Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Why build violins (I)

We're in day two of the California Violin Makers' Workshop. A big part of the workshop scene is comparing tools. Everybody with violin-building experience has some device they have discovered, modified, or built from scratch that makes some task so much easier, and everybody who has such a tool wants to show it off. We have only been building for a couple of months, and we have been in the workshop for only one day, and we have already done this. My neighbor, Ray Lee, is an accomplished young violin builder from Hong Kong. He builds violins with a largely Oriental set of tools. Of course, most of the builders are interested in seeing what he has and how he uses it.

Ray is particularly fond of Japanese tools. For Ray they have the best steel, hold the best edges, cut the quickest. Japanese steel is hard, especially if it’s old. American steel is soft, German steel is softer, Swiss steel is like putty. Diamond sharpening stones are all very well and good for rough shaping, but if you want a sharp edge, get Japanese stones, preferably natural stones. Ray was showing me his prize Japanese saw. “It best steel,” he said. “Hit it, it go ‘ping,’ not ‘wawawaw’ like western saw. It…handmade. Very expensive, two hundred fifty dollar. It why I make violin. I want tools, so I must sell violin to get money to buy tools to make violin. This violin,” he said, holding up a Del Gesu “Ole Bull” replica, “I sell, get natural sharpening stone.”


  1. A man after my own heart. All activities when boiled down to their purest essence are excuses to get more gear. I recall my delight at realizing that having kids meant I would need joggers and tag along bikes and more water bottles ....

  2. If you are turned on by this sort of thing, check out the Lee Valley tool catalog--it is the ultimate in tool porn.