Eric's New Cello - Making the Back and Top Plates

Each picture is numbered.  The comments from David also have numbers to indicate to which picture they refer.
Click on each picture to get a bigger image.  This section is now on two pages, this is page 1, click here for page 2.

Overview 

The back and top pieces are cut in half thru the edge of the wood.  The thick edge is then planed flat, and the pieces glued together to make the back or top.  Next is tracing of the outline from the newly completed rib assembly onto the ready and waiting pieces for the back and top. Sawing out the plate outlines comes next and then immediately into the roughing out of archings. This leads to the final cutting of edge outline, followed by the grooving and inlaying of the purfling around the edge. This paves the way for the archings to be finalized and scraped to completion.

With the outside finished, the inside gets hollowed out, which includes roughing it out and then approaching the final thicknesses and the final tuning and finishing, ending with the inside also being scraped all smooth and clean.  The edges of the outline of both plates are rounded, the back gets glued onto the ribs. The top gets f-holes cut and bassbar installed.

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10/3/2000  "(1) shows the back and top for the cello smoothed from rough timber to straight sides, etc. The top is from Englemann Spruce and the back is Oregon Big Leaf Maple. This is approximately how the wood comes to me from my supplier, if not quite this smooth.

In (2), the back and top have been sawed in equal halves and opened like a book, thus "book-matched". The two halves of each will now be planed to form a center seam, it is hoped so closely and carefully fit that the actual joint line becomes invisible.

(3) shows me sweating the fine points. One half of the cello top [in this case, back process is the same] is supported by a stool, whilst being held firmly in place, as the two halves are worked and checked and rechecked a million times. The plane is a so-called jointer plane, 24" long. The blade in this plane must be kept razor sharp to accomplish mating surfaces as perfectly fit as possible."

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"(4) is the result with the halves now glued and clamped to dry overnight. Typically the center seam is completely tight and the glue so strong that an attempt to break open a joint will usually break out real wood right next to the joint. Throughout the building of the cello, numerous steps will be essentially the same for both the back and top, so if you see one, the other will soon follow in similar fashion. Additionally, although the scale changes, these processes are identical for violins, violas, and basses."

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(6) Tracing the rib assembly outline onto the top. The same happens with the back. (7)  The final outline which the rib assembly yielded has been traced onto the top.

(8 & 9) Sawing out the top on the bandsaw. The same process is done to create the back of the cello.

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(10 & 11) The top as first sawn out and before the arching work begins.

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(12) The top with part of the arching done.  (13) Rough arching the top with a gouge.
(14) The top arching roughed out, as the gouge leaves it.

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10/10/2000  (15, 16 & 17)  show the back arching one step more refined in the roughing-out process. The surface texture is the result of a good amount of fingerplaning. At this point, the stage is set for the final arching which is now left until after the purfling is inlaid. The outline of the back and top are now cut with a knife and a flat-bottom fingerplane to the most exacting rendition of the final outline of the cello.
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(18 & 19) These show the groove made for the purfling into which it will be inlaid. The groove and purfling parallel the outline. The purfling is a stylisitic element showing the maker's hand and also has an acoustic effect, by separating the flexing part of the arching from the edge which will be firmly attached to the ribs. It also provides protection to the edge in the form of banding as a reinforcement against impact against the edge, thus restricting cracks on the top or back from developing as easily.

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10/12/2000  (20, 21 & 22) These three photos show the cello back with the purfling laid in. The detail shot shows how rugged the surface texture of everything still is at this stage. Next comes the final arching work, with a smooth scraped surface to finish.

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These photos take the carving process of the cello archings towards its final shape. It's a very sculptural thing, starting with (23 & 24) showing the first sinking of the edge fluting with a gouge and carving the purfling down flush with the lowest point on the arching. 3 shows the corner outlined and now displays the miter clearly for the first time. 
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Photos (26 & 27) have had the inner part of the corner sculpted out and now beginning to be blended into the arching. Shots (28 & 29) are views of the corners and purfling miters as now seen with the edge fluted.
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Frames (30 & 31) display the basic tools I use to take the archings from the point of the inlaid purfling through the final arching shaping to the point of scraping. In (30), the gouges on the right of the view were used to used to carve the edge fluting and roughly blend in this area with the rest of the arching. Photo (31) shows the finger planes I've been using to remove wood in trying to create the shape of the archings.  As usual, they have become instruments of torture in developing "permanent" dents in my thumb and index finger and raising blisters. 
This page was last updated 01 April, 2001 02:55 PM
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