Forging ahead

It’s a craft that always captivated me: blacksmithing. The art of working and shaping metal into useable objects.

I was always fond of the “Skippers of the Kameleon“, a Dutch series of childrens books, written by Hotze de Roos. In the books the twin sons of a Frisian blacksmith have all kinds of adventures with their boat “The Cameleon”. De Roos, a carpenter by trade, knew the activities of a village blacksmith well, and describes them in detail when the twins help their father in the shop.

The books spoke of the idea that it is possible to make and repair stuff yourself. Regardless of the material, the boys were always tinkering. In 2016 I wrote this blog post about it…

For years I have wanted to try this craft myself. To make some of my own woodworking tools; chisels, gouges, knives etc.

But where to start? Buying a forge and the tools was far too expensive, so I had to make and collect them over time. Making a small break drum forge, getting a couple of thongs, hammers and an anvil…

My forge: an old break drum on a foot. A ventilator pushes air through the orange pipe.

Three weeks ago the moment was there. I gathered a couple of basic tools, charcoal, far too few information but enough hubris to have a go. A first day of trying this new craft was planned.

Started with four hooks for the rope walk. Heating up the ends, and bending it to shape. Then on with a small gouge, made from an old spade bit. Flattening out, and bending it to shape only took a couple of minutes. So three other examples followed…

On with two small hacksaws after the Mastermyr example. Two hammer heads and finally starting a set of hinges (just before running out of charcoal).

It mighy sound crazy but it went a lot better and easier than I expected. In my mind it always had been one of those impossible tasks. A secret and sacred art, only to be learned by the sacrificing years of dedication and at least a couple of virgin unicorns to Vulcan. At least not something giving reasonable results at the first try… The biggest sacrifice was a couple of very sore and painfull muscles which nagged on for a couple of days.

The Mastermyr-style hacksaws.

Working metal this way is completely different than wood. Metal is a very plastic material which becomes malleable by heath. You can always add to it and undo mistakes. While wool is less forgiving and worked mostly by substraction. Like the difference between sculpting in marble  or clay.

The iron I use is sourced from waste materials. Some old leaf springs and drills for knives, and chisels. Other pieces of scrap for the hinges and saw frames. The hammer heads were a cold chisel in their previous life…

One of the finished hammers.

And the approach is different. Metal has a deadline. When you take it from the fire you have got to know what steps you will take. While wood gives you all the time you need to work, look and measure between steps.

I would to learn more and expand this new craft. Not to do anything professional with it, but as a step towards that ultimate goal of making an entire instrument with home-forged tools…

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A 17th century “Dutch Plane” – (free plans!)

In 1628 the Swedish warship Vasa set out for its maiden voyage. With 64 canons on 2 decks it was the pride of the Swedish marine. But this was shortlived; after only one mile she keeled over, water poored trough the lower gunports and sank to the bottom of the Stockholm harbor.

Due to low oxygen conditions the hull was preserved, and 333 years later Vasa was lifted from her watery grave. After a long preservation process with a PEG (Polyethylene Glycol) solution the ship was brought over to a new museum where it can be seen today.

Along with the ship many of the objects it carried were preserved. Tableware, casks, weapons coins, carvings and…

The shipwright’s tool chest!

Inside this rectangular wooden box we find everything a shipwright needed to maintain a ship during its voyages. (But perhaps we might say that it was asking a bit much to do this on a 1 mile maiden voyage?)

(These photos were maliciously stolen from our friends of the St. Thomas Guild)

All kidding aside, inside the chest were also a couple of planes. One of them is classified as “Den Holländska Hyvel” (The Dutch Plane).

The form is closely related to that of the so called “gerfschaaf” another Dutch plane type.

I really like the design of this plane, smooth lines, and even a little decorative touch… So it wasn’t hard to figure a reconstruction had to be made for my re-enactment tool chest.

The plane is made from beech (like the original and most Dutch planes). For the blade I took some tool steel from Dictum.

Because I already was making one, it was fairly easy to put a piece of carbon paper under it and make a couple…

And you can make your own! 

Download these free plans, get a piece of beech, sharpen your chisels and whack away!

(Click here to download these plans in PDF)

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Sellas theorbo update…

While the re-enactment season has started, work in the shop continues as normal. Jannemieke’s Sellas theorbo is getting along fine. Time for an update…

The carvings on the back of the neck are finished. We were a little bit in doubt about the colors: make it full color like the old cart? Or only gold?. After some contemplation we decided not to color them further, but keep them only in gold. This will give a more neo-classicist look to the whole instrument, when the background is painted black.

To reflect this decoration on the rest of the instrument we decided to do the same thing to the rose. There are a couple of historical examples with gilded roses, like this example by Basilio Smit (left).

I always wanted to try this, but never dared to. Thinking it would be too much. But somehow on this theorbo it makes sense.

The diamond border around the soundholes is treated with a dark shellac, to emulate the effect on the Basilio Smit example.

Time for bracing and bridge…

The Sellas soundboard is just braced like a “normal” lute or theorbo. Albeit being only a little bit heavier on a couple of bars, and having more finger braces on the treble side.

While the soundboard is glued, the bridge can be made. This is one of my personal favorite tasks. Don’t ask me wby, but I think it is because of its sculptural aspect. A bit like a scroll on a violin. There is much character and style added to the instrument. It’s one of the places where a builder can leave his individual mark.

I decided to deviate from the design by Sellas and make it more in line with the rest of the theorbo’s decoration, The leaves, found in the carvings and rose adorn the ends of the bridge.

And to keep it in style: the ends are painted gold as well…

When the bracing is ready, the bars can be ‘tuned’ (shaping them to give the board an optimal resonance). And the whole lute can be assembled and set up…

Stay tuned for more updates…


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Renaissance chisels

It’s virtually impossible to make a 100% accurate re-enactment kit. Especially on a low budget. Sandra and I decided to start with a basic set and improve it over time.

Replace, add and remove materials, clothes, cutlery, tools and accessories.

High on my list were my chisels. Some of my most important and valued tools. The old set of Nooitgedagts inherited from grandpa is very dear to me. So dear that it felt uncomfortable to bring my most precious chisel to events, losing it would devastate me.

Fleamarket finds

I am always on the lookout for tools. Especially old chisels and gouges by Nooitgedagt, E.A.Bergh, John Bull and Kirschen. No matter in what state they are in, it’s always possible to derust and upholster them.

Like these two sorry pieces. One is by Nooitgedagt, but saw a lot of abuse over its life. It was grinded until there was almost nothing left. And their last function seems to have been the opening of paint cans. The handles were split and beyond repair.

So after a though cleaning with vinegar (they were too far gone for just elbow grease).

I wanted the handles to be correct for my time period. The planes in my kit are modelled after a woodcut “Der Lautenmacher” by Jost Amman (ca. 1550). The chisels would also be a good candidate.
At the workbench we see a couple of chisels/gouges with hexagonal handles. Much like modern Pfeil carving tools, but with a wider end.

Last week I saw some fine examples at Batavialand in Lelystad. They were found in the remains of a ship that sunk in the Zuyderzee (now IJssellake). It came up when parts of the lake were made dry to create new land.

I have made handles like this before and prefer them to be irregular in shape. It helps to steer them while working. You never have to guess how you hold them.

Wagon wheel

Like the ones in the woodcut and the Zuyderzee examples, these chisels need a ferrule at the top. But every woodworker knows the phenomenon of loose ferrules. The handle dries and shrinks, causing the ferrule to fall off.

To counter this I decided to try something different. The end of the handle is turned on a lathe. Slightly larger than the inner diameter of the ferrule. Then I heated the ferrule (a piece of iron pipe) with a propane torch. This causes the metal to expand. The hot ring is placed over the handle and quickly cooled down. The metal shrinks back to its original dimension, fitting the ring snugly to the handle.

I stole this technique from a cartwright.  They use it to fit the metal band around a wheel.

A hole is cut in the center with a tapered drillbit and the blade hammered into place.

A light coat of beeswax completes the chisels. All that’s left to do is sharpening…

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Building instruments live at the Batavia shipyard…

Last weekend my re-enactment season for 2018 started. Along with the bookbinder of “The Paper Unicorn” we’ve been asked to show our crafts at the Batavia Shipyard in Lelystad.

The first day we stood at the museum, but we moved to the other side of the road, to work next to a 1:10 scale model they are building of the “Zeven Provinciën”, the flagship of Michiel de Ruyter.

For those who missed it; you have a second chance next week… I will be there the whole weekend. The bookbinder only on sunday. For the rest you can follow lessons in sword fighting, shooting a musket and there is a group of historical musicians.

Painting the little lyra soundboard…

I hope to have the Lyra-cittern ready by then, so you can hear its first tones…


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The Lyra-cittern

Time goes by rapidly. So much to do and so little time. But at least I am busy enough to keep me off the streets.

The Batavia Shipyard and Museum

This saturday my 2018 re-enactment season starts with two weekends at the “Batavia Shipyard” in Lelystad. I was invited by Jaap of Springlevend Verleden, together with our friends of The Paper Unicorn.

To make it extra special I decided to try to bring one of my mad side projects: the Lyra-Cittern.

Over the last couple of days I have been working overtime to complete it. Or at least far enough to bring along and finish it over there.

Some background

I first encountered this instrument while in lutherie school. One of our teachers showed it as an example of a “folly instrument”; a lyre shaped archlute or theorbo, with metal strings, shaped like a festooned lyre. It was described as a theatre prop, probably made for the opera Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi.

The teacher was quite clear; it was an odd footnote in lute history, totally useless and shouldn’t be taken seriously.  Let alone being considered for reconstruction, preferably ignore it all together. So my curiosity was sparked.

I later learned that beside the Vienna instrument, there was a second one in Bologna. Probably by the same maker, perhaps they were even intended as a set.

Building the beast

The work started with making a drawing. Since there are no drawings available, and visiting the museums to take measurements was out of the question, I had to work with photos. Luckily the Bologna example was restored and the report was scanned and put online.

Then the moment came to start gathering materials. A friend of mine sometimes gives me beech wooden pallets (yes it is a pallet project, so snob-woodworkers will now probably have to click away and hide in their “real wood”-refuge).

I normally don’t use wood like this for instruments for my customers, but in this case it is for my own collection (nobody will want to purchase an oddity like this) and in that case I am on a tight budget. And hey; whenever the wood suits your purpose: use it.

I have used this for a number of projects, from tools for re-enactment to the infamous Minion Press…

Because the instrument basically is one long stick (yes, it is one of the first neck-through instruments), the core is made from a long beech plank, about 170 cm long.

The sculpted “wings” are made from pieces of pine, also reclaimed pallets. During the drawing process I found out that the originals are very asymmetrical.

After carving the parts, they could be glued together. This is basically the essence of lutherie; chop some trees into blocks, cut away everything that doesn’t look like an instrument part, glue the bunch together —> another guitar, lute, lyre or violin completed… It isn’t as hard as it seems…

When the wings are in place, the bottom rib (maple) can be attached.

Then the quite heavy back 4,5 mm maple, a left-over from another project is glued to the sides and spine. There are some linings installed to the top of the ribs, only on the soundboard side. The joint with the back is reinforced with strips of 18th century paper.

The soundboard is made from spruce (also a left-over). Two little 30 mm soundholes are on the far ends. The barring is fairly simple: one 6 mm wide bar between the soundholes. . The bridge is in two pieces: a tie-block to hold the strings in place, and the actual bridge. I intend to keep this bridge in place under string tension, rather than glue it to the soundboard, The reason?. The instrument has fixed frets, so it is convenient to be able to adjust the intonation,

Speaking of frets… No, I wasn’t drunk during this fretjob, the weird intervals are intentional. Instead of the now common equal temperament, historically a wide variety of temperaments was used and experimented with.  Like this 1/6 comma meantone…

The frets you see are 0.8 mm flat brass stock. Mushroom shaped frets were introduced during the 19th century.

After fretting the finishing could begin: there is a lot to paint. After a session of sanding the wings were covered with gesso, a mixture of animal glue and gypsum. As a ground-layer for the paint. The design for the soundboard decoration is also drawn on using a secret process, involving laser cut templates…

The blue is a color I mixed a couple of years ago to match the dashboard of the old Opel Blitz Fire Engine… While the back and sides of the instrument are ebonized.

Then the gilding can commence… Well gilding… At the last moment I have chosen to use gold paint, because there simply was no time left to apply real gold leaf.

Ready enough to take along to Lelystad… I will probably be there, painting and stringing this weekend. So if you want to see the completed instrument, visit next week. For the work-in-progress come by today or tomorrow. But it is certainly better to visit both weekends…

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Stradivarius guitar plans

imageYou probably know the name Stradivari as the most famous violin maker that ever lived. But it is lesser known that the great master also made guitars.

Only five guitars survived to this day, in museums and private collections around the world. None of these are in their original state. They were altered and restored over time, which left them in various stages of decomposition.

To guitar makers they pose a problem: Three of the five originally had very long string lengths of 742 mm, making it too long for ‘normal’ baroque guitar tuning. Other builders often tackle this by shortening the neck or placing the bridge higher up on the body. But these are rather weak solutions. Both don’t deal with the proportions of the body, which was intended for the longer string length. It’s like shortening the neck of a viola in order to play it like a violin. Which will never sound the same.

A puzzle


The largest and smallest Stradivari forms together on the bench…

So I started to investigate the other clues left by Stradivari; his workshop materials. Tools, templates, forms, parts, etc. These are in museums in Cremona and Paris. While there was done extensive study after the violin and cello moulds, the materials for guitars are only described in a couple of publications.

To establish whether the forms in Cremona and Paris belonged to the same workshop I looked for cross-matches. Luckily one of the Paris guitar forms was later converted to a viola d’amore form, and the paper template for the same instrument is in the Cremona collection. I then tried the forms to the “Braccio da Fabbrica”, Cremona’s local unit of measurement used in Stradivari’s time. And while not found explicitly in the violin forms (according to Stewart Pollens), the design of the guitars proved to be riddled with it. It was like the pieces of a puzzle finally fell together.

Different sizes

Stradivari guitars

The Stradivari guitars: MS 750 (right standing), MM E.901.6 (front) with their cases.

The collection of guitar templates showed various different sizes. From extra small (ukulele-sized) to XXL (770 mm string length !) and everything in between. This is consistent with music from the era. Composers like Calvi and Foscarini describe guitars of various sizes in different keys.

HeaderIt’s also an explanation for the long string length of the “Sabionari-Giustiniani-Hil” guitars: it was intended for a lower tuning…

When looking at the Strad collection it soon became clear that the ‘normal’ E’-tuned guitar was made after template “img_5739MS no. 750″ in the Cremona Museum. So I set out on the journey to build the first reconstruction of this guitar.

This journey brought me to the most unexpected places; an article for American Lutherie and giving a presentation for the Guitar Consortium at the University of Cambridge and a variety of lectures all around…

Many players have tried the guitar and were pleasantly surprised by its weight and extreme resonance.

A set of plans

Over time other builders often asked me to publish the plans for the MS 750 guitar.
I intended to do so from the start of the project, but it took a while… Until now! The plans for the Stradivari guitar are ready and can be ordered from my PLANS-page.

Stradivari plan

The plans contain all measurements and templates you need to make your own guitar after the Stradivarius. It’s one of the lightest and most sophisticated guitars you will ever built.

Click here to order the plans directly.

Also take a look at the other plans I have on offer. They vary from a 19th century Panormo to fifties Danelectro’s and Harmony Stratotones…

More plans for the other Stradivari models are in preparation….


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Blueprint posters available!

Stratotone blueprintOver the years people often bought my guitar plans to hang as a poster in their homes.

But the large A0 prints are sometimes too big for the wall. People often asked me to bring out smaller poster versions of them. Until now this was impossible, but the new publisher gave me some new options.

So I’m proud to announce my new line of special blueprint posters.

Great for decorating your living room, hall, workshop, kitchen, toilet, garage, music chamber or man cave!

For now there are five models available:

  • Harmony Stratotone (H42, H44, H88)
  • Danelectro Pro 1
  • Danelectro Longhorn bass
  • Silvertone 1448 Amp-in-case guitar
  • Silvertone 1444 Dolphin Nose bass

These posters are A2-sized (42 x 59,4 cm) and have no measurement lines.

At just € 11,95 they are cheaper than the full size-plans.


Click here to see the posters

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One year in business!!!

Yes!!! One year has passed since I registered with the Dutch chamber of commerce and JAVACA LUTHIER  / The Dutch Luthier became an official company.

It has gone so fast that Facebook had to remind me. This is what I posted on my personal timeline…

Officially one year in… 😃

A year with great memories and activities.
Made instruments for some fantastic musicians and friends.
And met the most interesting people. 🤗

From a trip to Cambridge to re-enactment at Dutch castles and museums, attending concerts, lectures and teaching courses. 😎

I finally have a sense I’m in the right place, and am mighty thankful to everyone who travels along in this great journey…

I’ve started with the idea that there is no official businessplan (truned out I’m allergic to those), just a rough sketch: To go along making things (instruments and more), by chasing my vast array of curiosities and see where it takes me. Or like I wrote a year ago:

“An all-round craftsman involved with a broad range of activities; instrument building, repairs, restorations and maintenance. But also historical research, writing, publishing, guitar and lute plans, art, lectures, teaching as well as recreation and promotion of (historical) crafts(manship).”

So far it hasn’t disappointed me.

(story continues after the pictures)



After a burn/bore-out at 25, I had a severe depression following me for the next 5 years. A sense of belongingness overwhelmed me. Why did everything I tried end up a mess? And why did every job I took eventually become a large drone of boredom? Why didn’t I get along with colleagues? Why did I always seem to get in conflict with managers? Why can’t I work in (hierarchical) groups? And how could I find a place where all my interests and skills would find a good home?

After various therapies and research I learned to live with two personal peculiarities; A combination of giftedness (high IQ) and (I learned later) a mild form of Asperger. Up to now I always had suppressed this and tried to ‘act normal’, often biting my tongue in the process. Trying to avoid stepping on others toes.
Following social norms to stick to one activity and forsake all others. After much internal conflict and fights with the Dutch social services (who time and time again tried to break me down), I finally found the strength to step out of the corporate rat race and follow my own path.

Find people I like to work with and who appreciate the things I do. People I can learn from, with whom I can interact on various levels and subjects. From professors and academics to people without much education but a lot of wisdom. Musicians, luthiers, archaeologists, re-enactors, craftspeople, artists, actors, teachers. Many of them becoming great friends in the process.

The scope of my activities has become even wider. Looking back, I noticed that one of the red lines in my life was to combine various fields and interests. Especially when they are considered opposites: Technology and arts, history and future, head (theory) and hands (practice).

As you perhaps know I’m not much interested in money. Just enough to cover the basic necessities of life in the Netherlands; food, shelter, health insurance, mobility. The only real luxuries Sandra and I like are books… For the rest we like to make do with materials and goods we find and materials we salvage.

To me value is something that can be expressed in more ways than money. So volunteer work for the community is also a part of the activities. In various non-profits, like keeping the antique fire engine alive, practical help at the local museum, making and maintaining a Little Free Library,  reenactment and organizing events.

As said, I am very thankful to everyone who joined and supported me in this journey. Friends, customers, family, colleagues and acquaintances. Thanks for all your help, commissions, repairs, restorations, ideas, plans, advice, jokes etc.
I hope we can continue and expand this in the future. As you know, you’re always welcome to come by for a cup of coffee and entertaining tales.

Let’s keep up the good work!


–  Jan van Cappelle –
The Dutch Luthier

Javaca Workshop


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Carving along…

As you know I am always on the lookout for inspiration. This can literally be found anywhere: nature, books, movies, etc. But works by other craftsmen and -women often prove to be the best examples.

The Dutch Wagon at de “Kastelentocht” in Doorn

Like this “Boerenwagen” (Farmers-wagon) encountered at an event in my hometown. It was made by Toon Wortel, from Eemnes (about 30 km from here). He is one of the few wagon makers and wheelwrights left in the Netherlands. Toon has been making new and restoring old wagons for over 55 years. I have known him for a couple of years now, and can surely say he is a craftsman of which there aren’t many alive anymore; combining an enormous amount of knowledge of wood- and metalworking, with a passion for historical wagons and a great love for horses.

As can be seen in this short movie. Unfortunately only in Dutch without subtitles, but the images are largely self-explanatory. (And it’s a great opportunity to get acquainted with the Dutch language…)

The intricate woodcarvings on this wagon are typical for 19th century Dutch Wagons. Often owned by rich farmers, who used them to show off their wealth.

The Sellas Theorbo

When making bespoke instruments, I always ask the customer for something personal they would like to include in the instrument. A piece of material that has some special meaning to them, decoration that fits both the player as the instrument.

For Jannemieke’s theorbo after the Brussels’ Sellas I was looking for something special to do with the decoration. All pieces of the puzzle fell into place when I saw Toon’s wagon. The floral and leave patterns reminded me of the little leaves in the Sellas rose and on the ends of the bridge…

At the Zotte Zaterdag I asked Jannemieke what she thought of the pictures and wether she would like something in this style on the back of the neck extension. We agreed on a sort of ‘tree of life’ pattern in the style of the wagon decorations.

I first drew a meandering line on the back of the neck, as the stem of the tree. Then leaves and flowers were added, modelled after the wagon examples.

After the sketch was ready I put the neck aside for a couple of days, but sometimes looked at it and made some quick corrections. A week later I was satisfied, the final shapes were drawn in red pencil…

…and carving could start.

I think the back of the neck extension is a great canvas for some decorations. Especially because it doesn’t immediately catch the eye of the public at a concert. But it gives a nice visual surprise when the player walks away or changes instrument. I like it when instruments contain some pieces you don’t encounter at first glance.

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