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Cremona Varnish - How To?


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#1 Dwight Brown

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Posted 04 August 2007 - 02:16 PM

First:  What kind of varnish did our heroes in Cremona use in
the 18th century? (Stradivari, Guarneri)  I have read lots on
varnish and I am much more confused than I was in the first
place.....



Second:  Is there a good recipe and practice That can be
followed by a new maker to get good results with a minimum of heart
attacks.  There seem to be many varnish types, formulas,
grounds, number of coats,etc.  Is there a good place to start,
or do you just have to play roulette and hope.





Dwight



(The more  learn the less I know!)

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#2 Andres Sender

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Posted 04 August 2007 - 03:04 PM

Which lots did you read? This is all well summarized here in past threads.

Cremonese varnish is linseed oil and pine resin (at least sometimes at least partly larch), see Ferbose's paper for details.

As to a minimum of heart attacks, I don't think you can really make your own varnish without putting in a lot of testing and a certain amount of worry--even the simplicity of Michael Darnton's mastic varnish recipe doesn't always work for people, and the complexity (and danger) rapidly rises from there.

As has often been said, it's not so much what you use as how you use it, so for avoidance of anxiety it might be wise to choose a ready made varnish and start experimenting with the application to learn how to make it do what you want it to do.

I think you have to develop your own procedure through practice runs. Even if you're following someone else's directions you don't really know it's going to work for you, through your interpretation of what you're reading, until you try it.

If you want a suggestion for a low-stress procedure, I'd say a shellac sealer/ground, and then one of the commercial violin oil varnishes, if someone recommends a store-bought non-poly varnish and a way to use it that would be fine. I'm not familiar with what's on offer lately. Experiment until you can nail the color and look you want in a way that's easily brushed out and not too fussy.
The problem with the ignore feature is that if one has a sort of morbid fascination for train wrecks one can keep peeking and then the benefit is out the window.

#3 Fellow

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Posted 04 August 2007 - 03:18 PM

A friend of mine who works in Home Depot. Once I asked him something about varnish.
He said" You have to know what you want" "exterior or interior", "fast drying or slow"
"Brand name or store name" etc. ....

I only wanted to re-varnish my door. I used Marine varnish, one coat. I do not know
anything about 18 century Cremonese violins. Your question is much tougher.

PS. To my surprise, some parts of my old door absorbed the varnish. It resulted
uneven shades. "Seal the wood first" is a necessary step.

#4 Bruce Tai

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Posted 04 August 2007 - 10:21 PM

My suspicion is that Stradivari went to Home Depot to buy his
vernice

Only that it was called the apothecary in those days and it was not
a chain.

And he did not really care what was in there but his master just
told him not to get it not from the bottom of the
barrel. 

He takes it home and mix it with a lot of other things, color
pigments, inert pigments and oil.  

Then he proceeded to cover his violin with a fine
oil painting.

And when Home Depot stopped selling it, since everyone else
switched to alcohol varnishes and the supplier bailed out, no
one in Cremona could figure out how to make a good oil varnish
anymore.  

And when Count Cozio talked to Home Depot, the guys there just said
"sorry, we don't carry that anymore."

Seriously this is what I think happened  but since i can't
proof it you won't read about it in my paper.  
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. --Margaret Mead

My VSA Papers article on varnish research for download

A new, open-access journal about string instruments: Savart Journal

#5 Dwight Brown

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 12:30 AM

Ferbose,



Thanks,



I have printed out your paper and put it in a 3 ring binder to
save.  I'm sorry if I am asking the sam dumb question as a
million others.  I just re-read the chapter in the Hill book,
and I can't make much sense of it.  I have been having a hard
time concentrating as school is starting again and I don't think
I'm ready.  25 years as a teacher and I still feel like I'm
starting from scratch every year.  My favorite student I ever
had (he became a botanist not a musician) a very bright, funny,
engaging kid.  To make a long story short, he took his own
life about 2 weeks ago and I'm still in shock.  So if I seem
dumber than usual (pretty hard) that's probably why.  I am
hoping some how or another to start a second career making
instruments.  It's Pie-In-The-Sky right now, but if I don't
try I'll never know.  I would like to go to school, but I am
afraid I am too old (47) and too stupid.  Anyway, I am trying
to read everything I can find and maybe start to get some tools and
wood together.  I really like this site, and I am very
impressed with all of the people here

Veritas et Humanitas


#6 Bruce Tai

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 12:34 AM

I recently read Zemitis' "http://melvyl.cdlib.org/F/C61Q8HML8HIKB7H65V11USUJMIIDVD26LNIBSJER41X96BEHM8-23191?func=full-set-set&set_number=007376&set_entry=000007&format=999">
book
, Violin Varnish and Coloration.  The author is highly
knowledgeable, and takes a no-bogus approach toward his study of
varnish.  If he had met Sacconi and sat down to write a
varnish book together, it would have been very interesting.
 I am not sure if his insistence on using amber is
correct, but he is probably mostly correct when it comes to
refuting various exotic claims made by others.  I have to
agree that this is the best monograph ever written on Cremonese
varnishes.  His understanding was pretty much
state-of-the-art at around 30 years ago.  He would have been
pleasantly surprised by how much progress chemical analysis has
made in the last 30 years.  

If there is a good place to start reading about varnishes and
not get confused, I would recommend this book.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. --Margaret Mead

My VSA Papers article on varnish research for download

A new, open-access journal about string instruments: Savart Journal

#7 Bruce Tai

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 12:59 AM

quote:


Originally posted by: Interlochen1978 Ferbose,
Thanks, I have printed out your paper and put it in a 3 ring binder
to save.  I'm sorry if I am asking the sam dumb question as a
million others.  I just re-read the chapter in the Hill book,
and I can't make much sense of it.  I have been having a hard
time concentrating as school is starting again and I don't think
I'm ready.  25 years as a teacher and I still feel like I'm
starting from scratch every year.  My favorite student I ever
had (he became a botanist not a musician) a very bright, funny,
engaging kid.  To make a long story short, he took his own
life about 2 weeks ago and I'm still in shock.  So if I seem
dumber than usual (pretty hard) that's probably why.  I am
hoping some how or another to start a second career making
instruments.  It's Pie-In-The-Sky right now, but if I don't
try I'll never know.  I would like to go to school, but I am
afraid I am too old (47) and too stupid.  Anyway, I am trying
to read everything I can find and maybe start to get some tools and
wood together.  I really like this site, and I am very
impressed with all of the people here




I am sorry to hear about the tragedy of your friend.  Nothing
is more fragile than life itself.

I have been asking myself "what is Stradivari's varnish made of?"
almost daily for the last year and I am still rather clueless.
 The PDF version of the paper I posted in June should be read
with a grain of salt.  SInce then more information have been
made available to me, and I am doing a major revision.  Only
this time it will be published in a journal.  There is nothing
really wrong with my first version except for a few serious typos,
but some information is definitely missing.  At any rate, my
understanding of the Cremonese varnish is very much incomplete, and
even things I think I know will not necessarily stand the test
of time.  Our analytical tools really are not advanced
enough to deconstruct something so complex.  On the other
hand, there are many people here who have years of hands-on
experience, and learning from them directly is much more
useful than reading all the stuff ever published, if you really
want to varnish a violin.  
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. --Margaret Mead

My VSA Papers article on varnish research for download

A new, open-access journal about string instruments: Savart Journal

#8 Jacob

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 01:27 AM

Hi Dwight,

My condolences - that's a tough one about your student.

Some of the most high-profile professional makers contributing to this forum have admitted that varnishing is the toughest part of making an instrument. The advice Andres cannot be improved upon - at least for starters. The commercial oil varnish which International Violin offers is pretty fool-proof, and there is absolutely no reason not to start off with that - I did. You really need to start with something which is easy to apply and predictable in the outcome. While you are developing as a maker you can start fooling around with other recipes, making them and working with them. Don't put that frustration at the top of your list if you want to start making instruments.

I was a music teacher as well (for the latter part of my career I was teaching Musicology at University) until the age of 43. I went into the instrument business then and started making at the age of 49 without formal training (I hesitate to use the term "self-taught", because with books, Strad posters, and the help of others such as here on Maestronet, that is a bit of a far-fetched claim). This is now my career.

#9 Fellow

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 04:47 AM

From the looks of my own violins I think there are many kinds of varnishes. For example,
looks hard, soft, thick or thin, light, dark, shinny, dull , changing colors under different lighting
conditions, no change...looks expensive,look cheap...looks Italian, red, orange, brown, etc. I would speculate that 18 century Cremona violins also had many kind of varnishes.

Why anyone put their lives on line for the glory of making violins?
If you make a good violin, so be happy. If not, you are still special. Why feel so sad?

PS. I am sorry for being insensitive to your loss and overlooked the part of
your honorable character that you remember your student. Still important i think to let bygone be bygone.

#10 Rob Fowler

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 05:29 AM

Yuen, I have read many of your posts – I
think you are a great philosopher as well as an admirer of fine
violins and all that goes into making them. I think you should have
a go at making one yourself



Dwight, I know how you feel about going back
to school after being on holiday. I’m in the same position
also. I have 2 weeks left and then school starts and I always dread
the arrival of pupils at the start of the new term because I wonder
if I’m ready and have done enough preparation. So sorry to
hear about one of your students and I know that attachments to
students can get very strong so that you feel they are one of the
family. Life seems so crooked and unfair at times.



Jacob, I was interested to know that you
started your path into violin making later in life. This offers me
some hope as I am now 55 and I may manage to get a couple made
before I officially retire from teaching and then a lot more made
after retirement.


Rob Fowler

#11 Ray Lee

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 05:41 AM

What's a tough question!



I would prefer to  answer for  " How the earth are
made?" or "Why are we here?"



As far as i Studied the Cremonese  varnish systems,the more
hard for me to said "This is the "Secret"!"



The Cremonese varnish vary a lot in texture and colour.(the
thickness of ground and composition of it also).That made the case
more complicated.
"Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted." Albert Einstein

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Oscar Wilde

#12 lama pemasang Gyaltsen TAR

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 06:58 AM

I have a varnish formula that colours just like and has all the
qualities, like elasticity and thermoplasticity, of Original
Italian varnish



Take 60 parts by volume Dammar Copal 40 parts wwRosin(PINE RESIn)
 Treat outdoors by very slowly adding
90% nitric acid over a low heat, until the resin is deeply coloured
and partly burned which gives the authentic brown element to the
yellow, orange or red varnish, just like Stradivari, keep heating
till all the nitric acid is boiled off, cool then dissolve in a
water bath, outside 200 parts Turpentine, or Rosemary oil etc
then simply add 20-30 part boiled Linseed oil, let cool
and settle and youre ready to go, of course for the ground coat you
use untreated with nitric acid clear varnish and also for the top
coat, clear.  Good 5-8 coats of coloured and 2-3 of clear and
youre done easily getting a deep orange red brown colour Identical
to some Strad and other Italian violins, because the dammar has
such a low melting point you get the thermoplastic nature that
almost all modern formulas are missing, after drying completely it
will still take a fingerprint if you hold youre finger down long
enough and then this will slowly dissapear over a few days, all the
books talk about Strad varnish being like this, Saconi, Hill etc,
but practically no modern formulas do this because the melting
point of the resins used is too high, Of course this varnish
practically wont dry indoors, even over weeks,1 day in the sun and
its completely dry, just like Stradivari said, Ok IVe put it out
there, time to tear it apart maestronetters, sincerely Lyndon J
Taylor

#13 Fellow

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 07:27 AM

Hi Mr. Taylor,

I don't think you have the same varnish like my German factory (not kidding). It changes colors.
In day time, in natural sun light it looks red. In night time, artificial light it looks yellow. Like an
attractive model (young lady), puts on different dresses. Why anyone wants 18 century varnish?
(ground is yellow, pigment is red, pigment does not show at night)

#14 lama pemasang Gyaltsen TAR

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 07:41 AM

Nitric acid varnish compared to pigmented varnish, is spectacularly
more radiant in strong light especially sunlight, colours sparkle
like a sunset kind like youre describing youre violin Yuen, the
superiority of nitric coloured varnish is it has no suspended
pigment; Pigment causes the varnish to be partly opaque, not
transperent, because the nitric acid actually changes the molecular
nature of the resins so the resins themselves are all coloured not
just a pigment suspended in resin, from my limited experience with
old Italians about 50% appear to be coloured with acid and are
incredibly transperent and about 50% use conventional pigments
and are more opaque, even the deep reds can be got with nitric if
you use 10-15 coats, also my theory is the Nitric acid degrades the
strength of the varnish enough that the coloured wears a lot
quicker than the clear under and over coat, just like the
Originals, haven't tested that theory, though, sincerely Lyndon

#15 Fellow

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 07:46 AM

Okay, I accept your explanation gladly, nevertheless, a little heavy.

#16 David Burgess

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 04:35 PM

Ferboses Home Depot metaphor is no less compelling than than anything else I've read, and probably better than most.

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#17 Melvin Goldsmith

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 07:41 PM

quote:


Originally posted by: David Burgess Ferboses Home
Depot metaphor is no less compelling than than anything else I've
read, and probably better than most.




...................................



Yes I am attracted to that notion too......sometimes I even wonder
 if the classic makers actually varnished their own
instruments at all ......Take del Gesu for instance .He was very
disinclined to make his own scrolls...and all the evidence I see of
his varnish is that it is very even and careful....in contrast
perhaps to what his woodwork reveals of his persona...just
speculation of course but maybe the greats took their violins to a
paint shop somewhere to be varnished and the guy from the paint
shop(s) bought varnish from the Cremona Home Depot....
www.goldsmithviolins.com

#18 carlkenyon

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 08:53 PM

I have made
 the Darnton Varnish( mastic varnish),It is simple enough,
but  still the varnish world is confusing, every maker must
use their own formula.



I will now  try the Lyndon J Taylor Varnish. But it too is
confusing!!!



Mr Taylor some Questions,



IS your varnish 60 parts Dammar Copal + 40 parts pine resin (which
one?, Larch, White pine,??) +200 parts turpentine +20-30 parts
Linseed oil (or any drying oil)

This is  your basic clear varnish and also your ground and
clear top coat.



 Your nitric acid color coat is boiled then cooled then you
put it in water? I don't follow the water bath,  can you
clarify

 carl

#19 lama pemasang Gyaltsen TAR

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 09:44 PM

Youve got the formula right I use pine rosin but Larch should be
fine unless it liquid and then it explodes, not kidding, The nitric
treatment; you melt the resins just barely over low heat
outdoors(this is 250-300' Farenheit with fire extinguishers
handy, drip in 90% nitric acid which makes an almost explosive
chemical reaction bubbling and fizzing then you keep lightly
heating, till the bubbling and fizzing has completely stopped
that's how you know all the acid and water has been boiled off, you
don't want to leave any acid or water in the varnish it could stain
the wood, then degrade it over time, Then you simply let the 6040
dammar rosin cool and solidify, powder it with a mortar add it to a
peanut butter jar no more than One third full with the 200 parts
turpentine  then slowly heating and stirring the varnish in
the peanut jar and placing it in a pot of boiling water, be
very careful not to splash anything over the side of the jar, it
will ignite very easily, if it lights up you ll have time to jump
away and use the extinguishers, not too risky if you do it outdoors
like a I say to;, finally when the resin is all dissolved add the
20-30parts boiled linseed let the undisolvable elements of the
varnish precipitate out to the bottom of the jar and the varnish is
ready to use. For the clear ground coat you simply skip the initial
heating and  nitric treating of the raw resin, powder the raw
resin dissolve in turps in the water bath(peanut butter jar 1/3
full) placed in a pot of boiling water to heat it, add the linseed,
let settle and youre ready to go, you don't really need to filter
it as it will all settle out, and form a sticky hard mass at the
bottom of the jar of unusable varnish, if you really are going to
try it contact me over the phone(at the link below) and ill guide
you through it much more thoroughly than I can do in writing, I
know it sounds fairly difficult but believe me the colours are
spectacular, exactly duplicating the colours and characteristics of
the best historical Italian and some German varnishes, call me in a
few days when Ive got some better sleep, and Ill be happy to help
you if Im not busy, sincerely Lyndon

#20 JCHungerpiller

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Posted 06 August 2007 - 11:58 AM

Dwight,

I think we should chat sometime. I appear to be in a very similar position in my life re learning about violins/varnish etc. as well as considering a second career.

But I am way older (48)! I am gathering articles and am happy to share. Last night re re-read Karl Roy's summary of varnishes in his new book for the third time and the picture became a little bit more clear...but still resembles a spirit varnish applied in too high a humidityJ.

Have you read about etheric oil varnishes?

Cheers, John Hungerpiller
John




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