Shopmade Luthier Tools

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Blog series by Dave Rutan updated 02-13-2018 02:06 AM 32 parts 30179 reads 77 comments total

Part 1: Series Intro

01-02-2017 03:44 PM by Dave Rutan | 15 comments »

I’m starting to gather together and make a few tools that will be dedicated to lutherie, that is, the building and repair of stringed instruments which are usually made of wood. Having a dedicated lutherie kit will just make my life easier than walking back and forth in the shop grabbing the needed tool. Many of these will likely end up in a stand, box, or drawer for easy access while doing repairs. From the sound of things, learning to re-hair violin bows and the like is a good...

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Part 2: I can handle this file!

01-03-2017 12:26 AM by Dave Rutan | 1 comment »

One of the tools I’m going to need for my (hopefully) career in instrument repair is a common file. Judging by the photos of appropriate tools I’ve found on the internet, this one should work well. It was a spare I had, possibly one I got from my dad’s estate. I cleaned it up and decided to put a handle on it. I grabbed a scrap of walnut and cut it to appropriate length. Then I drilled a hole in one end to accept the tang of the file. Then I drove the file into t...

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Part 3: Tiny chisel/scraper

01-03-2017 01:49 PM by Dave Rutan | 2 comments »

Even though this is technically a chisel, it is used principally as a scraper to get hardened glue out of the small wells in a violin bow where the ends of the hair hank are anchored. I fashioned the blade of this chisel from the Phillips screw driver ‘blade’ of an old, low quality pocket knife. It was not a genuine Swiss Army knife, but a bad, cheap knockoff. The blades loosened up after a few years and the knife lived in my tool box for ‘just in case’. I general...

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Part 4: Knife

01-03-2017 09:51 PM by Dave Rutan | 2 comments »

The luthier’s knife looks very much to me like a common carpenter’s striking or marking knife. Be that as it may, I don’t have either, so I made one. I started with an old, dull 3/4 inch spade bit. I marked a 45 degree angle on it and grouned it down with my bench grinder, keeping it cool with frequent water dippings. I then used my belt grinder to put a bevel on one side of the blade. I honed it to sharpness on a whetstone. It’s not scary sharp, but it’s sharp. Fo...

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Part 5: Tiny knife/scraper

01-03-2017 11:59 PM by Dave Rutan | 0 comments »

While we’re on the subject of knives, this one, while it is a knife, will principally be used as a scraper in tight spaces. The blade began life as the awl in the cheap pocket knife that I mentioned a few posts ago. The handle is a scrap of white oak from the hardwood scrap drawer. (I have a hardwood scrap box as well.) The knife was finished with boiled linseed oil. Check out the other luthier tools I’ve made here:[link] Enjoy a few more pictures:

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Part 6: Brass hair gauge

01-04-2017 02:41 AM by Dave Rutan | 0 comments »

What’s a hair gauge you ask? When a luthier re-hairs a violin bow, or a bow of any of the other bowed instruments, they don’t just cram a bunch of horse hair into the little anchor holes. There is a certain yet indefinite amount of hair required for each type of bow. Greatly experienced professionals can pretty much gauge it by their hands, but some like to do it scientifically. Hair gauges are available for purchase and there are several types. There’s even...

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Part 7: Pick

01-04-2017 11:50 AM by Dave Rutan | 0 comments »

Call this a pick or a bodkin. It is chiefly used to nudge out the maple ‘wedges’ that hold the horse hair in at either end of a bow. I made mine from half of one of those nut picks that come with nut cracker sets. After cutting the nut pick in two, I chucked it in my electric drill (corded) and sharpened it on my belt grinder till it gained a nice long point. Then I mounted it in a scrap piece of white oak with a copper ferrule. The handle was finished with boiled linseed oi...

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Part 8: Hook

01-04-2017 12:52 PM by Dave Rutan | 0 comments »

This tool is made from the business end of one of those nut picks that come with nut cracking sets. In a video about bow re-hairing I saw the technician using a tool like this to push the abalone slide back over the hair on the frog end of the bow. I sad to myself ‘I can make one of those!’ After cutting the nut pick in two, I mounted it in a scrap piece of white oak and strengthened it witrh a ferrule. Even so, I learned that the hole you drill to accept the tool ne...

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Part 9: Tiny file with Cheap-A handle

01-04-2017 11:31 PM by Dave Rutan | 1 comment »

In one of the videos I watched on bow re-hairing, it was sugested that a tiny rat tail file would come in handy. I happen to have a double set of tiny files, so I thought I’d put a handle on the one I apparently need. I took one of the easily discarded wooden handles from a used foam brush and drilled out the plastic tang that remained in the handle. Then I fit a copper ferrule on it and glued in the file. (The hole was just a bit loose for the file tang.) I did a bit of sanding...

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Part 10: Blunt push stick

01-04-2017 11:56 PM by Dave Rutan | 0 comments »

If this looks like a screwdriver with the business end cut off, you’re not far off. One of the luthiers I watched used just that to push the little maple plugs/wedges in to secure the hair in the bow. I decided to make mine from scratch anyway. The handle is a scrap piece of mahogany this time with a ferrule attached. The push stick is a piece of rod from an old pendaflex folder frame. I just made sure I slightly rounded the business end and smoothed it so that it wouldn’...

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Part 11: Get a grip on your bow!

01-05-2017 08:05 PM by Dave Rutan | 0 comments »

See more photos on my project page [link] A bow vise is used to hold a violin bow while replacing the horse hair that vibrates the strings. I started by looking up such a thing and finding photos of (mostly) the commercially available models. Then I printed out a few screen shots for the details. I didn’t absolutely duplicate the commercial model, but I got something that will work. The wood is oak throughout. A few bibs and bobs of the hardware will be replaced with brass once I ge...

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Part 12: Etc.

01-05-2017 10:55 PM by Dave Rutan | 1 comment »

I haven’t learned to make these items yet. A pair of pliers, mine are parallel pliers that I got from a friend, a good pair of hair cutting scissors, and a fine tooth comb.

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Part 13: Violin opening knife

01-08-2017 11:54 PM by Dave Rutan | 2 comments »

A violin opening knife is a very thin, semi-flexible wide-bladed tool used to separate the parts of a violin. The glue used to hold such instruments together is brittle and will let go under stress. Apparently that is a feature, not a flaw. For mine, I was too cheap and impatient to find a thin cheese knife, so I took a dollar store spackle knife and after removing the blade from the plastic handle and trimming it down, I sandwiched it between two pieces of mahogany with epoxy. Whe...

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Part 14: 2 chisels rehandled

01-09-2017 02:24 AM by Dave Rutan | 2 comments »

I had two chisels without handles. The flatter one is from of old. It was from my dad’s stuff. It’s purpose when I was growing up was to pry open the old ‘extra’ refrigerator we had in the basement. The handle of the fridge had broken somewhere in my pre-history. The handle on the chisel was clear yellow plastic. The plastic broke some years ago when I was using the chisel to do chisel stuff. Surprise! It lived for some time in one of my tool boxes, handleless...

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Part 15: Improved bow hair gauge out of brass

01-13-2017 08:09 PM by Dave Rutan | 1 comment »

My first hair gauge [link] wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be so I kept an upgrade in the back of my head. The other night I spotted this string gauge [Below] and it inspired me to make something extremely similar to measure bow hair. I made this new hair gauge using brass strip 1/2 inch wide and about 2 inches long. I used a wood coffee stirer to space them apart about 1/16 of an inch and soldered a brass cleat along one edge on both sides. Then I cleaned it up with my benc...

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Part 16: A few hole clamps

01-23-2017 02:06 AM by Dave Rutan | 2 comments »

I made these in anticipation of someday being tasked to repair cracks in violins. I made them from a, (or a few) Pend-A-flex hanger frames (one is shown above framing the three clamps.) The U-shaped part is threaded on both ends, while the straight bar has a threadable through hole in each end. I simply bent the frames into a C shape as small as possible on my machinists vise and fit either a 1/4 inch bolt or a #10 bolt in an appropriate hole. The smallest of the three I had to flatted th...

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Part 17: String jack or lifter for cello

01-23-2017 09:36 PM by Dave Rutan | 1 comment »

This is a device that lifts the strings off of the bridge of a musical instrument so that the bridge can be removed during the fitting/adjustment process. I think i first saw one of these in a video on YouTube. After looking it up, I decided it was definitely something I could make. It’s basically a thick bridge, this one is for a 3/4 cello, which has a top piece which lifts with the assistance of a screw. The top piece runs on guides. The commercial products run in slides on the si...

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Part 18: Violin bridge jigs

02-07-2017 08:09 PM by Dave Rutan | 3 comments »

It stands to reason that if I need bridge jigs for a cello, [link 1] [link 2] I’ll need bridge jigs for a violin as well. I made these out of some scrap wood. The bridge fitting jig (on the right above) was made from oak. The string jack/lifter is from poplar. I made the blank for it at the time I made the blank for the cello string lifter. Brass hardware gives a tiny touch of class to jigs which are very utilitarian. I finished the string lifter with golden oak stain and th...

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Part 19: Small size sound post setter

03-27-2017 08:02 PM by Dave Rutan | 4 comments »

I already own two violin size sound post setting tools which I purchased online. The other day I was setting a sound post in a less than full size instrument and I got the feeling I was stretching the limits of the tool. I got the post set successfully, but it entered my mind that a smaller tool might be handy for if I should have to work on a 1/4 size violin or smaller someday. So today I went down into my woodshop, took a piece of 1/4 iinch flat brass and went to work with the grinde...

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Part 20: Neck Clamps for Violin, Cello, etc...

04-03-2017 05:09 PM by Dave Rutan | 5 comments »

There are at least two instruments in the shop that need necks reattached. I was shown how to do this when the entire neck is detached, but two cellos are broken at the joint and the method shown me might not work so well. Google to the rescue! I found photos of commercially available models, selling for multiple tens of dollars, and decided I could make my own. I used some of the mahogany at my disposal, some 3/8 in. threaded rod, and some sheet cork I was given a few years ago. ...

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Part 21: Copper Pencil extender

05-10-2017 01:13 PM by Dave Rutan | 2 comments »

I know this is reaching a little bit. I made this pencil extender to use in the music shop because I keep a pencil in a pocket of my apron and as it gets shorter and shorter, There comes a point where I can’t easily reach it. this way it is kept at pretty much the length of a pencil. I made it from a piece of copper pipe just over the inner diameter of a random pencil I grabbed. The end is capped and the open end has half of an extension sleeve on it. I drilled and tapped a 6-32 ...

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Part 22: Rotary File/Hole Chamfer tool

05-23-2017 12:16 PM by Dave Rutan | 2 comments »

In looking around for the best buys on the tools I actually have to buy versus make to repair bowed string insytruments, I encountered a tool that I haven’t missed having—yet. Seeing that it’s looks like a counter sink bit on a handle, I made one. The handle is a turned spindle that I saved from a piece of furniture for just such a use. I just had to shorten it and drill a hole in one end to accept the counter sink bit on one end. I glued it in with epoxy and...

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Part 23: Violin Crack Clamp

06-21-2017 09:19 PM by Dave Rutan | 5 comments »

Last week I found a violin in the bone pile that looks like it’s trying to crack in half lengthwise. Not having any appropriate clamp to hold such a thing together for gluing, I put my mind to it and came up with this clamp. I made it out of 3/4 inch mahogany, using two pieces on each side. I did that so that I could easily create the groove on the inside of the curved parts to engage the lip on the edge of the violin. The groove is shallow so the clamp body won’t press...

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Part 24: Brass sound post plier

08-07-2017 10:57 PM by Dave Rutan | 7 comments »

This is a tool that is used to adjust the position of a sound post in a violin. A sound post is like a length of dowel that is wedged between the top and back of a string instrument to help transmit the sound from the strings to the back (little more complicated actually, but that explanation will suffice.) I bought one of these that is about 8 inches, but discovered during use on the smaller violins that a more petite model would be handy. I used two 6 inch brass rulers, $1 each on...

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Part 25: More spool clamps

08-09-2017 09:56 PM by Dave Rutan | 1 comment »

I continue my acquisition of toolls for repairing cellos and contra basses. These add to the orignal dozen that I need for bssses and get me closrr to the two dozen I want to have for cellos. FYI the dowel pieces for these were salvaged from an old snow shovel handle. Never throw a wooden handle out. It’s just a big dowel after all. They cost $$ if you have to buy them! [Below] Witness that my daughter’s animals tend to cause trouble if left to themselves.

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Part 26: A few deep reach clamps

08-10-2017 01:18 AM by Dave Rutan | 1 comment »

I made one of these as an experiment and I ened up using it in the orchestral repair shop to hold two edges of a violin face crack. I figured it couldn’t hurt to make a few more. Sometimes I have to repair multiple instruments in a day. I made two sizes, 5 in. And 7 in deep with a capacity of 2-1/4 inches. Turns out this is a little small for a full size fiddle, but then most of our violins are 3/4 size and smaller. I’ll make a few larger ones eventually for full size v...

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Part 27: Small brass soundpost setter

08-10-2017 09:54 PM by Dave Rutan | 2 comments »

I was looking around for pictures of violin soundpost setters when I found one on eBay with a ram’s horn hook on one end (my term). Its uniqueness attracted me, so I went down to my workshop, grabbed a length of 1/4 inch brass strip. I split one end with a hack saw and cold chisel and shaped the ram’s horns with taps of a ball peen hammer. After I got that end to look satisfactory, I used files, my belt and disc sander, and a brass wire wheel to shape and polish the instrum...

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Part 28: Violin and Cello Stick Clamps

08-20-2017 01:50 AM by Dave Rutan | 1 comment »

I have a project coming up, so I’m gearing up beforehand. I have a cello to repair in a fairly major way. The larger clamps are for the cello, though they may be long enough for a double bass, or at least not a full size one. The smaller clamps are meant for violins, though they may even fit on a viola. The sticks are 1/4” dowels and the heads are mahagony. There is a slight chance the heads might come off even though they are glued, so I may pin them before use. The cla...

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Part 29: Brass bridge templates and bevel gauge

09-05-2017 06:17 PM by Dave Rutan | 4 comments »

To badly mis-paraphrase a character from Babylon 5, “Zathras wants to have something nice.” A while ago I made a set of templates out of plastic for creating the arc that is on the top of violin and cello bridges. I was determined that eventually I would replace them with brass ones once I found a source for the brass. Well, eBay sells this 5-inch brass ruler that is an inch wide for less than $2 each… So I decided to start with a template for a full size viol...

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Part 30: Scraper, well sort of

02-08-2018 01:15 PM by Dave Rutan | 4 comments »

I wanted a set of small scrapers on the cheap, so I made a set out of a dollar store saw blade. The quality probably isn’t like the ones made from real tool steel, but they do work. I’ve adjusted the shape of these since making them to reach certain areas of instruments.

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Part 31: Brass F-hole cleat clamps

02-09-2018 11:37 PM by Dave Rutan | 3 comments »

Who doesn’t love clamps? I made these 5 light duty clamps so that I wouldn’t have to buy them. You can get the comercial variety for $16-$20 each plus shipping. Mine came in at about $5 each. I made them from 5/32” brass rod, 10-24 threaded rod, nuts, a 6mm t coupling for air lines, and some JB Weld to put it all together. The cleats involved are very very small, designed to simply bridge a crack which has already been glued together in order to add some strength to the mend...

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Part 32: Brass violin crack clamps

02-13-2018 02:06 AM by Dave Rutan | 3 comments »

This is my violin posing with a set of violin crack clamps that I made with brass rod and plastic cut from a 1/2 inch thick cutting board. These function like flexible, light-duty bar clamps. I’ll meed to make another, smaller set since many of the instruments I repair are fractional sizes. Oh, no! Not more clamps!

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