The Art of Restoration

 

Occasionally an instrument comes to us after an accident of some sort and, not unlike surgeons, it’s our workshop’s job to bring it back to good health. The work is meticulous and requires a clear path of action, flexibility and good judgment, and a great deal of patience. A good restorer is often also an artist and an inventor, channeling the style of the maker and creating new tools, fixtures, and jigs along the way to solve a repair.

Last Fall, a violin by John Wilkinson arrived in our workshop after an accidental impact cracked it open in multiple spots. Below is a photo journey of the instrument’s restoration with violin-maker and restorer, Sam Payton.

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The foam case the instrument arrived in. The case looked perfectly intact on the outside, but once the cover was removed the full extent of the damage was evident.

 

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The top upon arriving. The center seam is visibly open and cracks can be seen on the bass side f-wing
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A long crack descending from the treble f-wing. Not pictured is a soundpost crack and an additional crack traveling up from the top  f-wing.

 

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The crack on the lower rib resulting from the impact.

 

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The back center seam here is clearly open. A closer look reveals a crack branching off from the center as well.

 

 

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Once the top was off, Sam removed the rib from the lower block using alcohol to dehydrate the old glue. This is a time-consuming process but the safest way to address an area that has been well-glued. Sam then used a poplar doubling which was bent to fit the rib. Poplar is a particularly wonderful wood to use for this kind of repair because it reduces the amount of mass while still providing support (this crack occurred where the chinrest on the violin goes, which makes strong support especially crucial).

 

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The back has now been removed and is affixed to a clamping fixture. This fixture has pins that help to support and align the center seam during clamping.
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A close-up showing the separation of the two halves of the fixture. The separation between the halves allows for the fitting and clamping of the center seam.
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The fixture is set up in a way that all three hairline cracks on the back could be clamped and glued at the same time as the center seam.
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The top crack repairs completed with mulberry fiber cleats. Unlike traditional wooden cleats, mulberry fiber cleats don’t produce a large amount of stress along grain lines, making future cracks much less likely. They also don’t alter the sound of the instrument as much as a wooden cleat because they have less mass.  The soundpost crack was patched using wood the same age as the wood from the violin’s top.

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