material that was used in the varnish and paint industry. When you are a violin maker you come across lots of ancient materials and it can become very confusing. This list is quite accurate but not exhaustive at all. Interesting stuff...



To pond or not to pond....

Over the years many people speculated that the Cremonese 'ponded' (soaking in water for a long period) their wood, either intentionally or unintentianlly as part of the transport process. Presumable this changed the chracteristics of the wood and explains the success of their creations. This paper by Barlow and Woodhouse appeared in 1990 and looks at the evidence around this theory.

The article is in PDF format and registered users can download it here.


A rational look at the classical Italian coatings

This article appeared in the VSA papers, summer 2005, and it really is one of the best I have seen. I follow the author, Koen Padding's advice quite closely in my own work. The article is downloadable in PDF format for registered users here.


This article describes the author’s thoughts about varnish and his approach toward understanding the puzzle that classical Italian varnish has become. Significant clues were derived from both the physical appearance of the surfaces of classical Italian violins and observations of the visible fluorescence from their varnishes when irradiated by an ultraviolet lamp. To illuminate the influence of earlier painting techniques on the surface coatings applied by Italian violin makers from ca. 1550 to 1750, the author refers to two historical documents from the 12th and 15th centuries that describe varnish composition and methods of application. Correlation of observations, scientific studies, and historical records has led the author to the conclusion that the Byzantine finishing system is the likely original conceptual basis for the classical Italian coatings.


Drying oils or mediums used in oil painting

One of the key ingedients in any oil varnish is a drying oil. Current thinking is that the Cremonese used either linseed oil or walnut oil on their creations. But it is not that simple - you can buy several types of linseed oil and they all have different properties that might be desirable or problematic, depending on your varnishing strategy. I found the article below, written by Marion Boddy-Evanson, on


Mineral preservatives in the wood of Stradivari and Guarneri

Here is an article that is hot off the press. One of the authors is Joseph Nagyvary, a scientist/violinmaker from Texas that has written a lot on the theory that the Cremonese masters used a special wood treatment on their violins. In the past he has put forward several theories, including soaking the wood in water, urine, borax, shrimp shells, etc etc. All these theories and some sensationalist coverage by the press have not done his reputation in the violinmaking community much good. Nevertheless, he is an experienced scientist and his work and results are some of the best available. This paper contains some very interesting stuff. It seems more and more likely that there was a 'silver bullet' wood treatment that makes the Cremonese instruments different. The article was published in a scientific journal and it is not light reading, but well worth the effort.

The article is also available to registered users in PDF format here

Joseph Nagyvary1*, Renald N. Guillemette2, Clifford H. Spiegelman3


Shellac - a traditional finish still yields superb results

By: Jeff Jewitt. For more information and products, refer to Homestead Finishing Products. Copyright 2000, not reproducible in any form, written or electronic, without permission.

The article below can be downloaded in PDF format by registered users here.

To the average person, shellac probably invokes many negative perceptions. Poor water and heat resistance, difficult to apply, poor drying and low durability are all criticisms that I hear when I mention shellac to my clients or other woodworkers. While some of these criticisms are valid, many are not grounded in fact and are easy to disprove. Other negative aspects are overcome by using proper tools, techniques, and most important -- proper product.

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