Derek Roberts Violins

Violin Making
Day 12 Purfling

This is one page in a series about violin making by hand in the traditional way. Please see the introduction for more, and our violin making courses if you are inspired to make a violin yourself.

Today violin maker Derek Roberts inlays the purfling in the plates, whose outline was finished in the previous stage. Purfling is a delicate sandwich of different coloured woods which is inlaid in a channel cut around the margins of the instrument.

The purfling marker, purfling pick and two strips of purfling are pictured here.

Derek uses the blades of the purfling marker to score two parallel lines a short way in from the edge of the plate. Then he deepens each line with a knife.

The wood between each knife cut is removed with the purfling pick. This is a very small narrow-bladed chisel. Using this method, a purfling channel is cut around each plate, ready to receive the inlay.

This picture shows the difference between the pair of parallel lines marking out the purfling channel in the plate on the left, and the purfling channel in the plate on the right which has been fully cut out.

Cutting the channel in the corners is particularly delicate work. At this point two strips of purfling will meet in a mitred joint.

A strip of purfling is heated and bent to shape on the bending iron. This is the same iron that was used to bend the ribs.

The curved purfling is fitted into the channel. Small adjustments are made to the depth and width of the channel with a knife and a purfling pick, to ensure a comfortable fit.

The most difficult stage in inlaying the purfling is forming the mitre where two strips of purfling join at the corners of the instrument.

The mitre terminates in a very delicate point called the bee-sting.

The neatness of the purfling, and especially the bee-sting, are important elements in the aesthetic design of a violin.

A very sharp chisel is required to shape the ends of the purfling strips to form the bee-sting. This is a test of the violin maker's skill.

To fix the purfling in the channel, Derek applies hot animal glue with a brush and presses the purfling down into the channel.

Finally Derek gently taps the purfling with a light hammer, to ensure a positive fit and to squeeze out surplus glue.

The purfling has now been inlaid in both the front and back plates, which begin to take on their final appearance. However, further work is needed to remove the tool marks which are still visible.

In the next stage Derek completes the final arching on the plates.

Are you interested in learning to make a violin, or developing your violin making skills? See our Violin Making Courses. Our resources page has recommendations for books and suppliers for violin making.

All material on this site copyright Derek Roberts, Leamington Spa 1999, 2000, 2001, 2014