Osage Orange Bow (new & innovative!!)

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by Silversorcerer, Apr 4, 2005.

  1. Before Pernambuco was used for violin bows, it was used for hunting (archery) bows. The North American counterpart, Osage Orange (preferred by archers) has now also come into use for violin bows. Now this looks like a unique bow I might put a deposit down on!!! Anyone tried one of these? ;)

  2. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I don't think I would be too hip to experiment in that price range, but I would love to see a quality alternative wood emerge in the bow making industry.

    By all indicators that I have read, pernambuco of bow-making quality is going more and more difficult to acquire. This would come a pleasant surprise to players and makers alike.

    I doubt it would impact pricing very much, as most of the cost is still associated with labor rather than the wood, but it would be nice to know there is an available alternative.

    If you play one, I'll enjoy reading about your observations.
  3. I may get around to trying one of those in little while. Considering the expense, we might have to pass it around to some folks who are using Pernambuco for a good comparison. The maker states that the Osage Orange is rarely suitable, but I think if the trees were farmed with that purpose in mind, the yield could be higher. Osage Orange seedlings are commercially available and through the American Arbor Day Foundation.

    Looking at the maker's craftmanship, it is clear that he is a traditionalist in broader terms and is trying to utilize what in this case is an acceptable substitute wood. Even if I don't get one of the bows I may go ahead and plant a row of these trees somewhere. I think they are hardy anywhere in North America and it might be a worthy investment considering what a seedling cost vs. what a finished bow goes for. If it's no good for violin bows I could just sell it to the archery bow makers. :)
  4. JTGale


    Oct 26, 2004
    Hummelstown, PA
    Isn't Osage Orange also called Ironwood? I think it is that really tough stuff we used for fence posts back home on the farm. Crooked wood but lasts forever.
  5. These are not the same tree, unless perhaps there is a regional name for the tree. Petersen's Eastern Trees lists ironwood as Carpinus caroliniana and Osage Orange as Osmanthus americanus. Desert Ironwood is yet another species.

    Osage Orange is pretty easily distinguished by heavy thorns like you see on thorny locust trees and very hard, billiard ball-sized green lumpy fruits that are generally not edible. The wood is quite orange in color, very hard, and oxidizes to a deep red-brown. There used to be one in my neighborhood, shade tree size, but it is no longer.
  6. JTGale


    Oct 26, 2004
    Hummelstown, PA
    Lazy me. My eastern field guide is right here in front of me ... :rollno:

    I looked it up, too. I was thinking about the same thing. In Central Illinois, we called them "horse-apple" or "hedge-apple." They made great fenceposts and the cattle seemed to like the stinky, softball-sized fruits. The thorny rings around the trunk always reminded me of a Sunday-school lesson for some reason.

    And you are right, ironwood is something totally different. I think we must have called it that since they were such a bear to cut, even with a chainsaw. They were tuff little boogers and seemed to last forever (hence, the "iron" connection, I suppose).

    Oops, is my heritage showing again ... ? :( :D
  7. Webster's allows that "one of various trees with very hard wood...." is ironwood. Hornbeam is another one commonly referred to that way. I have also heard of the hedge-apple moniker, which seems like a good name, and because of the thorns and the toughness, I think they were once commonly planted as hedges. Yeah, some animals eat those things. It is not a common tree in the Atlanta area, but apparently tolerates the climate well if planted. Do you know how long it takes one to get to say 20" diameter? The one recently cut here was significantly larger than that and I didn't get to count the rings.
  8. JTGale


    Oct 26, 2004
    Hummelstown, PA
    The ones we had grew best in the bottom lands, i.e. swampy and wet areas near rivers and creeks. But I don't recall any getting anywhere near 20" in diameter. That would be huge in central Illinois. Most are probably in the 14" to 16" diameter size when they "stop" growing. That would be a very mature tree for us.

    According to another tree book, it looks like the natural habitat for Osage Orange was in the eastern Texas, western Arkansas region. It does allow that this is somewhat of a misnomer, seeing as how they can grow in many different places. With this in mind, I wonder if our growing season/zone in Illinois wasn't too mild to grow the trees into the 20" in diameter range. The National Audubon Society field guide relates that the trees can grow to 50 feet tall and 24" in diameter in the right zones.

    As for how fast they grow, they get to be about 10 feet tall in about 4 years. That should calculate to about 2.5 feet a year. If a full-grown southern tree reaches between 40 and 50 feet in heigth with a 24" diameter trunk, that would take about 16-20 years to achieve young maturity. As for longevity, I am sure that we had trees that were much older than 20 years.

    On a side note, we always thought of these trees as "trashy" trees. The fruits stink and leave a big mess. But, on the bright side, only the female trees produce the big green balls. The wood burns very hot in the fireplace (it even burns green!) and the fence posts last more than 10 years after cut for use. All around, a very hardy tree that loves moist, deep topsoil and provides a good canopy, albeit with HUGE thorns on the trunks.

    If you really want to try your hand at propogating some, I am sure that my folks would be more than glad to crate up some of the big green seed balls and send them to you. The fewer they have to mess with, the better, I suppose. But that would more than likely be one big stinky box by the time you get it in the mail! :D

    Hope my Midwestern ramblings helped ...
  9. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    From what I am learning Ipe is the better alternative. It apparently has qualities similar to pernambuco, more so than OO, brazilwood, or snakewood.
  10. Thanks JT, but I'll take the seedlings from Arbor Day. Germinating those green things might be toxic!

    Yeah, the tree here was shade tree size. It was in an old neighborhood in the middle of the city, so it could have been 100 years old for all I know. Must have liked the mild, wet Georgia weather. Kind of a wierd place for it, but the green balls and the thorns were unmistakable. I have a feeling it was far out of it's more usual range. A little more research reveals that it is somewhat in demand for other wood working.

    DZ, are you making any bows from the Ipe? From what I've read that stuff is tougher than ebony. I was wondering if it would make a decent fingerboard.
  11. Mudfuzz


    Apr 3, 2004
    Ipe also will make your tools go dull by just showing it to them. I know a guy that did all the wood trim on a fiberglass boat out of Ipe, and remember him having to hone [and bitch] all that time.

    I made a fingerboard for a quickie [three hours building time] fretless tenor banjo, which I have now disassembled to the joy of all that had to hear me play the thing :meh: :p
  12. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    Pernambuco will also make your tools dull in a matter of minutes...
  13. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    No, just out of pernambuco. I really do not think Ipe will be used until there is absolutley no pernambuco left.

    interesting thing I am learning about bass bows. It is VERY hard to find blanks in pernambuco that are large enough to make bass bows. The result is that most lower priced pern. bass bows are made with not the best quality pernambuco. a lot of the wood is punky when you get into bass bow territory.

    Part of the reason someone like Sue Lipkins makes such fine bows is that she uses violin grade pernambuco for her bass bows.

    Now, I have some nice pernambuco blanks. Two suitable for violin/viola and one suitable for cello. These blanks cost me $200 each. Consider that when you buy that Seifert bass bow for $450... not knocking them I have one.

    Just a few things to consider.

  14. Well, I'm glad that people are experimenting a little with the bow wood. Apparently Ipes is in good supply, so that also makes it a good choice, DZ. I guess anything that would have the desirable qualities would also dull the tools. From Gales' description of the Osage Orange, it sounds like it is no picnic for the saw teeth, either.
  15. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    The really depressing thing for me a a bowmaker wanna be is that most established bow makers have a lifetime supply of pernambuco on hand. of course if special quality pieces show themselves they snap them up. That is how i got the three special blanks that i have.

    There i just now way that I will be able to source high grade blanks- especially for bass bows.

    I am looking into some Ipe blanks to work with.
  16. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    Now that you've got me started I will relate this story: when I purchased the 3 blanks mentioned above we had literally 200 bow blanks spread out on the floor of my teachers shop. After she and I went through them noting the Lucci readings pencilled on each one we chose 12 that were suitable. From there we took two at a time and gently, very gently, tapped them against the concrete floor - a taptone test. What we were lookiing for was a "glassy" sound- the glassier the better. which ever of the two sounded better was out aside to be tested against the next best. Talk about overwhelming ! so from this procedure we found three that were very fine .

    also, on the tool dulling point, Ebony also dulls tools with lightening rapidity. That, and stay away from horn and ivory frogs; they look nice but one good hit and they can shatter...

    Sorry if i rambled.

  17. I can understand the problem of obtaining quality materials when things are in short supply. It is the same way if you are looking for DB topwood larger than 3/4 size. If it is listed at all, usually instead of a price all you see is "call". Generally, not good news. The long established makers have lifetime supplies of the stuff. It's enough to entice one into the lumber business. (Well, perhaps I exaggerate. One decent tree would make quite a few double basses.)

    On the frog issue, I saw a nice bow for sale with a lignum vitae frog over on B.G.'s classifieds. Everything else was standard stuff. It seems that this wood, slightly harder than ebony, is in better supply also.

    I'm going out on a weak limb, if there's one left. I intend to make a DB using entirely non-traditional wood, as if it weren't available. I probably will not have a very successful instrument, but sooner or later, that territory is where acoustic wooden instruments are headed and it will be a useful experiment if nothing else.

    Thanks for the story on your blank choosing process. I'm one who always likes to hear the details. :)
  18. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Don, Is this wood from Giovanni Lucci in Italy?.. I used to have two of his Bows. I know him personally and he has been to my house when I lived in NYC. He had made a machine to test the elasticity of wood and was showing me how it worked. That was around 1987-88. I was told that he was a Bow wood supplier in Italy and kept the best sticks for himself. Paul Biase has a few of his Bows now made recently. The ones I had were from the first batch of 6 that Biase brought over back around 1975.

    BTW, 'Ironwood' is NOT a species or particular type of wood. According to 'Lincoln (World Woods in Color), there are over 80 species called Ironwood.. It's just a 'nickname' for alot of woods that are super hard.
  19. JTGale


    Oct 26, 2004
    Hummelstown, PA
    And there you go! That explains why we called Osage Orange/Hedge Apple by the name "Ironwood" in Central Illinois. Thanks for clearing this up, Ken!
  20. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    Ken, no the wood was not from Lucci but the "Lucci Number" was pencilled on each blank which aided us in our choices.