determining what type of wood a bow is made from
Instruments: When looking at a bow, how do you tell a pernambuco bow from a brazilwood bow? I imagine that there must be tell-tale signs that differentiate the two. What are they?
From Aldon Sanders
Posted September 28, 2005 at 04:57 AM
When looking at a bow, how do you tell a pernambuco bow from a brazilwood bow? I imagine that there must be tell-tale signs that differentiate the two. What are they?
same way you tell a Steak from Chicken KIEV.
By the wine that complements it?
From Bill P
Posted on September 28, 2005 at 06:55 PM
It is easy to tell them apart. The brazilwood bows tend to play better with Bossa nova and Samba music.
I read somewhere that pernambuco is an extremely dense wood, so dense that it actually sinks in water. Theoretically one could toss a bunch of bows in a bathtub and eliminated all floaters, but I wouldn't advise it. Heck, for all I know, brazilwood may not float either.
From Bill P
Posted on September 28, 2005 at 08:10 PM
There's a difference in the grain of the wood, but I can't explain it, you just need to put one next to the other to see. Also, the natural color of the woods are different, so if you look inside one of the plugs you can see the unvarnished color. I think pernambuco has a slightly orangish hue to it (I could be mistaken).
Take a bite out of the bow. If it's real pernambuco, the effect of ingesting it should be readily apparent.
Wow, what an informative discussion.
Typically less informative than using the google link at the top of the page and punching in 'what is the difference between pernambuco and brazilwood'...
First link you get back, scroll down a bit.
"Brazilwood and pernambuco wood do not come from different species of trees. Both come from the pau-brasil tree. The only real difference is density. Pernambuco comes from the innermost part of the tree. Accordingly, it is much more dense and the grain is visibly tighter than that of its counterpart. In addition, pernambuco is much stiffer than brazilwood which enables bowmakers to create exquisitely lightweight bows that have great strength"
So unless you are a beaver, the grain would appear to be the only real indicator you can use to differentiate the two. This puts you in the position of having to have a bow of each type in front of you to compare, which puts you in the position of trusting someone else to tell you which bow is which, which ultimately puts you in the same position you are in whilst standing in the shop wondering if the bow you are interested in is really made of the material the seller claims.
which again brings you back to what I said from the start:
same way you tell a Steak from Chicken KIEV.
And what sort of Pernambuco?
A bow I bought was described to me as being of "Chinese pernambuco". I'd already decided to buy it by then though. I liked how it played (instantly), and the price...
Hmm, I had no clue pernumbuco grew in China.
There is a guy who sells Chinese Rollex watches and many other famous brands. He claims they are just as good.... but are they really?...and cost way less!
Oh yes, they also grow lots of other things in China including the "Bird Flue"!
Real pernambuco is from Brazil.
At the time Brazil was discovered by the Portuguese, a red dye extracted from the wood of a certain tree was used to tinge feathers. In the tupi language, ibirapitanga, the name given to this tree by the natives, means tree, stick or wood (ybyrá) plus red (pitanga). According to several 16th and 17th century French chroniclers, the Indians called the tree araboutan. Others report that the formar name was used for the timber, while the latter meant the tree. The Europeans immediately replaced a similar dye, extracted from sappanwood, with this new one, to dye fabric. The active substance contained in the wood is brazilin, which, according to Rizzini & Mors (1976) is transformed into the red dye by oxidation upon contact with the air. Lamarck (1789) reported that the dye could be used to color Easter eggs and toothpaste, and to produce a compound used as a cosmetic for women’s faces (today known as rouge). Treatments with acids produced a lacquer used to paint miniatures. Pernambuco wood dye was widely used for almost 400 years. During the second half of the 19th century, however, when the native trees were becoming hard to find, substitute dyes derived from aniline became common.
The wood is very high quality – compact and hard – nearly indestructible. It was widely used in construction and cabinetwork, and could also be used in woodworking and for making fine furniture. Indians valued the wood for making weapons, which they used to hunt, fish and make war. Damião de Góes (1563) report that the Indians which were presented to the Portuguese king, Dom Manuel, in 1513, carried huge bows made of pernambuco wood. The wood is also excellent for making violin bows, for which is still exported today in small quantities, under the names of Bahia wood, Pernambuco wood, Brazilwood, Bois du Brésil and Brazilienholz (Rizzini, 1971).
Please read this important article on "Saving The Music Tree", an initiative started by the true artisans of today. Real bowmakers worldwide who are making a difference.
Why can nobody just admit that they don't know?
I bet the Indians who were presented to the king felt like they'd gone to Mars with the aliens. I'd love to hear their story.
Real pernambuco is prized for its beauty and resilience. It is increasingly endangered and therefore artisans/bowmakers worldwide have united to promote the conservation and sustainable use of Pernambuco. They have formed "IPCI" ; International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative
To know more about it, visit:
For those who are green and want to know more about the wood and the difference between the varieties, do visit this site and the others that have been suggested just earlier on by others.
To Jonathan L.: if you still need more info after all the entries, perhaps you should google it yourself and find out?
To those who know (the diff. between pernambuco and Brazilwood), it is very much like the differnece between a Mercedes-Benz and a Unicycle. If you can't have a sense of humor about it..........Fuggettabbaouttit!!!
The problem then with the food comparison is that both meals can be tasty.
I will just say that pernumbuco is beautiful and brazilwood is ugly. :)
I like that one Emily!
I would like to say on a historic note, that in the 19th century, there were many bows made by the best makers like Peccatte, Henry, Maline Pajeot in many varieties of woods including Ironwood, Brazilwood, Beeswood as well as Pernambuco. They were considered the lesser grade but the result of their production was pretty excellent. These bows (by the makers mentioned) are excellent for players and cost at least half if not less, than the pernambuco counterparts of these makers.
The Ironwood is obvious to the eye, being that it is quite black in appearance, yet you can still see a nice grain going through.
The best beeswood bows that I have seen by these great makers, still have a very plain look to the wood which is gray-ish brown.
The brazilwood bows are similar in look to the beeswood.
The most attractive next to the best pernambuco bows, are Amourette bows which these guys produced in abundance. Francois Peccatte made a great many and so did D. Peccatte as well as Maline, Fonclause and Pajeot.
The grain in Pernambuco is much more visible than in Brazilwood bows. Chinese pernambuco (it hurts just typing that phrase) typically refers to Pernambuco smuggled (it is illegal to export raw Pernambuco wood from Brazil) that looks good, but usually is not cured to the extent that Brazilian bows are. This results in bows that look good, but tend to warp and need straightening more often. This also results in the illegal harvesting of Pernambuco, but that is for another discussion.
I deal with Pernambuco bows daily and to tag along with new dad Gennady's analogy, once you see the 2 together, you can usually tell them apart fairly easily. Plus, while many Pernambuco bows are darkened, the grain should be easily seen, and the lighter the bow the more pronouced the grain. Brazilwood bows have a darker look and typically have none of the gold highlights seen n the Pernambuco wood.
Here's an address to information on arcos brazil's site:
It's several pages....
From David Koch
Posted on November 10, 2005 at 02:07 PM
As a chemical engineer who was looking for a violin bow I was intrigued by problem of determining what wood was used in making a bow. Archimedes has a similar problem when asked if a crown was made of pure gold. Since the maker of the crown would be killed if the crown was not pure good he had to be certain of the composition throughout the crown. The solution was a process called density by displacement. The irregular object is place in a bath of water that rests upon a scale. A measurement is taken to determine the change in volume of water, before and after the bow is place in the bater bath and the weight is recorded before and after. The change in water volume gives the volume of the irregualr object and the weight gives the mass. From this information we can determine the density of the object in lbs/ft3. This method would work for different types of wood or to determine if silver or nickel was used in making the bow which I just learned today.
This method may seem difficult for a musician but is rather simple for an engineer or chemist working in a common lab. I hope this helps.
From Bill _
Posted on November 10, 2005 at 02:50 PM
David Koch suggests that archimedes principle should be a theoretically effective method for determining whether a bow is pernambuco or not.
The answer is emphatically no.
While it is true that on average pernambuco is denser than "brazilwood" it is not a fixed value. Furthermore ther are other species that are in the same range or even heavier than pernambuco that can and have been used for bowmaking (ironwood, snakewood...).
To further compound the problem of identification, I have red that in fact "pernamuco" and "brazilwood" are in fact often the same species--merely a distinction based on the age and/or growing environment of the trees.
In the US we have similar issues: a "coast" douglas fir is not the same in properties as an "inland" douglas fir. A fast-grown hardwood is superior to a slow grown one; vice-versa for conifers (including douglas fir).
A buyer is correct in being cautious. Wood classification for marketing is anything but scientific, and is often downright fraudulent. In many cases, whole groups of species are all marketed under the same "name" e.g. "lauan" is acutally "meranti" or "shorea" and there are over 30 species in common use under that name. The properties are markedly different between the groups known as "dark red", "light red" and "white" meranti, and yet if you go by "lauan, there will be no distinction.
Wood is a cellular material --in fact it is not a material but a structure. Metals have extremely narrow ranges of density. The structural aspects of metal density are things such as dislocation density ( higher = lighter) grain refinement (higher = lighter) crystal structure (FCC vs BCC) (BCC ligher) but even these differences are less dramatic by orders of magnitude than the differences caused by alloying say gold with copper at 20 kt. (Except that the FCC-BCC transition is quite large).
Here's a picture from another thread that shows the cell structure of pernambuco that I was talking about. Thanks Wanda
Notice the light lines crossing the grain. Notice too, that it's magnified 4x or so. Also, it's not always this distinct.
visit robert cauer's web site
If pernambuco trees are to be saved, what will people make (good) bows out of?
Enosh, The answer to your question lies here:
"IPCI" ; International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative
To know more about it, visit:this cool website
All it said was ironwood but it seems like it's not as good as pernambuco.
The IPCI is doing good work on the problem of Pernambuco, not necessarily in finding a replacement for pernambuco, but more in the area of preserving pernambuco and finding ways to be able to continue to use pernambuco while protecting it for future generations of players and bowmakers. Some Brasilian bow manufacturers have been re-planting for over 20 years. Arcos Brasil has a new DVD that shows its re-forestation efforts working with the local communities, tribes, and a large cellulose manufacturer to replant significant amounts of pernambuco. Currently it is illegal to export raw wood from Brasil. Once the re-forestation efforts are shown to be successful (a fully mature tree is typically 35 years old), the hope is that the Brasilian government will start to issue "sustained use" permits. Until then the efforts of the IPCI are a great step in preserving Pernambuco as the wood of choice for quality bows. That should be the first priority, finding a way to continue to protect and use pernambuco for making bows, rather than finding a (substandard) substitute.
I see. Is pernambuco scarce because of other industries or just because of bowmaking?
From Rick Barker
Posted on November 23, 2005 at 11:41 AM
Pernambuco (Latin: Caesalpinia echinata), also
Leguminosae ibirapitanga, & pau brasil. Many, many close varieties are now used for the red-dye and bows that used to mainly come from the C. echinata.
Distribution: Brazil (Alagoas, Bahia, Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Sergipe)
Trade (for bows): actual world demand greater than 200 cubic metres. About 1500kg of wood is cut to provide 100-200kg of suitable wood for bows; a single violin bow demanding 1 kg of wood. Interestingly, although the plantation tree will grow at a rate over 4x that of the wild tree, the plantation tree does not make good quality bows so is not used. Hence why it is on the endangered list.
For identification of the true pernambuco from the other variants see:
while I'm not familiar with "plantation" pernambuco, there are some fairly unusual steps needed to grow "bow-quality" pernambuco. Since naturally growing pernambuco typically grows around other plants/trees/bushes/etc., pernambuco needs to be planted so that it needs to grow through these other vegetation so as to grow straight (upwards, toward the sun). if pernambuco is grown without this low level vegetation, it doesn't (typically) grow straight enough or dense enough to be of bow-making quality. It helps everyone (players, manufacturers, bow-makers, Violin shop owners) to keep a viable, legal, supply of pernambuco for generations to come. Groups like IPCI help significantly in raising people's awareness to the problems as well as in finding solutions.
From Ray Downs
Posted on March 13, 2007 at 05:53 PM
I was told that if you magnify the wood 4-5 times you can see the grain. The little windows is how you tell its the pernambuco. You can see that in the picture above.
Be careful what you read / believe. Best to read MANY sources of info on this confusing subject, then decide for yourself.
Case in point: The info on the link Eric provided is incorrect. Wood near the center of a tree (early wood) is typically LESS dense than late wood. That's because a tree grows much faster when it's young.
BTW- fast-growth lumber, having typically less grains-per-inch, is actually heavier than slow-growth. -Tight grain is a good indicator of fine bow wood since it's strenght-to-weight ratio is better.
There are MANY species of Pernambuco, and the type typically used by the old masters is no longer sold at all. There are also confusing designations like "Brazilwood" and "brasilwood" -most definitely NOT the same thing. Someone above mentioned that Brazilwood comes from the same tree as Pernambuco. According to what I've read, this is also incorrect. What comes vrom the same tree, and in fact is the same wood, is "brasilwood." - small "b" and no "z." "Brazilwood" is a non-technical, non-cientific term used by the industry, typically to denote you-know-what.
Also, as folks here have pointed out in past threads, Pernambuco (of any type) is not the only wood that was used by the masters to make fine bows.
The bottom line is simple. Does it feel & sound good? If you are buying online, without the option of trying it first, well, you get what you get. In such cases, it's best to at least go to a reputable dealer like Arcos Brasil.