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Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by wellspal, Dec 30, 2003.

  1. I remember Jeff talking about a straight edge that cost a zillion dollars and was fascinated.

    Doing a search here specifically on tools doesn't produce much.

    I'm currently looking for a violin knife. Would love to hear the luthiers and all expound on sources, shop made articles, etc.
  2. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Hoo boy, man, that's a big can o'worms.

    Are you a woodworker already? If so, you're already familiar with gouges, chisels, planes, scrapers, yada yada yada. If not, then you should start perusing tool catalogues and using tools. Also, if you're at that early stage of learning to make things out of wood, maybe you should think about going to school, joining a class or a club or something, and try your hand at making a few things. I know it drives Bob Branstetter nuts when I say things like this, but there's a surprising amount of similarity between building a fine piece of, say, furniture and building a bass. The similarity lies in having an intimate, real, experience-borne feel for the material in your hands, which is wood. Also, there's a ton of stuff to know about tools: using them, maintaining them, not cutting off bass-playing fingers, etc.

    There are several major vendors of good woodworking tools on the net with great catalogues. Check out Lee Valley, with whom I'm quite familiar as they're a Canadian firm and I'm, well, Canadian. Been dealing with them for 25 years and have learned lots about tools just by keeping the catalogue in the crapper. Great reading.

    There are some truly specialized luthier's tools; you'll learn about them as you need to know about them (endpin reamers, finger planes, etc.)

    There are lots of excellent woodworkers where in their shop you'll see whole walls full of carving tools and chisels. Watch them work for a while and you'll observe them doing two thirds of the work with maybe 2 chisels that they happen to like a lot. A "luthier's knife"? In the hands of an experienced person, a pocket knife will do the job, maybe even a butter knife if you could get an edge on it.

    Here's the thing about tools: don't run out and buy a whole shop full of tools that you think you may need at some point in the future. Buy excellent quality tools (the best you can afford; in the long run they really are the cheapest tools you can buy), buy them when you need them for a specific job, and learn how to use them. Hand tools especially take practice. You'll have to wreck some stock to get good, that's the way it works.

    Finally, I'm betting Jeff's straight edge is a Starrett.
  3. Great links Damon. Lee Valley is exactly the type of supplier I was thinking about. Lots of good stuff to drool over. Googling Starrett led to The Museum Store, another interesting place to spend some time.

    Yes I'm a woodworker, cabinetmaker, finish carpenter. Reversing the order of those would probably be more accurate. I did my own set-up on my ES9 in 2000 and don't plan on expanding my "luthiery" any farther than that bass.

    As far as knives go I'm fairly good at sharpening but don't have enough experience in grinding to be reshaping butter knives into precision tools!

    I guess my more specific question would be what are peoples favorite knives for very fine work such as trimming bridge feet or soundposts?
    I got the "violin knife" idea from the attached article at frets.com. Is this the excepted "Luthier Knife"?


  4. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    On the subject of Lee Valley, I've had nothing but absolutely stellar service from them. They're really fast, and I've ordered tools, garden stuff, Christmas presents, and even the drawer pulls for my new kitchen from them. They sell no crap, and everything I've gotten from them is top shelf. Plus, the print catalogs are gorgeous.

    Another great catalog for yer quality bathroom reading time is the free SVS Tonewoods book. It's got tons of stuff for anyone who's interested in carving instruments. Really beautifully done.
  5. I don't know very many luthiers who use store bought knives. Most of us make our own from special steel knife blanks, old straight razors, etc. You have to grind the cutting edge to what ever shape you need and then make your handle. I usually use walnut for the handles, but I've got some that my father made from building up layers of wood veneers. If you don't want to start off making your own knives, go to a hobby store and buy an X-acto knife set. An X-acto with a #11 blade is a very handy knife to have around. The problem with X-acto blades is that they do not resharpen very well, so you need to buy replacement blades frequently.

    There is one important rule when it comes to knives. A dull knife is a dangerous tool any way you use it - a sharp knife is not dangerous provided you use it properly. You can shave hair off your body with any knife in my shop.

    Here's a photo of some of the knives I've made and use. As you can see, they come in all sizes. Each size has a special use.
  6. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    If you're going to cut yourself, it's MUCH better to do it with a sharp edge. Quicker healing and a prettier scar.

    Nice knives, Bob! They look a lot like the Beebe knives.

    Anyone ever check out these Haida knives at Lee Valley? The Haida are an aboriginal people of the northwest coast of North America. They have a tradition of making these horking great wonderful canoes (not to mention totems) out of huge cedar trees. Their knives are held using an underhand grip and are pulled. I've never used one, but they look like the real shizznizz for working softwoods:

  7. I had never heard of the Beebe knives until you mentioned it here. There is one big difference between tradional violin makers knives like mine and the Beebe knives. That is the tang (the part that is under the wood in the handle). In tradional violin makers knives, after repeated shapenings have shortened the cutting length of the exposed blade, you simply cut away a little of the wood handle and explose more steel and reshapen. You can keep cutting away wood and reshapening them until you run out of steel. I have knives that I made 40 years ago that are probably 2 to 3 inches shorter than when I orginally made them. You can't do that with knives that have a cast tang (usually round).
  8. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Almost 30 years ago I got my first woodworking job at a furniture factory (we made motel and church furniture out of red oak). My foreman and teacher was an ancient old Yorkshireman I could barely understand. He taught me how to sharpen a chisel (I don't sharpen his way anymore, but the principles are the same.) He sharpened and honed a *lot* and the little half-inch chisel he always carried in his apron looked like a pencil stub. I thought the chisel was ancient, too, but it was only a couple years old!
  9. Beautiful photo Bob. Nice enough for inspiration on my shop wall!

    Thanks to all for great info.

    I love this place! Must move away from the computer get some actual work done.;)
  10. mpm


    May 10, 2001
    Los Angeles
    If those knives are as sharp as they are pretty, those are some useful tools...(as he salivates)...darn...
  11. OK guys, let's get back to the subject of Luthier's Tools. I recently received a Christmas present that I bought myself - a new set of finger planes. I got 5 planes in 1/8' increments from 1/4" to 3/4" for about $160.00. The castings are well made, but they all required a bit of work with a file to get the blades seated properly. The blades all needed regrinding before they would work properly. They are not a tool for the guy who demands it work properly right out of the box, but they are considerably less expensive than the German fingerplanes and the Ibex planes and when properly tuned, they make a very fine tool. They are made by a mom and pop type operation in Mesa, Arizona named St. James Bay Tool Company. St. James Bay Luthier's Tools

    Here's a photo of mine after tuning them.
  12. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Nice! St. James Bay isn't exactly known for being inexpensive, if I recall right. Those look like a deal...
  13. Luthier's tools are not known for being inexpensive anywhere.
  14. Cheaper than jewelry, but just as pretty! (I wonder if my wife would agree with that?)