Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Finishing my first longbow

Here are some more pics of my first longbow build. In my last post I had roughed out the shape of the bow. Now came the all important tillering process. I started by putting the bow on a tillering "tree" and hanging twenty pounds of weights from it.

This was enough weight to start bending the bow. The goal is to have a very even bend across the length of the bow. You don't want any flat spots or sharp bends. You can see that the left arm was slightly more bent than right.

I continued shaving off more wood and adding more weight. Until I got to this point:

Oops! Look how much the left arm is bending. I took off too much wood. And this was with thirty-five pounds instead of the forty I was hoping for. In order to even out the arms I had to take more wood off, resulting in a bow that only drew thirty pounds. 

Here is the bow after tillering and sanding. Now it was ready for the final finishing process. I did take it out for a few shots at this point in time and was very pleased.

And here is the final bow (In the hands of my lovely assistant, Amelia)! It still need a proper string and arrows, but I am very happy with how it came out.

A detail of the handle. I pained the back (the part facing away from the archer) black and then added a swirling yellow design to it. The back was covered in glue-soaked paper to prevent splinters and cracks from developing when the bow was drawn. The paint job was to improve the brown-paper look. The handle is wrapped in glue-soaked hemp twine. You'll see a notch right above the handle. This is called the arrow rest. Not all bows have them, but American longbows usually have them, so I put on on. 

The final product "braced" with some nylon cord. Now to get some arrows and put it into action!

69" (nock to nock) Red Oak "American" longbow backed with paper.
30# draw weight at 28" draw

Making this bow was loads of fun and I will definitely be making another ASAP!


Monday, July 23, 2012

Making a Longbow

I did a lot of research on archery while writing Eternal Knight. Combine this with a life-long interest in military history and my historical wargaming hobby and it was only a matter of time before I set out to make my own bow.

In Eternal Knight, Hadde's bow, Hawkeye, is a composite recurve bow. Composite means that the bow is made of three materials: animal sinew on the back (the part away from the archer), wood as a core material, and horn on the belly (the part closest to the archer). Recurved means that the bow actually bends away from the archer when unstrung. Composite recurve bows can be both very powerful and very difficult to string. They are also short and excellent for horse-archers.

For my first bowmaking experience I chose NOT to make Hadde's bow. Composite recurve bows are not for beginning bowyers. I am going to make a simple longbow out of red oak. The Eastern Landomeri in Eternal Knight use longbows, so that will be my bow's book connection. For my bowmaking guide I am using a variety of sources from the internet, but primarily Poor Folk Bows. I am following his "Red oak board bow build along".

Roughing out:

I have a six foot red oak bowstaff that has been roughed out with a wood rasp. The wood came from Home Depot and started out as a 1 x 2 x 6. It always surprises me how thin the wood on a bow is. I always expect them to be fatter. The protruding part is called the riser. It will become the handle. Why is the bow staff so straight? It won't gain it's bow-like shape until I start the tillering process. All of the work you see above was done in about two hours.

 Backing the bow:

Backing a bow is when you laminate a substance to the back (the part away from the archer) of the bow. Backing can be used to strengthen a bow by adding another layer, especially if that layer is a material that resists stretching. Sinew is an extremely good backing. Bamboo, hickory, ash, and maple make good backings as well. A second purpose in backing the bow is that it prevents splinters from rising as the bow is bent. Splinters lead to fractures, and fractures lead to broken bows. If your goal is preventing splinters you can use a variety of materials including silk, linen, drywall tape, and paper. I selected paper. Why? Because the Whole Foods bag says PLEASE RECYCLE THIS BAG and I always do as I am told. I used three layers of paper and copious amounts of wood glue. I let each layer set up for ten minutes before adding the next layer, making certain that the paper was completely soaked through. After adding the final layer, I coated the entire surface with glue.

Tomorrow (or whenever I get to it) I will use my handy rasp to round off the edges of my bow's back and eliminate the excess paper. After that comes the tillering process. Tillering teaches the bow to bend and adjusts the bow to the proper draw weight. I am aiming for a forty pound draw. Forty pounds is plenty for target shooting and can be drawn by most adults.

So far this has been a lot of fun. I'll be back soon with more.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: Silver Phoenix and Fury of the Phoenix

Silver Phoenix is the story of Ai Ling, a strong, independent young woman who leaves her home to both escape an unwanted marriage and to find her missing father. A fantasy in a world based on ancient China, Silver Phoenix is filled with adventure, strange creatures, and great characters. Ai Ling is joined on her adventure by a pair of brothers, the strong, serious Chen Yong and his love-crazed younger brother, Li Rong. I found the three characters to be well-written and distinct individuals.

World building: Unlike most of the fantasy novels I’ve read, Silver Phoenix has an Asian setting. It was a refreshing change from your typical pseudo-European world. It was a great to see characters confronted by new and unique gods, demons, and monsters instead of the standard orcs, elves, and ogres (or variants thereof). I loved the author’s world-building efforts; her descriptions of architecture, food, clothing, and the environment made the world come alive.

Engagement: A very engaging novel, Silver Phoenix definitely keeps the action rolling. It is fast-paced and tightly written. My only serious complaints would be with the rapidity with which Ai Ling’s powers developed and the presence of an overly helpful magic item. Other than that, I found myself engrossed in both the story and the world the author created.

Writing: The author writes very clear, straightforward prose. I enjoyed her style. Silver Phoenix reads like a blend of historical fiction, fairy tale, and fantasy. Having said that, my knowledge of ancient Chinese history is pretty sketchy and the author has clearly stated that Xia is only based on Chinese culture and folklore - it is not supposed to strictly represent China at any particular time period. The novel was, in every way, professionally written.

Impact: Although classified as a young adult novel, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel from an adult perspective. While aimed at a YA audience, some scenes felt very grown up. A few times I felt myself wondering if it was a serious fantasy or a lighter fairy tale. However, these were minor distractions. I loved the characters, there was a lot of action, tension was high throughout, and the world building was outstanding. As soon as I finished Silver Phoenix I immediately downloaded Fury of the Phoenix.

Fury of the Phoenix is the sequel to Silver Phoenix and follows Ai Ling and Chen Yong as they travel to Jiang Dao (Chen Yong’s birth father’s homeland). The novel is split between Ai Ling’s and,unexpectedly, Zong Ye’s perspectives. Zong Ye (the villain of Silver Phoenix) returns in spirit form to haunt Ai Ling. The great thing about the Zong Ye character is that we learn of his origins and he becomes a complete character. In Silver Phoenix he was just “The Bad Guy” and we didn’t know much about him. In Fury of the Phoenix he becomes a real person. Ultimately not a nice one, but a real one. He’s a great character.

Ai Ling spends much of her part of the novel either on board the ship taking her and Chen Yong to Jiang Dao or in in Jiang Dao itself. I have only two minor complaints with the novel and both have to do with setting. The opening scene of the novel has Ai Ling very improbably boarding and stowing away on a sailing vessel (at sea). It is impossible for me to imagine it happening as described and put me off in the first chapter. The second complaint has to do with the country of Jiang Dao. The author states in the afterword that Jiang Dao is not supposed to be Europe. Unfortunately, Xia is so clearly inspired by ancient China that I was constantly attempting to figure out which European country was supposed to be Jiang Dao. Don’t do this. Jiang Dao is a completely fabricated country containing an assortment of elements of European culture.

Here’s the good news: Fury of the Phoenix is excellent! It reads as a straight-up, grown-up fantasy novel and I was completely engaged throughout. The story of Ai Ling and Chen Yong’s journey and relationship was well-written and perfectly paced. Having said that, I was even more engrossed by Zong Ye’s story of his descent into evil. If a major draw of Silver Phoenix was setting and action, the big draw of Fury of the Phoenix is character and discovery (and a great lead-up to a thrilling climax). I highly recommend both books and look forward to the author’s next work.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Book Review: Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn

One hundred years into the future nearly all human beings have gained the ability to read minds. Our first-person protagonist, Kira, is a “zero”, one of the few people who never gained this ability. Early on the novel is the story of Kira as a social outcast. As a high school teacher I feel the author did an outstanding job capturing the feel of the high school experience. The novel significantly changes gears once Kira discovers that she is not a zero but a mindjacker. We leave the world of high school relationships and enter an even more sinister world of crime, government conspiracy, and intrigue.

Characters: Kira is the first person POV character. She was well-written, likeable, and believable. It is her concern for others that drives the action of the novel. Simon, a manipulative high school classmate was significantly less likable, but a believable character given his abilities. I’ll admit to being less than wholeheartedly convinced of Kira’s feelings for him. Raf, the good-guy third corner in the love triangle is sympathetic character you can’t help but root for.

World building: The world building in Open Minds is terrific. I love the premise of the novel and felt the author did a great job thinking though the implications of a society in which people can read minds. The near-future technology was plausible and I loved the future slang used by the characters. I wasn’t crazy about the explanation for the global origins of  mind-reading, but it certainly wasn’t a novel-breaker.

Engagement/Willing suspension of disbelief: As an adult male reader, I am the target audience for this novel. Kira’s high school challenges were well-written, but were not exactly my normal read. It was the very enjoyable process of discovery that kept me engaged for the first half of the novel. The second half of the novel was an entirely different matter. Fast-paced action and ever increasing stakes had me reading as fast as I could.

Writing/Mechanics: Open Minds is a professionally written novel. I have no criticism whatsoever with the author’s writing, style, or mechanics. I would have enjoyed seeing a longer process of discovery while Kira learned about her abilities. I also thought some of the relationship changes were a tad abrupt. Other than these two small complaints I give the author highest marks for writing.

Impact: I read the novel in two days and hated when I had to put it down. I’m still thinking about the implications of living in a society of mind readers and jackers. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series. As an adult reader of sci-fi I give Open Minds four stars. As a YA novel I give Open Minds five stars. Highly recommended.