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To Scuff or Not to Scuff
Should You Scratch Your New Rosin?
A magnifier being held over a cake of rosin.

 For decades upon decades, we have seen, cleaned, vacuumed, swept, and scrubbed broken rosin off of:
 and Cases
 and Floors
 and Aprons
 and Counters
 and Shop Dogs
 and Instruments
 Our Own Hands

 and...Well, you get the picture.
A shattered and crumbly cake of rosin. There's, like, a whole lot of broken rosin that comes through a violin shop.
Many of the rosins we see are broken after accidental bumps off a music stand or drops on the floor.

However, we also see an abundance of chipped and cracked rosin. 

Conversations with customers who bring in chipped/cracked rosin usually reveal that the rosin in question was aggressively carved with a kitchen knife, paperclip, house key, or a bow screw. 

This idea about "roughing up" new rosin stems from (what we believe to be) fiddle folklore. The truth of the matter is-- brand new rosin doesn't need to be carved, scratched, or scuffed with an abrasive item!
New, Used, Sanded, and Misused

We decided to do a couple of photo experiments to demonstrate how different rosin starting techniques actually affect the rosin.

Four rosins; one is new, one is lightly scuffed, one is scratched, & one is carved into.Pictured above are four cakes of rosin. They are all the same brand and model in four different conditions. 
All four rosins began in the same, new condition before our experiment.

An untouched, shiney, brand new cake of rosin.

This is a brand-new cake of rosin.

It has just been removed from the packaging.

The surface of the new rosin is unmarred--it is smooth and shiny.

Many people see a new rosin like this and think there is no way that a powdered form of rosin can possibly be pulled from this pristine prism of potential stickiness.

A dusty cake of rosin whose surface has been sanded.
This is a rosin cake that has been scuffed and scratched with sandpaper. 

As you can see, the surface of this rosin has changed quite a bit. When applied to a bow, the sound with this rosin was okay, but a little grainy. 

As can easily be seen, there is rosin everywhere. 
The table was sticky. Our fingers were sticky.
The camera was, unfortunately, sticky, too. 

(This was a messy process.)

A zoomed in view of a cake of rosin which has been scraped wih a bow screw.
This is a rosin that has been scraped rather unceremoniously with the (button) end of a bow screw. 

You can see small divets and grooves in the surface of the rosin.

You can also see small flakes and chunks of rosin just sitting on top of the surface. 

We tried to avoid getting to the edges of the rosin cake while trying this technique so that larger bits of rosin didn't fracture and break off of the top or edges.
It wasn't easy to avoid and, as a result, pieces of rosin came off the edge. 

When applied to a bow, this rosin sounded grittier and less focused than the other rosins we included in our experiment. Additionally, the bow hair caught on the broken edge and did not glide easily along the surface of this rosin.

This technique is also rather sticky with the added bonus of small hunks of rosin flying all over the table and floor during the "prep" process.

A barely scuffed rosin which has only been used on a violin bow.

This rosin has been used normally on a violin bow. Nothing was done to this rosin 
before it was used on the bow. We did ten passes of the rosin (up and down) along the hair of the bow. 

The surface of the rosin is scuffed from the normal application alone and the bow was ready for playing. The hair was uniformly covered with now-powdered rosin. 
This rosin produced a warm, but clear sound and was easily controlled on the strings.

With a few more regular applications on a bow, the surface of the rosin will be
leveled and the remaining shiny spots will be scuffed, too. 

Additionally, there was no cloud or cascade of falling/flying rosin with this technique.
The hair moved smoothly across the rosin because there were no grooves, 
cracks, or fractures created by sandpaper or a bow screw. 

Up Close
This second series of photos presents a magnified view of the four rosins pictured above.
A magnified view of a new, perfectly smooth rosin.

This is the unused rosin. 

Even at this magnified level, the surface of the rosin pictured is smooth.

A magnified view of a rosin scratched with a bow screw. There are tiny fractures in the surface.
The is the rosin that was etched with a bow screw. (Poor bow screw!) 

There are distinct lines carved into the surface of the rosin. 

More importantly, you can see exactly how many fractures and cracks
were created along the surface of the rosin. 

This rosin's surface is more likely to catch and snag individual hairs when drawn
across the ribbon of hair on a bow.

The loose rosin bits and excess dust fall to the ground when trying to apply normally to a bow.
These loose bits also add unneeded texture to the surface of the bow hair and make the sound gritty and gravelly. 
A magnified view of sandpaper-scratched rosin. The surface shows tiny carvings.

This is the rosin that was scratched with sandpaper.

The surface of this rosin is also visibly scuffed.

However, just like the rosin which was etched by a bow screw, the surface of this rosin also has tiny fractures.

The sand in the sandpaper has made micro-carvings into the surface of the rosin.
Every line carved into the surface is 
another opportunity for the rosin to crack, chip, or catch on horsehair. 

A magnified view of a regularly use rosin. The surface is scuffed and shows no sign of cracks or carving.
Finally, this is the rosin which was used normally on a bow. 

Because of its uniformly "buffed" surface, this rosin was a lot harder to photograph up close!

The bowed surface is smooth and doesn't have visibly deep grooves, cracks, or fractures in the surface of the rosin.  

Horsehair (or reputable synthetic bow hair options) is naturally coarse enough to pull rosin off the cake without any additional abrasive techniques.

Try it on Your Own!
Four cakes of rosin placed on their sides in a circle.

Don't believe the photo evidence? Try it for yourself!

Next time you get a new cake of rosin, try applying it directly to your bow without harming the rosin.

If you still find that you're not getting an even application of rosin on your bow, it may be time to ask the following question:

Has Your Bow Already Been Rosined?
  • If the answer is no and your bow is new/freshly rehaired:
    • Contact your local violin shop and ask if they can apply a powder coat of rosin to your bow (this is often an inexpensive or free service). 
    • If you aren't close to a local violin shop, the good news is you still don't need to harm your new rosin! Simply keep applying rosin directly to your bow in the normal fashion. It will take more than the normal (10ish) passes, but ultimately, the extra initial work of applying the rosin normally will help your rosin last for years to come. 
  • If the answer is yes and your bow already has rosin on it, but you're struggling to get your new rosin to stick to your hair:
    • It's probably time for a rehair! 
      • A common sign of needing fresh hair on your bow is that you feel like you can't get rosin to stick to your bow. For the average recreational player, rehairs should be done 1-2 times per year. More serious players will need rehairs at least twice a year. 
      • Is there (or has there been) a toddler or preschooler near your bow? Or has someone repeatedly touched the hair of your bow?
        • When the naturally occurring oils on fingers (especially those fingers potentially covered in peanut butter, ketchup, or cheese puff dust) make repeated or extended contact with the hair on a bow, the bow hair loses its ability to hold rosin and requires a rehair.

Finesse is Best
A regularly used rosin is shown through the glass of a magnifier.
The moral of our story: new rosin requires no extra work to use! Many players are putting too much work into starting a new rosin based on what is fiddle folklore. 

Rosin cakes are fragile and carving, scratching, or etching the surface of a rosin will make affect its durability and shorten its lifespan. Additionally, smooth rosin application sounds better and is best achieved with a rosin that has a smooth surface. 

So remember: be kind to your bow screw, stop making your house key so sticky, leave the sandpaper for other projects, save the paper clips for paper, and step away from the kitchen knives! Your bow will thank you!
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