Violin pegs are normally made of a hard wood, the most commonly used are ebony and rosewood. The favorite wood for the high end pegs that you’ll see on Stradivari violins is English boxwood, stained to a honey color with nitric acid. English box pegs look beautiful after about 70 years of use have left them with a natural polish and patina.
English box may grow in Sonoma county but I haven’t seen any of the wood available. Rosewood and ebony both tropical species. I had hoped to use mountain mahogany which is a favorite substitute sometimes used by West coast US peg makers. Unfortunately I learned that it doesn’t grow in the county, it likes higher elevations.
Consulting with members of the Sonoma County Woodworkers Association there was agreement that manzanita might make a good substitute for the pegs and other fittings on the violin. Mike Center donated some seasoned donated some manzanita to the cause. That just left the problem of making the pegs.
I normally buy my pegs ready made from Germany, India or China. They come with oversized shanks which must be reduced to size using a pencil sharpener type tool. To make my own pegs would require some woodturning skills and equipment, neither of which I have, so I decided to go to a professional.
Woodturner, Kalia Kliban
Kalia lives in Sebastopol and has been wood working in various guitar and cabinet making shops all her professional life. About 20 years ago she came across woodturning and was smitten, she now devotes all her woodworking time to woodturning. She also works as a barn dance caller with a national and occasionally international itinerary. Her husband is a renowned Folk fiddler. As a woodturner with a strong musical connections, Kalia is the perfect choice for this job.
In early December I met with Kalia to talk pegs. We’re not going to need the pegs until the very end of the violinmaking process in March 2021, but it is important to start them soon because even though our manzanita is well seasoned, having been cut about ten years ago, wood tends to move and distort when it is further cut down in size. For pegs, which rely on a perfect fit between the tapered shanks and the tapered hole that they sit in, this is critical. Any distortion will spoil the fit and the pegs will slip. The best hedge against this is to make the pegs slightly oversized and then allow them to sit for as long as possible before use. The internal tensions in the wood that have been released during turning will then have time to settle out before final fitting on the violin.
Violin Peg Design
The shanks on the pegs are very standard these days, most everybody uses a taper of 1/30 which is a balance between a fine taper, which will quickly wear down into the peg hole and need replacing, and too steep of a taper which will not grip as well.