Adventures in Lutherie #9: How to rehair a bow

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Blog entry by Dave Rutan posted 03-01-2017 05:23 PM 1708 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 8: Simple violin repair Part 9 of Adventures in Lutherie series Part 10: Just a glue-up-du-jour »

You might not realize this, but all musical instruments occasionally need maintenance. Brass instruments may need a new spring in the valves, pianos might need new felt on the hammers, or a woodwind may need new cork on the stops covering the holes. For the string instruments probably the most frequent maintenance is rehairing of the bow. The horsehair actually wears out from use and an unused bow, kept in its case may succumb to an infection of bow bugs that break the hairs off.

Part of my new trade is to learn how to rehair bows. Luckily there are plenty of videos and pages out there that describe and show the process. Part of my learning process now is to write down what I’ve learned, thus fixing it in my mind. My dad once told me that a good way to learn something was to teach it to someone else. I’ve done 4 bows so far, only the last have I felt to be an unqualified success. The pictures you see here are of my first try.

The top photo shows the tip of the bow. The bottom one shows the frog. You can see how many of the hairs have been broken off. Aside from the annoyance of the flapping hairs, an instrument won’t play well without the majority of the hair on the bow intact.

After releasing any tension on the hair by loosening the frog the hair is cut, but leaving a tail on it.

The silver colored ferrule is removed with a pliers and the piece of bicycle inner tube. Under the hair is a triangular spreader wedge which must also be saved. Spreader wedges are probably the most perishable and most easily replaced part in this process.

There is also a little sliding piece that covers the hair where it sits in he frog. This can be a pain to remove. It’s not supposed to be glued, just held in by friction, plus the ferrule.

With everything removed you can see the hole or channel where the bow hair goes. You can also see how the hair is bound by string to rest in the hole. You can also see the little pieces of wood which were the tiny plug that held the hair in that hole. I ended up making a new plug, a skill I definitely need to get better at.

On the tip end there is a similar hole and plug thought here the hair just fold over the plug and has no ferrule nor sliding cover.

Here one end of my new hank of hair has been bound. Actually one end came bound, so just put some wood glue on it. The very end is then touched to a candle flame to minimize how much hair is beyond the binding. Scissors just can’t get as close as burning can. I put the bound end into the tip end and replaced the little wood plug.

Something I learned while doing the other bows is that the hank of hair one receieves is a little bit more than one needs. Taking a part of it away and rebinding it helps a lot with getting that plug in. Forcing the plug with too much force an break the tip off.

Next the hair is wetted and combed out so that there are no tangles and the hairs are all parallel. I clip a series of wooden clothes pins on the hair to keep it flat and aligned and together. The hank is cut to length and the end is bound. I’ve found it useful and easier to use small strands of copper wire to bind the hair.

The wire is readily available from stranded extension cords.

IMPORTANT! Put that ferrule on the hank of hair BEFORE putting the hair in the frog.

Put the frog on the bench to insert the hair and plug. The hair will just be too tight to do it while it is on the stick.

The frog is held on the stick via a long screw that fits in a threaded nut inside the stick. The nut is on the under side of the frog.

The frog is put back on the stick and the sliding cover and ferrule are put back on.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

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Dave Rutan

2022 posts in 3641 days

#1 posted 05-03-2017 07:10 PM

Handy Tip: If you have bows of different sizes to re-hair, start with the longest bows. If you botch things up and need to use another hank of hair, the one you ‘ruined’ can likely be use on a shorter bow. Violin bows are the longest, except for full size contrabass bows I believe, but they get coarser hair. I’ve done a few bow re-hairings recently and am progressing nicely. Best gig ever!

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

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