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.