A Varnisher's Toolbox: The Basics of Varnishing a Violin

A few hundred years of secretive craft practices and vague terminology in ancient art books has rendered the term ‘varnish’ loaded. This course will attempt to break through the confusion of 'magic ingredients’ and 'lost recipes’ and instead focus on an overall theory of varnishing. A basic coating will be created made up of discrete layers using traditional materials and methods. Topics will include preparing the wood for varnish, making a pore filler, grinding pigments in oil, and application of varnish. Students will gain an understanding of varnishing in general, and come away with the tools to create their own coating that will expand as their experience grows. No prior experience is necessary. Emphasis will be placed on tradition, and a moderate attempt will be made to capture the 'spirit’ of the classic Italian varnishes.

Classes meet from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with open workshop hours from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

Materials and Tools

One to three completed violins 'in the white’ will be needed, ideally with fingerboards removed. Various pieces of maple rib stock will also be extremely useful for experimentation, along with various 'off cuts’ of both spruce and maple. Due to the nature of oil based materials, the more pieces students have to work on, the less likely they will be halted due to drying considerations. UV cabinets will be provided to minimize dry time but cannot guarantee perfect results. A very simple oil varnish will also be provided in order to keep cohesion among the group.

Instructor Bios


A Varnisher's Toolbox: The Basics of Varnishing a Violin

  • Michael Anthony Daddona

    Michael began his career in woodworking as a furniture maker about twenty-five years ago. His deep love of music and desire to refine his hand skills led him to seek out training in violin making. He entered into a formal apprenticeship with Francis Morris after spending a summer as a student at the UNH Violin Craftsmanship Institute. Michael has also had the opportunity to study with Paul Wiessmeyer, a Boston based violin maker and teacher at UNH, and Hans Nebel, of the world-renowned Wurlitzer shop in New York City. 

    Michael is currently the shop foreman for Francis Morris Violins in Great Barrington, Mass. He has also assisted Francis Morris since 2012 in his Basic Violin Set-Up course.  

    Most recently, Michael was awarded a Certificate of Merit for Ton for a violin by the Violin Society of America at the 2018 international violin making competition. 

08:00am - 09:00pm
08:00am - 04:00pm
Durham Campus - Putnam Hall
Michael Dadonna
1099.00 PDT - Violin Institute