Bowmaking Tools

I wanted to highlight some of the eclectic and unique tools that I use for bow making. Making bows combines skills and tools from woodworking, jewelry making, and machining. It is difficult to find tools that accommodate the small scale and level of detail we work to, so a number of tools we make or modify ourselves.

We just completed the book Tool Making for Bow Makers about the unique and specialized tools that bow makers use. This is done in an attempt to break down one of the barriers of entry into bow making. Many specialized tools are not commercially available or are extremely cost prohibitive due to small batch productions. The ability to make one’s own tools is a necessary skill for any bow maker or restorer.



At the center of most bow makers workshops is a small bench lathe. We use it to make an array of cutters, drill bits, screws, and buttons. We can also use it to perform repairs like head splines and bushings and is the easiest way to become best friends with cellists. This is a South Bend 8K lathe that I modified to accept a quick change tool post and mounted a Bison 5C collet chuck. Just like any machine, this tool required an extensive setup and regular adjustments. I have it dialed in to +/- 0.0003″ runout.



Using the lathe, I made these cutters. Their uses range from cutting the tongue for the ferrule, Parisian and pearl eye, nipple and boring for the screw and button. These are made out of 01 tool steel. Some are hardened and others left unhardened for easy sharpening with a file.

Bow Drill


An old technology this is still used today by bow makers. This drill is powered by a fencing foil bent to take a string, aptly called a bow as well, hence “bow” drill. Fortunately, there is a fencing school near by that gave me a bundle of fencing foils, so I have like a 3 lifetime supply. The body I machined out of aluminum and threaded a steel drive shaft to take the mini chuck. This drill sets up really quick and is very forgiving to use with the cutters described earlier.



These templates are made out of thin aluminum modeled from sketches of bows I had come through the shop. The two templates at the top are taken from a nearly pristine Tourte cello bow that I’m hoping to have a couple copies done by the end of this year.



Okay, so I have too many knives. Probably from hanging around violin makers too much. 2 Rehair knives, 2 Grip knives, single bevels, double bevels, “junk” knives, American blades, Japanese blades, German blades, homemade blades, etc. I find it helpful so when I’m at a specific step and a knife gets dull, I can just grab another one without taking a pause to sharpen my blade. I made all the handles and the little holes are threaded to accept set screws to tighten the blade in place.

Bow Planes


These are high angle planes designed by Bill Salchow. The blades also have a high angle so that the bevel is at or about 90 degrees to the work surface. These act like scrapers pulling off transparent chip from the pernambuco and prevents tear out. These planes are used when the bow is closer to finished dimensions or if the particular piece of pernambuco is prone to tear out. Read more about planes in this detailed article including how to set them up and where do get them. 

Block Planes


Block planes are the work horse of many violin and bow shops. I use the Stanley 9-1/2 and Lie Nielson 60-1/2 to rough out sticks. The Stanley 102 and Lie Nielson 102 are used for general planing. Read more about planes in this detailed article including how to set them up and where to get them. 

Metal Forming


Like I mentioned earlier, bow making borrows some elements from jewelry making. We form sheets of silver into the shapes for ferrules, liners, and buttons. Most soldering can be done with a simple torch or even an alcohol lamp. I have a nice jewelers soldering setup, it really helps for when doing detailed repairs.



I made this jig to do wire windings. It helps to keep a consistent and even tension on the wire, allowing for a nice and tidy lapping.



This is another jig I made to test the deflection of sticks. I like to test roughed out blanks to rate my wood as well as check the deflection as I work a stick down to final graduations. I find it helpful to have an objective measurement. When working graduations I’m balancing the deflection, weight, and balance point, compensating for characteristics that  inherent in the particular piece of pernambuco.

This list could go on with a number of small templates or tools I’ve made, but I’ve listed my 10 most used tools. I enjoy making tools as much as making bows and bowmakers are constantly trying to innovate to make things work better and faster. The quality of modern bows is at such a high level right now thanks to the countless bowmakers before us. If you haven’t tried a bow from a good modern maker, you owe it to yourself to try a few!

Read more about hand planes in this detailed article including how to set them up and where do get them. 

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