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.

Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin
Tags: , , , , ,

Cello Frog Series #4

Posted in Cello Frog, Cello frog making, Frog Making on September 18th, 2011 by Robert Morrow

The pearl slide has been fit.  This step begins with selecting the shell.  Most often I use Japanese abalone which is known as awabi.  As with all bow making materials finding the highest quality shell is a task in itself.  Once the maker has found a source for the awabi and purchases a quantity he or she must sort it out.  I would expect a yield of 20-30% on average of usable shell.  Shell is prone to many defects.  The maker will pick out a gorgeous piece only to find a tiny crack, blemish, chip, or hole from some tiny invasive predator.  It can be heart breaking really to have to pass up some otherwise lovely material.

Once the piece of shell has been selected I thin it out from approximately 1 mm in thickness to about .6 mm on a diamond stone.  Now it is thinned it is glued to a 1 mm thick piece of ebony.  After the glue has set it is filed to match the dovetails seen in Cello Frog Series #3.  The taper is filed to match the channel or coulisse and the slide is slowly fit.  When it reaches the back of the channel against the silver talon or heel plate it is filed to match.  The front of the slide is then cut off with a jeweler’s saw and the front is filed to match the ferrule or passant.

Returning to the top of the frog the coulisse for the silver underslide is created using chisels made specifically for frog making by local artisan Ed Louchard http://www.zephyrwerks.com/contact.asp.  One of these chisels can be seen to the right of the frog in the photo.  I made the handle from Bubinga wood and did a short silver wire wrap that is similar to a winding on a bow.  Ed has made some beautiful tools for me based on old French models provided by Charles Espey.  I will devote some time in future posts to the tools and French method.  The channel that you see in this photo was created entirely by hand with chisels and the base was finished with a fine file.  Early French bows were fit onto the stick as you see this one.  That is to say the silver under-slide wasn’t used until the early 19th century.  I have made several bows in this fashion.  You can see a photo of one at the following link, look for my 2006 gold medal winning cello bow.  Notice that there is no line of gold in between the frog and the stick.  http://www.robertmorrowbowmaker.com/bows/indexflash.html  It is possible that the under-slide has a dampening effect on sound quality.  The bows that I have made without under-slides have been well received.  The trade off is that the ebony is fragile and can easily be damaged by careless work while re-hairing.

The silver under-slide has been fit, glued in place, pinned with silver pins, and filed flat.  I make the under-slides on a steel form made by local machinist Wayne Meginnes.  The hole for the eyelet is drilled at this time as well.

In the next post we will move on to the stick.

Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Cello Frog Series #2

Posted in Uncategorized on September 8th, 2011 by Robert Morrow
After the shelf has been established the tongue where the passant seats is carved.
The passant is fit and the bottom sides are hand planed to match the width and orientation of the passant.  The front of the frog is filed square and the final length of the passant is established.  The frog is then cut to final length and the heel is rounded, first by making a series of facets.  Next the top of the frog is planed back into symmetry.
The throat has been carved which allows the maker to establish the placement of the pearl eyes.  A .9 mm pilot hole has been drilled to use as a guide for the cutter that will make the recess for the eye.
The flanks or creasage of the frog are hollowed  with a Japanese gouge to a beautiful curve.  In the next post  we will move on to the pearl eyes  and beyond.
Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin
Tags: , , ,