Wednesday, September 28, 2011

can a rosette have meaning?

Can a rosette have meaning? Probably not, but that won't stop me from trying. This simple inlay for the rosette is made from a small piece of blackwood given to me by a venerable old timber miller in the 1980's. He was third generation wood cutter, and his son is fourth, and they've seen some changes in the Otways and Colac/ Camperdown/Cobden areas, and being of a green inclination, I could have been a bit hesitant about their work and their motives, but they were of a different breed altogether from the forest purging-cut-it-all-down type of outfit. They had a vested interest in keeping the trees growing and their livelihoods intact. 

But by the 1990's the big boys with the big contracts and the huge machines had made them all but redundant. Anyway, he gave me this from his woodpile, because he knew that I was one of those silly types that takes a pretty bit of wood and stashes it until I can find a worthy way to give it some dignity, and it might have taken thirty years in this instance, but he was right.

The little block was possessed of a bit of white heartwood along one edge, and I thought I could use it to create an abalone sort of tonal variation, using Otway blackwood on the belly to balance that Tasmanian stuff on the back, and to remind me of a lovely, decent man who really knew the trees.

 Here the pieces are happily assembled on some butcher's paper, with the grooves already cut for the two lines of purfling.

 And looking like something from outer space, the purfling has been glued in above.

And the whole caboodle cut free from the paper that was the stuff that a good butcher once used  for wrapping the chops before supermarkets made butchers into backroom boys putting things into plastic.

Here above, the belly has been routed to accept my little wooden offerings.

And above they have been glued in and are being scraped flat. Now whenever I look at that sound hole there are a whole range of things that I'll be able to think about, little things that link the man I am with the man I was, and some of the people I've admired, and maybe even the man that's trying against all sensible odds to learn how to make a nice noise with a guitar.


  1. Rob, I'm following this process OK, but some of it seems like magic. I assume you use a router to make all these circular cuts - it must be a very sensitive tool to make such clean work. The edge around the sound hole, inside your rosette has some very sensitive exposed grain that might chip at the slightest miss-step.
    I'll stick to building boats. If I'd gone to all this trouble, then broken something, I'd cry! The pieces are all so delicate.
    Is your top made from spruce? I don't remember you saying...


  2. I'm with Doryman, I'd be terrified the router spun out of control, but I suppose that's where the skill comes in. It looks great, do you take commissions?

  3. Sorry if I've left out the grisly bits, it certainly isn't magic. I suppose I thought circle cutting was less interesting than timber selection! You can see the pin in the centre hole in one of those pics, well its job is to make the little router ONLY go round and round. The tricky bit is in setting the depth and diameter- but then doing a practice run on scrap sorts out all the issues, so that the tool can only do what you've pre-determined.

    The very inner cut does have vulnerable grain. Spruce can be very difficult and you need to consider grain direction all the time- but in this instance I only cut partially through with the power tool, finishing the release off with a surgical blade (xacto knife).

    You can avoid making a rosette though, there are firms that sell good quality pre-made items...

    Graham, this is a very small router, and it's much more likely that loss of control will be down to me rather than it!

    Working to a commission is generally lovely if small pieces of the client's life or story can be woven into details like this rosette. I once was commissioned to make a string quartet for a well known school and the cello was dedicated to a famous headmaster. I was able to incorporate timber from a cricket bat (willow for the linings), his old boarding house (red cedar for the blocks) and an old school piano (ebony for the nut and saddle) into details of the instrument. Do this and instruments have stories. People love stories...

  4. Three cheers for "silly types" who like to create stories, beautiful instruments and music...who needs TV?

  5. So, do you make your purfling? (no TV around here...)

  6. Yep, I normally make violin purfling to match the mold shape (ie pre-curved) but sometimes I made long straight lengths for bending too. I normally use ebony for the blacks and kauri for the whites although this stuff is poplar in the white as I recall. Classical rosettes are made from a plethora of squared and rearranged stock to make the matchstick patterns..steel string rosettes are more open to interpretation and are generally more restrained. I'm not sure if I'd make a classical fiddly and experts do it it huge batches.