Offcuts: Violin Case Repair Part One By: Don Heisz

To continue from last time, instead of jumping head first into trying to repair the violin, I decided to “restore” the case, instead. The case is, in my opinion, quite nice. It has an arched top that follows the top of the violin. It’s made entirely of wood. And it’s about 100 years old.

It’s a GSB Original Improved violin case, as is clearly emblazoned on the bottom.

These cases were made by the thousands, apparently, and are incredibly common. However, they all seem to be in roughly the same condition as the one I have. Perhaps that’s not unusual for a 100-year-old instrument case. It suffers from the roughness of transport and storage.

As you can see from the picture below, the inside features torn fabric and some missing compartments.

One of the wonders of the modern world is the fact that, not only has everyone photographed pretty much everything they own, they’ve also put those pictures online. (Maybe that’s not such a great thing in some instances.) A quick image search for my violin case showed me pretty much exactly how it was supposed to be, when it was new. The red fabric is a common feature, which surprised me, since there is paper underneath it. Also, as can be seen from the picture below, a storage compartment (at the narrow end) and blocks to brace the violin neck are missing.

I intend to replace those features and cover the inside with a suitable fabric.

First, however, I need to deal with the joint separation in the ends of the case. Both ends have the top (and bottom) separated from the side. As can be seen below, someone attempted previously to glue these spots together in a caulking manner.

My first step was to remove all of that. It was brittle and came off easily.

I have no idea what kind of glue it is, but there is something very similar in places on the violin body. I imagine I will have to chip that off, as well, or remove it some other way. It did not fix the joint on the violin, either.

Seeing the separated joints on the violin body made me think I would need to fully disassemble it to repair it. Someone commented previously that it would be a better idea to use a thin blade to insert glue where needed.

My repair manual, mentioned previously, agreed with that poster, and I think I must follow that advice. The manual says pretty plainly that you should avoid taking the body of the violin apart, if at all possible.

My case repairs are a bit of a test run for repairing the body. The separation on the case, if I find the joint secure when I’m done, will let me know what to expect if I try the same technique on the body.

Some prep work was needed before I started. I knew I would need clamps that would not damage the case. Not a lot of pressure is required. I went down to my chaotic basement workshop and dug out some material to use.

Basically, they are 3 inch bolts with a nut. I drilled holes in strips of plywood and threaded the nut through. The result:

You adjust the spacing of the strips of wood so it will slip on and exert just enough pressure to close the joint, as seen below in a dry test:

I also had to start the glue, which is hide glue, by putting a couple of teaspoons in a jar with a couple of teaspoons water and letting it sit for a few hours. Hide glue comes in little hard pellets and needs to be softened in water and then heated. It’s pure magic.

Anyone who uses this stuff regularly should get an electric glue pot. Maintaining a 140 degree Fahrenheit temperature is important, because the glue has to be hot when you use it. It’s also advisable to heat up whatever you’re putting it on, since it will cool very quickly. However, it is versatile and you can actually heat up the joint (with a hair-dryer, for example, if you have nothing better), if you think it’s cooled down too much. But remember that there is water in there that needs to evaporate.

I don’t have a glue pot. I’ve never used hide glue before, so why would I have one? What I used was a food heating tray that I bought for a different purpose that happens to be able to heat a water bath up to 140 degrees. Anyway, better than using the stove.

Prior to trying to put new glue in the joint, it is necessary to scrape out whatever dirt and old glue is hiding in there. For that, I used the blunt edge of a utility knife. I didn’t want to cut into the wood, just scrape away the junk.

Then, I used a painter’s knife to slip the glue into the joint, as quickly as I could. I don’t have absolute confidence that the glue is everywhere it needs to be, since I did not take the joint apart. A crack is too slight to fit a knife into and attempting to shove it in would extend the crack farther.

Anyway, after getting as much glue as I could in there, I clamped it up.

And that’s it for now. Everyone says to leave the clamps overnight but I moved them to the other end of the case after a couple of hours. It seems secure enough. I may need to make more clamps or different ones for the violin body itself. I still have not really investigated that much.

Next time, I will remake the inside of the case.