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This Should Work: Feeling groovy

Who’s the greatest woodworker of all time? Hint: violin maker
This Should Work with Bruce MacNab

Who’s the greatest woodworker of all time?

I’ll go with Antonio Stradivari, the violin maker. His instruments sell for millions of dollars. Antonio is a hard act to follow, but let’s give it a try.

PHOTO TSW 34 Feeling GroovyThe grooves carved around the edges of this ornamental shelf bracket and tole-painting board were inspired by violin purfling. Photo by Bruce MacNab.

Have a look at a violin. There is a little groove carved around the outside edge of the top. Sometimes this groove is filled with a strip of dark wood. This is called purfling and it’s not just for looks.

Experts believe the purfling channel helps the spruce top to vibrate while also preventing cracks in the wood.

You don’t have to build a violin to use purfling. It looks amazing on a jewelry box lid or on wooden shelf brackets with or without the dark wood inlay.

Practice on some scraps of pine. This project isn’t noisy or messy so you can do this at your kitchen table. Make sure you have lots of light and maybe some reading glasses.

Draw 2 parallel lines around the outside edge of your pine. The lines should be about an eighth-inch apart. You can decide how far from the edge you want your purfling groove.

The easiest groove to cut is a V-shape. Hold your utility knife at a 45 degree angle and cut along each line. Soon you will see a little strip of pine pop out of the groove.

Your first try won’t be perfect. Go back and tidy up up the groove with your knife. Remember, this is why you practice on scrap wood first.

Try to find a riffle file. These little files look like the tools your dentist uses and they are perfect for neatening purfling grooves.

If you can’t find a riffle file you can sand the groove. Cut tiny squares of sandpaper and fold them in half.

Purfling looks best if it’s not overworked by sanding so don’t round over the top of the groove too much. Little imperfections make it authentic, proving it wasn’t done by a machine.

The groove really stands out if you paint it, especially on stained wood. For this type of work I use small artist brushes from the dollar store.

Purfling is a detail you don’t see often in woodworking. And that’s too bad because just like Antonio Stradivari’s violins, it can make your work look like a million dollars.

Bruce MacNab, a Red Seal carpenter, has taught carpentry courses for NSCC and the Guysborough County Adult Learning Association. Visit him online at