sinew- backing Vol.1- nothing new on the planet-choosing and preparing the sinew

I hope I´ll be able to write an article after some weeks of posting nothing. Sorry, but this winter has begun really hard, after the best fall we have had here, winter has come with really a lots of snow and very cold nights.

winter has just begun- snow and ice at the creek behind our barn
all is white, grey, black, icy

There is much less snow and cold down in the valleys, to live in the heights of the Black Forest in winter is an extraordinary experience. You really feel a bit lonesome.

And it´s every year the same story, everything seemed to be prepared well, but every year you´ve forgot something.

When it comes to sinew- backing I´m getting always enthusiastic. It´s such a great technique and a prime example for an absolutely sensemaking cooperation of humans and nature. It´s a highly holistic and synergetic technique. Maybe we´ve heard something like…….” the old ones have used every part of a hunted animal………….”. It comes true when making a sinew- backing. For to make a sinew- backing we need leg- sinews and hide- glue, so called by- products of a fine steak(I´m a vegetarian, using the “waste” of the meat eaters?). I could philosophize hours about sinew- backing…

The principle is to enforce the back of a bow to withstand the tension when drawn by using  one the most flexible fibres and glues nature offers( nature is never cheap, it is always luxurious). So a modern backing made of artificial fibres and epoxy are nothing new on the planet- same principle- but highly poisonous and polluting, for nothing to say about its durability. A well done and well treated sinew- backing will survive any bow backed the modern way.

It´s very important to know that any backing will add a lot of weight to a bow decreasing its efficiency. It makes no sense at all to back a bow longer than 55″. Historically the bows of the Plains Indians and hornbows have been sinew backed. So the bows of the horsemen have been sinew- backed,  they had to be made rather short for a better handling on a horse´s back. This is the case in the sinew- backed wooden bows of the Plains Indians. Hornbows need a highly flexible backing, cause horn is by far less tension- strong than pressure strong

A sinew- backing is often recomended for to repair a bow. It works very well if there will be a small crack at the back, or it is a good option if the bow- stave seems not to be as perfect- maybe there are many tiny knots or some loose splinters etc…………..

There are another types of historical bows that were not only backed but completely wrapped with bundles of sinews: remember the hornbow for the crossbow I´m just reconstructing, the highly delicious bow- constructions of the Egyptians and Scythians, the joints of the siyahs( the highly recurved tips of hornbows) to the bow- limbs.

I´m wrapping almost every extra piece of wood I add to a bows handle. Sinew fibres are used for to adjust the feathers at an arrow, for to enforce the fitting of an arrowhead to the shaft.

Sinew fibres had been the sewing thread of the past. Its real power is evoked when soaked into water for some minutes before using it, when it dries it is shrinking at about 30%, that´s a lot and it makes clear how our ancestors had been able to produce waterproofed seams.

It is often told that a sinew- backed bow is very sensitive to humidity. That´s really true, any sinew- backing or sinew- wrapping has to be sealed with an oil(linen-seed, walnut, olive, bee´s wax…….). A sinew- backed bow is a weapon to be better used in a dry climate for to come into its own. Historians are telling that the Osmanians would have conquered Central Europe too, if their hornbows wouldn´t have performed so bad in the more humid environment.

The best sinew for to make a backing of a bow is leg sinew of deer, elk and buffalo. I prefer buffalo leg sinew, cause it is easy to split. But it is hard to get. So I often  have to use deer- or elk- sinew, elk- sinew is longer and easier to split than deer- sinew.

leg sinew of an elk- tools for getting the fibres

The length of the elk- sinews is about 11″, the hammer is needed for to tenderize the sinew. After a few blows the skin will peel away and the colour will become more white.

pounding the sinew on a stable wooden log
progress in pounding

Where the sinew is dividing into 2 strings it is very dense and hard, I cut this part off and offer it to our cats and our tame magpie, she likes to play with it, some day I watched the magpie soaking the piece of sinew in her small bird bath, I was really done!

take a gripper or caliper for to go on
take a gripper for to go on
progress in splicing the sinew with the gripper

It´s really a hard work to do, the fibres are sticking together very strong.

the fibres within the sinew are building a kind of a very close net

Having a closer look to sinew its main constituent is keratin, a protein and a polymer. Polymers are building chains, these chains are cross- linked heavily.

some sinew backed bows l.t.r.: a west coast style painted juniper bow- another west coast style painted hickory bow- a typical unpainted Plains bow- a splitted limb Epyptian hybrid hornbow- and the sinew fibres of one elk- leg sinew
sideview at the Plains bow, a ready sinew- backing is so thin, almost not to see on the pic

To splice one elk leg- sinew takes me about 2 hours, usually for a Plains bow or a hornbow you need 3- 4 sinews, backing the bow will take you another hour.

For to get sinew ask your local hunter, give him some money, cause it´s a bit of a delicious job to cut the sinew proper. Dry it at a save place for 3- 4 weeks, mice, dogs, cats……… like fresh sinew.

Don´t use sinew of farm animals. I´ve had to make a very sad experience when preparing my first sinew- backing. I got some sinew of cattle from a farmer nearby, when I begun to pound it, it returns to dust. This cattle has never been walked on grazing land, has always been chained in a dark stable till the butcher was coming.

Next volume is dealing with the applying of the sinew at a bows back.