Shop Talk: David Hawthorne on the Art of Bowmaking

By David Hawthorne | From the May-June 2020 issue of Strings magazine

What is your favorite part in the process of making a bow?

The most fascinating thing for me is the end process of adjusting the camber (or curve) of an almost-finished bow. Sometimes it takes me a few days to adjust—sometimes a week or more. 


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After the work on the stick and frog are done, with varnish, and the hair is on, and the bow is playable, there is a lot that can still change about how the bow functions and sounds. And all of this can be addressed in the nuances of how the camber is adjusted. 

Of course, as I am making the stick and finishing it, I am keeping the camber close to how I want it to end up. This means the final adjustment is not dramatic in terms of re-shaping the curve, but the functional change can certainly be dramatic. 

I play violin myself, so I can largely bring the function of a bow very close to where it should be. Players can be surprised by the profound differences camber adjustment makes, but I am depending on it to make my bows exceptional! Of course the bow has to be straight, and then all the slight deviations from a perfectly even curve have to be resolved, except for certain little places. It will be these exceptions that make the bow special. 

I tighten the bow to look for such places, make myriad corrections, and play it in between each adjustment. This is why the process is time consuming: assess, heat, adjust, cool, play, repeat. I have my theories, of course, about what will make a bow sound best, and often I am right, but what I am really waiting for, as I work on the bow, is that “ah-ha” moment, when the sound blooms and layers. Some players call that “spin” in the sound. Then I know I should stop. The sound and playability of the bow will always lead me.

I often have the help of my shop-mate, Mariia Gorkun, an excellent conservatory-trained violinist (I am conservatory-trained as well, but not in violin). Since she can play much better than I do, I will always find out things from her suggestions. When I’m lucky, a top violinist will come in and help me push a bow up to a higher level than I can do on my own, or even with Mariia’s help. I will almost always try to work with my client as well, if I’m making the bow to order.