Profiles in Woodworking: Rob Niclas
Rob Niclas is a talented woodworker, custom designer of interiors and furniture for yachts, and the maker of the absolutely stunning electric violins featured in our January newsletter as "Woodworking Inspiration". He's here to share the story of these beautiful creations and a bit about his journey as a woodworker.
Woodworking has been my passion from early on. I did a formal apprenticeship in furniture making in New Zealand where my wife and I were living. Since then I have worked on luxury boat interiors for most of my working career. One of the houses we bought in New Zealand did not have a shop or garage, so the few small woodworking machines and tools I had went into the back bedroom. Our young boys would fill up their dump trucks with sawdust and carry their precious loads all through the house. From that time on, wherever we moved, my wife has looked for the house, with a separate shop. After moving to the States, my wife found a small farm with a large barn, with a wreck of a house. The barn had one area for the horses, dogs and cats. The rest of the barn was my shop. Our six children have all served their apprenticeships with me in woodworking, renovating the house and building other projects.
Several years ago, we heard Geoffrey Castle play his 6 string electric violin at the Sequim Lavender Festival, as well as at Peninsula College for his Christmas Concert. Around seven years ago, our youngest daughter asked me to make her a 6 string electric violin, just like Geoffrey Castle’s, only different. She wanted the traditional neck and scroll. After much research and locating the Koa and Ebony I needed, plans were drawn for the body shape, neck and scroll, fingerboard, the tailpiece, and the internal pieces using SolidWorks. Templates were made and the various pieces were cut out.
Bending the 4mm (5/32”+) thick wood was a problem, so I soaked the fronts and backs in veneer softening solution for two days. After that the wood bent quite easily. I clamped the tops and backs onto molds to dry which took a couple weeks. I assembled the tops and back onto the top and bottom spreader pieces which had been cut out. Also, Ebony dowels were cut and shaped to help keep the body parts spread apart. The neck and scrolls were carved out and fitted to the bodies. After finishing the various parts, the whole violin was assembled.
Custom bridges were made by Barbara Transducer Systems, which had two pickups under each string. These instruments have such a rich mellow tone and with the lower two strings, the notes go way down to just 4 notes above the lowest note of the cello.
I recently also finished a 22’ long canoe and a Redfish Kayak. Since I play the cello, one of my next projects will be a 5 string electric cello.