Saturday, 30 October 2010


I've taken the belly of the Hazel bow down with a spokeshave until flexed a good bit when I pushed against the grip with one end against the floor and the other end held in my other hand (this is known as floor tillering). I then put it on the tiller with the string adjusted so it would just go onto the bow. I've pulled it a bit to adjust it to a vaguely even flex on each limb, just 2 or 3 inches tip deflection. I don't want to bend it too much and make it take a set (permanent bend). I'll heat treat it now and then get back to tillering after giving a few days rest. Meanwhile I've narrowed the grip area a bit, just roughing it out.

I'm deliberately making it very assymetric so that it really sits nicely in the hand, and provides an accurate location for the arrow pass whilst still shooting off the hand rather than an arrow shelf.
I did this on my Ash/Cherry bow and it felt really comfortable.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Working on the Hazel from early August.

The Hazel I harvested on August 6th has been drying nicely, the log was sawn in two with the best half with the flattest crown retained for a big wide flatbow. The other half was sawn to give two quarters, one of these has been roughed out and seasoned quicker on a warm radiator in a spare room. Hazel seems to respond well to this treatment without warping, or cracking.
I've marked it out as a bow about 60" long, it was going to be 2" wide near the grip tapering straight down to about 1/2 an inch.
The grain runs at a very slight angle so I've move the centreline of the bow to compensate and keep it as straight as possible, this lost a little width, (it's about 1.75" now) so it will be a good bit slimmer than my trusty old 'bark on' Hazel bow (more pics of that bow on my website).
I intend to heat treat it so the reduced width and consequent increased thickness hopefully won't lead to excessive set.
I'm aiming at nominally 40 pounds at 28" . As the bow will be pretty short I might see if I can get it to flex through the handle (which would be very tricky), or at least have a very minimal grip to maximise the working limb length. I'll be aiming for a nice full arc of a circle tiller shape at full draw.
This will be a new bow shape for me, I shall keep the underbark surface as the back or the bow and have a flattish belly (I won't decrown this one).

The stave has a slight reflex at the moment, doubtless it will lose this during tillering, contrast this with the Hazel flatbow which has followed the string (31/4") and needed that mug put under the grip to support it for the photo. It will be interesting to contrast the two when it's finished.
The Hazel is a joy to work compared with the hard intransigent Ash of the last flatbow (talking of which, I must sew the leather grip back on).
I've done all the roughing out with my axe, then a spokeshave, it's cuts fine and clean, there is a little tearing at knots or when running against the grain but it's more like slicing a nice firm cheese...mmmm that's making me hungry now.
There are some fine streaks of the cambium layer still on the back of the stave, some of these are in fine grooves in the wood surface. I may leave them in the finished bow, I'll see how it scrapes and sands down.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Arrow Speed Testing

I spent some time in the garage shooting through the chronometer, it's a bit tricky to get consistent results as the arrows are still flexing at short range.

The Ash Meare Heath style bow is fast, 147.3fps (that's just over 100mph) which is pretty good for a 36 pound bow (just measured it on the tiller after final scraping and finishing), probabaly my most efficient bow in terms of arrow speed /draw weight.
You can see how the heat treatment has accentuated the grain in a striking manner.

The Yew Longbow was 150.3fps (102.4mph)

Good News Bad News

The Yew stave I roughed on Thursday has developed a few cracks, annoyingly near that nice ripple. That side of the stave will need removing. I've got plenty of length to play with so I should be able to position the bow within the stave to avoid any problem areas. It's had about 8 months seasoning and is still shifting, I've de-barked it now and as it's been thinned a bit it should settle down soon. That's the nature of this game do a bit, leave it a month, do a bit...

The Ash Meare Heathe bow is now heat treated and has had since last Friday to re-acclimatise so I shall string it and see how it goes, lets just hope it doesn't snap like a dry stick (after all, that' s what it is!) I'll post some pics over the weekend.
Ah well I've just strung it, the tiller still needed some adjustment on the lower limb, so I took yet more wood off, but the draw weight is now above 40 pounds! The bow has very little set in it and it shoots fast, I can scarecely believe it, I'm now rather embarrassed by my scepticism.
It may still settle down so I musn't get carried away, the bottom line is I've removed wood and gained draw weight, so it's pretty much got to be faster. I shall have to try it on the next Hazel bow I build, I can see I'm going to be running around heat treating everything I see...Ooooh coffee table let's blast that with the heat gun.

I shall take the finished longbow to the club and shoot it in some more, hopefully the guy I've made it for will be there.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Busy weekend

I've finished off the Yew yeoman's bow, plain and simple no horn nocks, no arrow plate, 52 pounds at 28", but it can come back well beyond that. The slight S shape in the bow still shows at full draw and there is a nice bit of character to it. I marked the arrow pass with a simple split circle which sort of represents a C and a D for Del the Cat (my nom de plume on the archery websites).
I bought a heatgun to experiment on the Ash Meare Heath bow which went skew whiff on me. It's digitally adjustable to give decent control (£30 from Screwfix). I clamped the weak limb flat to a piece of 2x2 and started heating it at 200 degrees C, it didn't do much and I slowly increased the heat, I found I could toast it to a light golden brown at 350-400C. My previous failed attempts at heat treating had been too hot too fast.

I left the bow for a day while I went to an NFAS open shoot at Avalon Archers in Bedfordshire.
A great day out, up hill and down dale in the woods, a beautiful setting and a really well organised shoot. There were some great longshots down hill through the trees which I missed, (tricky with the soft trajectory of the 40 pound Hazel primitive bow I was using).
My best shot was a first arrow inner kill on a Bobcat at about 30yards...
There were all sorts of bows there, there were a few other primitives there, plenty of longbows and recurves. I hadn't seen compounds shoot before, not my thing, but they were very impressive, so fast you could barely see the arrow go.

Today I've unclamped Ash bow, the limb is now dead straight and decidedly stiffer than the untreated limb. I shall now do the other limb and see how it stands up to the tiller.
It looks very promising.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Some early roughing out.

Last February Big Sis and I cut a couple of Yew logs one crisp frosty glorious sunny morning.
One I quartered, the other was slightly triangular in cross section so I sawed one flat face off to become a Yew flatbow. The remainder was problematic, do I make one bow or try to cut it and get two? I left it until now.

A few days ago I ran it through the bandsaw to maximise the use of some wonderful tight thin sapwood, it was cutting it a bit fine dimensionally. A lady wants me to make her a 40 pound draw weight Yew bow and I thought I could see one in there.
Of course you don't get owt for nowt and the price I paid was a bent stave (across the bow not fore/aft) . Well half an hour in the steamer and a few G clamps soon sorted that out.
I'd been having sleepless night thinking about how to cut it, straighten it and would the resulting stave still be thick enough for a bow. It's been worth the effort.
It's gorgeous, I couldn't resist running a plane over it to show the wood, and it hasn't darkened with age yet!

The pic is taken in artificial light and the red doesn't show so well, but even with my dodgy red/green colour vision (like a lot of men) I can see the red in it.

I love that wiggle by the knot half way up, it will be a nice feature in the finished bow. The grain is nice and close too. I havn't taken the bark off yet and it's got some more seasoning to do. I shall worry away at it, doing a little here and there and de barking it, I might even give it a go on my extra long barely warm radiator in the spare room.
I think it's going to be a gorgeous bow, and hopefully fast too.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Tiller shift

I was flaberghasted yesterday, but today I've re-worked the Ash bow a bit and had some input from the guys on Primitive Archer, they've met this sort of thing before, so I'm not going mad.

The bow is down to about 30pounds draw weight now but looking much smoother, I might shorten it or try heat treating it, a process I've not used before and am slightly sceptical about. Native people heat treat wood in the embers of a fire to harden it, and some bowyers swear by it.
A hot air gun is the modern way, I've tried a test on a bit of Hazel and it didn't seem to work, but maybe I'll give it a go. It sounds a bit hit and miss though.
It's discusssed in the Traditional Bowyers Bible Vol 4. Maybe I'll ask Santa to buy it for me.

I've had a look at my Hazel staves and have de-barked one to make a replacement bow... if you fall of the horse, you've just gotta get straight back on.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

I Can't believe it...

I was going to sign the Meare Heath style Ash bow and put on the draw weight/length, so I put it up on the tiller to check the figures.
I couldn't believe it, it looked horrible, the lower limb seemed to be bending too much near the handle, not actually a 'hinge' but it looked like something made by a beginner, and it had lost a little draw weight.
The bow has been shot a fair bit over the last two weeks and has performed fine, there's so sign of excessive set, chrysalling or damage. I've no idea why it's shifted like this, anyhow, I've adjusted the limbs a bit to even them out but it's lost about 10 pounds of draw weight in the process.
It's destined to be extensively re-worked I think.
This just goes to show that we all get bitten on the backside now and again. I'm very glad I hadn't sold it, because if it had been returned to me in this state I'd have thought it had been badly overdrawn or otherwise abused.
This bowmaking is a constant learning process, but this episode hasn't enhanced my opinion of Ash.
Give me Yew or Hazel any day.
Oh yes, and if anyone who reads this has had a similar experience with a bow please contact me!

Steamed it.

To help increase the draw weight and to give me more chance for final tillering I've steamed the lower limb to match the upper one, there is no overall reflex.
I does give it a slight look of being reflex deflex, but I've only steamed the lower limb (left one in the pic), you can compare it with yesterday's post.
I'll leave it for a week to dry out before bending it on the tiller again, but in the mean time I can clean up the back which is the under bark surface of the log and has some nice character.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Yew Longbow

I've been tillering the Yew longbow which I roughed out about a month ago.
Very soon it was back to 28". I could scarcely believe it, the bow is very much thicker than my 75lb longbow which I used a a guide for roughing out, yet the draw weight is barely 55lb, I was aiming for 60.
There is always much debate about the merits of English Yew, and this illustrates the variability. I'm not going to draw conclusions from just two bits of wood but I shall record my observations.
My favourite 75lb bow has very clearly defined heart/sap wood and is closer grained than the piece I'm working on. The 75lb was cut from heathland, the one I'm working on cut from wet fetile soil where it was probably planted as screen to disguise a carpark 50 odd years ago, maybe it's a faster growing variety? The one I'm working on has poorly defined heart/sap wood, on one side of the bow it shows, but on the other it is more diffuse.
There is a huge difference in the relative strength of the two samples, however the wood still works nicely and has plenty of spring.
If you looked at the two and was asked to pick out the strongest bow based on it's dimensions you'd pick the wrong one.

The stave has a bit of an 'S' shape to it with one limb reflexed a tad and the other strongly deflexed, I shall steam the deflexed limb to straight and hopefully get back to the 60lb I was aiming at. The deflexed limb is to the left... be honest that bow does look pretty fat for a 55 pounder doesn't it!

I'm begining to see why some people have said it's hard to make a high draw weight warbow from English Yew, maybe they had a piece like this.

I shall try and keep an open mind and it just goes to show the joy of working with natural material.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Busy Weekend

Finished a dozen self nocked arrows for a forthcoming primitive shoot and continued tidying the garage.
I made a bow rack which lifts my bows off the floor, which was slightly damp in the corner. I made good use of some scrap timber and offcuts of carpet.
The picture is slightly posed, and I somehow managed to chop the sting of my Chinese repeating crossbow in half as I was tidying (there is a lot of leverage and the string must have got caught by the mechanism).

The self nocked arrows seemed to fly particularly well from the Ash Meare Heath bow, I'd used slighly weaker spined shafts this time and I found my point of aim was no longer a tad right as it had been and I had to stop shooting after 5 arrows for fear of doing a 'Robin Hood' and splitting one of the arrows or ruining a nock.

My refurbished arrows seem to be fine too. I don't think I've ever had so many arrows before. Happiness is a full quiver!