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.

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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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I’m Back Baby! – Well, sort of…

Machinist shop – Mike Savad

I’m working on getting the leather and wood shop back up and running while working a part-time day job.  The recovery from injury is slow and frustrating but I can start doing some things now.  While doing some weekend reading, I came across this fine quote by Drucker.

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

~ Peter Drucker Managing for Business Effectiveness, 1963 p. 53.

Thoughts Provoked by a Sloyd Workbench Advertisement

A bit of personal history –

I never touched a tool in high school.  When I was there, kids were openly placed in two “tracks;” either Academic or General education.  I know I wasn’t the sharpest student and I generally disliked almost everything about being in school but I was placed among the Academics.  In lieu of shop classes (woodworking, metal shop, electricity, etc.) I learned a lot from a former engineer-cum-teacher who taught Drafting and Engineering Drawing.  This was the closest thing to shop class a kid on the Academic track could do.  Why? I have no idea.  We learned about house design, making scale plans, estimating materials, and other useful things.

Engineer drawing.

Fortunately, my grandfather was a handy guy who grew up on a farm and spent his early years in the building trade so I learned the basics of using a square, compass, saws, planes, and the like from him.  Also, being left as a somewhat feral child, I was able to use and abuse the family tools and learned many valuable lessons the slow and often frustrating way.  When I was sixteen, I began working part-time for a construction company as a laborer with the thought I might make that my profession.  I learned a lot, both good and bad, by observation and exposure, and continued to work as a carpenter in various capacities through graduate school a decade later.

Elementary school Sloyd.

Where am I going with this ramble? 

It was a long and meandering road for me with many side excursions and dead-ends, and although I feel grateful for all the lessons and training I received along the way, I sometimes lament the loss of craftsmanship and the values of creativity in schools.  In short, education isn’t an either/or proposition; that you are either on track for academic pursuits or you will be in the labor force.  I have met many geniuses with little formal education and many fine academics who excel in the manual arts.

Teach your children well.  Real life skills are too important to be left to others.

The Hardest Part of Learning to Sharpen

Wise words. Learning to really properly sharpen an edge tool by hand is an epiphany and makes wood and leatherworking a real joy.

The Literary Workshop Blog

The other day, I was teaching a friend to sharpen his plane iron, and it got me thinking about sharpening.  Of all the skills I have learned while working wood, sharpening has been the most life-changing. It started with chisels and plane irons, but then I began sharpening my kitchen knives and pocketknives.  I had no idea that steel could get so sharp!  It used to be that dull tools were merely inconvenient, but now I find a dull knife a heartbreaking disappointment.

I say this because I want to share a recent article on sharpening by Chris Schwarz, former editor at Popular Woodworking Magazine and current head of Lost Art Press.  In it, Schwarz reflects (well, more like pontificates) on how few woodworkers actually know how to sharpen an edge tool.  Even the some of the professionals who write for the big-name magazines often lack basic sharpening skills.  He…

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Campsite Life

Scenes of life on the road and around the campsites.

october-1951-mrs-robert-matthew-an-mps-wife-campaigning-at-a-gypsy-encampment

October 1951: Mrs Robert Matthew, an MP’s wife, campaigning at a gypsy encampment.

Kidsatthecampsite

Kids at the campsite.

landing

A classic image of Traveller children.

couple

Modern gypsies (Romany) in their simple accommodation.

caravanandbender

I really love these little bender tents.

Family Life

A fine caravan for a successful traveller.

This is part of a series of images, mostly Romany, Irish, and Scottish Travellers collected from around the internet.  Many of these historic images found on the web are without citation.  When a clear link to a source is found, I try to include it.  If a source is known, please pass it on and I will gladly include it or remove it if necessary.

Making a Stitching Pony; Video Tutorial

Stitching Pony, Leather Worker’s Clamp, or Saddler’s Clam…

Whatever you call it, it is a handy device to own if you sew any leather.  These are simple devices that just about anyone can make with little time or money invested.  Although there are many varieties and models, the one shown in this tutorial by Harry Rogers of Bucklehurst Leather is the one I have most commonly seen.  Is there no end to this man’s skill and diversity of talents?

 

The only comments I really have are:

YES, the jaws should be lined with thick, smooth leather and that the gap is necessary to keep the jaws as flat as possible against the work.  It is also nice, but not necessary, to have a compression spring over the bolt to push the jaws apart when loosened.   And finally (terrible way to open a sentence in writing I know), a recent comment from a friend suggested that the tightening nut could be replaced and a better system be devised from a bicycle quick release axle.  Maybe on the next one.

Check out his leather work here:

bucklehurstleather_stamp_0fd2bd01-fcde-4de3-b992-c6787c49c8de_180x

Art and Craft Fair

I would not have ever thought myself a craft fair kind of guy yet here we are…

A sneaky photo of the maker discovered this afternoon.

Last year, our local community center hosted an arts and craft fair as a way to bring local artisans together and raise money for public programs (art classes, GED education, computer skills, tax assistance, etc.).  Being new to the area we joined in last year and were invited back for a second go around last weekend.  It was a good cause and a way for us to make a little extra spending money for the holiday season.

Stacey’s jewelry, sewing, weaving, and holiday arts.

Times are tough and it seems that most people have little to spare on superfluous items this time of year.  Despite this, it was still a profitable venture and a portion of everyone’s proceeds went to a good cause.

Details…

Two very good outcomes from joining in this effort were:

  1. Forcing us to buckle down and finish a load of projects in a very short period and
  2. Putting us in touch with a lot of local makers we may not have met otherwise.

There are some very talented people out there and it is often difficult for them to show their work. Venues like this allow the small, part-time players like us to showcase some of what we do.  Now, as a primitive tech artist, I steered myself more toward items that were affordable and would appeal to the average person; especially someone looking for gifts appropriate for the holidays.  I even brought a few walnut cutting boards as they are fairly popular gifts.

Painters, printers, writers, jewelers, and even wonderful candy and jam makers were there and we a grateful for the opportunity to participate again this year.

I thought I’d share a few bench photos leading up to the fair.

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.

Community of Wanderers

Nomads are not loners.  In fact, humans do not do well alone in any setting.  We have always been communal people, depending upon one another for help and support.  Many hands make light work and it is essential to be near others you can depend on.

1930sI have been collecting images of Traveller communities for many years and I really enjoy the gritty, homespun feel of the old encampments with peeling paint and makeshift tarpaulin shelters.  I’m sure this image was not welcome in settled communities around Europe and the shiftless nature of these wanderers led to many suspicions, both unfounded and real.

4203n Woonwagenkamp, een draaiorgel komt langsThese are not the rolling home of the wealthy showmen of idle rich but the best compromise for families destined to live on the road.

FamilyVardoThe vardos bear many differences but within fairly tight physical contraints of size, weight, needs, and technology.  It’s important to remember as well that historic travellers of most varieties didn’t design or build their own accommodations but often modified or improved that which they acquired.

Dutch1940Even though they show few relevant details of the caravans themselves these are some of my favorite images; they give us a glimpse of the people who called them home.

Although Traveller families lived (and live) on the margins of “normal” society they were (are) more like their neighbors than not.

I hope you enjoy the photos as we head into the season of Thanksgiving here in North America and give thanks for what we have.

We are at our best and worst in groups, whether that is family or friends.  Humans are social animals.