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Luthier's burnt sugar inspiration
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Fiddlerman
Fort Lauderdale
July 17, 2011 - 8:19 am
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 11694

California violin maker puts faith in substitute for propolis

A California luthier's two-year quest to perfect his varnish formula coincided with a spiritual self-examination, reports SantaCruz.com. David Morse, who has made instruments for players in the San Francisco Symphony, and a violin for the orchestra's conductor laureate Herbert Blomstedt, hit upon a new formula involving burnt sugar after two years of intensive experimentation. Working with a guru in the same period apparently unlocked a kind of spiritual energy that helped him make his breakthrough.

Morse had previously used propolis as an ingredient, but was frustrated with the time that his varnish took to apply and fully dry. By dissolving sugar and pigment in water, then combining it with the oil varnish base, he found that the varnish could be applied more easily and quickly.

via The Strad - Luthier's burnt sugar inspiration - 14 July 2011.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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Oliver
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July 17, 2011 - 8:47 am
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I would worry about ants tongue

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

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Readalot
Albuquerque NM
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July 17, 2011 - 1:20 pm
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Thats an intriguing way to go about it! i wonder if it gets wet if it ever gets sticky?violin

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Fiddlerman
Fort Lauderdale
July 17, 2011 - 2:32 pm
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If you want desert you can eat the fiddle.

violin-student

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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Sofia Leo
Lebanon, Oregon
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July 17, 2011 - 9:43 pm
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Actually, the idea is not new and in fact my fiddle ground is dark brown sugar dissolved in water. There's a huge thread over on Maestronet all about using sugar (and honey, IIRC) in various ways as an ingredient in violin finishes.

 

I can tell you that it does not attract insects - it took a couple of weeks to get all the ground coats on my fiddle because it takes forever to dry here on the Oregon Coast during the Rainy Season and we were having our annual ant invasion at the time. After sealing with shellac and varnish, water does not affect the finish. The wood does not taste sweet after applying the sugar (yeah, maybe that sounds a little crazy, but so many people wonder that, including myself, that it seemed like a good idea to know for sure...)

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Daniel
Dipolog City, Philippines
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July 17, 2011 - 10:28 pm
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LOL you TASTED it? Niiiiceee.... Lol

Short-term Goal:

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Sofia Leo
Lebanon, Oregon
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July 17, 2011 - 10:31 pm
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Just don't tell my Mom, 'k?

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Daniel
Dipolog City, Philippines
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July 17, 2011 - 10:37 pm
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Sure, no problem 🙂 Looking forward to what you come up with next  coffee1

Short-term Goal:

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Sofia Leo
Lebanon, Oregon
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July 17, 2011 - 10:42 pm
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Well, this week it's dyeing angora rabbit fluff to spin into yarn, so ya never know...

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Pikachu
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July 17, 2011 - 11:46 pm
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That's pretty hard core. I've heard of people scrubbing the wood using natural sandpaper (bundles of reeds or another plant I think) before varnishing to make the finish go on smoother, but sugar seems a bit counter intuitive.

 

@Cat Do you have any idea if the sugar causes some of the smaller nasties to find the wood yummy? Back in the day, one of my classmates bought a special flavor coating for reeds that attracted some teeny-tiny bugs to the case after a while.

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Sofia Leo
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July 17, 2011 - 11:51 pm
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It's all about how the sugar bonds with the wood. Wood, while it's still a tree, has sap (a simple sugar) running all through it which changes form and/or dries out after the tree has been cut down. The sugar seal bonds quite easily with the wood and dries hard and shiny, forming a perfect ground for shellac and varnish - there is no "left over" sugar to attract insects. Believe me, there are a gazillion bugs that thrive here and if there were any "flavor" left on my fiddle it would be crawling with nasties, and it most assuredly is not.

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Pikachu
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July 17, 2011 - 11:59 pm
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That makes more sense then. The the Maestronet post you linked has a really nice comparison of the different seals. Since sugar seems to beat out the other two testes, I'm surprised that it's not as widely known.

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Sofia Leo
Lebanon, Oregon
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July 18, 2011 - 12:46 am
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It goes against all Violin Tradition because it isn't documented anywhere as being used to finish violins - no specific varnish formulas have survived and the search for the "Cremonese Secret" is ongoing. I think Strad et al are laughing their asses off in some other dimension and that the "secret" is composed of a combination of superb craftsmanship, common ingredients and time...

 

Sugar has been documented as a finish for wood furniture making and in fact was quite common - so common in fact as to be part of the general knowledge of woodworkers, so much of which has been lost to later generations like ours. Full Chisel Blog is written by a woodworker who has done extensive research into historical building and finishing methods and has even written some books - worth a read if you're interested in those sorts of things...

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