Bow making (musical)
The making, repair and restoration of bows for violins, violas and other stringed instruments.
This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.
|Historic area of significance||London|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK||17th century|
|Current no. of professionals (main craft)||6-10|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main craft)
|Current no. of trainees||Unknown – there will be students at colleges such as West Dean and Newark College|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
The craft of bow making probably developed in England in the 17th century, and during the 17th and 18th centuries, bows appear to have been made by craftsmen of low status.
The design of the bow changed significantly between 1750 and 1800. A wide range of woods were tried, and pernambuco was widely adopted by 1800. Until 1800 English bows of great quality were made, but the continued popularity of the ‘cramer’ style of violin bow for some twenty years after it was superseded in France delayed the evolution of the English bow. It wasn’t until the 1820s that English bow making came back into the mainstream of excellence. Further details can be found in the article ‘The Development of the Bow in Britain’ by Tim Baker and Derek Wilson.
Several families and workshops dominated English bow making – around 1800 it was the Dodd family, by 1830 the Tubbs family had become the predominant force, and the from the 1880s Hills dominated the market.
- Carving and planing wood
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Training issues: Lack of structured training/apprenticeships.
Training issues: Shortage of opportunities to learn the skills for bow restoration, which is very much needed
Supply of raw materials: Since 2007 Paubrasilia echinata (pernambuco) has been registered in Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which has led to strict regulatory measures. A certificate is required from exporters and importers to guarantee that the wood comes from a plantation that respects the principles of sustainable harvesting. In 2022, there was a proposal to change the protected status of pernambuco, to CITES Appendix I. This would have banned trade in pernambuco wood unless it could be proven to have been sourced before 2007, or to have come from ‘artificial propagation’, ie grown in a nursery. This proposal was narrowly defeated, but only by conceding that a system of marking all bows (old and new) could be put in place to prove the legal provenance of the raw materials. This remains under review and it is still possible that pernambuco could be listed under Appendix 1.
Craftspeople currently known
The British Violin Makers Association maintains a list of bow makers.
Richard Wilson – based in Northumberland
Tim Baker at Baker Bows – based in Oxford
Peter Oxley – based in Oxford
- Andrew Bellis
- Howard Green – Scotland
- Stephen Thomson – London
- Derek Wilson – WE Hill & Sons
- Christopher Halstead
- Andrew McGill