John Aniano
John Aniano, 2003. Photo by Debra Aniano

I began bowmaking in 1977 at age 17. I had been taking violin lessons using a cheap violin, and a really poor bow. Having taken many metal and woodshop classes during high school, I felt I should be able to construct a better violin bow than the one I was using. My violin teacher at the time, Francine Nadeau Walsh allowed me to take detailed measurements and tracings of her violin bows. I purchased some pernambuco blanks and went to work. My early bows were made by essentially self-taught methods and I realized I needed proper guidance to continue improving my work.

After high school, I enrolled in the Industrial Arts program at Montclair University and made several bows for independent study credits. It was at this time that I contacted William Salchow to ask about “proper” bowmaking methods. At his urging, I began to make regular Saturday morning visits to his New York City shop to get pointers on how bows were made and repaired. After completing my college studies and graduating in December 1981, I began working for Bill as a full-time employee. I had the good fortune to have worked with some of Bill’s best pupils; the bottom photo of me in Bill’s shop was taken by Yung Chin. I worked for Bill until December 1983 and continued to make bows until I attended Rutgers University where I studied ceramic engineering.

After graduating from Rutgers, I spent several years working for firms involved with fiber optics and telecommunications, although I continued to be an avid woodworker.  During this time, I joined the Central Jersey Woodworkers Association CJWA and once was the club vice-president.  However, because of the downturn in the telecommunications industry in 2002, I chose to return to bowmaking.  I’ve attended the Oberlin Bowmaker Workshops from 2002 through 2018.

I have always enjoyed determining how the old makers might have held a particular tool to, say, cut the chamfers on a bow’s head, fit a ferrule, form the fluting on a baroque bow, etc., by looking at the marks left by the tools.  One could call this “reverse engineering” as applied to a hand crafted object.  This is sometimes done by woodworkers trying to recapture forgotten tools and techniques of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century cabinetmakers.  In fact, there are branches of historical archeological study expressly to determine how people lived and how various crafts were performed in their original context.

Often in the case of bowmaking, examination of surviving photographs or original texts can shed light as to the manner in which the old bowmakers once worked.  Another way is to carefully observe the tooling marks present in the original bow and determine how they might have been made.  One then might make a specialized tool, often quite simple, that can achieve similar results to the original example.  Some might consider this excessive and speculative, but I feel it is worth the extra effort and makes the craft of bowmaking that much more satisfying.

John Aniano
John Aniano in Salchow’s shop, 1983. Photo by Yung Chin