Making Matters: A head for figures

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Luthiers such as Jacob Stainer often surmounted their instruments with elaborately carved heads rather than scrolls. Lloyd McCaffery, a professional wood carver, explains how he developed a modern take on an ancient art form

I am an artist and sculptor who specialises in miniature wood carving and ship models. I have been creating full-time for over 50 years. Along the way I have enjoyed branching out and exploring other types of carving. I have always admired the carved heads on old stringed instruments, so I thought I might make a contribution to the genre. 

My first step was to learn as much as possible about bowed stringed instruments. I read all I could about their history and development, and what things luthiers need to take into account – wood choice, tools, techniques, and methods of finishing, for example. I also watched videos on YouTube to get a visual sense of the craftsmanship that goes into this complex subject, my goal being to understand what is important to the maker and, equally, to the player. I realised that whatever I carve cannot interfere with the sound the violin makes – but also that my sculpted head must not get in the way of the player’s technique. A heavy head would be a drag…


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