This excellent blog post by Jim McKean demonstrates, with words and pictures, the process of inlaying the purfling on the spruce top much more poetically than I ever could.

 Still here? Okay, then, here’s what is happening with the Red Fiddle lately:

Before fitting the purfling, there were a few cosmetic flaws to clean up on the belly plate that appeared to be dried glue.

While scraping the flaws, the grain started to really pop, which is a joy to see. It was a very quick lesson in the different textures created from sanding vs scraping. This top will be finished with the scraper (some sandpaper will be used around the edges, but not on the belly or back themselves) to see if it will form a “corduroy” texture, which I love, but is not to everyone’s taste.

Next up was to fit the purfling. The purfling is the black/white/black strip that goes around the edges of the top and back plates and helps prevent cracks from traveling from the edges into the plates of the fiddle. It can be highly decorative, especially on a Hardanger Fiddle, or laid in double rows, as the Brescian violin builders did, or even bent into decorative patterns on the back of the violin, made famous by builders like Gasparo de Salo.

With this particular kit, the purfling channels have been cut (quite badly in some places – see the corner in the photos above) just this much too narrow for the purfling to fit. Argh! Here’s where patience (and OCD) come in very handy – it’s scrape, cut, scrape, cut, a little here, a little there, while using a small piece of purfling as a gauge until the entire channel is the right size. The kit comes with only enough purfling for the job at hand, with very little left over, so mistakes (and Artistic Changes) aren’t feasible unless one buys more purfling, and who knows if it will be a Perfect Match.

Finally it was all dry fitted in, with the corners mitered and the bee stings lookin’ pretty good, even if I say so myself –

A nice batch of fresh hide glue later and it was ready to carve down to the proper level. Ignore the break in the purfling strips at top and bottom – the purfling in those areas will be removed when fitting the neck and saddle.

The purfling is quite hard, being infused with glue of unknown origin. The outer black strips are “fiber,” whatever that is, the inner white strip is wood of some sort. The best way to take it down quickly is with a very sharp gouge –

Followed by a finger plane and scraper. Sandpaper is a very bad idea (hard lesson learned, there!) as the black “fibers” embed themselves into the pale wood of the spruce belly and take freakin’ forever to sand out.

Look at that bee sting! All four corners look just as good and I couldn’t be happier. Well worth the time it took to widen and clean up the purfling channel. There’s a bit more glue debris than there should be – I blame it on cutting my thumb on the new (very sharp, obviously!) carving knife and not being in the mood to continue. But the show must go on – the hot hide glue dries quickly and swells the channel so much that it becomes a Do or Die situation. And so I did. Without getting any blood on the belly plate, too, I might add 🙂

On to the back!

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