Hand Tools Archive

planes for making musical instrument bows... *PIC*

John Aniano in Central NJ
Hello All,

William D. asked that I chime in and post some pictures of the planes I use to make stringed instrument (violin, viola, cello, bass) bows...

Almost all are sharpened with relatively high bevel angles of between 35 and 45 degrees. This is due to the fact that wood for making bows is hard and dense, all the species above 1.0 gram/cubic cm. Thus, all the planes are scraping tools. Due to the strong nature of the wood, (some of the hardest and highest Young's modulus species known) the scraping blades do create a shaving, although sometimes a fragile one. Most are set to take a very fine cut, except for the roughing planes, which I'll cover first.

The roughing planes begin with a Stanley 102 with a CPM3 blade made for me by Stephen Shepherd (of "loopy plane fame"). I've got the blade strongly cambered and ~35 degree bevel. This plane is set bevel up, as are almost all of the bow planes described here. I use it for roughing out a square pernambuco bow stick blank to a rough tapered form. Sometimes I use this plane for rough shaping of the ebony frog.

2nd roughing plane - a Stanley #9 adjustable mouth block plane. Other than the ~35 degree bevel, a tight mouth and the sole lapped, nothing special going on here. I use this for the final frog dimensional shaping. It has a straight across ground blade - no camber here.

3rd roughing plane - a new one - a little chariot plane - a gift from a bow making friend. I tuned it up recently by shimming up the bottom of the rosewood wedge and doing the "candle soot" method for getting the final fit to keep the bed, blade and wedge all fitting nicely. The blade is also ~35 degrees, straight across. Will probably wind up using it much the same as the #9 plane, but more fun!

Another larger one, but not for roughing - this brass plane is ~4" long, and is from St. James Bay. It was sold as a bow making plane. Bevel up, ~40 degrees, straight across. I soft soldered a little steel piece into the throat to close it up. Took some time to get the blade, bed and wedge to fit really well to prevent chattering. The tight throat and "long" length allows the plane to take a nice clean cut where straightness is important. I use it for final fitting of frog to the stick.

The two other little brass planes shown above were originally purchased from Woodcraft or Garret Wade ~30 years ago - these are Ernie Conover planes sold as a set of three - one convex, one concave, one flat. I modified them for bow work by adding a steel throat insert, setting the ~35 degree blade bevel up, and rounding the bottom of one to a ~12-14" radius convex curve. The other was lapped flat. I mostly use the flat one for it's use as a truing tool for cleaning up the stick facets. (The 3rd Conover plane sits idle...).

Now for the really fun tools. In 1982-83 I worked for William Salchow, a world famous bow maker in New York City. Naturally, we learned from Bill, and we emulated his tools and techniques. These three aluminum planes are of Bill's design. All have HSS blades ~3/32" thick made from power hacksaw blades. Blade adjustments are using little setscrews to hold and/or advance the blade.

The black anodized one Bill had commercially made and he sold for bow making classes he taught in NH at the time. It has a strongly curved bottom and I use it only for making bass bows and then, only at the most curved portion of the stick behind the head. This plane is bevel down, or at least "bevel back" and had a ~90 degree total blade angle due to the ~90 degree bedding angle. A true scraping plane. Ground straight across, the blade bevel is ~40 degrees.

The other two aluminum planes are ones I made in ~1980 when I first met Bill. Made from bar stock and slotted with a milling machine, they operate much the same as the little anodized example. These differ in that the ~45 degree bevel blades are bedded at ~45 degrees, but are bevel up, so they are ~90 total angle scraping planes. The longer one is flat; the shorter is convex. I use both a lot. Being aluminum,, you have to true up the soles every few years as they wear at the center. I made some similar planes with steel instead of the aluminum bodies, but I prefer the lighter weight ones.

More little brass planes! These four are true violin maker's planes that I modified for making bows. All are commercially available and range from ~12mm to 24mm long and have blades from ~1/4" to 3/8" or so wide. To convert to bow making, I removed the metal lever caps (they looked like those on the Conover planes), made wooden wedges, flipped the blades to be bevel up, and flattened the soles. Some have blades made from old high carbon steel files. No attempt was made to close up the throats. I honestly prefer the open throat - you can see where you are taking a shaving when truing up a stick facet. The high total cutting angle prevents tearout so a tight throat is not needed. These tiny planes can be used for planing slightly concave surfaces by skewing them to one side - presenting an even shorter effective sole length to the work.

Lastly are the "file planes" - short sections of mill and 2nd cut files used as one would use a plane. These are basically a miniature version of a gunsmithing tool used to drawfile the barrel. They have a low center of gravity which prevents them from tipping when being pushed along with one's fingers. Also, their short nature tends to allow them to self-level, again, maintaining a flat surface. I use these when I make a fully octagonal bow stick - they tend to make a more trued up octagon. At least in my hands.

Well, that's all folks!


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