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Carving a scroll - step by step - part I

June 7, 2009 at 11:19 PM

I think that it's important for players having some information about how their instruments are made.

This is the way I carve my scrolls, others certainly carve them differently. The basic idea is giving some notion about the process I use.

My photo abilities are far from being perfect...

This scroll will be inspired on Andrea Guarneri, from the PRIMROSE viola pictured in Bein & Fushi monograph, but I'll make it without shoulders (that we call "ganasce", in Italian), since many violists don't like them and I want a light scroll also.

I start planning the surface that will receive the fingerboard, here I'm using a RECORD NO. 7 plane with a Japanese laminated blade:

This is my neck block with the planned upper face. I'm using flamed wood but plain wood is reccomended for begginers, since it's more easy to carve:

Now I'll reduce the neck block to its final thicknesses, that is the maximum width of the scroll, that corresponds to the eyes or last turn, in my case 46 milimeters (remember I'm carving a viola scroll). Since the sides of  my block are parallel, I'll use a bandsaw to make two square cuts (with the planned fingerboard side down, facing the bandsaw's table) that will reduce my neck block to 46 mm.

Since the blade will make both cuts square, I'll have no need to square the upper face of my block with the side faces. I'll not touch the side faces with a plane again, since I want to keep it square, just the smal circle of the last turn will be be visible when the scroll is finished and I can refinish this small part later. Working with the plane now would require more time too, and I have to work fast:

Now I'll trace a center line (that we call "mezzeria" in Italian)  in the fingerboard face with this Japanese tool. This line is made by a small knife and  will be permanent:

Now I'll take a xerox copy (real size) of the side views of my scroll model. I had just one view of this scroll, so I had to make a "negative" drawing of the other side. I find it an easy way to work, because I don't have to make models and I'll make no mistake while transferring the outline to my neck block. Many books (such as Biddulph's on Del Gesù) have both side views of the instruments pictured real size.  
I'll aligne, center  and glue (hide glue) these copies over my neck block, of course both sides must be perfectly aligned to each other. I apply hide glue also over the paper: 

Now I use a template to mark the neck, the neck rood, and a special square to mark the final angle of the neck root:

Since we can't replace cut wood, I'll check all lines prior to cut it, mainly the distance from the fingerboard/upper nut line to the end of the neck line. Bear in mind that you will dovetail the neck to the upper block, so, if your neck length is 150 milimeters (as in my case) you will have to have about 8 milimeters more for the dovetail. I check it visually with one of my instruments:

Double, triple check everything prior to cut it.

This is a view of the neck block with the main lines:

Now I have to rest for a while!!!

From Allan Chu
Posted on June 8, 2009 at 3:55 AM

Awesome! Thanks so much for this! will be checking to see how it's done. I've always wondered...

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on June 8, 2009 at 2:02 PM

Cool I love this!  I find it very interesting.  At my maker's, she has a table with half make fingerboards, scrools, violins, patterns and outlines etc.  This table is a "hands on" table for everyone of her clients who are interested in observing and handling the violin parts + learn how it is make.  This is very interesting and it makes us realize all the work there is in an instrument.  I was particularly interested in solving the famous mystery of "the little black line" around the violin's body! lol



From Anthony Barletta
Posted on June 8, 2009 at 11:18 PM

Very cool!  Your work must be incredibly satisfying.   I look forward to future posts.

From Jim Glasson
Posted on June 9, 2009 at 10:23 AM

Excellent, excellent post. I hope to see more in the future!!


From al ku
Posted on June 9, 2009 at 12:46 PM

luis, really a treat for us to see it step by step.  i see you use a  pasted ?photocopy to ensure consistency.  any records on how 18th century luthiers go about doing this so that the finished scrolls look alike in dimensions?

Posted on June 9, 2009 at 4:54 PM


Al Ku: according to Sacconi, the old Italians used a template with small holes in the scroll region so that they could transfer the scroll turns outlines   to the wood with the aid of a metal pin that was pressed against the wood and left an imprint. Remains of these imprints can be seen today on some Guadagnini's scrolls.

When I visited Christophe Landon's workshop in NYC I've noticed that he also glues a xerox copy to his neck blocks in the same way I do.

I'll continue this blog till the end of the scroll. Ciao!

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