Varnishing a Cello in Pictures

Here are some highlights of a typical process, which, for an artist's instrument like this, requires many more steps than those shown, over several weeks. Several different varnishing methods are used in countless variations by different makers. Here you see only a few steps from one of those detailed in "Violin Making, Step by Step". (If you are especially interested in cello making, see the video.) Click on a small photo to enlarge it; then go BACK to return here.


A dilute organic water "pre-stain" is applied with a sponge, followed by a clear spirit sealing varnish.


The golden ground color is completed with a yellow oil varnish.

The first of three coats (or so) of brown oil varnish. (It's not as dark as appears here.) Through the window you can see our first snow of the winter. This wonderful maple is from an unusual tree that grew slowly for 200 years at a high altitude near Sweet Home, Oregon. It is light and flexible, more difficult to carve than European maple, but unsurpassed in sound. The wood for the front (sound board) is Engelmann spruce from mountainous southern Oregon.

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All the color coats are now on. The (optional) clear varnish has not yet been put over the color coats, nor has it been rubbed and polished. That will give a more refined, satiny look. We have had an extreme week here in Oregon. Within 4 days, the worst ice storm followed by the worst flooding in 30 years. Today the rivers crested and the sun came out. I took the following two Polaroid photos outside within minutes of each other. The first is in open shade, and the color is much as it appears normally (inside). The second shows how the brilliant sun penetrates the dark outer varnish showing off the golden "inner fire" and the beauty of the wood. (February 1996)

Cello in the Shade

Cello in the Sun


The new cello with Professor Bruce McIntosh of Willamette University, Director of the Salem Chamber Orchestra. (March 1996) He played it in its "world premier" with the Trio Northwest in an outstanding concert of Beethoven's Trio in C Minor, Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Violoncello, and Clara Schumann's Trio in G Major.

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