This time last year I acquired a 54 inch long stem of yew, 3 inches diameter at the centre. The stem was split into two staves, sealed and left until July to season. I then started building my first yew bow, which was also full of knots and also very short – a big learning curve where I eventually discovered that you should never bend a yew bow too much if it is left in the hot sun, especially on a ‘hinged’ section – a hinge is a weak part of the bow, caused by cutting away slightly more of the wood than you should have (we might be talking less than one mm of thickness!). Anyway a bad combination of heat, hinge and impatience meant the bow de-laminated and snapped.
I split the remaining yew stave in half again, resulting in two fairly narrow little bows, one slightly thicker than the other but both just over an inch wide, each with several large knots. First thing was to reduce the sapwood, which was about a 1/2 inch thick, by half – it is really important that, regardless of how much the ring of sapwood moves up and down or twists, the surface you carve out is unbroken- the process is called ‘chasing the ring’ and is very time consuming. Once the sapwood was removed, the underside (belly) was cleaned up and the bow limbs shaped. By now it was clear the thicker bow was far too strong – bending it more than a few inches was very difficult. The thinner bow progressed quite quickly up to a point but I broke my tillering string on the heavier bow and work stopped for a while.
By early October I had made up a new string and it was time to finish what I had started, so here we are. The bows just need a few coats of varnish and we are good to go, although I might heat treat them before I varnish them. I decided the heavy bow was silly – no point in making a bow I can’t use – so I reduced its weight a lot – I think it was about a 60lb bow at 22″ and now it is a really sweet little bow shooting in the low 30lb range, the light bow is in the low 20s, perfect for my kids to move up to when they are ready.