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Any other bowmakers on here?

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Mike Donnerstag13/07/2019 15:21:51
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As I've been on the forum since the start of the year, I thought it was about time I introduced myself. After having been working in IT for 23 years, I'd had quite enough and decided to indulge in my love of woodwork and making things by enrolling on what I considered the pinnacle of woodworking courses, making and repairing violins at the Newark School of Violin Making. I was part-time at first, but soon gave up the IT work and went full-time, completing the course in 2016.

Since then, I have been in touch with a retiring maker of violin bows based in Bristol. As I had done some work making and re-hairing bows since the course, I decided to purchase tools and materials from him prior to his retirement.

Bow-making is a very different discipline to making instruments, being a combination of engineering, jewellery and of course some woodwork. I could also throw in 'hairdressing', as the bow is really just a way of tensioning a thin flat ribbon of hair from the tail of a white horse.

Having been woodturning since I was a lad, and being very interested in the engineering aspects of making bows I purchased a Myford Super 7 lathe at the beginning of 2019. Since then I've spent most of my time learning metal turning, milling and toolmaking. So far, I've made Howard Hall's mini surface gauge and I'm currently in the middle of making the Hemingway sensitive knurling tool (based on the Marlco). For a newbie with only a lathe and a pillar drill, I'm not finding it easy, but I'm really enjoying the challenge.

Once I've finished the knurling tool (and probably several other projects including tailstock die-holders, etc.), I'll be moving back onto making bows. I intend to use the lathe to drill sticks, mill bow frogs (the part that slides on the stick to tension the hair), turn down pearl eyes and make adjusters (the ornamental ends of the screws used to apply the tension), as well as making many of the specialised tools.

For interest, I've included a picture of the 'engineered' parts of a bow below:

bow frog.jpg

My avatar is the head of a violin bow. It was made by one of the finest French makers, Pierre Simon, during the early 19th century.

Mike

Neil Wyatt13/07/2019 16:35:02
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Moderator
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Hi Mike,

Something I've always wondered - are the mother of pearl inlays at all functional., or just decorative.

Also, I've got an old (not valuable) bow that's lost its spring, is there a way of giving it its shape back it, such as steaming it?

Neil

(World's worst fiddle player)

Martin King 213/07/2019 16:54:35
596 forum posts
214 photos

Hi Mike,

IRRC are not the best bows made of Pernambuco? I bought an old violin once in with some other tools and junk and it sat in the shed for months until someone with some knowledge came by and saw it in the corner. He pulled it out and said that the violin was rubbish but the bow was possibly special; it had silver inlays along with the nacre and was beautifully made. It went to a posh auction house and made over £150 which amazed me!

Never seen another one since..,boo hoo!

Cheers, Martin

Michael Gilligan13/07/2019 17:13:22
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Posted by Mike Donnerstag on 13/07/2019 15:21:51:

For interest, I've included a picture of the 'engineered' parts of a bow below:

.

Thanks for the introductory note, Mike ... and that illustration

Am I correct in believing that the tail hairs should come from a stallion ?

MichaelG.

Vic13/07/2019 17:44:38
2164 forum posts
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Interesting construction Mike, more complex than I would have expected.

Brian H13/07/2019 18:05:53
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1173 forum posts
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Welcome Mike, always amazing what skill are brought to this forum.

Brian

Mike Donnerstag13/07/2019 18:38:04
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84 forum posts
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Many thanks chaps!

Neil: The pearl inlays are only cosmetic, they serve no practical purpose, though it could be argued that the pearl eye at the end of the button hides the end of the screw, as the hole for the screw is normally drilled through the ebony.

Just for interest, often the shell of the abalone (a type of mussel) from different regions is used instead of mother of pearl as it has more colours and figure. The above part would be made from ebony (the body), stirling silver or rose gold (rings), shell (eye), brass or bronze (the 'brass-eye' ), and steel, stainless steel or titanium for the screw, with pins securing the silver rings made from 1mm silver wire.

As for the bow stick that has lost its shape, or what is known as camber, it can be re-cambered with dry heat but it is a skilled process and one that always carries a degree of risk. A pin-knot or shake in the wrong place can be enough to weaken that part of the stick to cause it to split or break. A broken stick can sometimes be repaired, but it affects the value of the bow considerably. While I would be happy to re-camber a bow of little value, I wouldn't want to re-camber a valuable bow.

Edited By Mike Donnerstag on 13/07/2019 18:51:27

Edited By Mike Donnerstag on 13/07/2019 18:51:49

Mike Donnerstag13/07/2019 18:45:18
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84 forum posts
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Martin: I had to look up IRRC, but couldn't find what that means. In my opinion and the opinions of the professional musicians I've dealt with, Pernambuco wood is not only the best but really the only material that a bow should be made from. Actually, £150 for a silver-mounted bow is very cheap. A hand-made bow would normally start at ten times that, and much more by a maker with a reputation.

Do you still have the violin?

Mike Donnerstag13/07/2019 18:59:21
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84 forum posts
9 photos

Michael Gilligan: It is thought that stallion hair is the 'best' hair for violin bows, though I've only used Sowden's mare's hair, and I've had no complaints. It's understood that mare's tail hair is stained towards the lower end because they pee on their tail! I believe that is why stallion hair is preferred. However, once rosin is applied, the powdery residue of the rosin makes the hair white again.

Horses for courses!

Mike Donnerstag13/07/2019 19:28:21
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84 forum posts
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Barnaby: I reckon I'm too much of a pacifist for longbows, though musical instrument bows did evolve from hunting bows.

Rob Rimmer13/07/2019 19:29:14
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IIRC = if I recall correctly

IRRC = probably a typo

Michael Gilligan13/07/2019 19:48:22
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13544 forum posts
586 photos
Posted by Mike Donnerstag on 13/07/2019 18:59:21:

Michael Gilligan: It is thought that stallion hair is the 'best' hair for violin bows, though I've only used Sowden's mare's hair, and I've had no complaints. It's understood that mare's tail hair is stained towards the lower end because they pee on their tail! I believe that is why stallion hair is preferred. However, once rosin is applied, the powdery residue of the rosin makes the hair white again.

Horses for courses!

.

Thanks, Mike

Yes, that was my understanding ... Although I seem to recall reading somewhere that the mare's tail has less tensile strength, for the same reason.

MichaelG.

AdrianR14/07/2019 07:57:55
264 forum posts
20 photos

I am no horse expert, but a mundane reason for using stallion may be that stallions tend to have longer tails that mares and geldings. So there is more hair to have a choice cut of.

Mick B114/07/2019 09:32:51
1124 forum posts
62 photos

My missus plays cello in a good amateur orchestra, and she just bought a fibreglass bow as a temporary replacement whilst her 'good' bow is rehaired. She says it's practically indistinguishable in use.

Mike Donnerstag14/07/2019 10:39:52
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84 forum posts
9 photos

AdrianR and Michael Gilligan: You may well be right about stallion hair being longer, and perhaps slightly stronger. I'm hoping to visit Michael Sowden (the horse hair supplier) in Beverley sometime soon, so I should find out more.

Mick B1: There are very good carbon fibre bows, and probably some reasonable fibreglass bows too, that would play basic bow strokes perfectly well. However, for a professional who is looking for the right weight, balance, tension and resonance for advanced strokes such as staccato, spiccato, sautillé, etc., I understand that nothing is as good as Pernambuco wood. I have the equipment to inlay pre-formed strips of carbon fibre into a finished bow made from lower grade Pernambuco, resulting in a bow that should be getting close to a good Pernambuco bow, possibly better. I have prototypes, but I've yet to receive feedback from a professional player.

Michael Gilligan14/07/2019 10:52:25
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13544 forum posts
586 photos
Posted by Mike Donnerstag on 14/07/2019 10:39:52:

AdrianR and Michael Gilligan: You may well be right about stallion hair being longer, and perhaps slightly stronger. I'm hoping to visit Michael Sowden (the horse hair supplier) in Beverley sometime soon, so I should find out more.

.

Thanks, Mike yes

MichaelG.

mark smith 2014/07/2019 11:09:31
577 forum posts
297 photos
Posted by Mike Donnerstag on 13/07/2019 18:38:04:

Many thanks chaps!

Neil: The pearl inlays are only cosmetic, they serve no practical purpose, though it could be argued that the pearl eye at the end of the button hides the end of the screw, as the hole for the screw is normally drilled through the ebony.

Just for interest, often the shell of the abalone (a type of mussel) from different regions is used instead of mother of pearl as it has more colours and figure. The above part would be made from ebony (the body), stirling silver or rose gold (rings), shell (eye), brass or bronze (the 'brass-eye' ), and steel, stainless steel or titanium for the screw, with pins securing the silver rings made from 1mm silver wire.

As for the bow stick that has lost its shape, or what is known as camber, it can be re-cambered with dry heat but it is a skilled process and one that always carries a degree of risk. A pin-knot or shake in the wrong place can be enough to weaken that part of the stick to cause it to split or break. A broken stick can sometimes be repaired, but it affects the value of the bow considerably. While I would be happy to re-camber a bow of little value, I wouldn't want to re-camber a valuable bow.

Edited By Mike Donnerstag on 13/07/2019 18:51:27

Edited By Mike Donnerstag on 13/07/2019 18:51:49

The pearl/abalone on the slide ,which is the long rectangular piece has the purpose of covering the hair mortice.smiley

If anyones interested one bow sold recently at auction for  1/2 million euros or thereabouts.

Mike i assume John Stagg is the maker your refering to??

Edited By mark smith 20 on 14/07/2019 11:11:51

Edited By mark smith 20 on 14/07/2019 11:12:55

Mike Donnerstag14/07/2019 11:13:00
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84 forum posts
9 photos

mark smith 20: Very true, though it could really be made from something more hardwearing for practical purposes. I see a lot of old bows with lovely figured pearl slides that have been almost eaten through from the acidic sweat of the player's fingers.

Cornish Jack14/07/2019 14:28:37
908 forum posts
120 photos

Mike - I note that you mention carbon fibre as a possible construction material. Many years ago, I bought a very large roll of c/f tape for model aircraft construction and never got round to using it. Would it be of interest?

rgds

Bill

Mike Donnerstag14/07/2019 14:36:14
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84 forum posts
9 photos

Cornish Jack (Bill): Many thanks, but I have a stock of pre-formed panels that are shaped with the camber of a bow. I just need to get them cut by water-jet.

Thanks anyway,

Mike

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