Trade Secrets: Inlay techniques

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Giving a decorative flourish to an instrument can add a personal touch – and be a true test of skill

Adding decorative inlay to an instrument is a magnificent art, which I consider particularly special in violin making as it allows luthiers to put their own personal artistic stamp on the finished product. The instrument that has inspired me the most is the ‘Greffuhle’ Stradivari violin of 1709 (pictured left and right). It is the one I always refer to as a model for the inlaying process. Both the front and back plates have beautiful inlaid decoration, made up of round and lozenge-shaped pieces of ivory set in black ebony paste along the double purfling channel. Both the ribs and the scroll are decorated with inlaid floral patterns, with the ribs also including stylised figures of birds and dogs, the same black stucco being used to fill in the details. 

This article shows how I use the ‘Greffuhle’ as a model to make my own decorative inlay. The decoration on the ribs and scroll is made using a mixture of ebony dust and hot glue, while the front and back plates are decorated using pieces of camel bone (in lieu of ivory). The decoration is only outlined on the instrument in the first stage, and carved in the second. It is a delicate process, which takes a long time and requires both patience and a great deal of precision…

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