The Lute Player – Rebuilding the Lute Neck and Left Hand

Once I finally had all the pieces accounted for in the line between the left elbow, the lute, and the right elbow I tried to reassemble them and wrap up the project.

Didn’t work.

Due to the wood shrinkage along that arc, which followed almost perfectly the tangential orientation of the wood, the region had suffered dozens of breaks and repairs, and was now at the point where the pieces simply did not make up the whole.  Given that the lute body was pegged to the figure’s torso and that the arm was supposed to be in a fixed location, there was a space of approximately 1/8″ on the neck of the lute.  That’s generally considered to be a problem when a construct with fixed ends does not meet in the middle.



My only real option was to disassemble completely all of the pieces in the region and augment them with a newly grafted spacer in the fingerboard.  I began by gently torquing the left forearm which had been broken at some point in the past and reassembled (misaligned, alas) with a very large ~1/2″ pin and a gob of glue.  Fortunately the repair had not held so I could get it apart with some gentle mechanical persuasion.  I used DBE poultice (Safest Stripper) to remove the mass of PVA left behind, then trimmed the pin to allow for a correct alignment of the pieces back together.


With the pieces all apart I could get down to business.  The first thing was to put the lute head back together.  With a plexi caul on the fingerboard I used hot hide glue to tack the head to the neck at the proper angle.  It was enough to hold things steady for back filling the sizable voids I described earlier.


Since the entire area of gluing surface was well-coated with hide glue I proceeded with making a fill of carvable epoxy that I mixed up myself as I described a couple of weeks ago.  The fill material was mixed to be very stiff in working, almost like butter so there would be zero flow, but would be very light and carvable in situ.  This worked exceedingly well as the fill was now approximately the stiffness and density of the wood and provided 100% adherence at the gluing margins.  The surface of the fill was modeled with emery boards.

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Th next step was to address the mess that was the lute neck.  As I said it had been repaired multiple times in the past, none of those attempts particularly elegant.  Again, DBE poultice did the trick in removing the fragments of the previous repairs and cleaning up the gluing surfaces.  I “dry assembled” the entire composition at this point to see how much of a fill I needed to fabricate and insert into the void.  This was not without its challenges as the area had been worked over so many time it left the pieces un-alignable to some degree.


Reassembly/gluing the neck together was a tightrope walking experience.  There was no way to clamp anything together given the shape and delicacy of the pieces involved.  Instead I placed the lute body in a vise with plenty of padding and oriented it so that the hand/neck/head mass would be perfectly balanced.  Holding my breath I applied the hot hide glue, put the assembly together and aligned the pieces the best they would allow, and held it with both hands for two or three minutes until the glue began to gel.  I left it overnight to dry.


The result was acceptable.  I did have to trim a bit of original material on either side ex poste, which I am loathe to do, but it did allow for a strong reassembly.


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The final hair raising step was to assemble the entire section together on to the torso.  This was another instance where clamping was simply not possible.  Very gently I placed all of the pieces together in the right orientation and alignment using ht hide glue.  Since clamping was not possible the best I could do was hold everything in alignment with low-tack masking tape.  Which is what I did.


The next morning it was together, soundly adhered and as stout as could be expected.