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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
It´s really a hard work to do, the fibres are sticking together very strong.
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.
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.
That´s a typical medieval crossbow. Its bow is made of horn, backed with 2- 3 layers of sinew, wrapped with sinew and covered with birchbark. The bent ends or recurves of the bow are made of another spliced in piece of horn or antler. These crossbows are told to draw 150- 300lbs. The bow measures in length 30″ – 35″, at the handle width is 2″, at the ends( just where the recurves are beginning) width is 11/2″, thickness is about 3/4″ at the center tapering down to 1/2″ at the ends. The recurves are measuring about 31/2″ in length.
The horn slats are assembled like the stones of a dry stone wall, no running through seams or joints. It would be no problem to use thinner horn slats, it depends on the available material, so their could be 7 rows of horn slats adjoined. The lengthwise joints are butt joints at a 45 angle.
First is to glue the orange slats, then insert the black slats, last add the red and green slats to the sides. So there are 5 rows of slats. The back of the assembly of horn slats will be cut even, rasped to an even thickness and width, than the tapering in width and thickness has to be done. The rectangular cross- sections will be rounded more towards the belly of the bow. Time for a first test of tiller(even bending), drawforce, any sounds of breakage??.
In the drawings of the cross-sections the sinew- backing is marked blue.
The cross- section at the left is another way to do a hornbow for a crossbow. Just glue at least 2 slats together lengthwise one upon the other and sinew- back them. This is an easier way. But it is not recommended for really high drawweights up to 200- 300lbs……………..and it´s hard to find horns measuring such long enough with a roughly even required thickness. The dry stone wall method makes a more effective use of the entire horn.
Next volume is focused on the next step of the making of the “dry stone wall”, and I hope so, on sinew- backing in general.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.