Sunday, 31 May 2015

Flexing "Second Chance"

The reworked broken tipped Warbow is now 50# at 24".
Here's a still grabbed from the video and a short clip of it actually flexing.
The tillering needs some work still but it's looking pretty good. The right limb had been much stiffer than the left, but now it's reasonably balanced and I can work on getting both limbs curving nicely.
The left limb is a bit stiff mid to outer limb. As you watch it flex in the video, it looks like the right is doing all the flexing and the left is just pivoting down. All a bit subtle (especially at this short draw length*), dunno if you can see what I mean. It's a bit touchy feely at this stage. You really need to get your eye in to how it's moving, which is why I use the video, I can sit back in comfort and study it with a nice cup tea. I think newbies tend to rush at it and don't take time step back and look and think and ponder. The more I look at it the more it stands out like a sore thumb! Still I have 4" more of draw in which to sort it out, hopefully I'll have it coming back further and better by tomorrow night.

The way the thickness of the sapwood changes along the edge of the bow makes it look odd in places. Notably about 1/3 of the way along the right limb where there is a whitish mark on the wall, the limb looks very thin there... don't worry folks, it's just one of those optical delusions! (that's a deliberate Malapropisms in the name of humour)

* That's the irony of tillering. You need to see the problems early, but it's harder to see 'em early because there is less movement to observe!

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Cream Crackered

I've been sorting out the central heating, flushing out the indirect hot water heating coil... I was up until midnight... got it done tho'. It left me tired, grumpy and cold (the plumbing is all out in the garage, and I got a bit wet).
This morning I thought I'd take it easy ( having dried my tools and tidied the garage first) and go up the club for their AGB Open Day, show off a few bows, watch the medievals shooting heavy arrows and shoot a few 3Ds to demonstrate field archery to the visitors.
A lovely sunny day, I saw the Hazel Warbow in full flow, it's shot in now at a full 32" draw now and hasn't taken any set.
I demo'd the whistling arrows and shot twister on about 10 3D rubber critter targets, I only needed 2 arrows on one of 'em... it was nice to feel I'd got my mojo back.
I didn't even feel the weight of the bow or consciously think about aiming. I think having an audience helped, I was chatting about how target archers take an eternity and they know the distance of the target...
I said, "This is about feel for the distance and letting your eye and brain do it without trying to think about it".
I added that, having said that, I'd probably miss!
With that, I turned, drew and loosed in one smooth motion... Thud, in the target, just outside the kill at about 30 yards.
Got back home pleasantly tired.
I'll have a nice cat nap and then watch the cup final... might get to work on the bows tomorrow.

The guy collected the Italian Yew 50# on Friday. I got an E-mail saying it shoots really sweet, better than his laminated bow.

Monday, 25 May 2015

More Italian Yew "Second Chance"

Strange things coincidences... they always happen together!
I've been given a damaged Warbow (nasty split/crack) near one end to re-work as a ladies bow. 50# at 28" again (it probably won't be drawn 28", but the extra draw is there for moments of exhuberance!).
I had been expecting to leave it a month or so, but as I had my eye in for that weight, I've jumped onto it... also the weather and other stuff has kept me off the gardening.
I sawed off  8 1/2" to get rid of the crack/split and set to re-working it.

What a contrast! This Yew is similar to look at to the previous stave and oddly, it also has two almost identical big knots which will be on the upper limb!
The big difference is I can't use edged tools on the heartwood! Now I'm not daft, but even using my spokeshave with the blade freshly sharpened, set to cut fine and held obliquely to give a slicing cut...
It just tears the wood, reversing the stave doesn't help!
So it's rasp, rasp and rasp some more. The sapwood is ok with the spokeshave, I've had to reduce that a bit where I'd otherwise be all sapwood and no heart wood.
There is no trace of the Warbow's surface left visible now and it's flexing at a low brace to about 50# @17" This one is the middle of the thee in the pics.
The picture shows the slight extra width on the upper limb around the knots, the rest of that limb needs the width reducing to match the lower... oh joy... more rasping!
This bow will henceforth be referred to as "second Chance".

I've also been working another 50-70# at 29" It's spliced billets from the Yew I got from Newmarket a couple of years ago. By contrast this cuts smooth as silk with the spokeshave, is finer grained and only tears at the knots. My conclusion? Judge the wood on the merits of the stave.
I'm not sure this bow will work out as the billets have a fair old reflex to them (vaguely matched). The problem is one of motivation, the guy I'm making it for is in Australia half the time and hasn't had a chance to visit. I find, once I've met someone, it's hard to procrastinate.

BTW. The lower bow in the pic is the totally finished Italian Yew 50# @28" which has now had 100 arrows through it and a new string made for it.

Saturday, 23 May 2015


I've done the arrow plate, the guy wanted a Warbow look, and that would have been without an arrow plate... BUT if heavy arrows with binding on the fletchings are used it can severely rasp away at the wood, so I said I'd do an arrow plate from the same pale horn as the nocks.
As I was sawing the horn for the nocks I ended up with a slice which had the whitish centre of the the horn showing through it... ha! I'll use that for the arrow plate, subtle, but with a petit je ne sais quoi.
Note the "crack" showing in the knot just right of the arrow plate. I put crack in inverted commas as it's more like a drying check where branch that forms the knot has seasoned. It may well move slightly over time and form a very slight pinch. E.G a tiny ridge where compression has closed up the gap and raised a tiny ridge which can be felt with a fingernail. Pinches are quite common around belly knots, especially if any manky material hasn't been removed around them. You can see, this knot looks very sound, it is also at the thickest part of the bow. The crack is effectively radiating out from the central pith (which shows as a black spot) of the branch that forms the knot.

People often ask how I get such a good finish on my bows. The answer is simple...
Looking closely and repeatedly and patience. If you can see tool marks, take them out! It can be a mistake to labour away with sandpaper rubbing and rubbing along the grain. One of the big myths about abrasive paper is "use it along the grain" ... errrr. No not if you are tying to take out a tiny score mark that runs along the grain!
If you compare the pictures of the knot on the side of the bow from the previous post and this one.
In the previous post there are obvious rasp marks still visible. 80 grit paper used diablo fashion across the edge of the bow rounds it off and takes out the marks, I think I used a scraper too, very delicately.
Yes you finish along the grain with (in this case 120grit) and that takes out the marks left by the 80 grit. *
Only 120! I hear you cry... yes, sometimes going too fine doesn't help. The Danish Oil I use recommends finishing with 120 as it hold the oil and allows some penetration.
Anyhow, each to his own and we all have our pet techniques for finishing.
The other big question is how do you know when to stop? You stop when you realise the tool mark you are trying to remove is actually a feature in the grain!

*Yes I know there are still some fine marks visible! This is just the clean up after the first coat of Danish Oil and more fiddling and fettling... mind it is a "warbow" not an exhibition piece.

That's not to say all bows need to be finished to a high degree, but it's about being true to your own aims. If you want a rough and ready warbow look with scraper flutes showing down the bow, that's fine and you should display them with pride.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Full Draw at Last

I got it to 50# at 27" and realised that once it had been strung for half an hour it would probably be 50# at full 28" draw. It's had a wipe of Danish Oil and now needs an arrow pass and some fine tool marks taking out, but it's near as dammit finished now.
I'll get some arrows through it to let it settle, I normally like to shoot at least 100 through a bow before I let it go.
Here are a load of pics showing some of the features, knots on the side and back, the blue stain by the bottom nock and the top nock which is so translucent you can see the grain of the wood through it.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Nearly There

It's down to some fine rasping and scraping now to perfect the tiller.
The horn nocks are on but not polished and I've borrowed a string from one of my other bows. It feels quite lively and is now pulling about 50# at 26" from a full brace height. (That interpolates to about 55# at 28").
It's taken a hint of set in the upper limb near the run of large knots, so I won't take any more wood off in that area. I'll mostly be easing off the tips and getting them working more, although they have already been narrowed and thinned a good bit when I fitted the nocks.
I've also been going over the back carefully looking for any signs of cracks opening up round the knots, which have all had a soak of low viscosity superglue to help fill any porous areas where the bark on the pin knots comes through. It doesn't really add strength, but it will stop any damp getting in and help seal it for the final finish. If there is any sign of problems at the knots on the back I can fill them and overlay a sapwood patch to ensure the strength of the back like this:-

I've now shot 4 arrows through it and left it braced all morning.
Some careful study, cleaning up here and there and relieving any thick spots and it will be there.
I'll give it plenty of exercise leave it braced off and on all day and shoot some more arrows. The last couple of inches doesn't usually take much work, mind it's sometimes easy to be too cautious and end up getting nowhere.
It's looking good, but V slightly stiff at the grip and tips. Maybe I'm being fussy, but if I need to remove a little weight, it's best to take it off the right place!
With a rasp rasp here...
.. and a scrape scrape there
here a rasp, there a rasp...
everywhere a scrape scrape.

With apologies to Old Macdonald!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Yew Now at 50 at 22"

This shows how a bow is worked back by removing wood and pulling it to the same draw weight, each time it comes back a bit further...
If you are not heartily sick of putting it up on the tiller, exercising it but pulling it up to draw weight a few times and studying it,. Then you aren't doing it often enough!
Dunno if you can see but I've drawn a straight pencil line on each limb to help me see the overall curve of the limbs without the knots and dips distracting my eye.
It looks pretty good if you hold a CD up to the pic. If you compare with the previous pic you'll see the differences are pretty subtle, the right limb has a slightly fuller curve and the tips are more level Mind I can't guarantee the bow started in the same position for both shots, and the brace height has been increased a little.
I'm still a bit nervy as the bow is very knotty and it's getting to the point where it can easilly go bang. Just for info, they usually go bang just when you breathe a sigh of relief and thing Ah, nearly there! At about 26" draw!

My visitors came over and we had a fun morning, I was showing how to reduce sapwood and layout billets. We had a go with a load of my bows including the Chinese Repeater. I shot one of his bows, a Boo backed Lemonwood bow, it was a nice bow and had been drawn to a full 32" which was pretty impressive for a relatively short bow. It was a sensible cross section a shallow D, I suggested the 'boo could have been a tad thinner and the nocks a bit slimmer. Loosing weight from the tips would give a more Warbow shape and would boost the speed a whisker. The 'boo backing was particularly handsome as the surface of it was slightly concave in places giving a really interesting look. He brought some knives he'd made too, one looked really handy as working knife.
He was more into laminates and backed bows and his dad had a decent woodworking workshop which must be really handy.
It was great to talk to people who understood wood and were into bows.
I gave him 3 pairs of billets, one really skinny and scruffy, one pair matched but rather short and skinny, the final pair had much more wood, but each had a slight waggle which could maybe be ignored and laid out straight at a pinch or laid out following the waggle giving a symmetrical bow with some character, the tips and centre lining up nicely. There should be a bow in there and it will certainly give some practise splicing billets and working with Yew.
A couple of bottles of wine were a very welcomed swap!

Sunday lunch and I've just tried my Wilko's "Hoppy Copper Bitter" to go with it.
It's only taken about 3 weeks to be ready.
It's excellent, much lighter than the stout, nicely bitter, just right for Summer drinking... result!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Italian Yew Drawing to 20"

It's slowly progressing, here's a pic of it, it's at about 4" brace.
I've been removing wood from the belly, trying to keep an even thickness taper despite the knots and also tidying up the sapwood on the back. I've not actually measured the thickness at all as it's almost impossible with the knots, I've just been using the calipers to gauge the change in thickness like a go-no go gauge rather than actually taking measurements.
E.G I'll nip the calipers up over the thickness of the limb at a point and lock them. I can the check that they will fit over the limb at every point along the limb that is closer to the tip, but they won't fit over the limb any closer to the grip. This ensures the limb is tapered. There are always thick spots at the knots, but I try to get then relatively even and not too thick. If knots are left too thick, it just means you have weak points between them.
The right limb is a tad stiff probably due to all the knots up the belly. It's coming on, slow and steady. I can probably narrow the tips a bit now

I've had a good day today, a couple of visitors, one collecting a refurbished bow and one coming to check the weight of a bow... a mysterious case of the vanishing draw weight!

He brought in a gorgeous 140# @ 32" Warbow made of continental Yew. The clean creamy white back was pristine and there were very few knots and features on the dark belly.
I expected it to be superb, but it had taken a huge amount of set and when I felt it, I knew it couldn't be over 90# .
We put it on the tiller and I checked the weight at 28" (not wishing to over stress the bow, myself or the tiller rope!). It was only 72#, this interpolates to 87# tops at 32" draw.
I shall leave the owner to discus it with the bowyer who would doubtless be most disappointed.

These things happen which is why I don't bad mouth other bowyers (by name).
I have my share of failures and problems, and I'd expect to be given the chance to rectify them.
This is one reason I like to meet the people I make bows for and ideally keep it close to home so I can sort out this sort of thing when it happens with one of my bows. Another good reason for 'shooting in' a bow, although this isn't always possible with a heavy weight bow.

So why am I writing this...?
It's solely to try and dispel the myth that Yew from some particular county, or altitude, or of some particular colour is inherently better than any other bit. Wood is variable and the sooner we accept this the better. Some Yew will be better than other, some will perform better with heat treating, some will take a steam bend and hold it while others will need heat treating to hold that bend.
The simple truth about any piece of Yew is... wait for it...
It is what it is!

I'm sure I've mentioned the shotgun stock I helped my Brother to saw from the bole of a Walnut felled to widen a road junction. A fancy London Gun dealer insisted it was "French Walnut"... despite my Brother's protestation!
My Brother eventually shrugged and accepted the high valuation for this gun stocked with "French Walnut".

The Yew I'm working at the moment feels much like plenty of other Yew I've worked. I've felt harder, softer, lighter, darker, finer and coarser ringed, knottier and cleaner.
I gather the supplier of the stave said that the "experienced Bowyer" working the stave had probably not worked Italian Yew before and as it is so different from American or British Yew wasn't qualified to comment on it's quality!
Of course, this means, if I make a nice bow from the stave it's because of the magical properties of his "Italian" Yew.  And conversely if it explodes on the tiller it will be because I'm a poor bowyer.
Ah, yes, and if he thinks an experienced bowyer can't handle it... why is he selling it to a complete novice?
Nice trick when you can get away with it!

I s'pose it's all down to caveat emptor (buyer beware) and all I should really worry about is the quality of my own

I hope this doesn't sound too much of a rant or like I have my head up my backside.

I've a couple of visitor coming tomorrow, I'm sorting out some of my stash of Yew and giving him some of my 'not so good' billets so the guy can have a go with some Yew.
He's bringing along his dad too so we should have fun shooting some bows.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Nearly Ready to Brace

The Italian Yew is moving a fair bit now. It's a bit of a pain being so knotty on the belly.
I'm having to use rasps a good deal as edged tools like the spokeshave or drawknife will dig in at the knots and can tear into the grain.
The right, ( upper limb) is a tad stiff and the outer limbs need to move a little more.
Here's a pic of it at 50# with a string which will just fit on it. next major step is bracing it after doing a little more bit more work and checking by taking some measurements to check the the taper is fairly even.

It starts off on the tiller at an angle because it is supported near centre where the hand will support the bow, but is being drawn from about an inch to the right of that where the fingers will pull the string (the arrow pass being about 1" above centre). Setting the bow up dead centre and pulling the string from the centre is generally a mistake as that's not how the bow will actually be used. However it can be useful occasionally to set up and pull centrally.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A bit of Work on the Italian Yew

It's been a while since the stave was roughed out and it's had the sapwood reduced a bit. So it's had time to move a bit if it wants to.
I filed in temporary nocks, I didn't bother with overlays as at 50# the string isn't going to be digging in or splitting the wood. I put a tillering string on it, adjusted so it would just slip on and pulled it to 50# on the tiller.
It didn't move much, but enough that I could see both limbs flexing and I could tell that I could rough it down further.

Original roughing was to about 40mm wide at the grip, I'm now taking it down to 30 which is a reasonable start for a mid weight bow, it stays at 30mm wide for a foot either side of the middle then tapers to 20mm wide at the tips. this still gives me room for adjustment, as the final tip width is 1/2" (12.7mm),
Using a taut string I laid out a centreline and marked it out, I can manage to just about loose one of the big knots, but there will doubtless be some features like that on the sides of the bow. For marking I use a taut string and than a stiff aluminium bar about  1"x 3/16" this gives a straight edge. It's easy to try and mark a straight line on a curved stave with a flexible rule and end up with a curve. When I received the stave it had lines laid out on it, but they were nowhere near straight. You take anyone else's measurements or laying out at your own peril. I'm quite capable of making my own mistakes without any help!

While I was reducing the sapwood I noticed some blue and brown discolouration, not my fave', but I've been told and read that it is harmless, mind I also have experience that says it isn't... I expect the microbiology of wood is beyond all but the specialists. It's also irrelevant... no good trying to discuss or argue with a bit of wood. It will behave how it behaves. It feels fine and it looks ok, just not pristine white sapwood.
Enough chat, here are the pics.

I've cleaned out one of the loose knots to see how deep it goes and I'm working at reducing the sapwood further, getting it close to a single ring. It's a slow steady process, not a mad rush to get it down to one ring, more following the general contours and trying to leave a little extra wood round the knots.
One pic also shows the leather cover I made for the small curved draw knife.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Thunderbolts and Lightning

I went up to the Walkern Village show on Sunday, there were a good few of us, all the "medievals" being dressed in their kit and showing their stuff. There was a have-a-go and I had my shave horse set up whilst working on that Yew stave and showing off Monkey Bow and his whistling arrows.

The thunder and lightning started and the rain lashed down. Fortunately we were under the cover of a big gazebo/tent thingy and people crowded in. There was one charming family, the guy was very interested in the bows and seemed to have a technical background, the youngest boy was in his mum's arms while the little girl was chatting away (to herself as much as anyone else!). She said she'd been in the woods and found a stick that bent like a this.... (she mimed drawing a bow) and then it turned into a canon! Excellent, wish I could find some of that wood.

Chatting to people is always fun when they are interested and one woman asked a very insightful question about do I do it all by eye or do I measure? I'd been sitting at the shave horse working the yew and she'd watched me flipping it over back and forth and eyeballing it. The reply was basically you can't make a self bow by numbers but it would be foolhardy to totally ignore any measurement. I showed some of my bows which had dimensional peculiarities.

One of the guys Andy who's heavily into the medieval, re-enactment etc and does loads of shows returned an old Yew bow that I'd made him way back in 2010 as a simple Yeoman's bow... The poor old thing had followed the string severely. I should really have taken a pic for a before and after, but suffice it to say I could get my whole fist between belly and floor when I put it down with the tips resting on the floor.
I said I'd re-furbish it and if it went bang I'd make him another bow.
It was never one of my best bows and the wood was odd, rather rubbery, it was from the underside of a long diagonally growing limb, nice and knot free, but compression timber.
Looking back at that post on my blog, you can see the tiller isn't perfect... yes, it's even, but it's bending too much at the grip. Interestingly, in those original pics you can see the difference between heart and sapwood. Now it's matured it is all one colour, the heartwood is behaving more like sapwood... interesting.

It was also made at a time where I was only just getting back into bow making after many years of ... well... doing what we all do.

I want to investigate it to learn more about the wood, so I've started by warming it and trying to pull it back straight... I could barely believe it! Normally it takes a good long time to get the heat into the wood to allow it to start flexing. With this I had barely wafted the heat gun over it for 5 minutes and I felt it starting to loosen up and bend.
I soon had it clamped down straight and I'm in the middle of heat treating it. I'll re-tiller it and see how it performs, I might even rasp off the belly and glue in a new heartwood belly if necessary.

I made some progress on the "ItalianYew" stave reducing the sapwood a fair bit, slow and steady wins the day.

Oh, yes, the Hazel Warbow got a bit of a trial and was left with one of the guys to try at full distance with heavy arrows. We were only shooting at 10 yards at the show for safety reasons... just as well as one of the marshals wouldn't be told that parking cars 40 yards behind have-a go archery with no back stop netting was a bad idea!
Fortunately there were no long overshots and the Warbow fraternity resisted the temptation to loose a volley up high and drop 'em through the roofs of the parked cars.
Just to show I'm my own harshest critic here's a pic showing the poor tiller. Lets see if I can improve it.

Update:- I've taken a good bit off the outers, and taken a pic on the tiller. It shows what 5 years of experience and a heat gun can achieve. Note the draw weight is 50# @ 28" which is I believe the original weight.
I've shown the tiller for each limb. The left (lower) being slightly stiffer (larger radius). The little deflex bend at the end of the right limb exaggerates the bend, and the black patch just left of centre on the right limb is another spot of natural deflex. I'm tempted to try and take out the deflex from the tips, but it's the wise man who knows when to quit while he's ahead.
The pics are at a rather low brace, which is a good thing to avoid over stressing the bow during tiller adjustments. I've since twisted up the string to raise the brace height and shot a few arrow from it. It shot 'em pretty much how you'd expect.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Yew Staves

A guy called James came to visit today with a Yew log he'd cut himself and a Yew stave he'd bought.
We had a good chat and ran the log he'd cut through the bandsaw, it had nice thin even sapwood and one clean face. The other off-cut half of the log, may just about have a primitive of flat bow in it, something he can season a bit quicker and have a play with, it did have a couple of nasty knots but essentially it's a piece to practice on.

The Yew stave which he wanted me to work on, was high altitude Italian Yew with a good few knots a nasty sideways bend and a thicker sapwood layer than the English Yew, the central pith was also showing along the belly showing that it was from a small diameter log.
I picked up an off cut scrap of English Yew from the garage floor and you couldn't tell the difference in terms of ring count or colour.
My view is that English Yew is just as good as 'High Altitude Italian Yew' if you can find a long straight bit. Given the choice between the two bits I'd been presented with I'd choose the English except it wasn't yet seasoned!
I marked out a straight string line on the Italian Yew and roughed it out leaving generous dimensions and it looked like a bow was in there. Two knots both dry and loose protrude through the centre of the sapwood back, that will probably become the top limb. The knots will be picked out and filled if they go too deep.

Once James had gone and I'd had some food and a cat nap I couldn't resist looking at the stave again.
I put a fine blade on the bandsaw, marked the stave to a bow shape about 40mm wide for a couple of foot in the middle and then tapering to 20mm at the tips. After running it through the bandsaw it's just about straight now and looking much better.
The sapwood will probably need reducing which will be a right pain in the backside with all the bumps knots and dips on the back, I'll keep roughly to a growth ring which is tricky where the knots are.
Trimming it finer revealed a couple of blind knots, where small side branches had been cut off and grown over. Features like this are potential timebombs if you don't know they are lurking beneath a bump in the sapwood. They can be solid, but they can also have pockets of rot.
All in all it's looking more promising, but the stave isn't really the quality one would hope for for £300!
I s'pose if I was being generous I'd say it was an interesting character stave.
Anyhow, I'm optimistic I can turn it into a bow, and as the target weight is only 50# it should be fine,