Tuesday, June 4, 2013


"When two or more wood bowmen find themselves together, whatever conversation ensues is largely veneer. Their most important communication is subterranean and worldless. It's a shared sense of the bow's mystery, of ties to an ancient, authentic world, of quiet kinship. Become a woodbow man and you join a band of brothers stretching back in an unbroken line to you 500th grandfather. A time when, unlike our present competitive world, your life and the life of those close to you depended on the sharing of knowledge, goods, and danger. Become a woodbow man and you see that ancient spirit resurrected, other bowmen share with you their secrets, their help, even wood and tools. And maybe more surprising, you note that without calculation or conscious will you yourself becoming such a person too. If this evokes even a whiff of primal familiarity then it's entirely proper that you step at least tentatively onto that ancient path: Make your first bow and see what happens."
 First, locate your tree.

Chop it down. 

Split it into as many pieces as you can, still leaving ample room for bow layout.

Peeling th' bark while green is easy, and it rolls up into nice tubes that look like limbs, but are hollow. With elm at least. 

From here i chop them out to thick rough dimensions, then let them sit on racks in my garage for two weeks, then i start one at a time with them on th' shave horse, taking them down to beginning tiller dimensions. From this point th' wood dries quickly, and with th' low relative humidity here, i can go from live tree to finished bow in a month.

First pull on th' tillering stick shows one limb bending more than the other. After much trial and error, i've figured out a system where i can draw out th' bow and carve it out and have it very close to finised before i even string it. But i mean much trial and error. Many many bows. Many of them broken. Heartaches. Lessons learned. Now i naturally avoid many of th' mistakes i used to make, just because i made them so many times. I spent six years making these things and i've finally gotten to a point to where i am beginning to understand bow design. Every time i learn something new, a new technique for safely removing wood, a new trick, a new layout, and i take a step forward, i realize how much i have yet to learn. Bows are amazing, and i give thanks to those who've fed their families by th' skills of their hands making these things. They are so simple, just a bent stick that launches an arrow, but sometimes it's so hard to be so simple.

Make th' limbs bend evenly, shoot it a few hundred times, re check tiller, then grease it up with lard, pine pitch, beeswax, and oil. 

sinew backed hackberry
shadow tillering

meare heath bow at (my) full draw

I do make these on comission, so if you'd like one just let me know.

And now i'll leave you with some parting thoughts.

"In every Indian wigwam were kept bow staves on hand in different stages of readiness for work. Indeed, it has often been averred that an Indian was always on th' lookout for a good piece of wood or other raw material. This, he thought, will make me a good snow-shoe frame, or bow, or arrow and i will cut it down. These treasures were put into careful training at once, bent, straightened, steamed, scraped, shaped, when ever a leisure moment arrived.
As a rule, however, th' savage mind had as it's problem, not that of the modern of ransacking the earth for materials and transferring them to artificial centers of consumption, but the development of the resources of each culture area, to make the bow and arrow that each region would best help him to create. His was an epoch of differentiation."

~North American Bows, Arrows and Quivers by Otis Mason 1893


Gorges Smythe said...

Excellent post.

Joel said...

This is an great post Rico. Ilove bows myself and have made a few myself but you've gone further done the path of being a bowyer. They all look really good. Thanks for sharing this.