Recently, when I was just finishing another bow made of green rowan, I realized the woods of the rose family– rosaceae- have become my favourite bow- woods. So nice to work them with the axe, the draw- knife, they are not at all poisonous like yew, euonymus, black locust…….they smell well……………..an experience for the senses.
Best rosaceae for bows are rowan, whitebeam, hawthorn, wild cherry, choke cherry, cornel cherry, plum, even dog rose will work very well if it is old and thick enough. The trees of the rose family are eye- catchers, wonderful blossoms and fruits. But they know how to defend all their beauty and richness with more or less heavy barbs.
Roses are a symbol of life and love, of beauty itself, roses are red like our blood. The most expensive perfums are made of roses. Roses are dedicated to the Gods Aphrodite, Dionysos, Isis, Flora and Eros.
Roses are medically used as an antiseptic, hawthorn is well known of its benefits in treating heart failures. The fruits of the roses are usually called rose hips, fine jellies are made of them, the dried fruits of whitebeams could be floured and added to a bread dough.
The wood of the rosaceae is great to work, very solid but not to hard, almost no splintering, easy to bend with steam, one of the best woods for to be heat- treated. But all rosaceae are very delicious to dry, I had to do a lot of trials and errors. Cause rosaceae are little trees or even brushes with smaller diameters they split easily while drying. I prefer to work them green, never had any split when doing so.
I´ve to thank Wikipedia for the pics!
Next volume will be focused on 2 short bows made of dog rose.
It is a must to degrease the wood or the horn, don´t use some of these chemical killers, just use a solution of water and pure wooden ashes. Take care: this is a killer too, it´s a base, historically used for degreasing, use some working gloves.
Wether to apply a sinew-backing to a wooden bow or to a hornbow, to precoat with a thin solution of glue several times is an additional must. Otherwise the glue can´t penetrate deep enough the wood or horn, the glueline is not as stable as it could be.
The sinew- backing needs to be well organized: the workshop has to be well tempered, the glue has to be heated up to 140F or 60C, too much heat will destroy the glue. To less heat will leave the glue to tough.
A dish of lukewarm water has to be prepared for to soak the sinew- fibre bundles about 2 minutes.
Thebow has to be fixed in a small vice.
The glue has to be kept to the right temperature with some tealights. The containers used for soaking the fibre- bundles and for the glue have to fit the length of the fibres.
Go on applying bundles towards the tip of the first limb. Usually 1 bundle will cover about 1/2″ of the width of a bow´s limb. The bundles should be applied staggered for not to end up with a running through the width glue-line.
The guy helping me this post to become true is Stefan, making a Hun- type style hornbow(asymmetrical). It´s his first sinew- backing. The sinew- backing just covers the v- splice with the siyahs.
Two additional layers will have to be applied. 2 – 3 layers of sinew- backing is enough, wether it is a wooden bow or a hornbow. Otherwise to much weight is added to the bow. Waiting time is beginning just right now. The elders have left a sinew- backed bow for 4-8 months alone. I don´t know why a lot of modern “primitive bowyers” are ignoring the fact that the so- called drying of a sinew- backing is in truth a polymerization. Polymerization needs its time!
“Time is a healer, where is the patient? “(T.S.Eliot)
Next volume is dealing with the tillering of a sinew- backed bow.
After having survived 3 winters here in the heights of the Black Forest, the actual winter began a bit lately in December but such heavily with tons of snow. Around the 15th of January there was a bit thaw, but the snow came back, again icy temperatures. We all were awaitng spring to come at the earliest in April. But my horse was telling me another story, since a week or so I was wondering why she was rubbing her winter coat off.
Last Saturday I found it to comfortable outside for not to go for staves. Last fall I´ve cut down some locusts nearby, time for picking them up and to split them. The last 3 winters there was no way to go to the forests for picking up staves cause of the heavy snows.
The slope where the ranger has adviced me to fell down the locusts is quite steep, the ground was still frozen, a bit dangerous for to handle my chainsaw. I preferred to use my heavy tenon saw.
It was quite exhausting to carry the logs to my car, cause I had to leave it about 100m away.
Last Monday I splitted the logs into staves.
The drying crack indicates my way for to split the log, again self bowery is much on cooperating with nature.
Using the first drying crack will guiding the split just right along the center of the log, 4 blows with a light hammer did the job.
Almost knotfree straight staves, some of them reflexed and so some deflexed staves too.
After cutting of the bark it´s drying time, I´ll leave the staves outside till it will rain or snow, the first warm breezes of February will let the staves dry fast.
Next bowXplosion will be of “The perfect bow Vol.1”, a picture- heavy build- along of a real ideal design for wooden bows including how- to´s and measurements, heat-treating revisited and explaining “the tracking of a selfbow”.
Another advantage of using green wood for to make selfbows is the possibility to shape it while drying. Vol. 1 was focused on working a green bowstave a bit longer, wider and thicker than the final dimensions will be. So drying will help us again in making working easier.
But for to draw the drying wood into a shape a jig is needed, a kind of “shaper”. Don´t expect to much what is possible to get. I recommend slight deflex, reflex or recurve. For more curvature I reommend steam- bending( there will be an article about it soon). Anyway I´m not a friend of highly reflexed or recurved bows, maybe they are somehow looking wild or fast, but their performance is often quite disappointing compared with the challenge of making and shooting them.
The jig: as a mindful reader of the bowXplosion you still know it. It´s one of these multi- jigs I prefer so much, it could be used for heat- treating too. And its easy to do.
It is made of a squared timber of douglas fir(2″ x 4″ in cross- section). Be generous and choose a real stable timber, maybe some found beech would be a better choice. The curvature is suited for to get a slightly deflexed bow with long slightly reflexed tips. Usually bowyers have more jigs with different curves: more or no deflex, reflex all over the complete length, more reflex or even some more recurved tips. Anyway it is a good idea to have more than one of such jigs avaible, when a bow made of green wood is drying you can´t use the jig for heat- treating.
The most important thing is to get a right angle all over the length, otherwise you´ll end up with a twisted bow.
The parallel lines are indicating a center- line for to fix the bow straight.
Sorry this pic is not to good, but you see the string of this is running just at the edge of the handle: the bow should be fixed at the jig so, that the string is running a bit more towards the center of the handle. Heat- treating is so genius, it is possible to correct twists, to add deflex or reflex and at the same time drawweight is increasing!
Anyway it is possible to use a squared timber without sawing any curves, just straight and stable enough, the shaping could be done by using blocks of wood or cork as displayed above.
Next volume is dealing with tillering the dried bow.
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.
There are still some details to work, tillering it at 30″, about 55lbs, sanding, polishing, coating with walnut- oil.
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.
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.
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:
This rowan is dedicated to become a deflex/reflex– flightbow, 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.
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.
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…………………..
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the best rowan staves I´ve ever come across, one straight half, so easy to split.
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.
Bow staves Vol. 4 will be focused again on making bows of green wood.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 are such a great dye, you get real unbelievable strong colours.
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.
For an easier handling I split the bigger woods into halves before bringing them home.
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.
This rowan trunk is slightly reflexed making the splitting a delicious job.
Almost done, there is a clean reflexed half for to make a bow, the other half is firewood.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Heat- treating is the most important way for to boost wooden bows, for to correct their shape or to heat in a small reflex, slight recurves, a small amount of deflex. But there ar limits. Soft or open porous woods are more suitable for heat- treating than dense woods like osage orange or black locust. An eligible candidate is moutain maple, it is the wood of choice if you need a solid core for a hornbow, cause it is the wood with outstanding glueing capablities due to its open cell- charcter. Less bowyers know about the outstanding performance of heat- treated mountain maple- bows.
Recently I had been ordered to do a selfbow for a 12 years old girl, she wanted a bow of maple. Among my mountain maple- staves there was a small thin fitting strip of mountain maple. Cause it was cut from a small diameter- sapling, it was such high- crowned, that I had to decrown it first ( decrowning bow- staves will be a soon upcoming topic at bowXplosion). I cut the bows´ design, tillered it at a drawlength of 21″, drawweight was 12lbs, the favored drawweight was about 20lbs. I decided to heat in a bit deflex in the center of the bow and to reflex the outer limbs for to get a shape like the half of a hexagon. This is a very powerful bow- design ( bow- design and geometry will be another upcoming topic at bowXplosion in fall).
If there´s only a bit adjustment work , a small amount of deflex or reflex to do, heat treating every marked section for about 2 minutes will be enough. It depends, heat treating dense woods could take 30 minutes/limb.
If the heat treating wasn´t succesful repeat it. After a heat treating, I leave a bow clamped for 24h, than I brace it checking the tiller again, maybe there´s something to rasp. Finally a full draw will point out a result. If the bow will keep its heated in shape, you´ve got it.
The bow kept the heated in shape, the drawweight has increased from 12lbs to 21lbs.
Next volume is focused on heat- treating juniper and hawthorn and heat treating vs. steambending.