Yupik (Eskimo) attributed bow and arrows

Believed to be a Yup’ik quiver, bowcase, bow, and arrows from the late 19th century.

Click the image to learn more.

Winter Count Bow Makers

Thanks to those who participated in our bow making class this year.  I failed to get many photos so if anyone would be willing to share theirs with me, I would be most grateful.  Email me at zcoyotez (at) yahoo.com.

We made very traditional flat bows.  This is a straight-forward, predictable design that is easy to tiller and makes a fine shooter.

I use a minimum of tools, relying primarily on the axe, drawknife, and spokeshave for the heavy work with rasps and cabinet scraper for finishing.

It is a little more difficult to teach such a hands-on skill to groups, as opposed to individuals, but the class seemed to go very well.  The point was not to just make a bow but to learn enough of the concepts that everyone in the class should be able to go home and make more without much guidance.  A key to the success is using good staves to begin with.  There is enough to learn without added problems of twists and knots in the raw material.

All of the bows were successful and I hope will bring happiness for years to come.

Hickory Bow part 2

The winds slowed, the killer dust settled and I was able to get back to the bow.  A few minutes with the power planer took the rough shape down to a nearly finished product.  The calipers are useful and can save a lot of guesswork when making the same style bow over and over.

Above, the bow seen in its near-final form.

Despite the great labor savings that come from the power tools, wood is very organic and has character therefore need some finer, more controllable tools.  These are the two draw knives I use the most.

I took the limbs down til there was some little flexibility.  Probably in the 100 pound range but still too sketchy to put a string on.  As the day was drawing late I decided to rough out the grip and central riser area.  Surprisingly, this takes quite a bit of time as it needs to fit the hand well, and look pleasing.  It is difficult to get it “just right” in all dimensions as a tiny variance takes away from the symmetry of the piece.  This part is purely about looks.

Once the knife work is done, its time to move to the cabinet scraper.  Here are the two I use.  To keep a good sharp edge I switch between the two as one dulls.  The larger one is a standard Stanley cabinet scraper and the smaller is a Garlick of England.  The English one is much harder steel but more difficult to get a good edge when sharpening.  With them are the bastard file and file brush used to touch up the edge.

I hope to find time for the finish tillering sometime this week.

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.