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I think this should be a relatively straightforward cleaning question, but I remain somewhat unsure how best to proceed based on the info I turned up in old threads. What would be the best way to remove the gunky old rosin build up from the underside of this bow stick? The finish of the stick itself isn't anywhere near as reactive as the varnish on a violin, right? I have some turpentine handy. OK to use that on the stick, or should I work at softening and scraping the hardened rosin off with something considerably less aggressive? I'm willing to spit on it as much as necessary, but I would be happy to have another option!

Thanks!

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I was taught (by a very good bowmaker) to use alcohol to clean the stick, followed by a light French polish. If the hair is still good, don't get alcohol on it as it will turn the rosin on the hair into a solid mass. I'd love to hear from the bowmakers on this.

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I clean bow sticks with alcohol.  In my experience, good bows have finishes that are resistant to alcohol, if they have any finish at all.  Some cheap bows have finishes that are taken off easily with alcohol, but since they're cheap bows I don't worry about it.  After cleaning a stick (or removing the finish from a cheap bow), I apply a thin coat of orange shellac using the French polish method.

 

8 hours ago, gottawonder said:

...I'm willing to spit on it as much as necessary...

Why would you spit on your bow?

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4 hours ago, Brad Dorsey said:

Why would you spit on your bow?

Enzymes? 

I guess I had come away from reading a bunch of previous discussion on the topic of instrument cleaning with the impression that spit was one of a precious few liquids that could be applied to most any finish with little risk of serious damage yet some hope of beneficial effect. Could well be mistaken there though!

Since I've heard two votes for alcohol, I'll probably give that a shot. After testing somewhere inconspicuous first to see how the finish, if any, responds.

Thanks!

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11 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

Can we see the rest of the bow? Looks like pretty wood.

The more I look at it the more aesthetically pleasing I find the wood myself. Mind you I can't yet say anything about the sound as I haven't yet gotten hair on it.

I will add some more pictures when I get a chance to take them.

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3 hours ago, gottawonder said:

The more I look at it the more aesthetically pleasing I find the wood myself. Mind you I can't yet say anything about the sound as I haven't yet gotten hair on it.

I will add some more pictures when I get a chance to take them.

I can’t offer any advice on how to clean it, although my friend Jay uses a store-bought product called simple green. But it’s a lovely piece of wood.

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3 hours ago, gottawonder said:

 

Since I've heard two votes for alcohol, I'll probably give that a shot. After testing somewhere inconspicuous first to see how the finish, if any, responds.

Thanks!

these are not really votes - it's what you use ....

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It's more recommended to leave such encrustiations of old dirt to people knowing what they are doing, especially if it's not a worthless bow. Pure alcohol will either do nothing or solve the dirt together with the finish, or the finish alone and leave the dirt. It sould be mixed with oil or tensides, sometimes even with mild abrasives. If solved carefully, the dirt can sometimes be removed using a soft piece of wood.  It all depends of the sort of finish. It's not an easy job and needs experience, or you will end up with a partially stripped bow. Especially if there are small damages in the wood one should stay away from using any cleaning agent. 

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Strad,  You have asked an interesting question.  I often wish that violins could be cleaned as easily as bows.  I think the answer lies in the different natures of the finishes generally used on instruments and bows and in what we expect of these finishes.

When we look at a bow stick, we expect to see mostly just the wood.  Bows are usually covered with clear thin finishes -- often uncolored shellac.  Once it is dry, shellac is fairly resistant to the solvents, including alcohol, as they are typically used to remove rosin and dirt from bows.  Because the surface of a bow is so much smaller than the external surface of a violin, and because bow finishes are usually clear and very thin, it is very hard to notice if a bit of the finish is lost.  And if the finish should be removed from a bow when it is cleaned, it takes less than a minute to apply a thin coat of shellac, using the French polish method.  Once this is done, we see the wood covered with a clear thin finish, which is what we expect to see.

On the other hand, instrument varnishes are often easily removed by the cleaning solvents that remove dirt and rosin.  They are also generally colored, they are usually thicker than the finishes usually used on bows and they are applied to broad, fairly flat surfaces.  When some varnish is lost from the surface of a violin, it's a lot more noticeable than it is on a bow, because the surface is bigger and because the varnish is colored.  Expertly retouching instrument varnishes requires a high degree of expertise, but I have never even heard the phrase "bow varnish retouching"

As I noted previously, "Some cheap bows have finishes that are taken off easily with alcohol, but since they're cheap bows I don't worry about it."  The converse is also true -- some instruments have varnishes that are resistant to alcohol, so they can be safely and easily cleaned with it.  Many inexpensive rental-grade instruments fall in this category, but many 100 year old JTLs do, too.

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Î can agree just with half of this. It's true that a bow finish can be more easily replaced, but this doesn't matter only at cheapish trade bows. At an old master made bow I want to see the old finish, with natural tear and wear, but not partially removed by careless cleaning attempts and not covered with layers of later overpolishing, often working in dirt which cannot be removed anymore.

The rounded surface of a bow is very prone to be damaged, and especially at octogonal sections the edges can be easily stripped and damaged, leaving a different unoriginal colour there. Same as with violins the surface of valuable and rare old bows are an identification feature, which should stay unaltered.

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Now that it's quite clear to me that removal of this hardened layer of dirt/rosin/etc. from the underside of this stick is a matter to leave in the hands of a professional, I am thinking that I will move forward with just a rehair for now to make sure that the bow would even warrant such additional care.

Thanks as always for the helpful and informative responses!

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30 minutes ago, gottawonder said:

Now that it's quite clear to me that removal of this hardened layer of dirt/rosin/etc. from the underside of this stick is a matter to leave in the hands of a professional, I am thinking that I will move forward with just a rehair for now to make sure that the bow would even warrant such additional care.

Thanks as always for the helpful and informative responses!

That would seem wise, I don't think its going to effect the playing characteristics of the bow

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19 hours ago, martin swan said:

these are not really votes - it's what you use ....

Not quite being able to shake the feeling that I had originally posted this question with some reason (beyond having some handy) for thinking of turpentine for bow stick cleaning, I dug up a source that also reminded me why I was initially surprised to hear alcohol recommended as the solution.

Not the most authoritative source for present purposes perhaps, but here are a couple of statements quoted from Popular Woodworking (https://www.popularwoodworking.com/article/a_primer_on_solvents/):

"To better place turpentine among the petroleum distillates, think of it as having the solvent strength of naphtha but the evaporation rate and oiliness of mineral spirits."

"Alcohol is the solvent for shellac. The solvent dissolves solid shellac flakes and thins the liquid shellac after dissolving."

So... if shellac is the most likely finish to find on a bow stick, why is it that the solvent for shellac is the thing to use to clean a bow stick?

Can somebody dumb down an explanation enough to clear that up for me? We are probably talking Homer Simpson levels of dumbing down here.

 

 

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26 minutes ago, Strad O Various Jr. said:

I don't think its going to effect the playing characteristics of the bow

That's good to hear. If the bow sounds/plays really well, then I guess we'll see how strong the urge to pretty it up gets. Assuming it lands in my daughter's right hand, I'm guessing it's gonna be a discussion.

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2 hours ago, gottawonder said:

Not quite being able to shake the feeling that I had originally posted this question with some reason (beyond having some handy) for thinking of turpentine for bow stick cleaning, I dug up a source that also reminded me why I was initially surprised to hear alcohol recommended as the solution.

Not the most authoritative source for present purposes perhaps, but here are a couple of statements quoted from Popular Woodworking (https://www.popularwoodworking.com/article/a_primer_on_solvents/):

"To better place turpentine among the petroleum distillates, think of it as having the solvent strength of naphtha but the evaporation rate and oiliness of mineral spirits."

"Alcohol is the solvent for shellac. The solvent dissolves solid shellac flakes and thins the liquid shellac after dissolving."

So... if shellac is the most likely finish to find on a bow stick, why is it that the solvent for shellac is the thing to use to clean a bow stick?

Can somebody dumb down an explanation enough to clear that up for me? We are probably talking Homer Simpson levels of dumbing down here.

 

 

If a really good bowmaker who teaches bow restoration tells, and teaches me to use alcohol followed by a thin French polish, that's what I am going to do. I will respect opinions from professionals, but not so much speculation from others.

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This would seem to be an American method of cleaning, where it’s an advantage to strip off the old finish, and then make it all super shiny. Because shiny shiny means dollars.

In Europe, a greater effort would be made to preserve the original finish, and retain the original condition.

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36 minutes ago, FiddleDoug said:

If a really good bowmaker who teaches bow restoration tells, and teaches me to use alcohol followed by a thin French polish, that's what I am going to do. I will respect opinions from professionals, but not so much speculation from others.

Absolutely. I don't for a second mean to suggest anything to the contrary. Neither am I speculating about anything.

What I am wondering about here is just why the particular choice of liquid solvent would be made given that, on my naive reading of the descriptions I quoted above anyway, chemically the mix of alcohol and shellac wouldn't appear most desirable.

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1 minute ago, Wood Butcher said:

This would seem to be an American method of cleaning, where it’s an advantage to strip off the old finish, and then make it all super shiny. Because shiny shiny means dollars.

In Europe, a greater effort would be made to preserve the original finish, and retain the original condition.

Please document or enumerate that method used in Europe. Thanks

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