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Liz Lambson

Wood & Water: What If My Violin Gets Wet?

August 19, 2014 16:51

“Earth!”
“Wind”
“Fire!”
“Water!”

The Power Rangers were on to something when it comes to nature’s elements. These substances, while so simple, can wield great power alone and in combination with each other. At Kennedy Violins, you'll find water not only for drinking, but on hand in the process of working on violins.

Water, when sealed with a finish, won't absorb water. Varnish on a violin accomplishes this purpose—at least on the exterior. (Photo by Mark Engelbrecht) Water, when sealed with a finish, won't absorb water. Varnish on a violin accomplishes this purpose—at least on the exterior. (Photo by Mark Engelbrecht)

Water plays a crucial role in the process of making, repairing, and setting up violins. Here are a few of its uses:

Bending Wood – An essential step in the production of the violin is bending thin strips of maple, sometimes as thin as 1mm, to the curves of the instrument. A hot bending iron is used, but without wetting the wood with a little water, the dry wood is more likely to crack, snap, or splinter without water to soften the fibers. The moisture turns to steam when it comes in contact with the wood, steaming the fibers and allowing them to bend with less risk of burning.

Carving – Wetting a piece of wood with water can make it easier to carve. The water softens the wood so it gives way to the blade of a knife or chisel more easily. Some makers will dunk the entire maple scroll into water to help the carving process along. The ends of sound posts can also be wet with water (or even dabbed with saliva from your tongue) to make the precise carving of the ends an easier process.

Gluing – Many don’t realize that the glue used to glue the pieces of a violin together is water soluble. Hide glue, an made with collagen from animal bones nd tissue, begins in granule form and is mixed and melted in water before use. The advantage of using a strong water-based glue is that pieces of wood are secured with a molecular bond, but that bond can be broken and pieces can be taken apart when the glue is softened with water or steam. Violin parts need to be able to come apart easily to make repairs possible.

Wet Sanding – Water is also used when smoothing down surfaces like the ebony fingerboard. Very fine sandpapers are used with water that absorbs the dust and provides an extremely smooth, polished surface.

Tool Sharpening – Similar to the use of wet sandpaper, water is used on water stones (named appropriately as a sharpening stone used with water) and diamond stones. Using water when sharpening metal knives, gouges, chisels, scrapers, and plane blades keeps the tiny flakes and particles of metal dust from getting everywhere—like in your eyes or in the air to be breathed in. Water can also keep the tools cooler as friction heats up the metal. Water makes the sharpening process safer.


WHEN WATER IS A PROBLEM

Water in the form of liquid, steam, or high humidity can potentially cause damage to an instrument. (Very low humidity can cause issues as well. A Damp-it instrument humidifier can protect your instrument from harshly dry conditions.)

Warping Wood and Cracks – Wood is porous and absorbs water like a sponge, whether the water is in the air or comes in contact with the wood like a liquid. Although the oil-based varnish on the exterior of the instrument repels water, the interior of the instrument is not sealed or finished wood. When wood absorbs water, it expands, which can lead to cracking, warping, or open seams.

Rain – If you’re playing an outdoor concert and suddenly get stuck in a downpour, don’t panic. Just get out of the rain as quickly as possible or tuck your instrument under your jacket. As soon as possible, dry off your instrument with a soft, dry, absorbent cloth that won’t damage the finish. (Old soft cotton t-shirts make great polishing or drying cloths.)

If the inside of the instrument has substantial amounts of water in it, shake it out and set it in a dry, warm room to air it out. Inspect your instrument after it’s dry and look for any substantial water damage.


Questions about the condition of your instrument? Contact Kennedy Violins at 1-800-779-0242 or support@kennedyviolins.com. We are always happy to help!

Originally posted on the Kennedy Violins Blog.

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Liz Lambson is from Kennedy Violins in Vancouver, Washington. Biography

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