Posted by Michael Doran on Saturday, September 25th, 2010

purfling corner

Purfling is the decorative inlay on violins. Purfling highlights the edges of the instrument and the outline. It also reinforces the top’s edge against small cracks that run with the grain. The total width of the purfling as well as the width fo the individual strips can alter the look of the instrument. The purfling on each plate is usually six pieces, one each for the ‘C’ bouts and two each for the upper and lower bouts. The pieces are joined in the corners with miters and the upper and lower bout with lap joints or simple but joints. How the purfling meets in the corners can vary widely among makers. Some, like Stradivari, seemed to be very invested in how his miters looked. He would draw out the miter in to a long “bee stinger” and point the end slightly to the inside of each corner.

Del Gesu on the other hand seemed unconcerned with the appearance of his purfling, with the width and inset varying on each instrument. Often in his miters the black and white strips don’t even line up with each other.

I like to inlay my purfling when the top and back are glued temporarily to the ribs; I like the feel of working on the instrument as a whole. I use two cutters to cut the main groove, one knife cuts the inside line and one cuts the outer. Similar tools can be found in the Museo Stradiveri. When the cutter bottoms out on the edge I know I have cut deep enough. Then I use a very small chisel to pare out the waste. For the corners I use a gouge of appropriate curve to mark the line, and a knife to deepen the line. The very tip of my knife is used to make the “bee sting”.

After the channel is cut I bend the strips of purfling to approximate shape, and cut and dry fit the miters in the corners. To make the purfling easier to take in and out of the channel I squish it a little in a pasta machine. After I am satisfied with the fit, I apply glue to the purfling channel and press the purfling in one strip at a time. The glue will make the purfling swell to its original width and hold it firmly in the channel until the glue dries. If the purfling doesn’t fit tightly in the channel it can come loose later and be a source of buzzing. When the glue is dry I carve down the purfling that remains proud of the channel.