Friday, October 23, 2015


When life gives you spruce, you make violins with it, isn't it?

All the japanese planes are packed. So why not to use a few real rabbit planes?

 A closer look to the rabbits. The brass was patinated before I started using it, and my arm was ok. It's real slow and real nice to work with such planes. I missed a proper japanese iron and the lightness of a white oak body, but it was fun.

 You start feeling the curves, seeing the smell and hearing the shavings.

You walk with your fingers over the skin, and think that god may have felt this way when making the first woman's tits. Take a bit here, a bit more there... now, it's perfect.

 or not so perfect and you need to keep working

 And this is how it looks after an afternoon. I started  from the rough gauged surface and planed away what was not a violin. The shapes on the left help  a bit, but more than anything is the feeling of it all. It feels right, or it doesn't it. Or you don't know and somebody tells you.

 I thought of all those days spent planing away wood for no reason at all besides the planing itself. And now making a violin top becomes a particular instantiation of a general principle.

I like the way I've learnt. A year ago piece of wood I touched it was mostly certainly destined to fire, but now it's ok. Ich kann dass machen. And I can sharpen the blades, and change the blades to get the result I want, and modify them if they don't work as I know they are able to work.

Opa likes to make fun of me and say that I'm just a sharpener. His way of teaching is more violin centred and he gives you a violin and shows you what to do and you try to imitate it. It's very difficult and frustrating, since you cannot make what the master can and have no idea why.

I try to promote a tool based approach to making. You need to understand your tools and know in which way they realise the principles at play for any given task before trying to accomplish the task for its own sake. It's never about the result, but the process is as, if not more, important than it. And while you work you think "a plane with such and such shape would come real handy here... and a better iron with exactly this curvature would make everything so much easier. This part I would take with an spokeshave and this a gouge of the right size." Making becomes then a conversation, a story, a very creative act despite reproducing the same curves that del Gesu made three hundred years ago. The process cares about itself and thinks itself.

So... it seems that arriving in Chile I cut to pieces an old kanna-mi and make some violin planes out of it. I like the Ibex but cannot stand these western irons that never let the burr go.

add to my to make list: small planes 22, 18 and 12mm wide; 60, 30 and 25mm long. (In case you wonder what else is in my to make list there is another bench (damn students like to work standing) a log table for the grinder and the anvil, a pond, and a table for Julia's sewing, that may be just a planed piece of wood on top of saw horses since we will move first to santiago and then to valparaiso when we find a place.)


  1. Sorry I haven't kept up to date on your blog!
    Your really getting a lot of work done, lately.

    This post reminds me of something I read two years ago or so, an article about blind woodworking in America. They work almost entirely by feel, their machines also read out adjustments and they have measuring equipment that say the measurement.

    This post also reminds me about tools; one thing I have learned through life is never blame tools or lack of tools. A master trumpeter can play Beethoven on a hose, a master woodworker can build a table with an axe and drill. If you have every tool available, you kind of get confused, you know? But if you limit yourself to the basics, you'll be amazing at the basics; you can do more with a chisel than most woodworkers can do with ten planes.

    Kind of like playing the blues on an expensive six string, vs playing them on a three string guitar made out of hubcaps and a broom pole.

    The violin looks very nice! I'm very tempted to start working on one, but I think it'd be better to look for a cheap fiddle at a flea market, to get the bow with it as well. If I make one, though, I'd have a guilt-free violin! I think hickory or maple would be a good replacement for ebony. Hmmm...Maybe I can use that hickory I sawed up months ago.

  2. Hey Sebastian, nice work! I like the set of pictures, and the variety of frame; the 1st has a hammer at the far right, looks like it has a cross-peen face? Is that the violin makers'?

    The finish on the wall caught my eye, and now I'm curious about the setting of the room, the house, the street! Apologies, it sounds like I'm not grateful for these; I've enjoyed looking at them!

    1. thanks Mark.

      The hammer is not really used here, but I needed something to hit the planes against to set the iron. There are a few hammers but you don't really hammer much in this job, perhaps for the pegs, but most of it is quite delicate work.

      Those finishes are beautiful. 20 years or more of shellac and oil marks, I love mostly the ones opa has on his bench. The house is here: Neumarkt 4, 29221 Celle, the River is like a street away and the house is oriented east west, so we get the sun in the mornings (I never see it) and opa in the afternoons. The benches are also oriented this way, east-west. I'd say because you want to see the shadows of the violin when you carve.

      The house is a 3 stories building, not that old, shop on the ground floor and house on the first. The second floor is rented to a single guy. Nothing big or fancy, just a 3 rooms flat with a big kitchen.

      From our part of the workshop you can see a small garden and the old walls of the city. I love how that sounds, the walls of the city. The street is a new one, full of cars and that they want to make even bigger. The bridge over the Aller was made in 1200 or so the first time.

    2. Thanks for the address, I looked at some streetviews in the vicinity, looks like I think civilization should look. No cars actually!

      My old truck is getting borderline re passing inspection, and now has an electrical glitch. So I may be walking more ... a good thing.

  3. Beautiful luthier planes, wonderfully specialized. Its great to see miniature planes that are more than the plaything of office workers at their desks. To coax such a shape from a piece of wood, to bring it to such a thin and delicate proportion, its one of the pinnacles of the use of wood. I was watching a show, "Colonial House" where one of the young men plays a viola de gamba amongst the rough life and carpentry that surrounds their built invironment. The contrast really struck me, the preciousness of it. I bet you're really going to hit the ground running in Chile, I just hope I can keep up!

    1. that's a great point Gabe, the contrast. This stuff was made in 1700, a time with no lights and no sewage. And Bach was composing among this shit and Stradivarius making violins for him. I guess that's the real place for music and beauty, in the midst of a construction site and not in a opera house.

      Hope I do, sure you will.

  4. These are beautiful pictures, the sculpture of intent is evident everywhere. I've always wanted to carve the sound boards (is that the correct term for the tone-wood front and back?), feel that delicate thin shell that gives the instrument such wonderful resonance. I bet you missed having your spoon planes for carving the interior. You have come far in the last year.

    You are fortunate to have a teacher for this. Luthier is one of those arts that seems too high of a hurdle for the autodidact. A short time ago, someone asked me if I would build him a guitar, and as soon as I caught my breath from laughing, I, but thanks for your vote of confidence, haha. I have no doubt that I could build a mediocre guitar, but who wants to do that? To have someone point the way, tell you where to focus your attention....that would be a good thing.

    And your Opa's shop is awesome! Who wouldn't want to be there, shaping beauty?! I know that your own shop will be every bit as inviting. And with great coffee!

    1. sound board and top I think they are called, the top is the top, spruce. I don't have any spoon plane, but for sure I missed having some, I'm looking into the guy who sells new ones from japan... more news on that soon-ish.

      I was looking at this book in Julia's father's house and realised that making a guitar is not that difficult. There's no carving to it, just simple joints. And with really sharp planes and a few jigs seems totally doable, I bet you can make a few. Opa says you only need precision for a guitar... violin making is another story.

      Man, I keep on thinking of my workshop, the organisation... I want to have a small room and start building my stradivari workshop little by little. There are plenty of tools you need to make before making the violin, and as in carpentry I want to learn to draw the thing first, carving and gluing are the "easy" parts.

      I want a workshop like this:

      and the coffee... now that I found that shipping works in Chile and customs doesn't care about anything under 300 I want to ask my friend to ship my small coffee machine back to me, the big one will be only useful in winter since god it gets hot that shit.

      Hopefully in two sundays we already have a house, I want to start building that workshop right now.

    2. Electric guitars are even easier. Seasick Steve, a really good bluesplayer, often plays guitars made from baseball bats, hubcaps, and washboards.

      What do you think about Archtops? A guitar built the same way as a violin, with carved soundboard and bottom?

      That picture is sweet...I see harps, a hurdy gurdy, those old leather-wood ancestors of tubas, a lute... jeez, a productive shop!

    3. I have a friend who makes instruments out of broom sticks and cookie cans, and i dig them. But there is one archtop guitar at opas, electric one, made in the 50s or so. What a beauty, never seen something with such a rich sound. Sadly I didn't take a picture of it, will ask julia's mother...

    4. I would love to see that...Met my friend Ethan today to try to learn barr chords for Jazz band. I think it's physically impossible, I can hold down three but the other three strings hide in the crease of my finger, not producing any tones at all. By this rate, I will be able to play four chords by...2020? Maybe?

      My hands are for making instruments, not playing them!

  5. How did the workshop with Shinglemaker go? Any standout students or new techniques discussed?


      airport. More details from the other side of the pond.