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Bow cleaning


nathan slobodkin

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When bows come in to the shop for rehair I consider it part of the job to clean them up before putting in the new hair. On bows which are rehaired every year or so a light wipe of the stick with alcohol and a few swipes with a buffing stick on the silver along with cleaning and lubricating the  screw is usually all that is needed. However fairly often someone brings in something which hasn’t seen a professional rehairing  in years and has clotted black rosin coating the stick and black or green tarnish thickly covering the metal parts. How much should this be cleaned? Should it be discussed with the client first? Do people charge extra for the cleaning? Some older bows actually don’t look great with the silver polished especially if there are real nicks and scratches which can end up as black freckles on a polished surface. 
 

What are others using to clean bows and what results are you looking for? Comments appreciated.

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Even a semi-"good" bow should not have its silver elements buffed, to preserve as much of the original surfaces as are left. Old bows did not have mirror surfaces. Liquid (acid) works, but if I had to clean a ferrule, adjuster caps &c I'd use fuller's earth (diatomacius earth), lightly (the old way this was done)

FWIW

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Of course you have to discuss it with your client! For a relatively clean stick, I include the cleaning, etc. as part of the rehair. For something really crusty and nasty, I would have to assess an extra charge.

I was taught light cleaning with water first, then a light cleaning with alcohol, followed by a light French polish. I also buff the metal parts, and lubricator the screw.. others may disagree, but that’s what I learned from very good bow maker.

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I clean every bow that comes in for rehairing as thoroughly as I can.  I consider cleaning to be part of the rehairing procedure, so I don’t charge extra for it.  Alcohol is my main cleaning solvent, but I occasionally use Citra-Solv to remove goo that alcohol doesn’t.  I often scrape off heavy encrustations of dirt and rosin before using the solvent(s).  I scrape with a hard plastic spatula or with a knife that is too dull to remove any wood.  After the stick is clean, I apply a light coat of shellac by French polishing.

I buff the tarnish off the metals parts, sometimes first scraping off heavy deposits.  But only scraping with the plastic, because even a dull knife will scratch the metal.  One place on the frog that rarely gets cleaned is the end of the tongue, which I scrape the deposits off of, always scraping from the sides towards the center.

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Though this was mentioned several times before I‘m still not understanding what adding „light shellac“ has to do with cleaning, neither at a bow nor at a violin. Especially if this happens everytime when a bow is in the shop as part of the procedure.

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1 hour ago, Blank face said:

Though this was mentioned several times before I‘m still not understanding what adding „light shellac“ has to do with cleaning, neither at a bow nor at a violin. Especially if this happens everytime when a bow is in the shop as part of the procedure.

I think most bows are finished with a thin shellac polish which does have to be renewed if removed by cleaning.  There is really no thickness to it but if the bow comes in shiny most clients will not appreciate getting it back with a matte finish.

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I don't want people thinking I am asking a beginner's question. I have rehaired many hundreds of bows and made dozens but just as with instruments there are questions of how to get old bows to look old but well cared for even if they have not been. Making them look new is obviously not the answer and  how to clean them enough but not too much is my question as well as techniques for getting just the right amount of tarnish on new lappings and other replaced metal. The patina of both wood and metal of well preserved bows is pretty subtle and reproducing it is not easy. 

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18 minutes ago, nathan slobodkin said:

I think most bows are finished with a thin shellac polish which does have to be renewed if removed by cleaning.  There is really no thickness to it but if the bow comes in shiny most clients will not appreciate getting it back with a matte finish.

So why alcohol? Most old abeillwood bows are finished with shellac. Alcohol cleaning for them is an absolute no-no.

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1 hour ago, sospiri said:

So why alcohol? Most old abeillwood bows are finished with shellac. Alcohol cleaning for them is an absolute no-no.

Because alcohol dissolves rosin off of the bow. If you take a little of the old, dirty shellac off with the rosin, it doesn’t matter, because there is going to be a clean, fresh coat of shellac on the bow after you’re finished.

It’s the way it’s usually done.

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4 minutes ago, FiddleDoug said:

Because alcohol dissolves rosin off of the bow. If you take a little of the old, dirty shellac off with the rosin, it doesn’t matter, because there is going to be a clean, fresh coat of shellac on the bow after you’re finished.

It’s the way it’s usually done.

And yet there are other cleaning solutions available, which will not remove any of the original finish, so why choose to use something that does?

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Whenever I get a bow re-haired at Hans Nebel's I get the shiniest stick and metals back no matter how grimy the bow was in the first place. Rate has been consistent between dirty and relatively clean bows. He also straightens the stick as much as possible whatever that means... his rate hasn't changed in recent years.

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8 hours ago, nathan slobodkin said:

I think most bows are finished with a thin shellac polish which does have to be renewed if removed by cleaning.  There is really no thickness to it but if the bow comes in shiny most clients will not appreciate getting it back with a matte finish.

This isn’t the case (and I have cleaned etc. some hundreds of bows, too). Most bows have a stable finish which won’t be damaged by carefully cleaning with alcohol, a little oil or water. What’s damaging the surface are abrasives or acetone.

A bow which comes in shiny either doesn’t need intense cleaning at all or can be returned to the state it was before easily with usual polish I described without adding anything new in my experience.

Already damaged or heavilly worn surfaces, repairs etc are different, but that would be restoring, not cleaning.

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7 hours ago, Blank face said:

This isn’t the case (and I have cleaned etc. some hundreds of bows, too). Most bows have a stable finish which won’t be damaged by carefully cleaning with alcohol, a little oil or water. What’s damaging the surface are abrasives or acetone.

A bow which comes in shiny either doesn’t need intense cleaning at all or can be returned to the state it was before easily with usual polish I described without adding anything new in my experience.

Already damaged or heavilly worn surfaces, repairs etc are different, but that would be restoring, not cleaning.

Blank, 

What polish are you using? I have tried Xylene which does take off rosin fairly well but also removes the gloss. I have also tried Goof Off which I think is the same mix of solvents as Goo Gone. That doesn't seam to take off rosin as well and none of the solvents I have tried really cleans off tarnish on either maillechort or silver. I have not tried terpentine which Fiddlemaker suggested but will give that a try.

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If a bow is finished with french polish (a spirit varnish), it has a coating which is polar in nature. Rosin encrustations, while soluble in a polar solvent like alcohol, are also soluble in a non-polar solvent. Turpentine is one such example. Limonene is my choice for cleaning rosin encrustations off a bow, or off a fiddle if I have determined that the varnish will not be bothered by it. 

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5 hours ago, nathan slobodkin said:

Blank, 

What polish are you using? I have tried Xylene which does take off rosin fairly well but also removes the gloss. I have also tried Goof Off which I think is the same mix of solvents as Goo Gone. That doesn't seam to take off rosin as well and none of the solvents I have tried really cleans off tarnish on either maillechort or silver. I have not tried terpentine which Fiddlemaker suggested but will give that a try.

I don't use chemicals like Xylene, or Acetone which seems to be in stuff like Goof Off. For a while I had a mixture of alcohol, mineral polishing oil and turpentine, but I found out that a mild household wood cleaner containing mostly almond, sesame or other seed oil, soaps and destilled water works as well if its mixed with alcohol and used with a damp rug. Pure alcohol could damage the varnish too easily, so I'm thinning it with water, either at the cloth or sometimes applied to the stick, with a brush or a drop at the fingertip. For thick incrustations I'm also using a scraping tool like described by others, plastic or a soft wood rod, at very thick sometimes even the dull side of a knife - but only after having softened it with the mixture as described.

I also tried lemon oil once, but for me it didn't work well. Maybe it was just the wrong quality, don't know.

It's also for me important not to try to remove thick layers of dirt all at once, but let the varnish dry again over night in between. This way the dirt can be removed step by step without dissolving the varnish. Especially at more recently made bows one should stop immediately when it becomes sticky. As always, care and patience are the keys IMO.

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23 hours ago, nathan slobodkin said:

I don't want people thinking I am asking a beginner's question.  ( ... )

The process of educating the public is important. Many get their information on the internet

If it equals repeat customers... The service, education, I am sure is appreciated by customers. 

Not sure that people outside of the United States understands what is brought into shops. I do French polish when the wood is exposed. ( Not in schools. ) Many reasons for that. 

If the stick reads like Braille, then one should charge for the extra work. But relationship and customer building might require that the courtesy is there if they come in every year.

There was a guy who offered free rehairs when I was trying to make ends meet. Naive then, his suggestion that the rehair would protect the stick was believed. He was very kind then and I later did pay him back. I almost went to him exclusively for about 3- 4 years then he moved away.

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For bow cleaning the metal is really the tougher issue. Tarnish is not just crud on the surface but a chemical change in the surface of the metal (any chemists want to comment on that?). Obviously mechanical methods such as buffing with a stick or cloth must be done very judiciously using the same techniques which were used in the final steps of making the bow. None the less any abrasion over many years will eventually soften the look of the metal. If there are any other options I'd like to hear of them.

Another problem with bow cleaning is that much of the time I have about an hour to both clean the bow and rehair it while the musician stands around tapping their foot. If the bow is cruddy enough I tell them that I can't really clean it unless they are able to leave it for a few days but there is always a risk of offending them by  doing so.

I sat next to the bow guy at Francais' and watched him working on some of the best bows in the world and  as near as I could tell keeping the client happy with the look and playability of the bow always took precedence over historical preservation. The fact that bows are working tools as well as artifacts dictates some degree of compromise. Doing enough cleaning to prevent irrevocable changes to the finish of the bow while not creating irrevocable changes from the cleaning is the goal. 

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22 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

If a bow is finished with french polish (a spirit varnish), it has a coating which is polar in nature. Rosin encrustations, while soluble in a polar solvent like alcohol, are also soluble in a non-polar solvent. Turpentine is one such example. Limonene is my choice for cleaning rosin encrustations off a bow, or off a fiddle if I have determined that the varnish will not be bothered by it. 

I have not found Limonene to be very effective on rosin and have seen it soften varnishes as well. Often there seems to be a slightly sticky residue left behind.  I will experiment with turpentine which I have not used before. Can Limonene be cut with turps? Would you?

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8 minutes ago, nathan slobodkin said:

I have not found Limonene to be very effective on rosin and have seen it soften varnishes as well. Often there seems to be a slightly sticky residue left behind.  I will experiment with turpentine which I have not used before. Can Limonene be cut with turps? Would you?

That's interesting, I'm glad you shared that. I have not had the same difficulty, so I'm wondering if we're using two different grades/sources of limonene. Sorry to hear you've experienced this however. Limonene (C10H16) and turpentine (C10H16) are both non-polar aliphatic hydrocarbon monoturpenes and are miscible, so you could absolutely mix the two. While they have the same number of carbons and hydrogens, they're in a slightly different arrangement and that does make a difference to how they behave. Both will autooxidize in the presence of humid air, though turpentine is a somewhat more aggressive oxidizer.

Forgive me if you've mentioned this already, but have you tried xylene? It's nasty, and I hate using it - I wear gloves, goggles, and a voc rated respirator. But I was turned on to it from one of Sam Z's assistants and it is a pretty remarkable cleaning solvent for a lot of sensitive areas. 

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It's probably too late to change now, but nearly all of my friends in the business will not repair a bow on the spot while the client waits unless it's an emergency. Bowmaker Ernie Hartl for example takes them in and returns them the following day. He gets up at 4, has his coffee, does his rehairs, and calls the clients after 9. You shouldn't have to deal with them breathing down your neck.

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The biggest obstacle for a proper rehair while a client is waiting would be that the hair need to dry for several hours (and I'm doing it always wet, like every bowmaker I'm aware of) and that the hair length could need correction. It's almost always necessary to rebend it the one or other way. So doing it within one or two hours can be a compromise with less quality and warranty only IMO.

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12 minutes ago, Blank face said:

The biggest obstacle for a proper rehair while a client is waiting would be that the hair need to dry for several hours (and I'm doing it always wet, like every bowmaker I'm aware of) and that the hair length could need correction. It's almost always necessary to rebend it the one or other way. So doing it within one or two hours can be a compromise with less quality and warranty only IMO.

Blank,

Rebend it? Are you referring to correcting the stick or is there a typo/translation in play?

I find that a hair drier can be used to accelerate the drying when required. I also rehair with the hair dry, tighten the bow and then wet the hair. If the hair looks at least semi decent before the wetting it will always even out and look even better after wetting and drying. With experience and a close eye on the ambient humidity I can judge quite well how much the hair will stretch in the process. This method works well for me and also eliminates any possibility of the hair shrinking enough as to over tighten the bow.

The reason I have to do so many short turnover rehairs or repairs is the I work in the only large town in a very large area and many of my clients travel several hours to get work done and then drive home.

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