John Dilworth sings the praises of natural adhesive in violin making in this article from February 2013

Small wonders

Drawing: Veronica Lawlor

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This article is from the February 2013 issue of The Strad

Like most solitary types, I spend my days talking to the cats, and when they’re not around, communicating with inanimate objects. Every morning I put on a fresh pot of glue. Sometimes I sing to it. It’s good stuff, glue. Leim in German. Does it have anything to do with lime trees or lime fruit? Linden? I doubt it. Colle in French and colla in Italian – obviously from collagen. Which it is. Broken-down animal bone and skin. It’s strong, it’s tough, if you use just enough. It’s also thousands of years old, and has never been bettered as a way of putting two bits of wood together.

Properly done, a glue joint is stronger than the wood. Take a shaving off a centre joint and snap it. If it breaks on the glue line, you haven’t done it properly. If it snaps on a wood grain, as it should, you’re OK. Soak it in hot water, or brush a line of alcohol on it, and it will give up as if it were never there. You can repair violins almost perpetually, because of glue. A well-made glue joint is also invisible. It draws into the wood grain, rather than leaving a line of adhesive or cement. If Andrea Amati had used epoxy resin, the violin world would be very different.

So glue deserves a celebratory song. I have a pot soaking from the evening before. I could, if I had the time, let hours pass watching the little granules swell, absorb the distilled water and release tiny interstitial bubbles of air until the glue has broken down into an amorphous mass. It’s all in a conveniently sized jar that used to be home to some pickled herring. I have a cupboard full of them, all the same brand. Nice with some brown bread at lunchtime.

Small wonders 3

Photo: John Dilworth

But in the morning, the jar goes into the glue bath, which is my mother-in law’s old kitchen bain-marie. She used it for melting chocolate for cakes and making custard for her apple pies. Sadly it just smells of glue now. But glue is a good, familiar smell, which intrigues visitors and customers. A violin workshop tends to smell of glue, linseed oil and spruce, predominantly (and maybe a few other things after a long day toiling at a hard maple cello back). But this is an unusual environment these days. Not offensive, I hope. In the evening I sweep up, and put another batch of glue into a pickled-herring jar. But sometimes I forget. Maybe the cats interrupted. It doesn’t matter. But I like glue. Maybe that makes me a Limey.

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