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.

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