Aldo Leopold on making bows

Dear Herbert:

“I am sending you by express a yew bow, which I have been making for you this winter.  I have enjoyed it because it was a way to express my affection and regard for one of the few who understands what yew bows—and quail and mallards and wind and sunsets—are all about.”

“I cannot assure you that it is a good piece of wood.  Staves, like friends, have to be lived with in many woods and weathers before one knows their quality.  The fact that the stave is yew, has a specific gravity of .432, came from Roseburg, Oregon, and has been waiting for a job since 1930, is no more a test of how it will soar an arrow than the fact that a man is a naturalist, weighs 160, and has had time enough to season, is a test of the zest or nicety with which he will expend his powers in the good cause.  All I can say of this bow is that its exterior “education” embodies whatever craft and wisdom is mine to impart.  What lies inside is the everlasting question.”

“I have tried to build into this bow the main recent improvements in bow-design, but since some of them are not visible, they will bear mention.  The square cross section and waisted handle are of course visible innovations, but probably less important than the new location of the geographic centre.  In former days this was pub close under the arrow plate, but in this bow it lies as near the centre of the handle as is possible without overworking the lower limb.”

“The horns whence came these nocks were pulled off the skeleton of an old cow on the Santa Rita ranges” . . . “The slight flaws at the base of the upper nock are the measure of the seasons which bleached her bones before (she) was found.”  “I doubt not that many a black vulture perched on her skull meanwhile, and many a quail and roadrunner, coyote and jackrabbit played their little games of life and death in the hackberry bush hard by her withering hide.  Did that stodgy old cow, whilst living, know, or get any satisfaction from knowing, that within her growing horns she was converting her daily provender of desert grama and sun-dried mesquite into an enduring poem of amber light?”  “Does a yew tree glory in fashioning from mere soil and sunlight a wood whose shavings curl in ecstasy at the prospect of becoming a bow?”  “These are questions meant for an archer to ask, but for no man to answer.”

“One cannot fashion a stave without indulging in fond hopes of its future.”. . . “On many a thirsty noon I hope you lean it against a mossy back by cool springs.  In fall I hope its shafts will sing in sunny glades where turkeys dwell, and that one day some wily bucks will live just long enough to startle at the twang of its speeding string.”

“And lastly if the bow breaks, with or without provocation, pray waste no words or thoughts in vain regret.  There are more staves in the woods than have yet sped an arrow, all longing to realize their manifest destiny.  Just blow three blasts on your horn and I will make you another.”

Yours as ever,
Aldo Leopold

Found it here. About Aldo Leopold go here.

Nothing to add, just a perfect point of view.

What, if a tree has a soul or a mountain thinks?

Some News and a sale…………..

Getting more and more involved into flightarchery and bow-classes with kids I´ve decided to sale some of my longtime personal favourite bows- I don´t need them anymore. I´ve posted  3 of them here, this is my german speaking blog, if you´re interested in one of these bows or if you want more details and pics post a comment here or send me a mail. The next days there will be more offerings.

Next posts are dealing with a new retro-styled flightbow made of yew, some new flightarrows and the final tillering of the crossbow.

The summer has finally begun to be hot and our family has grown- 3 young sheep, a very rare breed, an endangered species, the alpine stonesheep, actually there are less than 1000 of them alive. They will provide us with wool, milk, maybe with horn( I even can´t imagine to slaughter the ram, his name is Carlos and he´s such a smart and tough guy).

And I´ve seeded flax for the first time, even the summer had been wet and a bit cold, the flax is in flower now- what a great blue-, now I´ve to wait some days before harvesting and drying it for to split into fibers and to make my first homegrown bow- strings. I´ll post the whole procedure in details.

Sorry, I´ve lost the pics somehow, I promise they will be posted tomorrow.

Spring, Spring, Spring…………………….

After a short but very cold wintertime, spring is back again!

First outdoor shooting 2012 with my kids- bow-class at the T.Heuss Gymnasium at Schopfheim. The times inside we made new arrows, armguards , we did some maintenance of the bows and strings and some gymnastics focused on the course of motions when shooting a bow.

The  kidswere fit as fiddles, Simeons first shot 2012 was a “kill”, the balloon explodes!

Checking the bows and arrows, dressing the new selfmade armguards
Stephen shooting a bamboo bow
Looking for the arrows, the red balloon is still alive
Simeon( in the middle ) has just "killed" the balloon with a mountain maple selfbow.

Spring has come.

Next bowXplosion is on flightbows again, the retros are ready as well as an interesting tonkin- cane bow with forged limbs.

Perfect wooden Bow? Vol. 1- speed matters

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flight 137.5 braced at about 4" - made of osage at the top and made of rowan at the bottom
The flights unbraced
The bows backs, at the top there is a simple flight- arrow
That´s the speed for the osage flight 137.5- arrow length is 20", it is weighing 195grs.
That´s the speed for the rowan flight 137.5, same arrow as above

I´m a happy man with that speed and a very satisfied bowyer too. It took me almost 20 years for to make wooden bows performing as fast as hightech- bows- that´s great!!!

Don´t ask me now, why these bow- designs are coming out such fast. It´s some try and errors, I´ll need some time for to realize it. I´m that type of guy following something and not really knowing why.

Above all I was heavily inspired by Marc St. Louis recently posted short elm flightbow, have a look at PALEOPLANET

I just want to do it. I thought about it and come up with some variations. Just have read something about the Golden Angle as a very a well known construction principle in former times(A- frame houses) and in nature(flowers, crystals……). So I gave it a try. Instead of joining the limbs with a tapered finger joint, I attached the well prepared limbs(shaping, steam- bending the angle, heat- treating) to the handle and fixed it with dove tailed wedges, the rowan flight 137.5 is done this way. Don´t be confused about some leftovers of the wedges of a former trial. My first trial went wrong cause I bent the limbs backwards to much while heat treating them. So I cut the limbs of and could use the handle again. The handle is made of mountain- maple, the wedges are made of field- maple as well as the v-spliced in siyahs.

The limbs of the osage flight are v- spliced into the handle which is made of flowery ash and reenforced by small logs of blackthorn at the belly, shaped so for to keep the string as near as possible to the limbs and to allow a comfortable and secure grip.

Length of the osage flight 137.5 is 46″, width is 11/8″ at the handle tapering to about 1/2″ at the tips. The rowan flight 137.5 is measuring 50″ in length, width is tapering from 11/4″ at the handle to 1/4″ at the tips.

Sorry, but I´m still suffering from a badly influenza, so I felt not strong and tough enough for to make the chronos at full draw. At full draw speed will be 200plus f/s.

The design is combining ancient designs like the Angular bows of the Egyptians, the Scythian bows, a lot of the insights of Marc St. Louis, Tim Baker, Steve Gardner, Alan Case, the ATARNET- and PALEOPLANET- members, Adam Karpovicz´ ideas and work on “low stack bow- designs”. Last but not least it is a result of the www and the networks, so this is a kind of global bow.

Next volume is updating the chronos and tells the making of the flights 137.5





Sinew- Backing Vol. 2- nothing new on the planet- applying a sinew backing

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.

The bow has to be fixed in a small vice.

The setting for a sinew- backing: f.l.t.r. dish for soaking the fibre bundles- bow- heated glue

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.

1st: soaking the bundles in water for at least 1minute, when removing them press some water out of them
2nd: soaking the bundles in the glue
3rd: Applying the first bundle right at the handle

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.

Flattening of a bundle on the bow´s back

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.

The first layer is done!

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.


Making bows of Green Wood- Vol.3- the rowan bow is ready

After having drawn the rowan bow up to 18″ I had to work the tiller a bit for an equal bending. I left it aside for about 7 weeks, last week I could finish the bow. Checking tiller again, sanding, cause of the beauty of the wood at the handle I didn´t wrap the handle with leather or some woolen cloth:

A very fine grain in the wood at the handle

I always try to leave the natural grown shape of a stave. Usually I end up with a very charming and comfortable handle.

Belly- view at the handle- I´m in love with the natural shape of this handle

The string is made of linen, two- coloured, some natural coloured strands mixed up with some yellow dyed strands.

The padding of string is done with red silk.

Backview of the bow

I left some tracks of the inner bark(cambium) at the back.

The bow at 4" brace- height

The tiller of the bow is looking uneven, but limbs are still twisted a bit, maybe I ´ll try to balance it. Depends on the performance of the bow.

The wood is dry now(12%), I picked up the stave 5 month ago.

In the meanwhile I´ve done some more bows of green wood, I really prefer to do wooden bows of green wood now. I could exercise much more control on the drying- process, the wood seems to be much less stressed by the drying, done the usual way causing splits and twists. Now you´ll always find some preworked green staves fixed at square timbers.

Green wood seems to respond way better to a heat- treatment and could be pre- shaped by just fixing it near to the final shape at a square timber for some weeks.

Bows made of green wood perform as well as bows made of 2 or more years air- dried staves!

I´ll shot the bow for performance this weekend and will update you soon.


BowXplosion 2011- miscellaneous news

I´m deeply impressed by the “revolutions” in Tunisia and Egypt, first network revolutions?

There are much more important topics than self- bowery?

The power of the social networks is such great, I don´t know it exactly, but traffic on blogs is increasing heavily too. Whereas the traffic on forums is running down, it´s a pity but my favourite bowery – forums- PALEOPLANET and ATARNET- are going down.  Maybe people have had enough of the always pro and contra debates and the so- called chief- arguers.

The books of Don Tapscott are very enlightening the understanding of social networks and the web 2.0. Here is a link to a so-called digital native

That´s exactly my experience when running bow- classes with kids

A great blog to go is elfshot

This is the blog of the Canadian archaeologist Tim Rast, he´s above all a flintknapper and specialized in reproductions of the Arctic and Subarctic.

James Harrod of the Originsnet gave me a hint to the most exciting report focused on arrow- making of Amazonian Indians, I´ve ever read. Go for the Journal of  Anthropological Archaeology, Vol. 30, “Ontoloy of the self and material culture: arrow- making among the Awa´hunter- gatherers”, no way to set a link, google it. The article is telling how an arrow is related to the human body.

Next bowXplosions will be Vol. 4 of bow-staves, sinew- backing the crossbow, next volume of Making bows of green wood and Vol.1 of nothing else than “The perfect bow”!

Making bows of green wood Vol. 2- A very helpful jig

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.

the jig- sideview, it´s 60" in length

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.

.......take care of the right angle.......

The most important thing is to get a right angle all over the length, otherwise you´ll end up with a twisted bow.

Draw parallel lines on the jig- at intervals of about 1/2"

The parallel lines are indicating a center- line for to fix the bow straight.

......the jig could also be used as a ruler for to check the straightness of a bow

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!

Heat- treating or drying- jig without curves

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.