Arrows from Planks

Dowel Cutter – A useful tool for large-scale production

A version of this post appeared here in 2012 but here is an update as prelude to a coming post.

I’ve been using a Veritas dowel and tenon cutter to rough out arrow shafts from planks.  Quite a while ago I posted about the jig I built for cutting the shafts and thought it might need some follow-up.  Although I didn’t have much in the way of appropriate wood available for arrows on the day the cutter arrived, I did have one well-aged straight-grained poplar board that had been set aside to age for arrows to experiment with.  The cutter, once set up, takes a piece of square stock of 7/16″ – 1/2″ and cuts it down to a 3/8″ dowel.

Looking through the feed end of the dowel cutter.

When the shaft comes out of the cutter it tends to start wobbling and the effect increases quickly.  The solution is to create some sort of guide for the shaft so I came up with wooden blocks, as seen below with slightly oversized holes drilled inline with the cutter.  There is a second identical block set back a few inches further to increase stability.  After the first few experiments I could really tell that the stabilized shafts were much smoother than the unstabilized ones.

Shavings as they exit the cutter.

The wood can be turned by hand or a wrench or, as in this case, it can be driven by a drill motor chucked with a square socket (not pictured).  The drill motor is not only faster but seems to cut smoother due to the high rate of rotation.

Before and after a light sanding.

The above photo is blurry but the right shaft demonstrates the rough “fuzzy” state as they come out of the the jig and the left is after a few minutes with some 100 and 220 grit sandpaper.  They are subsequently burnished and await nock reinforcements as the next step.  After putting a better edge on the blade, the shafts come out a littler smoother but it really seem to vary with the type of wood being used.

Image from the English War Bow Society. Click the image to link to their site and find out more about English warbows.

I was able to turn out eight experimental shafts in a short time.  Two were rejected immediately as they has little kinks in the grain and two were rejected during sanding due to blemishes in the wood.  They’ll probably be okay for light weight kid’s bows but are not acceptable for heavy, fast bows.  The spine feels a little light to me but I’ll hold out to see what comes of them.  The goal is to create some fairly standard issue British war bow arrows and see how they perform.  Since I use wooden dowels to peg together many other projects, very few shafts have gone to waste since this purchase.

Note: many great arrows have been cut with the Veritas cutter since the original post in 2012 and I will do my best to continue documenting the work.

Updates to follow soon…

Learning by Replication

I study the technology of prehistory.  Because of this, I believe strongly in the benefits of experiential archaeology.  It gives perspective on a very deep level.  We can walk in the shoes of our ancestors, so to speak.  I say experiential here not experimental and I’m glad to hear this word coming into the dialog of other primitive technology people.  While not trying to dwell on the words themselves, it is an important distinction.  Experimental generally implies the ability to replicate an actual experiment (i.e., testing a hypothesis to see what you find).

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Experimental pottery; gathering materials, construction, paint, and firing.  Click the image to see more about this project.

True experiments are things like:

  • Can a tree be cut down using an exact replica of a prehistoric axe?
  • Is it possible to move a ten ton stone over long distances using only the technology and manpower available in the Neolithic? 
  • Can fire be made by rubbing sticks together? 
  • Will a Medieval arrow penetrate 14 gauge armor plate?

You certainly gain the experience through these experiments but you are also testing something specific with something like a yes or no answer.  Experimental archaeology can create some popular misconceptions as well.  Just because something could be done, doesn’t mean that prehistoric people must have done it that way.

Replicated woven sandals from the Southern High Plains and the greater Southwest.  Produced from narrow-leaf yucca.

Replicated woven sandals as found on the Southern High Plains and throughout the greater Southwest. Produced from narrow-leaf yucca (by Stacey Bennett).

Experiential archaeology integrates this and everything else learned along the way.  E.g., How comfortable are these shoes, is there more or less back pain using a tump line on a pack, what kind of wear can be expected on arrow fletchings over time?  This allows us to ask even more questions and have a fuller knowledge of ancient peoples.

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Testing silk lashed goose feather fletching. Clicking the image links to bamboo arrow making.

I really enjoy the various directions replication takes the maker.  Learning the finer points of cutting and scraping with stone flakes or abraders, working with antler and wood, creating glues and mastics, and developing an appropriate paint or sealer as on the spear thrower below.

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Upper Paleolithic-style spear thrower.  Image links to the “how to” for making this thrower.

Whatever you do and whenever you learn, it’s all good.

Mongolian bamboo arrows

More bamboo arrows from the leatherworking reverend.

The Reverend's Musings

Reproduction 14th C Mongolian Arrows

I’ve been doing a little consulting to my nephew*, who has been making a Mongolian bow for a school history assignment. His theory is that the Mongolian bow gave the advantage to the Mongols during their invasion of China in the 14th century, so he’s making one and testing it out. I disagree in a greater part, but it’s more important that he can research, develop and coherently defend a theory. I offered to make him some contemporary bamboo arrows to go with the bow, partially because I knew he wouldn’t have time, and partially because it was an opportunity for me to learn some new skills working with bamboo. He’s also going to be a little more forgiving than a paying client if I make a couple of mistakes while I’m learning, or take some shortcuts.

Paleotool has an excellent two parter on making bamboo arrows, I…

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In a spin about fletch wrapping

arrow_anatomyFinding “handedness” in archaeology… using the fletching of arrows as an example. As a professional archaeologist AND primitive technologist I am very skeptical when someone claims they can determine which hand of a maker is dominant on an ancient tool or weapon. One reason for the distrust is that the archaeologist may not have experienced creating the object in the same way the original maker did. I think the Leatherworking Reverend has a valid point in the following article (and not just because it affirms my own experiences).

The Reverend's Musings

At most find-sites that have arrows there will be a non-equal mix of S- and Z-wrap on the bindings. The dig report will assert that left-handed fletchers were responsible for those that aren’t the majority direction arrow binding, probably without mentioning whether it’s the Z- or S- that they are talking about. I can’t find where it was written down the first time, but it has been repeated until it became lore. Consider the Ötze website:

According to technical archaeologist Harm Paulsen, the two arrows could not have been fashioned by the same person. The fletching shows that one was wound by a left-hander and the other by a right-hander.

and the Mary Rose Trust:

Hopkins (1998) studied 408 shafts from chest 81A2582 (O9) and recorded that, in every case, the binding thread had been wound in a clockwise direction from the tip end of the shaftment (ie, the portion of the arrow…

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Robyn Hode on Archery Sunday

Robyn Hode – England, ca. 1450 A.D.

DSC_0075_2An hundred shefe of arowes gode,
The hedys burneshed full bryght;

And every arowe an elle longe,
With pecok wel idyght,
Inocked all with whyte silver [or silk];
It was a semely syght.

A Gest of Robyn Hode, lines 523-8

in

English Popular Ballads, 1922 edition

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Tartar Arrows from the Grayson Collection

Something for an arrow maker to aspire to.  There is much to learn from the old masters in their fields.  Wonderfully tapered shafts, great fletchings, and good use of paint.

Crimean Tartar Arrows

Turkey, 18th–19th centuriesFour military arrows for use with Crimean Tartar bow. Straight wood shafts. Hawk feather fletching, three fletches, radial form, glued on. Bulbous self nocks, painted red on inside of notch. Hand-forged steel broadhead points, ridged at the base and thickened towards the tip; sinew reinforced. Decorated with red and gold paint.

86.5 cm long, shaft diameter is 0.8 cm.

MAC 1994-0745

Click here to access the Grayson collection, Museum of Anthropology, at the University of Missouri.