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Bow Tips -- Mammouth Compared to Bone


Brad Dorsey
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Today I used a fossil mammouth bow tip for the first time after using nothing but bone for many years. I noticed two differences in workability:

First, and most noticeable, was how easy the mammouth was to bend. After soaking for about 15 minutes in cold water, the mammouth became soft and pliable. I clamped it between two curved counterforms and, after it dried, it took the shape of the forms almost exactly with almost no springback. With bone tips, I have tried heating them in a flame, boiling them in water and soaking them in vinegar and various other solutions. The bone never softened and would take the shape of the bending forms very unpredictably, often with a great deal of springback. Sometimes the bone tip would immediately break when clamped in the bending forms.

Second was how much easier the mammouth was to shape to the bow head with knives and files after it was glued on. It seemed softer and could be cut and shaped more easily and cleanly. By comparison, bone is harder and often cuts irregularly and chips. Sometimes bone tips chip the cutting edge of my knife.

I might be a convert to mammouth tips despite their higher cost.

Has anyone else had similar observations or comparisons between different tip materials? How does elephant ivory compare?

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Today I used a fossil mammouth bow tip for the first time after using nothing but bone for many years. I noticed two differences in workability:

First, and most noticeable, was how easy the mammouth was to bend. After soaking for about 15 minutes in cold water, the mammouth became soft and pliable. I clamped it between two curved counterforms and, after it dried, it took the shape of the forms almost exactly with almost no springback. With bone tips, I have tried heating them in a flame, boiling them in water and soaking them in vinegar and various other solutions. The bone never softened and would take the shape of the bending forms very unpredictably, often with a great deal of springback. Sometimes the bone tip would immediately break when clamped in the bending forms.

Second was how much easier the mammouth was to shape to the bow head with knives and files after it was glued on. It seemed softer and could be cut and shaped more easily and cleanly. By comparison, bone is harder and often cuts irregularly and chips. Sometimes bone tips chip the cutting edge of my knife.

I might be a convert to mammouth tips despite their higher cost.

Has anyone else had similar observations or comparisons between different tip materials? How does elephant ivory compare?

Ive never actually used bone ,always used ivory,elephany ivory is somewhat harder,a bit more difficult to bend and cut .Must be something to do with the age of Mammoth.I bought a few kilos of Mammoth ivory scrap from a guy in the States off ebay(he`s called David Warther and is a member of the Amish community in Ohio, got a website ,he makes sailing ship models from old estate ivory.ivory ,ive been using it for bow tips for a few years now and still have plenty left.Some of it smells like a sewer though when working it. I cut the tip blanks out using a small proxxon milling machine to 1 mm thick ,so bending isnt a problem.

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[There's no u in mammoth] I guess this may sound stupid but, fiddlecollector, how does one like your friend in Ohio GET mammoth ivory? Considering how limited the supply must be, are there actually suppliers for the stuff? I mean, arn't most mammoth remains in museums? Odd.

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[There's no u in mammoth] I guess this may sound stupid but, fiddlecollector, how does one like your friend in Ohio GET mammoth ivory? Considering how limited the supply must be, are there actually suppliers for the stuff? I mean, arn't most mammoth remains in museums? Odd.

Mammoth is relatively easily obtained .Its been traded for several hundred years as an alternative to elephant ivory.Most comes from Alaska and particularly the Siberian tundra.I have only ever used antique elephant ivory and find Mammoth a very suitable alternative,i wouldnt dream of condoning the use of recent elephant ivory. But also dont see the point in burning stockpiles of it.

Large Mammoth tusks up to 8 feet long are usually bought by collectors and museums and bring large prices but there is tons of part tusks /fragments ,which are suitable for small items such as bow frogs ,tips ,etc... (the outer brown textured layer is popular for knife scales). Recent Mammoth prices are supposed to be falling due to global warming and more exposed permafrost areas bringing in new finds of mammoth remains.

Whatever your views mammoth is a far better alternative for bow tips than bone.It is often easily available in small pieces/scrap suitable for bow tips .It is also legal to sell and trade in `finished items`,though ebay apparently now has a blanket ban and doesnt seem to distinguish between Elephant and Mammoth ivory .

Mammoth ivory in pieces showing the end grain is easily distinguished from Elephant by a hatched pattern called `Schreger lines`,the two species have schreger lines which meet at different angles.Its easily explained with diagrams or photos .

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Brad,

Have you tried soaking the bone tips in hot water and soda ash (sometimes called so-dash)? It takes about an hour to soften the bone. It takes a strong solution (about 1/2 volume of the container is crystals and then fill it with boiling water). I have been told that soaking them too long makes them rubbery, but I have not tried that. You need the bending form for bone tips. Bone takes more time than ivory. I usually bend ivory by heating over the alcohol flame and bending it over my thumb. It needs to be almost too hot to hold. I think the forms for ivory take too much time. If the bend isn't right, just re-heat and adjust it a little.

I just received a batch of bone tips and they look very thick to me. I have no idea what kind of animal they came from, but they look grease free and nice and white. I will have to thin them before bending. I think they might break if I tried to bend them the way they are.

Do you use anything to give bone a more 'ivory' or aged appearance (coffee or tea?) or do you leave them natural?

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Have you tried soaking the bone tips in hot water and soda ash (sometimes called so-dash)?

What is soda ash, and where do I get it?

Do you use anything to give bone a more 'ivory' or aged appearance (coffee or tea?) or do you leave them natural?

I don't use anything because I don't know what to use. Can you recommend anything that is easy and effective?

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Today I used a fossil mammouth bow tip for the first time after using nothing but bone for many years. I noticed two differences in workability:

Second was how much easier the mammouth was to shape to the bow head with knives and files after it was glued on. It seemed softer and could be cut and shaped more easily and cleanly. By comparison, bone is harder and often cuts irregularly and chips. Sometimes bone tips chip the cutting edge of my knife.

I might be a convert to mammouth tips despite their higher cost.

It seems that the raw material is readily available online. (Probably there are more options, I only looked for a minute or two.)

This (and many other lots) looks like it might make quite a few tips for someone interested in "doing it yourself".

http://www.mammothivory.info/p.aspx?p=177

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It seems that the raw material is readily available online.

The material shown here appears to be a good sourcel for anyone set up to cut tips out of it. I am not, and I'm not really interested in figuring out how and in tooling up for it. It makes more sense for me to buy tips from suppliers to the bow trade.

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What is soda ash, and where do I get it?

sodium carbonate. get it from Lynn Hannings at: Lynn Hannings

See 'sodium carbonate on wikipedia. It has a thorough discussion here: sodium carbonate

I don't use anything because I don't know what to use. Can you recommend anything that is easy and effective?

I have not used anything myself. I just wanted to know if others do. Some folks using bone for other purposes 'age' their work in tea or coffee.

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The material shown here appears to be a good sourcel for anyone set up to cut tips out of it. I am not, and I'm not really interested in figuring out how and in tooling up for it. It makes more sense for me to buy tips from suppliers to the bow trade.

I'll admit that I'm tempted.- since the ulinned tips are large, and must be bent and fitted anyway - it seems like an interesting challenge and perhaps not all that much more "work"...

(in a way, this seems right up my "type A" alley.)

Has anyone here taken up making tips - from raw material - for their bows?

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I'll admit that I'm tempted.- since the ulinned tips are large, and must be bent and fitted anyway - it seems like an interesting challenge and perhaps not all that much more "work"...

(in a way, this seems right up my "type A" alley.)

Has anyone here taken up making tips - from raw material - for their bows?

I have. It's kind of one of those things where the set up is the bugger if you are using machining. If one is really jazzed about making everything from scratch it's certainly do-able. Sawing ivory of any kind is slow with a small kerfed saw for little waste. I used my milling attachment on the lathe but a real mill would be much more exact after the initial set up. Files can do it if you have the time and a good file brush. Whatever you do it's not real economical unless you make a good sized batch of them, especially if using powered equipment. Beckley's Bowworks sells them for $11 a piece so you can do the math.

Oh and I ruined a couple of pieces as usual getting the hang of it with the mill. :)

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If you buy 10, they're only 6.50 each. I know someone who would go "haffers" with me on a lot... Nice prices on most things there. Thanks for the heads up.

Have you bought their hair?

I'm just really a bow maker wannabe. I've made three bows, sold two, and haven't haired any of them myself. It's really something that you get down by doing over and over and I never really had the chance, I'm spending some days at a violin shop rehairing now to get in the groove but economics being what they are it's a struggle to get away from my own business to put in the time.

I've never used thier hair but Steve Beckley is great, and he's the kind of guy that if he knew of better hair available he would probably tell you where to find it.

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Theres nothing difficult about milling tips out of mammoth scrap,its usually very easy to saw with a fine toothed japanese saw and mill using a straight slotting cutter.The ones i make work out at around 20 pence (£0.20) each .Though i did buy 4 kilos of mammoth scrap off ebay very cheaply. :)

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I got in touch with David Warther this week. He actually has a division of his business dedicated to luthiery components:

mammoth ivory bow tips

His premium fossil mammoth ivory tips (FMI) are $8, and he sells his "B grade" tips for just $5. He said there is no difference in quality, just coloration, which some may actually prefer. His tips are unlined, which is fine with me as the lining may separate after bending. He sells the fiber lining but I actually prefer ebony, which I have found to file away much more cleanly than the fiber lining, which tends to "burr", roll-up and cling during filing.

I also purchased a pound of scrap FMI, for when I'm feeling ambitious and am looking to craft something. I've got some nicer pieces which I purchased in Alaska a couple of years ago that I'm saving for guitar pics, scrimshaw, etc.

When I get the shipment from David in a couple of days I'll post a few pics and let everyone know how I like the tips. David has been great to deal with thus so far, very communicative and helpful and ships immediately for only $6 flat rate shipping regardless of the size of your order.

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It stands to reason that mammoth or elephant tusk would be more flexible than bone. Consider what the mammoth used them for; if the tusk snapped off when engaged in battle with a predator, it wouldn't stand much of a chance of surviving.

Bone on the other hand needs to be rigid with a slight amount of give to allow for abuse without breaking.

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What is soda ash, and where do I get it?

Yes it is sodium carbonate, and you can get it very easily. Take sodium bicarbonate and heat IT (DRY) in a skillet. You will see the powder particles move a bit as the CO2 is driven off. When that subsides, it is sodium carbonate. If you taste before and after, you will know that it has become much more alkaline.

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I got in touch with David Warther this week. He actually has a division of his business dedicated to luthiery components:

mammoth ivory bow tips

His premium fossil mammoth ivory tips (FMI) are $8, and he sells his "B grade" tips for just $5. He said there is no difference in quality, just coloration, which some may actually prefer. His tips are unlined, which is fine with me as the lining may separate after bending. He sells the fiber lining but I actually prefer ebony, which I have found to file away much more cleanly than the fiber lining, which tends to "burr", roll-up and cling during filing.

I also purchased a pound of scrap FMI, for when I'm feeling ambitious and am looking to craft something. I've got some nicer pieces which I purchased in Alaska a couple of years ago that I'm saving for guitar pics, scrimshaw, etc.

When I get the shipment from David in a couple of days I'll post a few pics and let everyone know how I like the tips. David has been great to deal with thus so far, very communicative and helpful and ships immediately for only $6 flat rate shipping regardless of the size of your order.

This post is answered also, so;

See the "piano key ivory" thread.

Again, thanks Woodland, for the great lead.

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