Trade Secrets: Small tools, big help

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A number of labour-saving devices designed to make life easier at the workbench

The tools I present here are probably not works of earth-shattering genius, but all are small things that make my work more efficient and enjoyable. My father Jan, who I work with, is probably more captivated by them than I am. The impulse to make each one of these tools always came from working on an instrument and asking myself whether I could somehow make this part of the making process easier.

Certainly the original inspiration for many of these tools came from the workshops of colleagues and friends, or from the Chicago School of Violin Making where I trained, or the W.H. Lee workshop where my father and I worked for some time. That is where we met our friend, the great luthier Tetsuo Matsuda, who demonstrated that in order to achieve ‘Japanese precision’ and get the fine details correct, it is always necessary to use two hands rather than one. This was the main inspiration for these gadgets: when you use them, there is no need to use one hand to support the piece you are working on. Such helpful tools can obviously be designed for every single part of the making process, but for this article I have limited myself to those involving the neck. Our other suggestion is a quick way to find lines of symmetry in various elements of the instrument.

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