Fiddle Cases

I picked up a new (old) fiddle today. Now I own 2 fiddles having cases that are worn out! I was wondering whether someone here might help me combine my interest in woodworking with my interest in music by guiding me towards plans/directions to build my own cases. Considering the ornamentation aspect, it seems like it could get rather interesting. Coming up with a lightweight design is probably one of the challenges.
Thanks, Bill
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Sun, Dec 9, 2007, 8:21pm From: Bill snipped-for-privacy@comcast.net (Bill) I picked up a new (old) fiddle today. Now I own 2 fiddles having cases that are worn out! I was wondering whether someone here might help me combine my interest in woodworking with my interest in music by guiding me towards plans/directions to build my own cases. Considering the ornamentation aspect, it seems like it could get rather interesting. Coming up with a lightweight design is probably one of the challenges.
If it was guitar, banjo, or violin, cases I could probably help, but not for fiddle cases.
JOAT Even Popeye didn't eat his spinach until he had to.
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snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (J T) wrote in 3335.bay.webtv.net:

How about for a Tommy gun?
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You can't fit a Tommy gun in almost any violin case, as Hollywood portray it. Nor did Chicago gangsters ever suddenly lift one out of the case and start blazing away. Gangsters did use them, but only to smuggle them into buildings unnoticed (for as long as Chicago still trusted musicians). The problem is width - the drum magazine on a Thompson is too wide (when in place) to fit in the violin case, and it only fits if you remove it and lay it flat. Once inside they had to stop and re-fit the drum magazine before opening fire.
The "barn top" style of violin case works better than a curved side- profile case. There's at least one collector who has a violin case modified to take one with the drum still attached, by bulging out the flat side. No one can agree if this was ever done in period though.
There's also the weight issue. An original Thompson is heavy, even heavier than an M1A1 "Tommy gun". They've been know to simply break through the thin ply of a violin case, unless strengthened beforehand. As every owner of a Tommy gun does traditionally store it in a violin case at least once, this has been known to happen. And you don't want to go around dropping something as valuable as a pre-war Thompson.
Most of the survivors today are the wartime simplified Thompson, the M1A1, not Thompson's original design with the drum. This only had a vertical stick magazine, and you've no chance of fitting one of those into a violin case unremoved.
Then you have the people who've extended the whole "instrument case" notion: flintlock pistols in flute cases, the film "Desperado" and the rocket launcher guitar. Even a very nice 18th century harpsichord case full of shotguns.
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Briefcase design, birch aircraft ply. Ornamentation is best inside the case, where it's least likely to be damaged by rough handling. Paint the outside or cover it with vinyl or cloth.
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Sun, Dec 9, 2007, 7:43pm (EST-3) snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com (FatherHaskell) did sayeth thusly: On<snip> Paint the outside <snip>
Yellow?
JOAT Even Popeye didn't eat his spinach until he had to.
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On Dec 9, 11:24 pm, snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (J T) wrote:

International Harvester yellow. Gloss. Over filed and wet sanded Bondo.

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Mon, Dec 10, 2007, 8:23pm (EST-3) snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com (FatherHaskell) doth sayeth: International Harvester yellow. Gloss. Over filed and wet sanded Bondo.
Cool. You're my new hero.
JOAT Even Popeye didn't eat his spinach until he had to.
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I wouldn't make cases for fiddles, since fiddles are too twangy. I would start by making violin cases and, if I was still interested in fiddles then I'd consider it. :-)
In all seriousness, if you can make a box you can make a violin case, as violin cases are simply boxes. Now, you could throw a violin in a suitcase or even a paper bag if you had to but there's a reason people don't and a reason violin cases are made the way they are. As with any box you have to consider what the box needs to do for what it will hold. In this case the box needs to:
1. Protect the instrument from moving as little as possible. 2. Protect the instrument from certain accidental drops of Min = 3 feet/1 Meter; Max 6 feet/ 2 Meters 3. Protect the instrument from moisture and humidity. 4. Protect the instrument from crushing 5. Protect the instrument from rubbing away the finish.
These requirements are not very negotiable with violinists. When you say "Coming up with a lightweight design is probably one of the challenges", you have to rephrase to say, "coming up with a lightweight design that still meets all the users requirements is probably one challenge I may consider addressing". When you realize that the only way to lighten the box is by using some material like carbon fiber, you may skip the challenge. When you recognize that violin users may not really care if the case is lighter than existing cases you may realize it was never a problem to begin with- but that's something you'd have to ask violin players.
That said, I think you're working your way backwards from an imaginary point, which is where most of us woodworkers start but don't always finish. You're thinking of the final product in someone's hands, with its intricate inlay, beautiful figured wood and rock hard, mirror finish. It's these goals that motivate us to take on the craziest of projects, but at some point we need to set put the dream in the back of our minds and put one foot in front of the other, regardless of the quicksand we've just stepped into. In your case, you must concentrate on making a good solid case then worry about ornamentation afterwards. A good solid case is challenge enough.
If you can't wait to throw away money on wood and Tylenol, get your saw and start cutting right this instant. In fact, I recommend you do go out and cut something before it drives you crazy. Sometimes that's the only way to get crazy woodworking impulses out of our system. My only recommendation is that you cut on scraps. Why waste good wood on an impulse? After you've gotten that bug out of your system I suggest you try the following:
1. Read I don't know what your level of woodworking and finishing may be so I make these reading recommendations with respect to the authors and no disrespect to your skill. I find myself returning to these books often for good advice.
A rudimentary understanding of box making is essential. You'll probably want to have a look at one of Doug Stowe's outstanding box making books. His Taunton Press guide to Boxmaking is pretty thorough.
A thorough understanding of finishes is essential. You can't find a better book than Bob Flexner's "Understanding Wood Finishing"
Box design and object design in general is a subject too vast for any single book to cover but there are some steps that one finds themselves repeating when designing. Taunton Press's "Practical Design Solutions and Strategies" provides a very straightforward method that most woodworkers (knowlingly or not) use or come to use. While this is not a definitive book on the subject it's a great starting point.
I would study those topics in that order and when you get bored/ restless go out and chop on some scrap wood. Perhaps even practice some of the methods in the books on very small items.
2. Study existing designs in depth. Violin case interiors have been the same for a long time for a reason- it's a practical, good design. I'm sure manufacturers use a standard template at this point. If it were me I'd avoid reinventing the wheel, particularly if my greater interest were in ornamentation. I'd be hard pressed not to pull the interior, hardware and seal from an existing case and fit it into a case I'd build. At the least I'd reverse engineer a good existing case and start from there. If you're building from scratch you would do well to create a scaled or full sized drawing of the interior, since you will use it at later.
4. Know the limitations of your tools and skill. You may want to put the hidden dovetails throughout every joint on the case or have complex curves throughout but your hand saw and three months experience in Jr. High woodshop might steer you otherwise. The temptation at this stage is to buy some super cool tool to compensate for experience (i.e. Omni Jig), but you'd still have to learn how to use that tool and use it well to see good results. It's best to use what you have and do the best with what you have than to try to learn a new tool for a project, but you can look at any woodworker and see he/she found that out the hard way.
3. Rough sketch your case design. Here is where you need to go back to that crazy inspiration that took you down this road to start with. You may be too tired to draw anything but a rectangular box which resembles a suitcase. Perhaps a rest or beer is in order.
4. Draw a first draft of your design. Keep in mind it may change but here is where you try to put to paper the closest thing to a finished product as you can. You're drawing what will become your first prototype so it's a good idea to get the joinery figured out on paper. Figuring out joinery as you cut is a bad practice.
5. Build a mock up from scrap wood. I suggest you BUILD ONLY ONE. At this stage it's tempting to think "I'm done. I've built it. This is as far as I'm taking this design and I'm ready to start selling/giving them away to the masses. I should build a jig for each step and call it a day." Ha! What happens if you build your jigs only to find out that you miscalculated the depth of a rabbit and weakened a supportive piece? You may end up with 800 pieces of wood from a jig that all have to be thrown away. Also, what if you hate the design? Think it's easier to fix a glued up, finished box to fit your requirements? Probably not. A mock up is a good place to test a design and expect failures. You can't expect to get it perfect on the first try. You should stive for perfection but you should work out the bugs with a mock up.
6. Modify your drawings if you have any errors.
7. Build a second mock up or (if your confident enough at this point) a finished piece
After you've built the perfect case, you have to think about distribution. If you're a gazillionaire then working for free (i.e. giving them to friends and family) seems sensible. If you're like the rest of us you may want to try to make money from your product/piece of art, etc. Here's the second hurdle.
While you may eventually be able to make the most beautiful cases there is a limit to any given market, particularly one with high saturation. As you can see from the link below:
http://www.musiciansfriend.com/product/Gator-Deluxe-ABS-44-Violin-Case?skuT6049&src=3WFRWXX&CAWELAID &913289
That's not a bad case for $65 and odds are you couldn't build it and distribute it for much less. I'm certain there is a market for exquisite violin cases but it might take a little while (i.e. trial and error, skill building, $) to get there. You have to ask yourself, "if no one would ever buy this item would I still be satisfied putting my blood, sweat, tears and time away from friends and family into it?" If you answer "no", then you might want to reconsider making cases. If you answered 'yes' then you're on your way to becomming a true woodworker.
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I extend my thanks to everyone who has contributed to this thread. As I am a beginner woodworker, I especially appreciate it when people recommend books. I have been reading a great deal about woodworking for the last 1.5 years or so. Most recently I picked up The Handyman's Book by Paul Hasluck (originally published in 1903) which was recommended here. It reads with a formal style that I find appealing--as if the mentor is speaking. The author seems to try to cover up the fact that he is (probably) an academic by over-using the word "stuff"! I subscribe to a couple of woodworking magazines and I browse this newsgroup every day. This "sickness" all started when I took an interest in building a "minstrel style" banjo and that led me into woodworking in general. I loved The Handplane Book!
As suggested by Chris giraffe's outline below, just considering the process of designing a case is an interesting academic exercise in itself. Just from that statement, it probably shows that I am not really into this for the money--at least, I'm not thinking in those terms yet. His outline is quite similar to that of the software engineering process with which I am more familiar. Chris, thanks for taking the time to make such an interesting post.
I confess that when I was first posted, it occurred to me that I could place some foam in an extra small suitcase that I have and probably fit in two fiddles and a few bows (very cost effective solution). For a fancier effect, I might use a gun case. That, however, is not art... If I want a functional coffee table, I could go to Walmart. That, however, is also not art. When I browse some of the work on the back pages of FWW magazine, ahhh, I say, that is art. I show the pictures to my wife to help her "get it" (I don't think she's really "gets it" yet). It seems though that as long as I am willing to build enough bird houses/feeders, that I'll be able to justify all of the tools I'll "need". ; ) Before too long I'll have a garage and be able to make some sawdust... In the meantime, I need to learn how to reset a soundpost!
Regards, Bill

http://www.musiciansfriend.com/product/Gator-Deluxe-ABS-44-Violin-Case?skuT6049&src=3WFRWXX&CAWELAID &913289
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> If you can't wait to throw away money on wood and Tylenol, get your

You're right I've been a handtool collecting apartment dweller for too long...I need to start cutting! ; )
-Bill
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Visit one or two music stores to look at the different design approaches -- they are many and varied. I'm in the fortunate position of having a daughter in a school orchestra and that would provide the opportunity to look at a lot of different violin cases. I'm pretty sure the Music Director at her school would be a rich source of ideas and inputs too -- I know he has to take care of a lot of instruments and he almost certainly has a good feel for which cases are most effective at protecting them from the inevitable abuse.
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