Music, Views and Nearly-News

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Towering Inferno (or, how I learned to start worrying and melt a bucket)

The recent and prolonged lack of oomph apparent in this blog, both in quantity and (sometimes) quality of posts is disappointing. You really can do better, stalwart blogger.

On the more positive, but no less self-deprecating side of things, I have something approximating news.

Over the past few months I've been running a low-key experiment in making violin varnish - something which anyone who's ever attempted to do so will tell you is much easier said than done. But this seems to be the trend in the world of violin making. The particular varnish I decided to make is called "Fulton varnish" and is almost always, upon mentioning to violin makers, met with knowing grins. Or are they grimaces? This particular recipe was created in the seventies by an air force serviceman-turned-violinmaker named Bill Fulton, and has a reputation for exploding and/or burning down your house and/or killing you in a towering fireball of good-intentioned but poorly-planned experimentation.

The recipe itself is fairly straightforward, and when I stumbled upon it, I couldn't help wanting to try it for myself. I bought three quarts of turpentine, an old-timey oil paint drying agent called siccatif de courtray, two gallon-jugs of carlo rossi (don't hate) and a fishtank bubbler to agitate the mix and speed the evaporative process. Then I had some very long and winding conversations with my roommate Jake while we tried to "use up" two gallons of wine. The mixture was mixed, and the bubbler bubbling, and I was left to wait for almost three months before the polymerized turpentine (I so rarely get a chance to use that word. It just flows off the tongue.) was ready to cook. Or so I thought.

The key to not blowing yourself up in the process of cooking the polymerized turpentine down to a brittle resin is to heat it as slowly as humanly possible. The reason this particular step is so dangerous, I was told, is that if the temperature increases too quickly, something called an exothermic reaction can occur (that's another word I'm growing fond of) and the temperature will spiral up and up to the ignition temperature of turpentine, even if the heat source is removed. Bad news.
Guess what happened?

This sticky lump pictured to the left is, or was once, a thermometer.

Lessons learned:
1) Turpentine, after bubbling in a jug for weeks, is almost napalm.
2) Our hose doesn't work.