[Bordermarch] A&S day Bow making

Lathrop, Dave David.Lathrop at valero.com
Mon Jun 15 08:46:46 PDT 2009

Greetings unto Bordermarch,

First and foremost, HE Elisabeth and I wish to thank everyone for their participation in Bordermarch's A&S Day. It turned out far better than anyone was expecting, and we only yet touched upon the talents of our populace!

I shall endeavor to describe to those who missed out on the Bow-making class a brief description of what went on.
Lord Phocas and I set out to teach others the very basics of making a usable bow from store-bought boards; also, bows made the traditional way from staves of wood split from the log then nurtured into a bow using traditional methods.
Those of us who were not taking the middle eastern dancing lessons headed to the barn where the bow-making class was to be held. I have a really nice big window AC unit that I use to cool my shop, but unfortunately it fell out of the window the other day and broke. It was a little warm in the shop, but once the first few beads of sweat popped out on everyone's head, all was well with the world.
I started the class off by passing around some of my early attempts at the bowyers craft;  the mistakes I made were quite obvious. One hickory backed walnut bow broke because of my overzealousness when I pushed the bow past its design limits. I had originally designed it to require 40 pounds of force to draw it to its proper draw length, but I decided to pull it with 60 pounds of force and it broke. I did not follow my own advice to never pull a bow past its designed draw weight. The cherry wood bow I passed around had internal structural flaws that could not be seen, and only appeared when the bow was nearly finished. It didn't break in half, but a chunk did fly out of it when it was stressed too far. Linen or rawhide glued to the back of the bow was strongly advised due to the inconsistencies in the grain structure of wood from the local lumber yard. The backing will help contain the stressed fibers when the bow is pulled to full draw. Everyone learned that they could go to the local lumber yard , and with careful scrutiny, pick out a 1"X3"x72" oak board for about $8.00. The board could then be turned into a useable bow with a few simple tools and elbow grease..
Lord Phocas brought a piece of Osage wood that had been split from a log. Osage is one of the premiere bow woods use by bowyers in the fabrication of traditional bows. He explained the importance of following the grain when making this style of bow, and the results that would occur if the grain was breached by the bowyer. Tools of the trade were displayed, and demonstrations that showed the use of the tools were also shown.
Although we did not have time to actually make a bow during the class, Lord Phocas and I split his Osage stave on the band saw, and will be able to make at least two or three nice long bows from the wood. Since the bow staves now resemble bananas, we will have to steam them to straighten them out.  A steam box will be constructed where the staves will be placed for a few hours. They will be saturated with hot steam, thereby rendering them pliable enough to bend into straight Osage bow staves. We barely touched on the many aspects of bow string making and the proper finishes to apply to your bow once it's finished, and we shall save arrow making for another class.

Once one gets involved in the bowyers craft, one begins to realize that the traditional bowyer used many of the crafts we use in the SCA today. A knowledge of trees and their specific properties was required by the bowyer to enable him to harvest and cure his bow stave to obtain the best results. Our ancestors lives and livelihoods depended on a bow whose performance was absolutely predictable. The ancient bowyer could not run down to the local hardware store and pick out the tools he needed for his craft. Many times the bowyer had to make their own tools. This would certainly require some knowledge of blacksmithing and general woodworking. The bowyer needed to know how to make his own bow string. This required some skills that are shared with the textile craft and rope makers of the day. Most bow strings were made from Hemp, a plant that is still used  to this day to make rope. Once again, they had to be able to identify the plant, and be able to cure it properly before it was used as a bow string. Leather working skills were required to fashion the grips on the bow if it was desired by the bowyer. Arm braces and finger tabs, as well as arrow quivers needed to be made from leather. Some bows had carved string knocks on the tips of the bows made from horn. This would require at the very least some skills with working bone and horn. If the bowyer made his own arrows he had to harvest fletching which was usually goose feathers, as well as make his own arrow tips from bone, stone or metal.
It was Lord Phocas's and my desire to inspire others to try their hand at bow making. The shop is always open, and we will certainly welcome anyone who needs to use some of the machines and tools for the construction of a bow. We hope to get enough folks interested to be able to start Bordermarch's own Bowyers guild.

HE Santiago

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