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As most of you, or, at least as many of you know, I have switched from making violins to making bows...

It happened a while back, shortly after my having some fairly severe medical problems.

 

Oh well, and so goes life.

I have moved from working the pernambuco stick portion of the task, onto making the ebony frog and various frog parts - including making the silver and "shell" parts. The slide, the ferrule - etc.

 

I am finding the work both challenging, involved, and rewarding.

The degree of finesse required, is at the least equally as demanding as demanding parts of 'minute attention' required for violin making was, and I can see right away, that the finished product will be equally as showing of skill and/or a lack thereof. 

 

Many parts of "factory" bows, being very much machined and factory made, have a very finished appearance. At every level.

Which is something that I have always taken for granted and appreciated. Now that I'm trying to accomplish something of my own manufacture, that (I hope, at least) will take this venture into a bit of a higher realm... well, I am only now finding out the reality of doing the task is extremely daunting - to say the least...

 

Once again, my thanks go out to Josh H for taking me on as a student.

Slow as I am these days, I am learning.

Man, what a challenge!

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I think you're up to it!  Why are you talking to yourself? :)

 

Ha ha!

...this way, I always get at least one reply...

 

That is, when I only reply to myself once!

Usually though, since my replies are so very "spot on",, I find much to talk with myself about.

 

Yes, I agree - it's a bit of a mind game...

But at least I still have a 'small bit of one' left!

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Yes it's a great challenge!  But that's what makes it fun!  Keep going Craig!

 

Ed

 

so, you tell me, Ed.

 

And please, keep the reply under 2,500 words - or I'll have to edit it down first - so's I can still read it all through. (yeah, ok, just kidding... sort of)

 

How long did it take you, to get the slide and the groove in the frog to fit perfectly?

Height, width and camphor? Or is it just me?

It's a chore I tell you.

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Ahh yes - yes David Bowie - (I saw him for the first time at; The Forum, in So. Cal...)

 

Way back when, I did not know - who he was, or what his music was all about. I will admit that even way back then, he STOLE the show that particular night. This must have been in the very early 70's. of course, he grew on me after his many albums, and further live performances.

 

Since I grew up 'as  a surfer', in So Cal... my attendance at Forum events, was fairly "prestigious".

At one time I had a 'ticket collection' numbering in the 60's - or 70's. Ticket stubs from Forum concerts. The very first Forum concert I ever attended was a 'Ten Years After' concert (with Pacific Gas and Electric and... god I don't even remember who else was on the ticket...) on July 22nd - my birthday present from my older brother.

 

A David Bowie quote... I might as well quote the president!

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So here is how I learned to fit the slide and the groove for it in the frog.

 

When you were a surfer in Southern California I was a graduate student living in London.  I was interested in bows and tried to get advice on learning to make them from various sources but did not have a lot of luck.  Then the Bolander book and the Retford book came out at around the same time as I remember.  Bolander described the French method, using hand tools only, and the Retford book had a lot of interesting information including references to the Hill method but no direct instructions.  I could not really understand all of Bolander and he was too far away to go and see.  Retford lived near me but he died before I got around to finding him.   When Retford died his tools and part of his bench were put on display in Oxford, and I went up to see them.  Everything was labelled with a list of the tools and what they did.  So I took photographs and spent a long time going over everything.  I don't know if anyone else ever went to see the exhibition - I seemed to be the only person.  Anyway I eventually figured out pretty much all of how bows were made at Hills - or at least I thought I did, and fitting the slide was evidently done with an appropriate cutter in the lathe.

 

So - I bought a small lathe - a Unimat - installed it on the desk of the room where I lived, and made a couple of bows.  The Unimat could convert to a mill, but there was no screw adjustment in the vertical axis which made it a little tricky.  However - not too hard to fit the slide.   I still use that method.  Later I got to know Bolander when I moved to California and he was very helpful.  However, for the frog I still use the Hill method which seems to me to be more accurate.  Most of my bows now are baroque without a slide, but sometimes I do make one. 

 

Is that less than 2,500 words? 

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When you were a surfer in Southern California  

 

Those days were a 'once in a lifetime' occurrence.

I had already made my first violin, or, at least, I was still surfing - when I made violin No.1...

 

My best friend and I would take his Volkswagen Fastback to the beach every morning before school (High School) where our boards were stored under a friends house, that lived on the strand. In the mornings, the waves were always very smooth and rolley. In particular, by the many rock jetties, they would break slightly further out, and would be slightly larger due to the sand bar, that would always build up around the rocks of the jetty(s).

We'd paddle out past the break and wait for the "outsiders" to hit. "Outsiders" were the large waves that would come in every ten or twenty waves. We called them "sets". At the end of every set, there were the largest waves of that set. Then, the start of another set.

 

The waves always came in "sets". Bigger waves at the end of the 'sets'.

 

Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end.

Towards the end of my surfing days, it was no longer just the 'surf crowd' at the beach, any longer - it had started to become overcrowded, and even racially divided. Things had started to become. militant, and nasty, in some very odd ways - in some ways -

it was no longer really my 'cup 'o tea'. As, I tend to not be very militant.

 

So, a time came to sell my Jacobs board, and start working for a living.

Shortly after - I married no.1...

 

Bows, for me, are a result of dealing with violins. Violins are a result of my having kidney failure (a genetic predisposition) and having to quit my "regular" job as an Art Director at an advertising agency. Then is when I went back to violin making...

 

long story short... life sometimes directs me in -  which direction to travel. 

Yes, life can be somewhat complex. I don't understand it all. I only live what I can tolerate and deal with.

So, 2,500 words? Yes this is less, but in this I read much more...

Thanks for the answer you gave me, Ed.

 

one reason why I even post here, is to get "the story" from various people, where I can then identify with their travels somewhat at least with my own travels.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Say, are you taking commissions yet?

 

No.

 

I wish. (yeah - as if...)

 

I do have one order - from an M-netter yet...

And, as soon as I finish a bow that I'm happy with, this particular M netter will get a chance to buy it for not much over four thousand, five hundred dollars.

 

OK - now - I'm just telling a huge fish story.

 

Actually, for the first bow that I finish, that I'm happy with, I'm going to charge 'cost only', in order to make a fair deal for all concerned - if the interested party finds the bow is worth such a cost to him/her... that is. And, if I ever get around to actually FINISHING the darned thing - which, I entirely mean to.

 

Pernambuco stick, ebony, silver & abalone frog, handmade screw even. and hair... well, I still have the remainder of the last key  I used to use, when I was doing rehairs professionally...

 

What a project!

 

Here's where I'm at.

I must admit that I absolutely love this venture. My hands are working once again, on a project that is rare and absorbing.

And I thought violins were a staunch challenge... (which, they were and still are, mind you)

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Very impressive Craig.  It looks as if all of a sudden you will have several finished!

 

A couple of questions if I may - what is the jig with the box and aluminum bars at the top left?  And what is the other thing? 

 

Also - is it your impression that bowmakers' benches are more neat and tidy than violin-makers' benches?  I used to think so but with some recent examples that I've seen I'm not so sure any more.

 

Ed

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Very impressive Craig.  It looks as if all of a sudden you will have several finished!

 

A couple of questions if I may - what is the jig with the box and aluminum bars at the top left?  And what is the other thing? 

 

Also - is it your impression that bowmakers' benches are more neat and tidy than violin-makers' benches?  I used to think so but with some recent examples that I've seen I'm not so sure any more.

 

Ed

   

That box was designed by that 'now long gone' bow making genius, George MacArthur.

It sands absolutely flat, as it sits (as you can see). It also sands the tapered stick face absolutely flat along its length - keeping the taper intact.

An interesting and clever tool, to say the least. Used for exacting finishing work.

 

Other thing? Which one?

 

I don't believe that there are any steadfast rules that apply, regarding desk cleanliness or tidiness of the desk no matter what the occupation...

At least my own desk alternates rapidly, between neat and extremely cluttered.

 

Thanks for the kind words Ed!

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Lookin good!

I have great admiration for surfers...

While I am not at all scared of water...I can barely swim. Taught myself to dog paddle and do a weird side stroke.

Pool noodles are my friends.

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Congratulations on switching gears and getting into bows. They are a fantastic part of the equation, and although I have a long way to go before I am one of the people offering suggestions on the "who made this?" threads, there is a lot of opportunity for personal expression on behalf of the maker. We have a lot of makers here who have much more extensive experience in the business than I, but the following stood out to me: 

 

Pernambuco stick, ebony, silver & abalone frog, handmade screw even. and hair...

 

I haven't gone digging through the archives but I am guessing Abalone, the related sub species, and other sources of shell have been discussed here at some point. While the radar has been focused much more on ivory, (you didn't mention tip material, which is another can of worms that I'm assuming has been opened repeatedly here as well) shell has increasingly been drawing attention at borders. There are some species that are protected and restricted more than others, but I have a similar amount of confidence in customs/border checks identifying which species of shell is being used to what animal the white stuff at the other end of the bow is made out of. The really colourful stuff with nice flame or curl in it can grab your eye and be quite stunning, but it can also grab the eyes at the border/airport too. 

 

Handmade screws are another controversial feature, depending on the pitch you cut it to. If you are cutting to one of the fairly common pitches, then party on. If you are intentionally cutting to something less common, then eyelets can become an issue. You would likely have/make a tap to correspond with your screw but in the event that the eyelet needs to be replaced down the road and the bow is not brought back to you, that pitch could be a concern. We would all like to expect the best out of the people who work on bows and instruments, but there are a lot of bows out there that do not have original buttons on them. That can happen when there are multiple bows in pieces on the bench for rehairs and someone isn't careful about what belongs where, but it can also happen when someone gets a stripped eyelet through their shop with a weird screw, and it is replaced with a factory screw/button because that's easier than finding/making the appropriate tap. That should not be a problem, but anyone who is in the repair side of the business long enough has seen unfortunate things happen at the hands of other repair people. It would be unfortunate to see your button separated from the rest of the bow because of a handmade screw. 

 

Without entirely derailing things, I am curious about what others think about the above, as it is something I too am considering as a new maker who is trying to develop my own models and fittings(?). I want to call the slide, eyes, button etc. "fittings" much like pegs and tailpieces on instruments, but is there another more appropriate term?

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I haven't gone digging through the archives but I am guessing Abalone, the related sub species, and other sources of shell have been discussed here at some point. While the radar has been focused much more on ivory, (you didn't mention tip material, which is another can of worms that I'm assuming has been opened repeatedly here as well) shell has increasingly been drawing attention at borders. There are some species that are protected and restricted more than others, but I have a similar amount of confidence in customs/border checks identifying which species of shell is being used to what animal the white stuff at the other end of the bow is made out of. The really colourful stuff with nice flame or curl in it can grab your eye and be quite stunning, but it can also grab the eyes at the border/airport too. 

 

I'm considering silver for the tip material - but I also have much Mastodon - off cut - tusk material... From back when it was commonly available 'scrap material' available on the cheap. Not all that long ago.

 

I can also recall taking various Abalone shells from the rocks over by Palos Verdes Peninsula (Calif.) not all that many years ago... Times surely do change.

 
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Tip material is a touchy subject and if memory serves, either New York and/or New Jersey have even made Mammoth ivory illegal. I understand the reasoning behind it and some of the politics, but don't want to entirely derail this thread. I did not get into the bow making game early enough to have worked with ivory, and I have been intentionally avoiding Mammoth and Mastodon until we see where things go from here. Canada's laws are a little different, but many Canadian musicians do cross the border regularly, and as it stands I don't know how that works with ivory, ports of entry, certificates, etc. I do not personally like working with cow bone, I have used different plastic/casein options but "plastic" isn't a word a lot of players like hearing particularly on expensive bows, ebony tips have a very different look that polarizes people, and precious metals (typically silver and gold) add more weight, and would be cost prohibitive in most of the repairs I do. I am curious about Tip Armor and should order a few to see what they are like as I have heard some favourable reviews, but I can't comment from personal experience. 

 

Abalone has changed significantly as well. Depending on the species there are very strict regulations about the number and size that can be taken. Some are limited to free diving and personal use for the meat and selling is completely illegal, although if/how that extends to the shell is something that may be worth looking into, or it may have already been discussed here. I personally like some of the more colourful options and considering I am not a big fan of eyes the contrast between an otherwise black frog and colourful shell can be really beautiful, but I would hate to find out a bow didn't get across the border or was confiscated/destroyed because I picked a pretty looking piece of shell I shouldn't have. 

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I personally like some of the more colourful options and considering I am not a big fan of eyes the contrast between an otherwise black frog and colourful shell can be really beautiful, but I would hate to find out a bow didn't get across the border or was confiscated/destroyed because I picked a pretty looking piece of shell I shouldn't have. 

 

Yes, but "I shouldn't have" in exactly what context?

 

'Shell' is an interesting phenomenon... Readily available in many different contexts and environments,  and absolutely avoided in some many others. Like many other objects, it has become an article of commerce with heavy penalties in some circumstances, and yet, readily available overseas where the shell is only the left over remnant of the meal afforded by its existence.

 

Politics...

 

Ahh yes, what would we do, and where would we be, without it?

I love being 'in between' political forces, as they stand now.

How else could we exist and do what we do?

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