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Opinions on best wood for bow blocks and spreader wedges


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For 20 years I used soft maple (red maple) for plugs. I just switched to poplar. In theory, poplar (or basswood) might be safer because, being softer than maple, it would compress rather than exerting too much force on a bow head if the fit were too tight. Arnold Bone used striped maple, and I was told that the Wurlitzer shop used willow.

I use basswood for spreader wedges. I found it amusing that when I started re-hairing I went out in the woods and cut down a whole basswood tree because I needed little pieces of wood from it smaller than my fingernail.

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Basswood for spreader wedges and currently european maple for the blocks, it's a little harder than poplar and a little softer than soft maple. I have all these scrap bits of maple from making violins, of which a lot is curly and not too good for making blocks but the plain stuff is good.

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I've always resorted to maple for the head and frog plugs, and basswood for the spread wedge.

My favorite maple for plugs is plain, unfigured, straight-grained quarter-sawn maple (cut so that the grain is vertical in the plug). Over the years, I've tried different woods for the plugs including birch, hard (Michigan) rock maple, mahogany, cherry, willow, and some other woods, but always return to a medium-hardness maple. I'm not afraid to use a harder wood for the plugs because I believe that if the plug fits properly, it can be extremely hard without causing damage to the bow. Damage (mostly to the head of a bow) occurs primarily when a plug is "squash-fit" into the mortises. Unfortunately, I see this fairly often from a local shop that uses oversize plugs from a soft wood that are pressed in with more pressure than is necessary--often cracking the tip plate, but occasionally cracking the pernambuco on the side or back of the head.

For spread wedges, in addition to basswood, I have tried other woods like willow, poplar, cherry, mahogany, pine, cedar, and on one desperate occasion--balsawood (way too soft). The spread wedge does need to be a softer wood that is compressable. The whole purpose of the spread wedge is to hold the hair into a wide ribbon in the ferrule, so by design, the wood used for the wedge must be able to tolerate some compression (without too much pressure needed to insert it). Harder woods (like maple) are not so compressible, and if used for the wedge, tend to allow the hairs to pull towards the center of the ferrule over time.

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  • 7 years later...

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