About 20 years ago I´ve harvested a short sapling of juniper at the coast of Southern Toscana near the wonderful Elba Island. I’ ve made my first West Coast style juniper shortie of it.
I love these bows, even it is hard to find a fitting stave of juniper or yew, even they are delicious to tiller. Some of these trials broke, the others turned out to be long lasting and great shooters. Due to the shortness of these bows, they are not that effective in penetration, but shot with matching arrows and a drawlength of about 23″ usually at 40-50lbs they are fast and a highly mobile weapon. Juniper or yew backed with sinew( usually one layer is enough) is a killer- lam.
I prefer to shoot these bows with the traditional fore shaft arrows and bone- tips. The West Coast arrows were made of a main shaft of reed and bone- or stone- tips. The needed thick- walled reed doesn’ t grow in Europe, so I go for small bamboo. Cause of my great experiences with well- grown larch, I use larch as a fore- shaft.
Usually I cut the main- shaft as long as the bow’s drawlength.
The West Coast bow is definitely the bow of Ishi, whom nowadays bowyers are owing a lot. Go here and there for further Information.
Sorry, sorry again, for this time-delayed report about the making of the prod for the crossbow. The prod is almost ready, maybe within the next 2 weeks I´ll go to do the final tillering.
The final shaping of the horn- lam is a delicious job to do, cause while drying horn-lams are more or less twisting sidewards. The job to do is to end up with a straight, symetrically prod- lengthwise, in width and in thickness with oval cross- sections. The cross- section of the recurves should be rectangular. I don´t use any machine for this job, machines are nothing else but very fast hand- tools, too fast for delicious jobs, no machine can replace the feeling I got from shaping and tillering thousands of bows by my own hands.
A rough shaping has been done, the recurves had been spliced in, time for final shaping.
My wife will use the horn- splinters as a fertilizer in our garden. The white lines on the back are cutted through glue- lines.
I´ve even bent it some 5″ for to check an even tiller of the 2 limbs– if you do bend a horn- lam the first time, it´s a horrible experience, cracks and cracks, that´s the usual sound………when I bent my first horn bow years ago, my nerves were done.
Next volume is dealing with the sinew– wrapping and sinew- backing of the horn- prod
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.
After having flexed and sanded 2 pairs of waterbuffalo- horn you´re really smelling strong, the smell in my nose reminds me of my first visits at the barber around the beginning 60ties. Even if protected by a mask, it will last 2 days if one will be able again to smell more than horn. I´m used to be around with animals, every morning I´ve to clean up the stable of our horses and our donkey. Donkeys could really stink heavily. I like the smell of animals much more than the smell of cheap perfumes and deos, but the smell of horn, above all when worked with blunt tools, is second to none.
Before the glueing horn needs to be grooved and precoated. The grooving of the horn and the wooden core of a hornbow along the glue- lines is a hot topic. There are well reputated horn- bowyers confirming that there is no historical proof for such a grooving. Don´t believe them, the very opposite is true. Grooving makes much sense, the glueline will become 3- 4 times wider, a grooved cross- section is much more stable. The stability of the glue- line of a hornbow is a must, cause of its resilience the horn will always try to reconstitute its original shape. To not groove means to overlook this fact, maybe these hornbowyers are somewhat lazy. It takes half an hour per hornbow to make a proper grooving. A well done hornbow is expensive and the grooving is enforcing its quality. A well grooved glueline should be a main charcteristic when buying a hornbow.
I prefer to make multi- tools. This grooving tool works for to make grooves of different width and depth. The one used for the grooving of the crossbow- slats is at the left. I use cabinet scraper- blades and made the grooves with round files or triangular files. The blade is fixed between to wooden logs of manageable size with a slot working as a guide. The slot is a bit more in width than the slats.
The grooved slats are cut at their ends in a 45 angle for a lengthwise overlapping.
When making a hornbow for a crossbow the slats have not to be of even thickness or length, the surfaces have to be planed and grooved. Next volume will be focused on the construction- principle of it.
When making composite bows the traditional way hideglue or fishglue is the glue of choice. Modern glues are way of being traditional, they ar poisonous and brittle. Natural glue- lines are much more durable, they don´t need flexibilizers which will discharge in the course of time. The production of natural glues is a very sense making use of what we would call waste. It´s a holistic handling of a slaughtered animal.
There are different qualities of hide glue. Don´t use liquid hide glues. They are made liquid by flexibilizers, the glueline will become brittle.
The best hideglue is made of the skins of cattle, its adhesive power is very high(for the experts: 450- 480 bloomgrams, 160mPas). You can get it as a granulate, the serious dealer of my choice is: Kremer in Germany.
Before soaking the grains I usually had to clean up the glue- pot. It´s hard to do, I soak it with warm water for to dissolve some leftovers, for the final cleanup I´ve often to use a hammer and a chisel.
Next morning add water: for a good quality hideglue you´ve to mix finally 1 time glue and 2 times water. Now the solution has to be heated up to 140 F, to much heat will destroy the collagen of the glue and it will become worthless.
I use the hot water reservoir of our kitchen stove, the glue pot fits the reservoir exactly. Such a kitchen stove is a great tool when making hornbows, for a proper glueing warmth is indispensable.
The Ottoman hornbowyers are told to have used a bowl filled with blistering charcoal.
My wife doesn´t resist such an abuse of our kitchen, cause its me to cook most times and I´m a passionate baker too, I bake bread almost every 2nd day and like to make some cake. I guess my wife has never realized that I use the kitchen stove for to make bows.
Horn is very dense, so it has to be decomposed or digested by precoating it with a thin solution of hide glue.
At least the horn has to precoated 3 times with a thin solution of hideglue. When glueing horn, bamboo and dense woods with natural glues the precoating is a must. Warmth is as important as the precoating, about 50% of all hornbow- breaks are caused by glueing failures. The horn and the glue are mainly made of collagen, as a protein, it loves warmth, but take care, 140F is the limit. I guess nobodies nose will ever forget the horrible smell of somehow burnt horn or hideglue. My nose is the best thermometer for warming hideglue and horn.
Before every glueing or precoating the horn has to be warmed!
After the 3rd precoating the hideglue is warmed up to 140F, the grooved and precoated slats are warmed, coated with the hideglue and compressed with clamps.