Offcuts: New Glue for an Old Violin By: Don Heisz
Last time, I finished with the case. Maybe I almost finished with it, actually. I think it might need a couple of loops for the bow and possibly another foam block to keep the violin from bouncing around too much. But that will take a couple of minutes to do.
So, I finally settled in to undertake the regluing of the violin itself. Not wanting to ruin a violin that may be more than 100 years old, I’ve been very hesitant to do it at all. I think if I could see a maker’s name inside an f hole I probably would not have done anything with it. As it is, I have no idea who made it, whether or not it’s truly old or actually worth anything as a collectible or playable instrument. It may sound like a dried piece of toast when it’s strung and played. Or it may be great. As it is, I have no clue, nor do I claim to be qualified to assess the value or quality of a violin. After all, I’m not sure I ever touched one before.
I’m sure genuine luthiers and violinists would be pretty horrified to find such an ignoramus tinkering with such a fine instrument. Well, you know, it’s made of wood. That means I can mess with it.
Or that’s my claim.
On with the matter at hand. The major problem I could see was where the chin rest clamped onto the body. The violin has been reglued before, but I don’t think it was done very well. Nor do I know what was used. The glue was applied to the outside of the joint in a caulking style similar to what was done in the case. Whatever it is, it’s doing nothing. The wood is separated everywhere that goopy glue has been glopped.
Also, the combination of pressure from that clamp and moisture from the player’s neck undoubtedly caused some nasty warping of the wood. I did not remove the chin rest until I was ready to start the repair, since I was afraid the wood may separate more. Once I had it off, I could more easily see how far out the wood had warped.
That is a genuine problem, and not one that I can actually truly fix without total disassembly of the body. Even then, I’m not sure the violin would end up exactly as it was when new. So, my idea in this repair was to not exacerbate any damage but try to make it so no more would occur. And, in this instance, it meant to try to glue the top to that bulging side while pushing it in but without breaking it.
As an aside, there are a couple of very minor areas of separation that I did not attempt to reglue. They are at the points of the curves (I’m sure there’s some technical name for that cutout area but knowing the name won’t fix it, either). The amount of separation is so slight, attempting to re-glue would actually cause more separation and potentially crack the wood. So, I left it alone.
The first task was to chip off the glue that was applied by the last hack, uhh, skilled person. Then, I used a palette knife to scrape out the joint. The knife is very thin and does a great job of getting the dirtied dried glue out of the joint without opening it up very much.
Then everything was nice and clean. The finish has taken a bit of a beating, but that it actually pretty common all over the violin. I have no intention of trying to fix the varnish.
In order to make a bit more room to squeeze some glue in the joint, I pushed in some pins.
I then used the palette knife to smear in some hide glue. Incidentally, I found a better device for melting the hide glue. I have an induction burner (a single one) and it has a low temperature setting of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. So, I put the glue jar in my cast iron frying pan and set it on the burner (burner isn’t the right word for that. Magic pedestal is more accurate).
After I got the glue in the bottom joint, I pushed in the warped area and slipped on my clamps. These clamps do not squeeze tight enough to mark the wood. Well, they would if you really hammered them on, but who would do that? Yeah, some people probably would.
Anyway, a damp paper towel wiped off the excess glue readily. It’s not difficult to remove hide glue once it’s dried, either.
I left that to set for about an hour before I reglued the other section of the body. With not much clamping force, you rely heavily on the tack of the glue to keep things from shifting. And, while the bulged out part did not go entirely back where it should, it did get pushed in enough to catch the edge and get pretty securely glued.
Once all the glue was applied, I slipped on my remaining clamps (I never did get around to making any more) and left it overnight.
Then it was time to tackle where the neck had come off the body. This was undoubtedly the result of leaving the violin in the case with tension on the strings. As you can see here, it was not a matter of the glue drying out and turning to powder. The wood itself tore.
Luckily, that looks worse than it was. The wood stuck to the glue was thinner than paper. A bit of scraping started to make everything flat. The glue was resistant to scraping, though, so I thought I would make it a little bit damp with a wet paper towel.
That really did make the glue come off easily. However, it was surprisingly tacky. A bit of moisture almost reactivated the glue enough to reattach the neck. Well, maybe not almost. Let’s just say it was very sticky.
Then I was suddenly faced with the dilemma of how to clamp the neck onto the body. In my excitement, I had even warmed up the hide glue. I was all ready to attach the neck but I had no clamps.
Well, a quick examination tells you a long clamp needs to clamp along the length of the body and a short clamp needs to hold the neck down. But the part of the neck that needs the long clamp is round. So, I ran down to the workshop and cut a little block of wood and made a round cutout in it. I attached some self-adhesive felt to that. Looked snazzy.
I also cut a square block of wood and drilled a hole in it for the peg that sticks out the end of the violin (that peg is supposed to be removable, but this one is glued in solidly). I put some felt on that and then used double-sided tape to attach both blocks to a bar clamp. I also put some self-adhesive foam pads on another clamp.
Then I brushed on a bunch of glue and put things together. I immediately attached the clamps. No great amount of pressure is required.
I should also mention that I used a hair dryer to warm up every piece of wood I glued. The hide glue works best if the work pieces are warm. Hide glue also shrinks as it sets, so the joints can become tighter than they are when you clamp them (not so much that you should leave them unclamped, though).
I left the violin in the clamps overnight.
And then I put the reglued violin back in the case to keep it safe. I don’t know how long it takes for the hide glue to fully set, but I figure a few days to a week before I put strings on is a good idea.
Also, the bow needed to be restrung. So, that’s what I did while waiting for the glue to dry.