Thursday, 5 June 2014

Yew Primitives

I've sorted out my staves, there aren't any simple longbows there, but I have 3 staves that should make nice Yew primitives. I've got three people after them too, one guy wanted an Otzi bow but the information on it is a bit scarce and it way well have been all heartwood. Effectively it was very much like an English longbow, I don't really have a suitable stave and to make one without a sapwood back would need some very clean heartwood and seems like potentially an accident waiting to happen... mind if I find a length of Yew with damaged sapwood but clean heartwood I'll give it a go. Meanwhile I've offered to make a primitive instead, but I don't know what draw weight or length! So that bow's a no go for now, but I can be roughing down the staves to get them flexing.
I don't mind if he doesn't want a primitive, but I need to know so that I can make what is wanted. I have people chasing me for bows that I haven't got the wood for, which is why I would never do it commercially or take deposits for bows. I do it for the love of it and can only use the wood I have!

The one I've picked up is the longest and has a bit of a waggle in what will probably become the upper limb. One guy is after 50-60# and someone else wants about 45# at 27".
There is often discussion about splitting or sawing staves. I think there is a huge argument for sawing Yew as it's so hard to find. Once you are roughing it down with a draw knife and even marking it out with a pencil the lie of the grain will make itself known. That's why I've sawn it out with a waggle, I'm respecting the flow of the grain even with a bandsaw.

Talking of drawknives, mine was getting a bit dull and has a bit of dip in the centre of the blade where it was nicked. I'd been trawling the web looking at sharpening techniques and one suggest avoiding any motorised methods entirely. I found an extra coarse stone on the web which said it would take off good amounts of metal and refurbish damaged edges. When it arrived I was shocked at how small it was, however, when I used it, it did what it said! Mind it still required a good amount of time and effort, but my drawknife is now cutting better than ever. I've also ordered one of those big cigar shaped scythe sharpening stones which may clean it up even further and will be good for putting an edge on some of the garden tools... yes spades can be sharp!

Working a stave that is half a log can be deceptive The belly obviously shows heartwood, but due to the curvature it can appear from the side view that the sapwood is much thicker than it is. E.G The sapwood could curve right over the sides of the bow making it look entirely sapwood from the edge, whereas in reality the heartwood is bulging up in the centre of the bow... maybe a pic would help.

You can see from the pic there is a temptation to remove far too much sapwood from the back. The trick is to have a good look at the end of the stave not just the sides and belly.


  1. Hi Del
    Im Andy. Im 28 and ive been making bows for a few years now. I started right at the deep end with some Laminated war bows. But much prefere the simpicity of solid stave bows. And up to now have made about 10 working bows. Mostly Ash. with only a few brakages and mostly posotive results. Over this period ive realy struggled to find Yew quality enough for a bow. Ive only made one Yew bow so far and have dreems of making more. But its just finding the stuff. Do you have any tips on finding or a supplyer of and kind for quality Yew? Any advice would be most welcome on the subject.
    Kind regards
    Andy Levy wood sculptor

  2. It's difficult to find decent Yew, just make it your business to examine every Yew tree within a 2 mile radius of your home. Ask any local tree surgeons. There's a lot of luck involved, but mostly it's just keep looking. Meanwhile have a go with Hazel, much nicer to work than Ash, but prob' better in a primitive style.
    BTW, Look out for 4' straight length too, as splicing can give you a workable stave from 2 shorter lengths.
    Good luck

  3. Ayup Dell, Dwardo here,

    Best thing for sharpening a draw knife or an axe is a mouse-mat, some sandpaper and some wood. Works brilliantly. Creates a perfect convex edge. Different grades of paper and you can whip through dings on the edge. Best using emery paper mind. Then if you have a flat plane on one side of the draw knife I use a stone to keep it true.

    Great blog as always Sir.