Tracking the process for creating the ancient and venerable flat bow; a complex hunting tool from five continents. This is a very brief overview of a process that takes many bows to master.
I can honestly say that bow-making was my gateway skill into the primitive technology world. It’s one of the few things I believe I truly mastered. I became interested in this old technique while still a teenager and, though my interests have shifted to new things, I never really lost my passion for it. While I am currently writing a more extensive “how to” for bow-making, here is a visual step-by-step of the process, from the beginning. I have used some of these photos before so long-time blog followers may recognize them.
Not visible above here are short hickory wedges (hardwood limbs work nearly as well) that are jammed into the growing crack to keep the stave from snapping shut. Also not present is the wooden maul for striking the froe. The embarrassing presence of the framing hammer above is a case of “when in need, any tool can be the right tool.” I was in a hurry that day.
Some species of white woods debark quite easily and the back of the bow can be the outermost growth ring. Not so with Osage Orange. The white new wood is visible in the stave above and should be removed. This part of the process is easiest with a sharp draw knife working downward. Your weight can be used to pull through the bark, relieving the arms and shoulders somewhat.
The above photo shows the back of the stave as the outer rings are removed. With Osage orange, there is a vesicular layer between hard wood rings. This is just visible here as the almost spongy-looking white wood. Extremely hard woods work well with sharp steel, leaving a slick, clean surface.
After the tedious work is completed on the back, it is simply a matter of marking out the shape, removing the excess wood, and tillering the limbs to the desired draw weight.
Above, I’m working the bow to its final shape prior to final tillering. This is a shagbark hickory stave, not the one shown above. I’m not saying that this is easy per se but something that can be accomplished through perseverance, patience, and thoughtfulness.
While there are no hard and fast rules to bow-making, there are some real guidelines and preferences that lead to success. If you hear someone tell you that this is the only way, then you may want to take that advice with a grain of salt. Look for more on bow-making in the near future.