My new bow
I got back late on Sunday evening from five exhausting but wonderful days of bowmaking at Bush Farm Bison Centre in Wiltshire. The course was run by James Watson and Alex Travers (Feathers) of the Native Awareness School. It was a challenging and emotional experience bringing a bow into being from bow stave to finished bow in just five days using only hand tools. As with a lot of these types of ordeals, it taught me as much about myself and my outlook as it did about how to make a bow.
On the first day we selected our bow staves from a selection of timbers. I chose a long walnut bowstave as I wanted to create a longish bow suitable for both field and target archery. The first stage was to remove the outer bark to expose a clean growth ring which was to form the back of the bow. This is one of the most important stages, as a bow back that cuts through a growth ring is more likely to snap or explode on being drawn. As my walnut stave was particularly pale, with close growth rings that were difficult to differentiate, I chose to back the bow with a rawhide backing, from a two year old doe. Each of these decisions were made in response how the materials responded, and each contributed to the essence of the finished bow.
After cutting the back of the bow with the draw knife, I then marked out the shape of the bow on the surface, avoiding as many knots as possible and following the grain of the wood. I decided on a 64″ length, tapering from half way down the limbs. The shape took advantage of the natural growth of the wood to form a slight reflex shape. Next came the lengthy process of cutting first the profile and then the back of the bow to shape using an axe and rasp. When this was complete, and the thickness of the back of the bow to the belly was just over half an inch, then came the process of cutting the nocks and tillering – of removing sections of the belly to ensure an even bend throughout the bow. If one section is too thick or wide it will resist bending and put pressure of the rest of the bow. If a section is too thin or narrow it will create a ‘hinge’ or weak point in the bow. After several passes the bow formed an even and pleasing bend and I could test shoot it for the first time at full draw.
The first few shots were successful – to great relief, although the fourth shot broke the nock of the arrow I was using, which shot off the bow into my forearm and produced a huge swollen bruise! The next day I began finishing the bow, painting the tips black with a mixture of charcoal powder and wood glue, adding a buckskin handle which I dyed red, and staining the belly of the bow with walnut husk dye. I then added coats of Danish oil. In subsequent days I replaced the red buckskin handle, which was a bit too bright, with a simple leather wrap handle sown on with linen thread and with red detail added. My bow was complete!