By now all the canals have been cut around the four instruments, and now comes the really tricky part: the “filetto” needs to be inlayed. First, it must be cut to exactly fit the corners. How exact? Well, the end of each strip is cut not straight but a little diagonally, and at every corner, two pieces must meet so very exactly that they form a perfect triangle: each tiny black strip (one-third of the wooden strip, remember?) has to meet its mate in the adjacent strip, while the while strip in the middle must meet its mate, and thus – if this mastery is done right, (sort of “a perfect kiss”), it appears that a single piece was used throughout the process.
I remember the first few times Yonatan and his classmates had to do this back at the Stradivari School in Cremona, it took them many many trials and errors to get all these “exactlies” just so… Now, many instruments later, it is almost routine, but still – the way the purfling is done defines the final contour of each instrument and the way the filetto pieces fit together at the corners is one of the best indications of a violin maker’s technical ability, attention to minute details and personalized style. Yonatan, for example, likes to use thin strips and to keep the ends of the corners long so that a piece of the filetto continues beyond the corner, like an ornament.
Why go through all this trouble you may be asking yourself? That is, what’s the use of all this filetto-contour? Well, as is often the case with violins (and violin makers) the answer is complex – it is a combination of a technical function as the filetto helps strengthen the resistance of the instrument’s front and back against cracks that might form along the wood fibers; and sheer aesthetical function, beautifying the instrument. This constant interplay between functionality and aesthetics is one of Yonatan’s favorite aspects of violin making.
Anyway – when all the instruments have been inlayed with purfling front and back, a new phase begins, called “fluting”. Here a chisel is used to carve a shallow canal that cuts through both the instrument wood and the purfling, until finally it really looks like the black lining was drawn rather than inlayed. You’ll see next week that this canal is the first step in carving the external arching of the instrument.
As is my habit once in a while, just to keep him on his toes ;), I made a surprise visit to Yonatan’s workshop today, to see how he was doing …or actually how “my quartet” (becoming possessive here…) is doing. I found him hard at work carving the fluting on the cello. Here you can see how it’s done.
…and here you can see all four instruments with the purfling finished. Yonatan attached the cello back to the mold with special clamps. For a moment I thought he had glued it already (and without telling me, can you imagine the audacity?), but he calmed me down saying that he only fixed it in place because if you leave such a large, arched piece of wood lying around it is bound to bend out of shape (literally, that is) due to humidity and temperature changes.
We have about seven and a half months remaining… and while a significant portion of the work is already complete, there’s still a long way to go.
Stay with us!