Most lute makers rely on a mould or form to glue the back together. Although it is possible to make a lute “up in the air” like some oud makers still do. In the first European description of a lute (ca. 1440) Henri Arnaut van Zwolle already makes notion of a segmented form.
As far as I know no original forms has survived the ages. The only collection of workshop materials originates from the Stradivari (1644-1737) workshop. And although there are some paper templates for the bellies, necks, bridges and headstocks, a wooden form for the bowl is not among them. What happened to the workshop materials of all those other luthiers then? A lot of the forms and templates probably were used up and discarded or repurposed as parts for other things in the shop. Stradivari himself cut down a guitar form to be used for the making of a viola d’amore. Others probably fell prey to barn fires and other heating purposes. A lute form takes up quite a bit of space, and an unused one is just a giant paper weight. So when lutes weren’t played anymore there also was no reason to hold on to their forms.
I chose to make the form for the Jheronimus Bosch lute out of solid wood. Most contemporary makers use plywood, it’s cheap and easier to work with. But I want to use this form as didactic material during the re-enactment events. So it would be quite strange to see a renaissance lute maker with a plywood mould on his table. Besides this I was curious if it would affect the process in any way. The wood used is pine, reclaimed from an old dining table that was destined for the scrapyard.
Because this is a small lute (A-tuning) three segments will be enough. I like to keep a spine in the middle of the form, it makes the construction more solid and helps to determine the shape of the first rib.
After the form is finished the top block can be shaped and fitted. The late Stephen Gottlieb suggested to use a chisel with a long handle for this process. I sure saw the advantages of this, but where to get such a chisel? Some tool stores have Japanese examples, but they are quite expensive. Besides, I prefer western models. Not that I dislike Japanese style chisels, but the old “Nooitgedagt” chisels just feel more natural to my hands.
At the flea market where I volunteered I always bought all Nooitgedagt chisels that came in. In my shop is an old box in which these rusty old pieces reside, waiting for better days. Every time I need a special chisel for a specific task one gets derusted and customized. There was one fairly wide model without a handle. So I took the handle from an old wooden hammer of which the head had broken off and combined the two… A brass plumbing ferrule serves as a ring around the base.
The top block can be made out of a variety of woods. Some prefer linden or willow, others use spruce or fir, I’ve even met makers who used mahogany or oak for their blocks. It doesn’t really matter what wood it is, as long as it is light, strong and keeps the neck and bowl together. For this lute I use spruce.
After this is ready it’s time to make a rib template and get out the ribs…