Another Bucksaw on the Loose

I am stunned to hear from several recent misguided enthusiasts to the gentle art of wilderness skills that their new hobby costs them so much money… I guess even our low-tech approach to life can be marketed and sold to the right customer with our ingrained need for newer, quicker, and “approved” gear. Let’s hope this ailment isn’t catching.

Making something for one’s self is, in itself, an act of rebellion in these troubled times so I thought I would share what I’ve been up to in the idle hours these past few days.

After someone sweet-talked me out of my last (and personal) bucksaw I was in need of a replacement. I lucked upon some beautiful walnut last year and set some aside to make a few saws. Straight-grained, strong, and beautiful, this 5/4 sawn chunk was ripe for carving into something nice. I spent far too much time in finish and detail on this one but a beautiful tool is much nicer to use than an ugly one and curves appeal more than straight lines to this gentleman.

There isn’t much need for a lengthy instructable for this design but notice that the straight grain was respected in all dimensions and runs the length of each arm. As for hardware, it was my intention to inset square nuts into the handles and connect the blade with round-head machine screws. However, looking through my hardware on hand, that would have required a trip to a store, so for now, we use carriage bolts and wing nuts.

The devil is truly in the details and it is a joy to carve such fine wood with sharp tools. The entirety is polished with Lundmark carnauba wax as it brings out the color and grain while providing excellent protection against water.

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Prepping Bow Staves

After you have carefully selected the tree, cut it down, and (hopefully) had time to age the wood it is time to prep the bow staves. 

Prepping bow staves is a fair amount of work but made easier with the right tools and a little experience.  The examples below aged for nearly seven years in a dark, dry barn.  These are nearly all hickory and therefore, are generally easy to split if the grain is respected.  I use an old froe, mallet, and hammer for most of my splitting and only resort to steel wedges or power tools in rare, generally green cases.  As most of the staves that I cut personally are 6’6″ – 7′ long, this is the time when they are sawed to a rough length; generally 65 – 70″.  They are left long initially to account for any splitting of the ends that occurs during the drying process that will interfere with the finished bow.

Splitting hickory.

These staves were massive and can generally be made into two or three bows in the end;  two from the outer portion and one from the inner.  This isn’t always true for some older hickories as the heartwood “sets” and becomes dark and brittle.  Taken in a deep valley, this tree was large enough and fast growing so doesn’t seem to be a problem.  It is difficult to tell from the photo above but this is an extremely large piece of wood.  It was weighed a few days after felling at 79.5 lbs.  It was weighed again, just prior to splitting, almost seven years later at 48 lbs.  That is nearly 30 lbs (5 gallons) of water that evaporated.

A clean break with the froe.

The above photo shows the froe in use, prying the two halves apart without much effort.  Once started with a mallet in the end, it is just a matter of prying and moving down the staff.

I was doing these rather quickly and didn’t even move to my work shed for the process as they would be loaded up almost immediately.

The staves can now be safely de-barked and are generally ready to be roughed out, a relatively easy task on hickory, but not so with Osage orange (photo below).  Osage needs to be shaved down to a single layer within the wood.  In this case about a half inch inside the bark to find a suitable growth ring.

Osage orange, showing the contrast between the new and old growth.

One of the troubles with Osage orange wood is the transitional new growth on the outer (back) of the stave, visible as the white rings.  This wood is not useful for bow making and needs to be cleanly removed down to a single growth ring.  In the case above, several old growth rings will be removed as well as they are inconsistent and pinch out on the right side of this stave.  It is generally wise to choose one of the thicker rings to serve as the back as it is under a lot of tension during the draw.

New bow blanks stand next to a full-size stave as they are roughed out.

This is about half the useful bow staves made in a single run with a “whole” stave on the right to show how they begin.  This one weighed about 80 lbs green but only about 50 lbs dry.

On to layout and the next steps.

Making a Self-Bow

A pictorial step-by-step of the bow-making process. 

This quick look isn’t intended to replace the one-on-one learning of a real teacher or to cover all aspects of the art that come from years of practice.  Expect both success and failure and don’t let either one dominate your learning.  Education is a process, not an instance.

splitting stave

Felled stave that has aged a couple years in the dark and relative dryness of the barn.

Splitting the seasoned Osage orange (Bois d’Arc) stave is shown above.  Not visible here are short hickory wedges that are jammed into the growing crack to keep the stave from snapping shut.  With some woods the staves will simply pop apart but it seems that, more often than not, the splitter must overcome the tenacity of the fibrous wood.  Power sawing is definitely a possibility but requires more tools, more energy, and does not show the irregularities as well.  Splitting puts you in touch with the soul of the wood.

 

split open

Laid open, it is time to examine for undiscovered twists, knots, and other irregularities.

 

Splitting can be a tough process. As can be seen in the photo above, I use an axe, froe, and hammer.  I’m awful when it comes t remembering to stop and take photographs.  After cleaning up and heading to the next phase, I had to re-stage this photo and forgot to put the wedges back in.

de-barking

Stripping down to reveal the beauty underneath.

Some species of white woods debark quite easily and the bow can be made directly from the outer growth rings.  Not so with Osage orange. The whiter new wood is visible in the stave above as the outer rings are worked down to a single thick growth ring.  This process is easiest with a sharp draw knife working downward.  Your weight can be used to pull through the bark.  Gravity is your friend.

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Revealing the different look, color, and texture of the growth rings.

Above is a close-up of working down to a single growth ring. With Osage, there is a white, porous, vesicular layer between hard wood rings. This is just visible here as the white wood.  It should be worked down to a single, dark and dense layer; preferably a thick, slow-growth year ring.

 

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Sighting down the clean stave.

Not perfectly straight, but then it would hardly be Osage otherwise.  I can work with this. It’s time to imagine a perfectly straight line down the back of the bow.  This will be your starting point when laying it out.

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Another look at growth rings revealed.

The growth rings are quite visible in this low, raking light. The smooth area nearest the viewer is down to the desired ring.  This will be the “back” of the bow, meaning the side facing away from the shooter.  Crossing the rings could cause the limb to “lift” and crack as the rings are stressed and pulled apart.

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Shaping and thinning.

This is nearing its final shape. This is a different stave from the one shown above but gets the point across.  I’ve documented the next part of the process elsewhere but will recap soon.

If you want to make a bow, dive in, don’t be afraid.  Get a piece of wood and go to it.

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Gourd Bottom Bags and More

Stacey has been adding her art to the shop lately so I wanted to give her a bit of a promotion here on the blog.  Among other things, she produces meticulous and beautiful art, beaded bags, earrings, and fiber arts.  Here are her latest additions to the shop.

The smaller bag on the left is jute and the larger is hemp, both with braintanned buckskin trim stitched into a gourd bottom.  The darker color is a homemade American walnut dye.

Here is a small sampling of what she makes below.  I’m sure she will be adding more in the coming weeks.  Consider checking them out on Etsy and “favoriting” our shop.

Crochet felted Icelandic wool hand bags.

Brain tanned buckskin medicine bag.

Buckskin neck bag.

Making a Bucksaw – Retrospective

At “Echoes in Time” Champoeg State Park, Oregon, USA 2014.

This is the prototype saw I used for teaching a bushcraft class at Echoes in Time in 2014.  Unfortunately, a split in the original wood spread last winter and I had to rebuild it.  Actually though, that is a beautiful thing when you can make your own tools.  I didn’t spend any abstract money for a new one, I didn’t have to trow away some sort of useless and polluting garbage, and I could readily improve the design based on several year’s use and observation.  I’ve sold about 20 of these now so the pattern is firmly ingrained in my brain and sinews while tweaking each batch to make them more pleasing to use and efficient to make. without losing the aesthetic of this ancient design.

Saw ready for assembly.

It has been a very successful class for me at both Winter Count and Rabbitstick over the years and I’ve honed the teaching so that each student can really get them most out of it.  Not only is there basic shaping and carving, but also learning to make a simple blind mortise and tenon joint, drill holes by hand-power, and think about design options.  I hope to be teaching this one-day class again soon as it is a great introduction to hand woodworking  while building a manageable and extremely useful tool.

Assortment of cordless tools used in class.

“The Travelling Tinker” by John Burr

The Travelling Tinker

The Travelling Tinker

A painting by the Scottish artist John Burr (1831-1893).  Tinkers were originally tinsmiths or “tinners”.  One of many itinerant jobs pursued by a class of casual laborers.  These were mostly skilled and specialized crafts like basket making, shoe repair, leather work, and metal work but many poorer workers were migrant farm labor picking hops and tending the market gardens during the peak harvest.  The fellow in the image above appears to be a fairly well-off repairman mending a seam in a pot.  This from a time when new items were a rare purchase.

I love deciphering images like this for the details of domestic life.  Unlike most photos, there is real intention in what the artist chose to include or not in the painting.  The house is clearly a poor one but a freshly killed chicken hangs from a nail on the wall by some dry roots.  A handmade broom leans against the wall next to a basket that has the tradesman’s coat lying across it.  The oldest daughter tends the infant while the mother stands by the laundry basin with a toddler behind.  All the children look on while the novel worker plies his trade in a waistcoat and hobnail walking shoes.

Wandering Minstral

A Wandering Minstral

A Wandering Minstrel

Here is a painting by the Scottish artist John Burr (1831-1893) of an itinerant fiddler playing for a family in a Scottish lane probably trying to make enough money to eat or maybe even receive some food for his entertainment.  I can’t help but think the father looking out has a skeptical look; possibly wondering what this will cost in the end.

Music and storytelling were a very different commodity in an age of widespread illiteracy and 24 hour media.  It’s hard to even imagine a time when all music was handmade and intimate and not an item to be mass marketed.

Three Million Views

I guess it’s time to celebrate…

Sometime yesterday this blog surpassed three-million views.  I am both astonished and grateful.  I have often thought of just shutting down the page as a closed chapter in my life but I do enjoy writing and sharing some of my nonsense with anyone out there in the wide world who wants to read.  It is often a conversation.

Honestly, I have no idea why this number should be a milestone, it just seems like a good excuse to celebrate on a cold a dreary day.

So, for everyone who has stopped by, read a bit, and maybe even given some feedback in the form of clicking “like” or commenting on a post, I thank you.  I have gotten to know quite a few people through these rambles and probably given away more of myself than I ever intended.

Your feedback is always appreciated.

The Caveman Catalyst in Your Tinderbox

It’s always time to up your fire-building game. Survival Sherpa Todd Walker does just that in this post. Check it out.

Survival Sherpa

by Todd Walker

The Caveman Catalyst in Your Tinderbox - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The human love affair with fire is intimate and ancient. Over the flames we cook, celebrate, spin tales, dream, and muse in the swirls of wood smoke. Fire is life. Its warming glow draws us like moths to a flame.

It’s not a stretch to believe that a Stone Age chemist recognized the idea of using carbon for future fires. Disturbing the leftover carbon ashes from the night fire, she stares at sparkles of light glowing like the pre-dawn stars above. She carefully nurses a baby “star” back to life to warm her hearth and home.

It ain’t rocket surgery. Even cavemen knew the importance of the sixth most abundant element in the universe.

Carbon and Future Fires

The game of chasing lightning strikes for each fire was no longer required. This unreliable practice was abandoned for twirling sticks together to create enough heat to initiate the…

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The World is Your Workshop

In Britain and Ireland, the Romany Gypsys and the Traveller community are often associated with low-skilled work such as scrap dealers, horse traders, musical entertainers, or more nefarious activities outside the societal norms.  However, there were plenty of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen providing goods and services to people around the country.

Below is an image of a couple, working together making footstools outside their vardo while another couple looks on from the comfort of their wagon.

Gypsy carpenters making small and large stools for market. From an early 20th century postcard.  Source: Romany and Traveller Family History Society.

Other Gypsy families were blacksmiths, basket weavers, or similar occupations that could be taken on the road, required little stock or overhead, and could be performed independently or with a minimum of family help.

Gypsy Basket Weavers on Skyros. Source: http://from-hand-to-hand.org/.

There is more to wandering people than the romantic or demonized images we carry.  People are just people after all.

Gypsy Blacksmith. Source.

Gypsies France 1930s-1960s

Encampment on a pitch somewhere in France, early mid-20th century.