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Steve R.

Alternative Bow Woods

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Steve R.   

I see listings for bows made of woods other than Pernambuco and "brazilwood". My question is what performance characteristics can be expected of these alternative woods and how would they rank for quality in a bow. Pernambuco is of course the #1 wood, but what about the rest? Especially for both eco-reasons and affordability?

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Froggie   

Check this thread. It will help you distinguish between brazilwood and pernambuco.

Is it pernambuco or brazilwood

There are different kinds of snakewood (some is not so pretty and not all is figured) and there wood stained to look like snakewood. I have never seen any fake snakewood that looked real. Check the exotic wood dealer sites for photos. It is easy to recognize. Unfigured snakewood is hard to identify, but the mechanical properties are the same. Figuring is only visual.

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jackc   

The best diagnostic for pernambuco I've seen is a photograph in one of Henry Strobel's books. I think it's in the one titled "Violinmaker's Notebook". It shows very fine but distinctive cross-grain wavy lines in pernambuco, and I can see this in almost all good pieces that I find. But I'm not sure it's the only diagnostic.

I've got some snakewood in the shop, and I'll try to post a photo.

I agree that the cane is snakewood, not pernambuco. There are a lot of fakewood (fake snakewood) bows around, where the grain is painted on.

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jackc   

Here are some photos of snakewood and pernambuco. If you study the pernambuco photo, you may be able to see the very fine crossgrain flecks. They appear as faint wavy vertical lines in the photo. My camera makes the pernambuc look orange. The color is not quite right, although it was freshly planed.

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On a pernambuco bow sometimes the cross-grain structure that Jack's talking about can almost look like threads, or rings, running around the bow. I hear bowmakers say that's a distinctive difference between pernambuco and brazilwood, but I'm not totally up on that stuff, so I don't know. I've also seen them on the garbage wood that's used in $50 Chinese bows, so you can't count on it as a definitive point for pernambuco against ALL other woods.

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ttk   

played three bows from Water Violet made from ipe'---I understand is is very dense and good for making patio decking---

as far as making for bows ?? it played like a heavier bow but still with bounce---I guess whatever characteristic you would want out of pernambuco, you can get out of ipe'--

from what I remember Lynn Hanning was suppose to be dabbling in ipe'

Anybody else tried these bows---I mean really try them --like fast blue grass or Mendelssohn or Mozart concerto level stuff...

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Steve R.   

So we have Snakewood and Ironwood, which I recall reading somewhere predate Pernambuco as a bow woods, Ipe' which is currently being experimented with by some good makers, I have also been told that a wood called Manilkara Kauki is being used by the Chinese and called "brazilwood", has anyone heard of quality bows being made with this wood "honestly". On e-bay I have seen bows advertised as made of Sandalwood and Cherrywood, are there other renewable hardwoods anyone has heard about being experimented with?

I am looking at this both as a way to spark thought and because I am sort of passively shopping for a new and higher grade bow.

Thanks all.

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One problem with common names of woods is the same name is "honestly" used for many different species. There are about 50 species of "ironwood", for instance.

The original "brazilwood" was a dye source, a tree in Indonesia (Caelaspina sappan -- and others!). European explorers came to South America and found great stands of a similar tree (Caelispina echinata) that made an even nicer dye, so they named the country "Brazil". You could get into great arguments as to which is the "real" brazilwood.

Pernambuco is another potentially misleading common name, because it is a subspecies of the Brazilian brazilwood. (Caelaspina echinata). With the quality and price difference between C. echinata that is truly pernambuco and that which is merely brazilwood, there is a great incentive to call any C. echinata pernambuco. I don't know for sure, but think that is the source of much of the cheaper "pernambuco" sticks that have come onto the market.

The situation might be somewhat like "flamed maple' -- not a distinct species, but still a very different wood.

Seems to me the best thing is to play the stick and see if you like it....

-Claire

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DelDuca   

There is a wood in the American south called Osage Orange by some and Bois D'Arc by others. It has long been a favored wood for arrow-shooting bows. It is very strong, dense, and seems to have the right amount of spring to it. But I am no judge. I wonder if anyone knowledgeable has tried it.

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Steve R.   

I have certainly noticed that bows made from cherry wood are clearly low end bows.

As for Osage Orange or Bois D'Arc, I would expect it to be similar to Yew, which the English used for longbows. I have never heard of a Yew violin bow, so maybe for a baroque bow?

Interesting entimology on Brazilwood! So some of these Brazilwood bows which have never seen South America, let alone Brazil could be "legit", at least in name.

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Quote:

There is a wood in the American south called Osage Orange by some and Bois D'Arc by others. It has long been a favored wood for arrow-shooting bows. It is very strong, dense, and seems to have the right amount of spring to it. But I am no judge. I wonder if anyone knowledgeable has tried it.


Well, at least one maker has tried it...but that's all I know.

Check out:

http://brunkalla.com/BOWS.html

--Celia

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Wolfjk   

Hi,

-----I have certainly noticed that bows made from cherry wood are clearly low end bows.-----

It may be possible to make good bows from Europian cherry wood, but one would have to choose the wood carefully. Perhaps the first three feet nearest the ground of a young tree (50 - 60 year old).

It might be same with any other wood. One log can have quite different qualities from one end to the other. The general rule is that wood is heavier and stronger nearer to the ground up to acertain age, but old trees loose the qualities needed.

Perhaps in the old days the makers had a chance to choose the best part of a log, nowadays it is a matter of luck.

Cheers Wolfjk

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wmeng   

I haven't tried one, but I've heard that they're extremely flexible, probably too flexible for most situations.

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A lot of lower-end inexpensive sticks coming out of Hebei, for example are either cheap brazilwood stock or manilkara kauki. I have not been able to find a good source of fine quality MK yet (4 trips to China) and I suspect it has to do with the fact that most of the wood is imported from Burma (sp?) and elsewhere. I don't know for sure. The Chinese factory managers I spoke with are not happy to let known their source.

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COB3   

One thing about Ipe' is that it is readily available, and relatively inexpensive. I have used it for fingerboards and tailpieces, for which I like it just fine. I have never made a violin bow, but I think I would consider building a few of Ipe' just to get the technique down, before I began purchasing billets of Pernambuco, or worse yet, Snakewood. I checked with a local tonewood supplier here, several years ago, and they wanted $210 for a snakewood bow blank. That may not sound like much to some of you, but it did to me. They eventually rustled up a lower-quality blank of pernambuco for me, at $10, just to experiment with. I realize that was unusually inexpensive, but the snakewood was sky-high, no matter what.

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It seems that Brazil has designated pernambuco an endangered species, and it is now illegal to export it. So any pernambuco available today is either old stock, poached, or a different subspecies. (source: Lynn Hannings, AFBVM bowmaker and president of IPCI-USA http://www.ipci-usa.org/ )

This will change in a few years, when the farm-raised pernambuco gets large enough for harvest, but in the meantime, they're urging the use of other woods. They're also asking that bowmakers set aside a portion of their sales to aid the conservation and reforestation effort.

According to IPCI-USA's website, Charles Espey is chairman of their Alternative Wood Committee. I know Lynn is using some alternative woods, including ipe; she was telling me about it the other day and promised to send me their current list of alternative woods. I'll post it when I find out more...

--Claire

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A local lumber yard has a pile of Osage Orange. The wood came from Kansas and Oklahoma region. I use it for substitution of boxwood, particularly for making chinrest. Most of my French boxwood are in small logs and therefore more suitable for making pegs and tailpieces. Perhaps, I’ll try to use Osage to make bows in the future.

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