Derek McCormick’s Violin Blog

Making a violin and other violin-related topics

Fitting the Purfling

Before fitting the purfling I did a bit of upgrading to my workshop. Thirty years ago I made a simple workbench

Before starting on the purfling I decided that do some upgrading of my workshop. Many years ago I made a simple workbench (left) which has served me well for more than thirty years. However, it is beginning to show its age and I thought that this was a good time for a change. The new bench is much longer, making it easier to work on cellos. Also the two large vices are extremely useful. The downside is that with a beautiful fresh surface like this I get a bit neurotic about the possibility of accidental gouge scoops or saw cuts!!!

The purfling is

The purfling is the strip which is inlaid about 4mm inside the edge of the back and front of the violin. It is actually a "sandwich" of very thin strips of wood and I obtain it from a supplier in Germany. The black outer strips are maple which has been dyed black and the central portion of the "sandwich" is pear wood. The total thickness is about 1.2mm with a depth of 2mm. Purfling has been a feature of instruments of the violin family right back to the 16th century and may be thought of as a decorative feature. However, it may also have a positive function in preventing cracks which start at the edge from spreading into the main body of the instrument. Early makers such as Maggini used two rows of purfling which were often elaborated into quite complex patterns. Viol nakers also made very artistic use of purfling whilst some makers "cheated" by drawing the lines with pen and ink!

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In the flat platform that was carved around the margin at the previous stage a channel is cut 4mm in from the edge of the back. It is about 2mm deep mand around 1.2mm wide (just wide enough to accept the purfling but not so wide is to leave a loose fit). The tools used for this job are knives, which like most violin maker's knives are made to to suit a specific purpose. We buy the blades, shape and sharpen them and then make handles which we find comfortable to use. The handle of the two knives in the photo were made from ebony salvaged from an old fingerboard. The channel is "excavated" using the tiny plough-like chisel on the right.

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The purfling strips are very easily broken and some heat from a bending iron is needed to bend them into shape. They are then fitted into the grooves which have been filled with hot, thin hide glue. The groove tightens a bit due to the wet glue and sometimes  gentle tapping with a light ball pein hammer helps to get the purfling firmly in place.  It usually sits a fraction proud of the groove and when dry the excess is shaved off with a sharp gouge.  As can be seen from these photos the arching is still a long way from its final shape and the next job will be to fix this.

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February 15, 2009 - Posted by | (06) Fitting the purfling

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