Bending the stick #1

Posted in Bending the stick, Contemporary bow making, Historic bow makers, Pernambuco on October 22nd, 2011 by Robert Morrow

This is a great photo of the archetier Joseph Arthur Vigneron.  Vigneron was born in Mirecourt and trained with his step father Claude Nicholas Husson.  His early work is indistinguishable from the work of his master.  In 1880 he relocated to Paris to work for Gand & Bernadel.  He remained in Paris until his death at the age of 54  It is said that Vigneron could easily make a bow a day.

The photo shows the 19th century bow maker surrounded by many tools that are familiar and useful to the contemporary maker.  In the background on the wall are hung a variety of chisels, files, and pliers.  The bench where he sits is well worn.  There is a groove on the side facing the camera that was probably used for bending sticks.  A few sticks are in progress on the bench.  To the right of his knee there is a model used to determine the head profiles and height.  In front of his right elbow you will see a small bucket with coals from the bakery.  On the coals there is a small glue pot filled with hide glue.  I chose this photo for this post for the bucket of coals.  These coals would have not only been used to heat the glue but also to heat the sticks for bending.  Contemporary makers use a variety of heat sources.  Alcohol lamps, heat guns (similar to hair dryers but much more powerful) and butane burners of the type used in chemistry lamps are the most common heat sources used today.

Bow makers whether working in the 19th or 21st century apply heat to a small section of the stick and then slowly bend it into shape over the corner of the bench or sometimes over a curved bending jig.  Working down the length of the stick an initial or “rough” camber will be put into the stick.  This is only a jumping off point for further work on the camber as the bow and it’s dimensions are refined and finalized.  The maker will return to the stick over and over correcting for straightness while inducing the optimal camber for a given piece of wood.  The camber cannot be “cook booked”.  Every stick has it’s only particular qualities that must be taken into account during cambering and graduation.

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More on the stick #1

Posted in Contemporary bow makers, Contemporary bow making, Pernambuco, Roughing out the stick, Stick selection on October 13th, 2011 by Robert Morrow

My next bow will be a cello bow and I’ve selected a handful of candidates from the rack.  Selecting a stick is one of the most demanding and nerve racking steps for me in bow making.  If I don’t look carefully a flaw in the stick could become apparent later in the process rendering the stick useless.  The maker can waste a lot of time this way so it pays to spend time pouring over the stick early on.  Some common flaws are discoloration, cracks, run out in the grain, problems with the grain orientation, the wood being too dense or too light, large knots (small knots are permissible, beautiful even, and often are an indication of very nice wood), lack of strength, and an absence of nervousness in the stick.  Nervousness is a way to describe the liveliness of a particular piece of wood.

 Progress, I am now down to my four favorites from the initial selection.  These will likely all work quite well.  They are beautiful, strong, the proper density, lively, and seem to be free from imperfections.  This photo shows the basic shape of a stick after it has been cut from the board.  The next step is to begin roughing the stick out so that it will be ready for the initial bend.

Here you can see a stick which has been roughed out and is ready to be bent.  The dimensions of the original stick have been reduced but still remain oversized to facilitate further planing as the bow takes shape.   Every curl of wood in this photo represents a stroke with the hand plane.  That is a lot of plane strokes, and the stick is only roughed out!  Many more will follow before this bow is ready.  I rejected this stick because it shows some run out in the grain.  I should have caught it earlier, but oh well.  On to the next stick.  One of Charles Espey’s early teachings to me was never to use materials that are even the slightest bit questionable.  It is an excellent piece of advice for the bow maker.

This photo shows a comparison to the earlier photo of the end of the stick.  Here you can see how the shape of the stick is changing.  The triangular shape that you see flows back toward the handle end of the stick but gradually becomes square as it does.  The stick is shown on a card of drawings from old French bows that I have sketched over the years.

In the next post I will describe the process of putting in the initial, rough camber.

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Stick Selection

Posted in CTES, Pernambuco, Stick selection on October 6th, 2011 by Robert Morrow

This is a photo of one of my stick racks.  In 2007 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species  of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) http://www.cites.org/ listed Pernambuco as a species which would be regulated in regard to it’s international trade.  Basically the listing stipulated that pernambuco in it’s raw form would need proper documentation to cross the borders of any of CITES signatory countries.  Most bow makers took the initiative to document their own stocks of pernambuco at this time.  If properly documented the wood is considered “pre-convention” and could cross international borders with the proper paperwork.  It is possible that CITES could implement a stricter listing.  If this happens the wood in any form including finished bows would require proper paperwork to cross borders.  Can you imagine the logistical problems that a touring symphony orchestra would face if the stricter listing occurs?  Since 2007 when I write certificates for my own bows the stick number from my documentation process is included in the paperwork.  The row numbers in the photo were part of the third party documentation that was done on my stocks.

So now it’s time to get to work on the stick.  The maker just needs to grab one off the rack and get to work right?  Not so fast,  stick selection is perhaps the most critical decision in making a bow.  In the coming posts I will describe some of the qualities that I look for in a stick.

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