Hornbows Vol.6- sinew- backing the prod

Last volume was dealing with the final shaping of the horn- lam. Now the horn- lam has to be backed with sinew- fibres. But before backing the prod has to be wrapped with bundles of sinew- fibres.

precoating the prod all over its length at least 4 times
The wrappings are enforcing the joints of the horn- slats and the recurves
After having wrapped the prod with the sinew- bundles, the prod is wrapped with cotton- or silk cloth for to press the fibres as close as possible to the prod
2 weeks later the cloth- wrapping is removed- the prod is ready for the backing

About a quarter of  prod´s thickness will be the sinew- backing,  3- 4 layers of sinew- fibre- bundles has to be prepared. According to a total length of 30″ minus the recurves about 25″ of the prod´s length and an average- width of 2″ incl. the sides of the prod , so about 50 sq.inches have to be backed. As a total that means 4-5 buffalo- leg- sinews have to be spliced, at least a job of 8h.

The backed prod- one day after the backing
Closer and better sideview at the backing- one day after it has been done. The backing is still about 1/2" in thickness, when it is dry it will have about 1/3"- 1/4" of the prods thickness.

Waiting time! At first I planned to finish the prod in April or May, that´s to less time for the polymerisation. I´ll do it at the end of August, 9 month after having backed the prod.

So next volume will be focused on the braced and ready to final tiller- work prod.


Hornbows Vol. 4- the crossbow: rough shaping, attaching the recurves

Vol. 4 of “Hornbows” is posted right now!

The first bracing of the crossbow will be soon, I think it will be in April, my report about its making of is time delayed.

After having “puzzled” pieces of horn to a solid block, the block needs to be roughly shaped and the recurves have to be attached. I wanted to use antler as recurves, but I can´t get any antler solid enough for a heavy hornbow, so I ended up in using tips of the waterbuffalo- horns I´ve used anyway for the bow.

Checking the horn- body of the bow- sideview

There is a slight reflex in it, that´s what I wanted, don´t care about any imperfections here, the hornbow needs to be shaped, it´s still to wide, to thick to long.

Rough layout of the final shape for to attach the recurves matching the centerline

The bow has to be cut according to a centerline at 23″ in length, width is 11/2″ in the center, tapering to 1″ at the beginning of the recurves, thickness is about 3/4″ . Thickness and oval cross- section will be worked before wrapping and backing bow.

The recurves will be spliced in, the splice measures 3 3/4″ in length, the recurve itself is 4″ in length. So the bow will end up at 31″ in length.

The v- splice for the recurves

A v- splice is stable enough, even at such high draw- weights, the bow will be wrapped with sinew- fibers completely and sinew- backed. When the splice is cut the recurve will be worked for to fit in the bow.

Even I prefer hand- saws I use my bandsaw with a slaughterhouse- blade for to splice in the recurves
The v- splice is finally worked with a rasp and a handsaw
Checking the fitting of the recurves- the tips of the recurves have to be in line with the handle- section of the bow

For a proper glueing all glue lines are criss- cross hatched with a saw- blade, before final glueing is done, the glue- lines have to be coated with a thin solution of hide-glue.

Next volume is dealing with the shaping of the cross- section, the wrapping and backing of the bow with sinew.

Hornbows Vol.3- the crossbow

that´s how the finished crossbow should look like

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.

assembly of the horn slats, cross section

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.

arrangement of the horn ready for the 1st glueing



arrangement of the horn ready for the 1st glueing seen from above - the back of the bow


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.

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.

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”.

The bow- finding of olon kurin gol- some additional experiences and thoughts

go to:  The bow- finding of olon kurin golthis is where you´ll find a  report about the first reconstructions of the olon kurin gol -bow, details and measurements as seen in the findings. SORRY, this page is currently not available!!!!!!!

In the meantime I´ve done another reconstruction,  I succeded in tillering it at 25″ with 43lbs, it shots a 300grs. arrow with 148f/sec. But the money ran out for the researching project, I wasn´t satisfied too much, I would like to do another stronger one. This bow- design is a working design, very delicious to do. I highly respect the craftmanship of the Scythian bowyers.

Fortunenately some weeks ago a Swiss guy has ordered a 65- 70lbs- version of this bow, I could go on and will keep you update!

We did a big mistake in completely ignoring the fact, that the bow has to be wrapped with sinew- fibres all over its length, even we noticed the tracks of the wrappings. But we didn´t like the nice wood to be covered and wrapped it only at the sharp curves. This bow has to be wrapped allover for to keep all those slats together.

Finally Adam Karpowicz ended up in having to wrap his reconstruction of the Subeixi- bow completely too.

Due to the facts of the findings we assume that the wooden Scythian bows have been made and used by the Western Scythians, the Eastern Scythians made and used their bows with a center- piece of horn running all over the length of the bow, like a component of stable shape.

It is also thinkable that the wooden version of the Scythian bow is made for the use on horseback, Adam Karpowicz´s exact reconstruction of the Subeixi- bow has turned out to be very strong, 115lbs at 28″. According to the statements of nowadays mounted archers this is not to handle on horseback?

The tiller of the olon kurin gol bow is different from the tiller of the Subeixi-  bow. The Subeixi bow bends heavily in its sharp curves just beside the grip- section and in its grip itself.

The olon kurin gol bow is 3cm in width at the grip- section, the longer limb is tapered from 3cm to 1.5cm at the recurves, the shorter lower limb is tapered from 3cm to 2.2cm. So the main bending takes place in  the limbs, not in the sharp curves and the grip.

According to the findings and the reconstructions of the Scythian bows it is fact that they are made of wooden and horn- slats.  Recently some other bowyers have come up with reconstructions of Scythian bows made as hornbows are usually done: horn as the belly, wooden core and sinew-  backing, it works, but it is not according to the findings. Anyway the Scythian bow is an eye- teaser.

scythian hornbow, but done as a usual hornbow

Anyway the successful reconstruction made me proud, I have to admit that I didn´t got a feeling for the making of a bow like this, it is so strange to make such a delicious and weird construction consisting of 12 wooden and 2 horn- slats, so many glue- lines. Why did the Sycthians bowyers have made bows like this, I thought over this question, discussed it with other bowyers. From a bowyers point of views it is a deflex/reflex bow with sharp recurves, a still popular design. I guess the Scythian craftspeople liked to do filigree works, look at their jewelry. Above all its a question of the preference for special designs, design as a kind of a “language” of a certain culture or tribe…………..

With much less effort a bowyer could do a better performing selfbow in one day……………….

But we´ve experienced the making of Scythians bows, I guess we really know it now.  Scythian bow- reconstructions according to findings having been done by Adam Karpowicz,  David Betteridge, myself,  Jack Farrell is still waiting for the drying of the sinew- backing. There´s a reconstruction made of sinew- backed osage  the German bowyer Wolfgang Schwerck did some years ago, a very nice bow, even it is not made of slats I like it, sorry, but I can´t find the pic……………..if you ignore or don´t try to understand history, you´re doomed to repeat it………….

Some additional pics:

scythian bow- and arrow case, according to the olon kurin gol findings
from R.Toelle- Kastenbein´s book: Greek archery, quivers, unbraced scythian bow



1st trial of a Scythian wooden bow, sorry, it is broken
2nd trial of a Scythian wooden bow, 25lbs at 22" only, but she´s nice