Hornbows Vol.1- selecting, cutting, working the horn

the materials for 2 hornbows and a bow for a crossbow

Here we´re: 2 pairs of waterbuffalo- horns cut into strips( outer and inner curve, sidewalls), a bundle of 12 leg- sinews of elks, a mountain- maple bowstave and a bag of hide- glue.

Here we go: I´ll post the step- by- step making of a hornbow(hybrid- style) and of a hornbow for a crossbow(medieval European style, about 150lbs).

You know, I´m very ambivalent about hornbows, I admire the making of a hornbow with all its cultural backgrounds, I´ve been involved into the reconstruction of Scythian, Greek and Parthian hornbows for years. For to tell the truth, hornbows have never blewn me away. The term hornbow is totally overloaded with myths, mares and nightmares, arrogance, mistaken masculinity………………….a hornbow is a very ineffective way to make a bow. Anyway it´s fascinating, maybe that´s the magic of horn.

a pair of matching horns

Horn has been reduced to be a main symbol of male power, but remember the unicorn, the cornucopia. It is still used by some tribes and people for to receive cosmic vibrations in rituals or for to enforce the power of organic fertilizers or it is a fertilizer itself. Horn is still a material for to make jewelry, cups, drinking horns and combs. Book covers had been made of horn.

Horn is an ingredient of remedies, mainly for to enforce male virility, but it is also known as a kind of emergency remedy.

In craftmanship horn is used as a stabilizer, when compression strength is needed. Due to its density it serves well as a container for liquids. Chemically horn is a polymer and is made of keratin, a protein that is building long molecular chains. Keratin is the basic component hairs, claws, finger nails and scales are made of.

When engineers tried to develop the first plastic materials horn was the model: they wanted to create a dense, resilient, break- prooved, and temperature- resistent material. Charles Goodyear succeded in inventing ebonit, the first volcanic rubber. Next one was the invention of galalithe, which really looks like horn, radio- cabinets and small boxes for cigars and cigarettes were made of it.

Horn is by far the most compression- strong natural material. Its modulus of elasticity value is great, you can compress a piece of horn at 10% of its length, it´ll always reconstitute its original length. So it is an ideal material for to make bows.

Its main disadvantage in making bows of it, is its high physical weight, so its use in a bow should be reduced to the compression- range of the limbs of a bow. So it is a matter of course to make a hornbow as a relatively short bow too. The shorter a bow, the more tension is stressing the back of a bow, a hornbow without a sinew- backing for to reduce tension strength will not work. A core of wood works as a kind of adjustor between the sinew- backing and the horn. The wooden core is needed for to keep the bow in line, for to withstand humidity, the ancient hornbowyers have called the wooden core the skeleton of a hornbow.

First step is to get the horn. Nowadays we´ve to buy it, our ancestors were carefully selecting the horns needed for to match the required quality. They even observed the buffalo or ibex: were they nourished well, to old, to young………….they had to take the best horns what they had been able to find. Actually the best horn to get is horn of water- buffalos, it is big, long and straight. The water buffalo is not an endangered species. The horn- supplier of my choice is Highlandhorn, run by Martin Hyslop in Scotland. Martin knows what hornbowyers are longing for, you can even tell him what kind of hornbow you want to make, he´ll serve you well. Maybe there´ll be problems with the customs, ask for it. Martin knows that a hornbowyer needs identical horns, a so- called pair of horns. The radiuses of the horns have to match, that´s for to get symmetrically bending bow- limbs.


Usually you get from Highlandhorn what I´ve posted above. Next step is to cut the bottom of the horn even and to plane its outer and inner curves. For to make a hornbow for a crossbow the sidewalls have to be planed too. The hornbowyers are looking for the outer curve of the horn, cause you can cut a long and wide strip of it.

Horn is a natural material, it grows like wood, there´re growthrings, if they are cutted the horn will break. So the sidewalls can´t be used for a hornbow. The hornbow of a crossbow is made like a dry- stone wall, that´s a different principle of construction.

In former times hand tools had to be used for to work the horn. That´s not that hard you may think of it. I´ve done my first horn bows with axes, saws, rasps…….knives, above all for to get a feeling of the material itself. Sometimes I´m still working horn with hand tools, it is an outstanding experience, but usually I prefer a flex for to cut and plane horn. Some hornbowyers advice the use of a bandsaw for to cut a horn, hands off, that´s really dangerous! I´m a former cabinet maker I really know to get by with a bandsaw and I´ve cut horn with it, but severeral times there had been some risky situations, for not to talk of the disrupted saw blades.

the groovy surface of a horn
to pre- plane the surface of the horn with an axe
sidewalls of the horn- remaining groovy areas after planing with a flex

Sometimes the grooves in the sidewalls are to deep for to be planed, leave them and try to get by with the remaining wall.

the bottom of the horn is cutted even- it is very obvious where the walls of the horn are thick enough- have a close look to it, for to notice cracks like the one at the horn´s rigth side near the top
the four sides are planed

The bottom of the horn is very thin, for a hornbow a thickness of at least 1/8″ is required, so some horn should be cutted off. The tips of a horn are solid and thick enough, they will be the belly of the bows handle.

the first horn is cutted, the others are planed- the marks for the cuts are done
cutted outer and inner curves- sidewalls

The required width is about 1″ – 13/4″, twists can be adjusted with heat. Don´t use horn to much twisted anyway, horn is always trying to reconstitute its original grown shape.

So what a hornbowyer is usually longing for should be a long, wide, almost rectangular, not twisted  horn with no deep grooves. That´s a dream, sometimes you´ll meet horns like that. Usually there´ll be some problems.

Next volume is focused on preparing the horn for be glued to the wood and the making of the hornbow for the crossbow: thickness, width, grooving.


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Horn bow Vol. 1- selecting, cutting and working the horn

Sorry, I´ve announced the Hornbow Vol.1 to be published today, but when beginning the article I can´t find the corresponding pics. I was almost flipping out, but finally I met the pics in a false folder.

O. k., that´s history, tomorrow, maybe Sunday Hornbow Vol.1 will be out.

Scythian bows- short update fall 2010

Stephen Selby, the founder of the ATARNet, has recently taken part at a meeting of archaeologists, historians……. for to discuss the excavations of xianjiang. Look for: yanghai bow

There´ve been Scythian- style bows, with a similiar curvature to the saka bows of shanshan, but done in the usual hornbow- manner: horn as belly, wooden core, sinew- backing.

The yanghai- or subeixi- bow technique is not the only way to make a Scythian bow, as I thought it to be and some ” strongheads” are repeating it again and again.

The subeixi bow- technique was obviously predominant from 800- 200BCE, the excavations of the more “usually” done Scythian bows are related to 1200- 800BCE.

So, the Scythians had been aware of different techniques to make bows, there had never been any “one and only Scythian bow”.

Asymmetrical bow- designs Vol.3- maruki- yumi made of juniper

Maybe you remember this stave:

 

juniper stave spring 2010

 

I have cut it last spring, just when winter has gone, look at: harvesting wood

In the meantime it has become a maruki- style bow, a yumi made of a single piece of wood, the fore- runner of the delicious to do yumi made of bamboo. It measures 75″ in length, 11/4″ in width at its widest point at the handle.

 

the juniper maruki- at 26",48lbs

 

There are still some details to work, tillering it at 30″, about 55lbs, sanding, polishing, coating with walnut- oil.

 

juniper- maruki braced- slight recurves

 

The recurves are steam- bent, the s-shaped natural growing was at first heat- treated, but without any appreciable succes, so steam bending was required. The bow insisted on keeping a bit of its natural shape, I agreed, the string is running across the handle. Juniper is quite delicious to heat- treat or to steam bend, cause of its content of essential oils. The workshop smells great when working juniper. Store the splinters as a remedy against clothes moths.

The ratio of the length of the upper limb to the length of the lower limb is 1.61- the Golden Ratio.

 

sideview- unstrung

 

 

belly view- s- shape, the string is crossing the handle at the left side, where the arrow is shot off

 

The string is made of linen, the slight recurves are wrapped with thin  buckskin, the handle is wrapped with a thicker buckskin, buckskin is naturally tanned with fat.

Eventhough I prefer short bows, I like this style of “primitive” yumi, due to its asymmetry it makes you feel to shoot a somewhat shorter bow than it really is. For to use it to full capacity, I guess I´ve to take some kyudo lessons.

This bow makes me feel very happy: juniper is one of my favourite plants, but I´ve never succeded in making a juniper- selfbow, they´ve all broken. I succeded in making shorter bows of juniper by backing  them with sinew, juniper is very compression strong but tension weak. But this stave is completely knot- free with very thin growthrings- perfect. Done as long selfbow, it is a durable character bow.