bow staves Vol.3- chosing, splitting, ……….picture heavy!

The bow stave is half the work to do a good reliable selfbow. To go out cutting wood is the beginning, to grade the staves and to assign them to a design and to the purpose of a bow is the 2nd step. If you want to make a great performing flightbow, the wood has to withstand heavy tension and compression- forces choose the best stave you´ve, if you´ll do a kid´s bow take the smaller staves. Keep in mind: the handle- area of a selfbow does usually not bend, if there is a knot don´t care to much about it, but it´s a matter of your evaluation. As a rule of thumb you´ll get by if a knot´s cross-section is not more than about 1/3 of the handle´s cross- section.

To debark or not to debark is another question. I do usually debark the woods with shorter fibers( rowan, maple, birch, whitebeam, cherry, plum………..)cause they trend to rotten soon if  humidity can´t escape. I left the bark on the long fiber- woods(black locust, osage, elm………..), if they dry to fast they´ll split.

Super bow- woods like hawthorn, blackthorn, euonymus(spindlewood) are told to split soon and heavily while drying. That´s cause of their usually small diameter cross- section. I cut them roughly to a bow´s shape while green and force them with clamps into the chosen design, not any problem working them this way! Look for “Bow staves Vol.2- making a bow of green wood”.

I post a lots of pics of handling bow staves, the stave is 50% of the bow:

split failed, cause of a big knot

This rowan is dedicated to become a deflex/reflexflightbow, the deflex is naturally grown, the reflex at its ends will be enforced by heat- treating. For to succesfully split a smaller stave, debark it and mark the splitting line. Go for enough material: handle thickness about 11/2″, limbs thickness at least 3/4″. If the split will fail, stop it and use the bandsaw.

let´s try it again at the other end
progress in splitting- such great colours are coming up!
dangerrr- the split will cross the red line!
for to end up succesfully I´ve used the bandsaw to finish the split

Usually a twisted tree is easy to recognize, but some trees like rowan hide their growing. Lately while splitting them you´ll see what´s up. Trees with a thicker and rough bark like elm, black locust, osage, hawthorn, blackthorn tell you soon if they are twisted. Maple, cherry, whitebeam, rowan and plum are less kind, almost no signs of twist in their thinner bark.

missed splitting- this stave has twisted fibers
the twisted stave- firewood!

Black locust is one of the woods with long fibers, grown straight and knotfree it is a pleasure to split, a few blows and it is done…………………..

easy to split black locust- first split along the core
very straight black locust trunks- so easy to split
checking straightness of a stave- string a chord over it as a construction line

The string of a bow has more or less to cross the handle- section. The best case is the string lays towards the side where the arrow is shot off. So for to check the  straightness of  a bow stave use a chord and string it over the back- side of the stave. It is possible to make a bow with both limbs pointing in an opposite direction, the main thing is, that the string crosses the handle.

again checking construction line

There is the rowan from above again. I found this stave just cutted by the forest- ranger for to thin out a hiking trail. It has been rainy, the thicker end of the stave was covered with leaves and some other cutted smaller woods, great conditons for a rottening.

the rowan- there is a deflex/reflex- design inside
rottening has just begun- cause of water

I debarked the stave soon, splitted it, stored it at a breezy and dry place, rottening can´t cause any further damage. The bow will be made as a skinny tip design(holmegaard, mollegabet), so I´ll get by with this stave.

rottened- view at the cross- section

There is a whitebeam to split, a part of a real big tree. One side is to knotty, the other side is knotfree but somehow snaky, anyway a delicious to do bow. But due to the capablities of whitebeam as a bow wood and its beauty it´s very worth to do it.

splitting a whitebeam
progress in splitting the whitebeam
let´s go further.............
for the split the knotty end some blows from the other side are necessary
whitebeam splitted- one half is a deliciousn to do bow stave- the other half is firewood or will become a part of a new stairrail

One of the best rowan staves I´ve ever come across, one straight half,  so easy to split.

splitting of a rowan
splitted rowan- one half is a great knot free stave- the other half is firewood
where is the bow?

The bow within this rowan sapling is in its knotfree slightly reflexed half, cause it is of a small diameter, I´ll not split it. The only knot is just in the center, at the bows belly- side at the handle, there is no bending.

finished- it took me an afternoon to get 1 whitebeam-, 3 rowan- and 9 black locust- staves

Bow staves Vol. 4 will be focused again on making bows of green wood.

Bow staves Vol. 2- making bows of green wood

Remember this pic of  “Bow staves Vol.1…….” :

where is the bow?

The more bow- designs you know, you´ve done, the more bows you´ll be able to imagine in a tree, a branch, a sapling. It´ s very important to have a lots of  bow- designs saved.

At the left I´m just beginning with the splitting, it was hard, I almost missed to get a stave thick enough allover its length.

the rowan stave(the one in the middle)- at the left almost to thin, but it´ll work

Cause the rowan trunk was thick, the stave turned out to become very wide- about 4″. I just had to cut it smaller, while removing wood from the sides for to get the thicker inner part of the stave.

the rowan stave- look at its belly- allover width is 2"
the rowan stave- allover width is now 21/2"
sideview of the rowan stave

Since some time I´ve in mind to do a flightbow with a deflexed handle area and very slight small recurves. The stave is matching more or less this design. It´s still not to symmetrical. Its length is 62″, so 50lbs at 23″ should be no problem.

I debarked the stave, an easy job to do when its still green. I cut it with the axe and the drawknife to its shape, worked out the handle and an allover thickness of  1/2″ in the limbs.

working the green rowan
yesterday was a great day- fall is just beginning, really hot outside since some days, cold nights anyway. I could work outside, just beside my workshop, a great day!

Notice the jig on the pic above( beside the bows limb at the right). I always cut patterns of the bows I´m doing. I make them of thin flexible plywood for to get by with the natural curves of a stave, you can reuse them again.

Finally the bow is “shaped” by using a straight stable squared wood, clamps and small wooden logs at different thicknesses.

"shaping" of the green stave
"shaping" of the bow- note the marks at its back, serving as an indication for to get a symmetrical design

As usual in bowery, waiting time now!  2 weeks at least, every 2 or 3 days I´ll check what happens. Rowan doesn´t split to easy while drying, I find it very suited for to do bows of green wood.

I´m becoming more and more a “green wood” bowyer. I did very good experience above all with plum, hawthorn, euonymus and blackthorn, all badly reputated for splitting while drying. Since I worked them being green, no split at all. Almost every bow I do for customers or my own is actually done of green woods. But for the bow- classes I do all the year round with kids and adults I use the long proven air- drying. I´ve always about 50 staves in stock, seasoned for at least 2 years in our barn: a dry and breezy place. Just about 2 weeks before a class, I pick up the staves I need , for to be acclimatized. I don´t use any hot boxes or other methods for to dry bow- staves.

Bow staves Vol. 3 will be dealing with some more samples.

Bow staves Vol. 1- harvesting rowan and whitebeam

Fall is just beginning, the first cold nights, in the morning and in the evening I light a fire in the wood stove in the kitchen. It smells and sounds of winter. Time for the lumberjacks to begin felling the trees  for to earn the money the forest district needs.   

If possible I cut dead wood for to make bows, look for “Harvesting wood- dead wood” .   

In the heights of the Black Forest the lumberjacks have to be very busy, cause the forests are growing faster, due to the fact that the  young ones are leaving their farm- homes for a kind of better life in a nearby city. It´s really very hard to get by being a farmer, cause of the law of inheritance grasslands have become more and more very small. Grasslands and fields are mountainous too.  

The forest ranger is never at a loss to be asked for fire- wood or bow staves, if you cut it by yourself it´s for free. I´ve noticed that the lumberjacks are leaving a lot of great wood, cause they are ordered to work fast and to cut the big trunks, the “moneymakers” and easy to work woods like pine, fir, spruce………….when the lumberjacks have done their job, my job begins.  

Last week the wooded slope opposite to our farm has been thinned out, the lumberjacks know me and have laid aside  2 whitebeams and 2 rowans. Not to big ones, cause the slope is faced to the northeast, so the trees there have been grown slowly and straight, with long trunks, so called norhtern wood. Last Monday I went for cutting the wood, taking it home and checking it out and splitting it to bow staves.   

Usually I pick up the whole tree, we need fire wood for our stoves, we collect the berries of the rowans for to make marmalade, the meal of the  dried berries of the whitebeams is a great additive in every kind of bread for a better taste and for to keep it fresh. My wife is a passionate weaver, she is using natural fibres only and dyes them with plants, so she needs a lot of leaves, bark and lichens growing on some trees.  


lichens growing on a rowan

Lichens are such a great dye, you get real unbelievable strong colours.  

beard- lichens(lat. usnea) are very interesting to watch at, these ones have blossoms looking like tiny ufos
remaining fire- wood and some fence poles- cut-offs, knotty, twisted.......

I check the cutted tree for staves by looking for knot free  straight or slightly curved  sections measuring about 80″ in length and 2″ in cross-section at least. It was a heavy job, cause the slope is steep and I had to throw the staves downhills near the track my car was waiting for to be loaded.  

rowan and whitebeam- a lots of bows

For an easier handling I split the bigger woods into halves before bringing them home.  

splitting a big rowan to halves

I prefer heads of axes and hammers for splitting woods, cause the splitting of bow- staves demands for more accuracy than the splitting of firewood.  

splitting the rowan- step by step
splitting rowan- the end is near..........

This rowan trunk is slightly reflexed making the splitting a delicious job.  

splitting the rowan- some blows from the other side are necessary

Almost done, there is a clean reflexed half for to make a bow, the other half is firewood.  

...........done, me too.........

It was a lot of wood, finally it took me about 7 hours to work on 2 trees. At home I did a closer look at the collected woods. It´s very important to look for a lengthwise harmony, when cutting the woods.  

grown harmony in the woods
grown harmony- cut it like the stave below

The harvest: about 12 very straight staves for longbows, another 10 staves for flatbows, some small diameter staves  to be used in bow- classes for kids.  

Now I´ve to be patient, my wife and friends call me very patient, drying time of these staves is beginning right now. About 2 years curing in a breezy dry place.  

I´m a patient guy but to curious for not to have given bow- making of green woods a try.  

where is the bow?

Next volume is dealing with drying and curing of bow staves and the making of  the bow I explored within the rowan above- a how to make a bow of green wood.

decrowning a bow-stave Vol.1- just a matter of perspective

Decrowning a bow-stave is a very useful way for to take advantage of small- diameter saplings.

Hawthorn, blackthorn, spindlewood, for to call a few of real super- bowwoods are shrubs or bushes, sometimes they grow to the size of small trees. Making bows of them is a delicious job for a bowyer, due to their small diameters they are high-crowned. High- crowned staves are a good choice for a longbow, but if you want to make a flatbow of such a stave you need to decrown it for to get a wider back.

a small diameter high- crowned mountain- maple- cross-section

Look at the cross- section and choose the growthring on top of the stave (the back of the bow), is it running through the whole length? If not, take one growthring deeper………..This growthring is a kind of guide to follow all over the stave lengthwise.

follow the top of the growthring in the center of the sapling
the "way" is marked

It´s almost the same story like to cut a whole growthring, follow the growing of the wood, every bend and curve and knot, the top of the growthring in the center of the sapling is the guide.

......the stave is decrowned- according to the growing of the sapling

It is very important to do the decrowning very equally, so the top of the growthring in the center has to be cut out in equal width all over the length, just as well as the other cutted growthrings. A perfectly decrowned back should look very harmonically. Look again at the drawing above: the sidecuts of the outer growthrings are paralleling the top of the center- growthring. The more perfectly you decrown the more stable the bow will be and it will bend more even, otherwise you could end up at some twisted limbs. Even decrowning is some delicious job to do, it is very worth for to know it. Otherwise a lot of great staves would be fire- wood or fence- posts.

side- view- after having laid out the design next step is to work the thickness of the bow
first bracing- still some tiller- work to do

Mindful readers of the bowXplosion know this bow. It´s one of the bows I used as a sample for to post heat- treating as a great way to enforce and to shape a bow.

Next volume will be on some samples and more how- to pics of decrowning bow staves.