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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Homage to FX Tourte

Posted in Historic bow makers on August 18th, 2011 by Robert Morrow


Francois Xavier Tourte (1748-1835) was the singular genius that brought us the “modern bow”. Born into a family of bow makers in Paris, Tourte’s early training was actually in clock making. Unable to make a sufficient income as a clock maker he returned to his family’s workshop sometime around 1774. By this time his father had passed away and he worked in collaboration with his brother Nicholas Leonard. During this period Francois experimented with many types of wood eventually settling on pernambuco around 1780. In 1782 the violinist Viotti arrived in Paris. Tourte and Viotti began dialogue and experimentation with innovations for the bow. Through their collaboration the height of the head and frog as well as the length of the bow were determined, the ferrule was added to the frog, and the stick was given a concave camber. Sometime during this era the ideal weights for the violin, viola, and cello bows were determined as well. Contemporary bow makers continue to employ Tourte’s innovations nearly two hundred years later!

Francois Tourte was surely a man of great sensitivity, perception, and ability to communicate. Not only did he arrive at the functional model for the modern bow, he also laid the stylistic foundation for bow makers which continues to this day. His career spanned more than sixty years, and he crafted bows at his bench until the end of his life at age 87.

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