How important is straightness of grain in a bow?


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I had a nice Hill violin bow for many years, but recently found out that there is a crack in the shaft near the head that is not repairable.  I had taken the bow to get rehaired and the luthier (who is also a well known local bowmaker) alerted me to the crack, and also mentioned that the crack was most likely due to the grain of the wood near the head dipping downwards or diagonal rather than going straight through the shaft.  He basically told me that this piece of wood should never have been used for a bow because the angle of the grain at the head made the bow less structurally sound.

 

Fast forward a few months and I think I've found a good replacement for my Hill.  But lo and behold, this bow also has a grain at the tip that darts downwards and diagonal instead of straight through the stick.  I mentioned this to the owner of the bow, another respected dealer, and he says that the bow should be fine as long as I don't cause any sort of impact on the bow that could cause a hairline crack.

 

I'm a bit gun shy about buying another bow with an angled grain.  While I'm excited to get a new bow now, I still hate the fact that my Hill is now unusable.  I took very good care of my Hill and never purposely hit it on anything, although I'm sure there was incidental contact here and there in the time that I used it, as I think all bows that get handled regularly will experience.

 

Is my concern here warranted?  Or does it really take an inordinary amount of impact to cause a crack in a bow, even if the grain is not straight?  And should the price of a bow with an angled grain be less than a bow with a straight grain, assuming all else is equal?

 

 

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If I'm understanding you correctly (difficult to be sure without the bow or a photo of it), I think it's probably a matter of degree.  I can think of many 100 year old + French bows in which the wood grain is angled slightly at the tip.  Many play very well.  If there was too much of an angle, I'd worry too.

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I'm not in possession of the replacement bow being considered, but I'll post a pic of my existing bow tomorrow when I can get better lighting to show the grain.  Based on degrees, I'd estimate that the grain on my old bow starts angling about 10-15 degrees downwards from the natural curvature of the bow maybe 1.5" from the head.  I can't remember exactly how the other bow looks, but I think the angle starts a little closer to the head of the bow and the degree of the angle should be around the same as my current bow.

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I don't know how much damage your bow has, but I'd send a few pictures of it to Josh Henry, he's done some remarkable restoration work, and if you're happy with the way your old bow played and sounded, there's no reason why a hairline crack in the tip should be unrepairable. A regular gluing job might not be possible, but I'd get a second opinion. Take a look at his site!

http://www.fineviolinbows.com/restore.htm

I don't know one of Josh's bows, nor have I ever gone to him for any work, but his work pretty much speaks for itself. 

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Angled grain is an issue behind the head. The amount of angle is essential.

There are two things to consider:

Is the bow old and has been regularly played I would be less concerned, as it has obviously survived some stress and might do the same in the future.

If it is not that old, the stick also a little bit thin on that spot, even some damage to wood fibres there (from tapping on stands etc), I would rather not buy it.

 

If you buy it, make sure it is well insured from day one.

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Wasnt there a faulty batch of Hill bows made with the grain going at 90 degrees to ideal,which was responsible for alot of breaks. I dont think grain runout near heads is a particularly English thing,there are plenty of good French bows with very wild grain approaching the head or on the head. Some break ,some dont.

Regarding the original poster Hill bow: at what sort of angle is this crack and over what length of the stick would it extend if it were to break right through. If its not broke it could still be playable if glued securely with optical epoxy and a light binding of some sort .

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I seem to remember that this is a characteristic of a lot old English bows. They would plane the camber into the stick at the head rather than bend it like the French. Henceforth why you get more English bows cracking near the head.

Am I remembering this correctly?

 

Maybe Jerry knows more, but I believe some French makers also planed in the first portion of the bend near the head.  As far as the cut of wood, I know of French as well as English bows that were cut on the slab or semi slab.  I see this in bows from the Lupot shop relatively regularly.

Wasnt there a faulty batch of Hill bows made with the grain going at 90 degrees to ideal,which was responsible for alot of breaks. I dont think grain runout near heads is a particularly English thing,there are plenty of good French bows with very wild grain approaching the head or on the head. Some break ,some dont.

Regarding the original poster Hill bow: at what sort of angle is this crack and over what length of the stick would it extend if it were to break right through. If its not broke it could still be playable if glued securely with optical epoxy and a light binding of some sort .

 

Yup.  As I recall, wooden pin was installed in many of these in the Hill shop.  A small mark (a "w" if my memory serves me) on the ebony lining of the faceplate denotes those that were dowelled.

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Maybe Jerry knows more, but I believe some French makers also planed in the first portion of the bend near the head.  As far as the cut of wood, I know of French as well as English bows that were cut on the slab or semi slab.  I see this in bows from the Lupot shop relatively regularly.

I'll be in the shop later today. I'll ask.

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Sadler's book on Authur Bultitude and the history of Hill bows talks about this period of time when someone cut the sticks "off the grain". This is when the grain lines are perpendicular to the face plate. According to Bultitude many of these bows came back cracked  and dowels were added, but they didn't solve the problem and many still cracked. Major blunder and the bloke who cut the wood probably got sacked, if they figured out who did it. :mellow:

 

see

http://www.maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/320945-question-for-bow-makers/

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I don't know how much damage your bow has, but I'd send a few pictures of it to Josh Henry, he's done some remarkable restoration work, and if you're happy with the way your old bow played and sounded, there's no reason why a hairline crack in the tip should be unrepairable. A regular gluing job might not be possible, but I'd get a second opinion. Take a look at his site!

http://www.fineviolinbows.com/restore.htm

I don't know one of Josh's bows, nor have I ever gone to him for any work, but his work pretty much speaks for itself. 

 

 

 

Regarding the original poster Hill bow: at what sort of angle is this crack and over what length of the stick would it extend if it were to break right through. If its not broke it could still be playable if glued securely with optical epoxy and a light binding of some sort .

 

As suggested by NyViola and fiddlecollector, it might be worth trying to repair the original bow.  Josh Henry does do careful, meticulous work.  He's done splendid and lasting repairs on a couple of my bows.  No doubt, there are others who also do great repairs.  So, it might be worth asking, if you really like the bow.

 

The questions would be whether the bow would still retain its playability after repairs and how much dollar value the bow loses, no matter how carefully repairs are done.

 

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I've got a Tubbs that has the grain sloping waaaay downhill at the head. The head came off, it was splined (before my ownership), then a lift developed behind the spline (also before my ownership), and it was wrapped after that. The head sags when up to full tension. Not stable.

 

I sold a Bazin cello bow that had the same issue, but it just had a lift behind the head, and it was wrapped and still functions well. I can't say that I've seen this type of run-out in many English bows, but I do recall seeing it often in Bazin bows.

 

Just buy and insure it before driving it off the lot.

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I got some clarification on my earlier assessment and apparently Dodd did probably file the camber in near the head. I was told filing in some of the camber is part of the working tradition of some English bow makers. This is as I'm told a gross generalization, but it is why many of the English bows didn't make it to today. And this is more true of English than French, but of course there are exceptions.

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Some of the finest playing bows have the camber planed in, rather than bent, approaching the head.

Probably not the best thing for durability, but that's how things go sometimes.

 Can you cite particular examples or provide names / nationalities of these archetiers?

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I was finally able to snap some pictures of my Hill, hopefully they illustrate what I was trying to explain.

 

Here is a pic that shows the angle of the grain in the wood, which you can really see in the first octagonal facet:

2014-03-071420221_zpse77e1598.jpg

 

Here's the second, which shows where the crack starts (the white mark right behind the head).  

2014-03-071413151_zps3d63aafa.jpg

 

The crack follows the grain angle around almost four facets of the stick, so it's basically cracked halfway around.  Eyeballing it, the actual length of the crack is roughly 1.5-2 cm.  I've taken this to three different luthiers in my area, and they've all said that the only thing I can possibly do is wrap it with fishline or silk in order to keep the bow intact, and I can continue playing it but the bow may still snap at any moment.  Also the power and sound in the bow is gone at this point, so it's not the same bow as it once was.  Thankfully the bow was insured and I've already received the payout, but it's still a sad sight.

 

The replacement bow I'm considering is a early-mid 20th century French bow.  It's a round stick and I don't think it gets quite as narrow behind the head, but it's not a club either.  The angle of the grain is similar to this one.  It also feels like a very flexible stick, and I don't know whether that's good or bad for an angled grain - any ideas?

 

And if I do purchase this bow, it will certainly be insured again, although I wonder what my insurance company would think if I came to them with a second broken bow for the same reason...

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David ,how do you know that the camber is planed instead of bent in a finished bow . Where is any evidence that cambers were planed in after the early bowmakers .Sorry but it seems a bit of an assumption. :)  The grain in a bow blank can be very straight all along but if you are not careful when deciding where the head will go the grain can via off suddenly. You couldnt tell from looking if it was bent or planed. You dont have much choice when the bow blank is already cut but if its from a plank you can avoid grain runout.

This Hill bow in question appears to have straight grain but has a bad area of runout behind the head ,you still couldnt tell if it had a  bent or planed in camber.

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This is a bit of speculation on my side now:

I don't think cross grain is actually deliberately planed into the stick, but a result of uncareful cutting of the plank and then the way of establishing the taper of the stick.

Many bow blanks are simply straight cuts from a plank, not following the grain carefully. If your blank has already a little runout behind the head it will actually be increased as most of the tapering is done on the low facet of the stick. I don't think the camber  is sawn or planed into the stick, as it is impossible to establish a complete and correct camber that way and you would have to bend anyway.

It is time consuming to correct a slightly cross grain cut in a blank to a straight grain in the finished stick, often that step was skipped.

 

I've seen three nice Lamy bows yesterday, all beautiful wood, two perfectly aligned grain, one dangerously way off. There are only very few makers where I've not yet seen a cross grain bow, Sartory for example (please post if you have seen a cross grain one!). I think short cross grain sticks have been made everywhere and anytime.

 

Florian

 

PS from the picture I would think the OP's bow actually has runout sideways, which is definately not planed in...

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