Flemish style string, bow tip
Since making a bow a few weeks ago, I’ve been working on learning the other skills needed to complete a traditional archery set. First was the string. I had been using regular nylon string from the hardware store, and it’s amazing how much better a real bowstring performs at transferring energy to the arrow. The bowstring is composed of 14 strands of Daycron / B-50 fiber twisted into two bundles which are also twisted together, called a Flemish string. The twist of the full string on the bow is what holds the twistings of each loop together without any knots, glue or other fasteners. I haven’t put the serving on yet (this is a thin string wrapped around the bowstring where the arrow is nocked) because I’m not sure if the string will need to be shortened by twisting the string further, but it shoots great without it.
The photo on the right shows the tip of the bow. The notches were filed into the wood with a chainsaw file and do a surprisingly good job at holding the bowstring. The red oak is about ½" square at the tips and gets progressively thicker and wider toward the center of the bow, which is almost six feet long.
I’ve been borrowing some arrows from a friend at work, but have successfully made a few arrows of my own. I used 11/32" cedar shafting, dipped in spar varnish thinned with turpentine. After the finishing, building an arrow is a fairly straightforward process of tapering the ends for the nock and tip, and affixing the feathers. The nock and feathers are glued with what smells like cyanoacrylate glue and the points are glued on with hot melt glue. Hide glue would be more traditional, but for my early efforts I’ll stick with something simpler.
Cedar shafted arrow
The target shown in the photo is a series of dog food bags, filled with newspapers and taped together (two things we have a lot of are dog food bags and newspaper!). Each bag probably has between eight and ten newspapers in it, and there are at least eight bags taped together. It seems to work well with the steel field points I attached to this arrow. My previous target was a cardboard box filled with packing peanuts, but that was only good enough to slow down the arrows. Even with rubber blunt tips (“bunny busters”), they’d go right through the box and skitter down the driveway.
I still need to experiment with the best shafting, arrow configuration and point weight for my bow. Because the arrow rests to the left of the centerline of the bow, this means that the arrow is actually bent against the bow as it’s released, and if the shafting is too stiff or not stiff enough, the arrow won’t fly true. I haven’t actually noticed this effect, so either I choose the correct “arrow spine” (50-55), or I just haven’t shot enough or from far enough away to see it.
At this point, I can hit the bag about 90% of the time from 25 feet away (beware home invaders!), and can hit an area the size of a DVD about 50% of the time from that distance. But I haven’t shot nearly enough arrows in succession to have a feel for it yet. I have taken my bow out on the trails with rubber-tipped arrows (OK, arrow), but if I came upon a snowshoe hare within my limited range, I’d have to get very lucky to hit it. Even with a .22 rifle, snowshoe hares can be a challenging target. As my friend Igor says, “If it was easy, it’d be Fred Meyer.”
I still need an arm guard, finger tabs and a quiver, but haven’t really settled on what varieties of these accessories to use.
Here’s the bow and an arrow in my target:
Bow and arrow
Drawing my bow
Today I made a bow from a board. I started with a 1x3 piece of red oak, and ended up with the bow seen in silhouette in the photo on the right. It’s an American flatbow, similar to what many Native American tribes (including some Inuit) used. In mine, the upper and lower limbs don’t have quite the same shape and it has a lower draw weight than I had planned on, but I think it was a good first attempt at bow-making.
The hardest part is finding a board that has straight grain lines running all the way down the face of the board. You cut and smooth the sides first (it’s about 1½” wide at the handle and gently tapers to ½” at the tips) then begin tapering the limbs (full thickness at the handle, gently tapering to ½” at the tips). After each thinning the bow is drawn slightly further up a tillering board (a piece of wood with notches cut into it to hold the string) and the shape is evaluated to make sure it’s bending the way you want. My mistake was in thinning the wrong limb too much without making similar changes to the other half of the bow. Once I realized this, I had to remove a bunch of material off the now-thicker limb and wound up with a bow that is easier to draw than intended. Since I haven’t actually shot an arrow from a bow since high school, a light drawing bow is probably a good idea until I’m ready for something more powerful. This one is reasonably easy for me to pull, and shoots sticks very smoothly.
Tools used: I used a rip saw to cut the board to rough dimension, smoothed the saw cuts with a wooden jack plane, made the initial taper with a drawknife, and did the majority of the remaining adjustments with a coffin smoother, an adjustable mouth block plane and a handled cabinet scraper. Probably should have used the scraper more and the hand planes less. Volumes 1 and 4 of The Traditional Bowyer’s Bible were invaluable, and I think I could have used the other two volumes too, if I’d had them. There’s a ton of information in those books for both the beginner, and advanced bowyer. In addition to volumes 2 and 3, I need some real arrows, a target, and more wood for more bows!