Where do I find the wood to make the renaissance viol bows ?
In 2007 I was looking for wood to make bows for renaissance viols. From where I live in the Ariège I went down the hill to the forest, where Acacia trees grow.
Acacia trees are common in France, known for the delicious acacia honey. Farmers use the wood to make fence posts, because it doesn’t rot and can stay outside in the rain and sunshine for decades.
Down in the valley the forest is dark and humid, the small creek has steep slopes and dead trees are lying down, covered with green moss. I was surprised though to find such high quality, dry and firm wood showing up beneath the moss cover on a tree lying on the ground for years already.
Acacia has very long and strong fibers, which makes it easy to split. Working with a draw knife on a shaving horse you can really keep the fibers from one end to the other in the bow. This wood has a natural tendency to bend, from an inner tension I would say, and that tension I use to give the bow its arch. For that reason these bows keep the tension very well, you don’t need to relax them all the time as with Pernambuc.
Working with a draw knife and a shaving horse or bench is really fun, it goes so fast and gives me also kindling-wood to light the stove.
I never found better wood for my bow making since. Although Pernambuc and Snake wood are much easier to work with ( because of the homogeneity you can more or less make the bow you want from whatever piece of wood) I find Acacia much more exciting to work with. Because of its irregular structure, you have to find where the bow is in the wood. Your piece of wood delivers a bow, which is always different, always a surprise … I like that interaction with the material !
It’s awesome to have the wood abundantly available for free just in front of me. Getting it directly from nature, there are no discussions about tropical hardwood, suppliers, transportation and prices, and I know the material from the beginning to the end of the process. How can it get even better ?
Next time we will look into the species Acacia – Robinia pseudoacacia more in detail.