Hickory Bow

The next hickory bow.  I have a barn full of aged staves languishing that need to be made into bows.  Today the weather was good and I had some free time so I jumped on the opportunity to get back into production.  Over the last three years I’ve only made about one bow per year as commissions.  That’s the result of abstract (albeit interesting) work cutting into an honest living.

Above are a couple hickory staves cut from the old tree farm in Missouri.  This tree was as near perfect as possible so I intend to get bows from both inner and outer portions of the trunk.  The few bows made from this tree already are fine shooters so my hopes are high.

Although I will be using power tools for much of the roughing out, old-fashioned methods are at least as fast at this stage.  The froe is a handy tool that any green wood worker should have.

This stage is a bit of a break from tradition for me.  This bow is sort of a test in speed and efficiency as I don’t have a lot of leisure time in my week currently.  This stave was split from a larger piece and, as consequently there is some tear-out between growth rings.  The rough back is the cross-over between rings that will need to be smoothed to a single, perfect growth ring before finishing.  As it was very close to perfect, I skipped this normal step and began to roughly mark out some landmarks of the final bow such as the center of the bow, handle, limb width, etc.

The lath I use to mark a clear center line.  I have markings and distances marked for various length bows.  I find a flexible lath and a good eyeball to work better than a chalk line on the curved and undulating surface of rough wood.  This stave is an excellent teaching example as it has almost perfectly straight grain.  The sketch on the bow back is an idealized version of the finished product.  During the shaping process, knots, wavy grain, and twists are taken into account.

It is apparent here that the bow has progressed.  To speed the process, I sawed away much of the excess down to an approximate shape for the finished bow.  Final shaping a tillering commence.  Most of this will be done with a draw knife, spoke shave, scraper, and rasps.

This hickory has been air dried on the high plains of New Mexico for much of the last seven years (damn I’m old) and is extremely hard and dense.  Sharp tools are essential at this point for precision and control.

Lots of shavings like the one above will be generated tomorrow as I ran out of light today.

A note on the the bow itself.  The design is a classic flat bow with consistently tapered limbs.  Although, like many bowyers before me, I experimented and tried many designs over the years, I am returning to basics for the present and a design that has worked for thousands of years. More to follow tomorrow.

In the mean time, here are a few other more recent bows I’ve made.  Most of these are are probably posted around the site already.

3 thoughts on “Hickory Bow

  1. Those bows are beauties my friend. Are they all of them Hickory? Is the middle one covered in snake skin? And those arrows don’t look bad either! I have made a few myself, not recently though. Sadly I haven’t got access to Hickory, but I have some Ash that should do. When I have stopped having to waste so much of my time earning money, I’ll make more…and the leather boots…and the boat I promised myself!

    • Thanks for the compliment. Several of the ones pictured are Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) but many are shagbark hickory. Those are my woods of choice that I have some access to. I have used mulberry, locust, oak, ash, maple, juniper, and yew (possibly others I don’t remember). One of the bows in the photo is covered in gopher snake skin over a thin deer rawhide back.
      Arrows are the hard part! As you probably know, people who aren’t archers don’t always get that but its pretty simple to make a functional bow. Its a huge accomplishment to make a good set of arrows matched to your bow and shooting style. Even string making is underrated in my opinion.

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