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Wood for wedges in bows


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I use Maple for the frog and head plugs and Basswood for the Spreadwedge. In the southeast US, I fear that basswood head and frog plugs would not do well with the wide humidity swings (ie plugs installed in the humid summer would shrink in the dry winter and come loose).  The maple I use is near bridge quality reclaimed flooring from the 1926 Sears and Roebuck building across the street from us.

I like maple for the plugs for their stability. When cut to fit properly, compression is unnecessary. The Spreadwedge does need compression and I find basswood (lime) is a perfect material.  

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The best material for SPREAD wedges I found is African mahogany cut on the slab or the quarter based on the softness of the original board.  Too many in our business use a soft wood, like bass or willow, for spread wedges thinking it will compress and keep the ferrule from distorting while in reality it has the opposite effect.

The wood I use for blocks is hard maple cut on the slab.  When I put in a black I want it to fit exactly and stay that way; and as someone that does a whole bunch of bow restoration, compression is not a good thing.

chisel not chiseler

plane not planer

knife not knifer

spread not spreader

:mellow:

I will add:

jerk not jerker.

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49 minutes ago, Jerry Pasewicz said:

Too many in our business use a soft wood, like bass or willow, for spread wedges thinking it will compress and keep the ferrule from distorting while in reality it has the opposite effect.

 

Jerry, can you elaborate on what you mean by 'the opposite effect'?  For those of us using basswood [which does indeed compress] what effects are you seeing that make it less than desireable?  I have seen some nice mahogany wedges on bows, and they seem successful too.  

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1 hour ago, violinsRus said:

Jerry, can you elaborate on what you mean by 'the opposite effect'?  For those of us using basswood [which does indeed compress] what effects are you seeing that make it less than desireable?  I have seen some nice mahogany wedges on bows, and they seem successful too.  

Sure.  As a softwood spread wedge is installed, the ends will readily compress at the solder joints where it will not compress as easily in the center of the ferrule.  This difference between the amount of compression will cause the flat of the ferrule to expand (distort) until enough force is applied to hold the hair in place.  With the harder material the difference in compression between the sides and center of the ferrule is less, so the spread wedge does not distort as much, ergo the ferrule does not distort as much.  The usual argument is that the basswood distorts around the hair holding it in place.  In practice, this does not work because the same likelyhood of compression around the hair increases the chance of the hair distorting the spreadwedge and drifting toward the center.

Mahogony is a hard wood that does not compress as easily as bass wood or poplar, and at the same time has very open long pores that can hold onto the hair without the need to compress around it.  The other benefitis the spreadwedge can be cut after the hair is in so the bow does not have a spread wedge that is mashed to hell.

Mahogany spread wedge sticks.

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2 hours ago, Jerry Pasewicz said:

...The other [benefit is] the spreadwedge can be cut after the hair is in so the bow does not have a spread wedge that is mashed to hell...

I'm puzzled by this.  I don't see how the wedge could be cut with any accuracy before the hair is in.  Does this mean that you cut the wedge from the rest of the stick while it is stuck in the ferrule with the hair?  If so, how do you cut the wedge without cutting some hairs, too?

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2 hours ago, Brad Dorsey said:

I'm puzzled by this.  I don't see how the wedge could be cut with any accuracy before the hair is in.  Does this mean that you cut the wedge from the rest of the stick while it is stuck in the ferrule with the hair?  If so, how do you cut the wedge without cutting some hairs, too?

Many rehairers will cut the spreadwedge to the size they think will be needed before they put hair into the bow.  This is because they need to cut the spreadwedge thick to make up for the compression of the soft wood.

Fwiw, it never made much sense to me either.

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1 hour ago, C.B.Fiddler said:

A well cut/fitted spread wedge of basswood/willow/mahogany shouldn't distort the ferrule, well-cut being the operative factor. If you shove any ill-fitting material with force, I wouldn't necessarily scrutinize the material.

That is simply not the case.  There are ferrules out there that will distort no matter what material you use or how well it is fitted, and softer woods will distort a larger percentage of ferrules regardless of the fit.  I suspect our definitions of distorted is different.

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I feel as if we're saying the same thing. If a ferrule is worn or thin, it will distort, regardless of material. My observation is that the distortion of a healthy ferrule would be more related to the cut/fit/installation technique than the choice of material. Basswood has been used successfully for a very long time by master makers and repairmen, internationally (I've spoken to Hill-trained makers that recalled dumpster-diving behind piano shops to reclaim basswood piano keys for spread wedge material).

I'm happy to to defer to your considerable experience, of course.

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11 minutes ago, C.B.Fiddler said:

I feel as if we're saying the same thing. If a ferrule is worn or thin, it will distort, regardless of material. My observation is that the distortion of a healthy ferrule would be more related to the cut/fit/installation technique than the choice of material. Basswood has been used successfully for a very long time by master makers and repairmen, internationally (I've spoken to Hill-trained makers that recalled dumpster-diving behind piano shops to reclaim basswood piano keys for spread wedge material).

I'm happy to to defer to your considerable experience, of course.

Basswood has certainly been used for a very long time, successfully is in doubt.  Our entire business has changed dramatically over the last 40 years, and many things that were done regularly in the past are considered out of bounds today.  Basswood and willow can certainly be used, but the mahogany is just a little improvement over the practices of the past.

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2 hours ago, Michael Jennings said:

Jerry, what thickness do you dress the mahogany to before tapering to the wedge?

I have an abundance of mahogany trimmings that I now have a potential use for.

 

I will post measurements for block sticks and spreadinger wedge sticks in the morning from the shop.

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