If things all seem to be quiet on the blog, its not because nothing’s been going on, its because I’ve been having some IT problems, although things have also slowed up a bit with the kids being off school for a while.  One of the projects I’ve been working on is a short-ish, naturally deflexed, holly war-bow.  The bow is 66 inches from nock-to-nock and is nearly ready for stringing. I’ve no idea what its draw weight will be as its already off my scales.

The photos show it bending a little and its shape unstrung.


Horn bow project

WIN_20170702_16_24_06_ProWIN_20170702_16_23_40_ProThe above photos show what I started off with, but, this week I managed to get down and borrow my mates big band saw for an hour and turned 6 water buffalo horn back strips like the one in the photos into 6 horn strips. Three hours of rasping the first pair got me to the point (6mm thick) where I could steam the plates and straighten out most of their curvature. Another few hours will get them to the 4.5mm I need but for now they look like this:

WIN_20170714_10_17_52_Pro (2)

Hornbow Project

It’s been a busy few days, as well as the school carving project and the trailboard, I have made a small start on the hornbow project, not much of a start mind, but, a start all the same. I spent a pleasant afternoon rasping off all the ridges on the six strips of horn I ordered back in January in preparation for band-sawing into plates.  I am proceeding very cautiously; ultimately the strips will be about 4mm thick but I have marked out 10mm cuts, now I just need to get some time on a nice big band-saw; its probably a good time to wander over to see my mate the ship-wright.




This whole making your own archery equipment is something I wish I had tried years ago. One of the most daunting things about archery is the cost of arrows, especially when you are learning. An experienced archer can hit the target ‘most every time and knows how to pull arrows from targets without bending them. Neither of these is true for novices, who can go through arrows at a scary rate, or for field archers – my preferred discipline. Field archery has been described as like golf but with bows and arrows and involves walking around a course, often in woodland or along the side of a hill, shooting at targets at various angles and distances to mimic hunting. There are many opportunities to lose arrows ! With arrows costing £5+ a walk in the woods can be very expensive…….

It turns out that you can ‘grow your own’ arrows – well kinda.  Several species grow straight stems suitable for arrows, privet, for instance makes dense, heavy shafts, while my personal favourite is hazel.  Cut straight stems about three feet in length, as many as you need, and then bind them tightly in a bundle, with the stems all lying straight – they will keep each other straight as they season.  Once they are seasoned, peel them and sand them smooth – I like to leave the bottom two inches with the bark on but only because I like the way it looks.  You will find that the stems are very easy to bend straight by hand, but be aware that they will need tweaking back into shape from time to time.

It is VERY important that you cut the stem at a thickness that suits the power of your bow – the arrow bends as it is pushed by the string. On a traditional bow this is a good thing as it allows the arrow to bend around the handle of the bow and still go straight at the target (Archer’s Paradox – the arrow should be bounced sideways by the bow but instead bends around it and goes straight). A modern target bow handle is cut so the arrow does not have to negotiate the handle  – shoot-through-centre bows – but spine is still important – too bendy and the power of the bow can snap the arrow on release and splinters of arrow shaft in your arm and hand are most unpleasant.  Anyway, that is why you cut the stems so long – you can cut them down to suit your needs, the nearer the base of the stem you go, the wider (and stiffer) the shaft will be.  Cut the same wood-species with the same width base or top and the shafts will match for weight and taper.

Now this is where I got lucky because it turns out that antler makes great nocks and tips, and I have a small quantity of antler plates from on-going projects, but you can purchase feathers, horn strips, nocks and tips on-line and inexpensively.  I cut a slot in each end of the shafts and super-glued in a tiny chip of antler about 10mm long into each end then shaped each one – one to strengthen the tip (target-blunts, not hunting heads), the other to carve into a U shaped nock.  They work really well.

Now, fletching is straight-forward but is not done the way I first thought, that is to say just gluing the fletching onto the shaft.  Do this and when the leading edge of the feather droops, it will catch something (like your hand) and rip off.  If it catches your hand it will hurt, a lot – surprising how something so small and soft can cut you quite badly when its moving really fast……Feathers are sort of sewn on, fix the end of all three feathers with a tiny dab of super-glue then wrap several turns of cotton around to seal them in place – spinning the arrow is easier than passing the thread around. Now, move the thread along the arrow shaft, pulling it into the feathers as you go – open up the tines, drop in the thread, close the feather up and snug the feather into place. Once the feathers are sewn on, make sure you wrap the ends of the feathers in several passes of thread, tie-off the thread and secure the knot with a dab of glue.  Check the feathers are all aligned then trickle in some super-glue.  This sounds complex but really takes about five minutes.


Sourcing timber for long-bows

Weirdly, having carved for something like 30 years, I have never harvested my own timber – I have always re-cycled or bought in whatever I have needed. The thing with bows is that they require timber that (in the UK) you can’t easily come-by.  A bow needs timber with very specific qualities – a 2m length of straight not-free timber (clean) of one of a very few types of wood – yew, hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, ash, elm, holly and maple are the short-list of relatively common British timbers, but in realistic terms, that really leaves hazel. Consequently I have become very pre-occupied with finding bow-wood. Its a VERY addictive sport.

Over the last six months I have harvested yew, holly, hawthorn, blackthorn and lots of hazel, but finding the timber has been far from straight-forward – lots of country walks! Anyone  fancying commission a long-bow or flat bow get in touch.

Most of these species are cut-and-come again pollard species so as long as you have permission, you will not harm the tree, and can even invigorate it.  There are several, rather more practical issues; saplings of say four-inch diameter might cleave cleanly or they might not – its always worth starting off by cleaving it but be prepared to have to rough out one side with a hatchet  – do not count on getting two useful lengths from a sapling such as this.  Larger trunks might need the services of someone with a BIG circular saw or chain saw – if you are not that person, ask around – a local joinery is often a good place to go, but so is a comprehensive school.  If you find tree-surgeons at work, always stop for a chat, local contacts are really useful, and if they are felling something you are interested in they will often dimension the timber for you if you ask nicely.  Oh, and do not forget, the timber must be sealed on every exposed surface with a couple of coats of PVA and left to season for several months, and although there are ways to speed up the process, its best not to, so if you are planning on making a bow as a Christmas gift, the timber should be cut, roughed out, sealed all over and put to dry by mid August……….


If you have a specific project you would like me to post about, leave me a comment.




made a bow!

image (1)You may have noticed that it has been a while since anything has been posted. Many apologies but I have been distracted making some archery equipment – a pyramid-style selfbow, in fact.  The bow is called pyramid-style because the limbs are triangular in shape when viewed from in front or behind. Selfbow merely means one carved all in one piece.

This one is made from hazel, because I am cheap and could cut it from the wood behind my house ! Hazel is also an excellent bow-wood and soo nice to work with.

So, here it is.

Carving the bow was relatively straight-forward as the wood was fairly green (not recommended – best to let it season properly), cleaved cleanly and was a joy to cut with a hatchet and draw-knife.  The nocks are antler tines.  One change from the normal practice was that because the back of the bow (the side facing the target) was very rounded as it was the surface of a fairly narrow log, the belly (side facing the archer) was hollowed to match – this is not normal and probably not necessary but it looks good and equalises the compression stresses across the wood as it is all a similar thickness (I hope).


The overall dimensions are 60 inches long, the limbs tapering from 1.5 inches wide and with a uniform thickness of 9mm to produce a really nice youth’s bow of about 20lb draw weight.

Be warned bow-making is highly addictive, I have now harvested enough staves to make another dozen bows, even though I only need two!!

Grateful thanks go to the contributers to the Primitive Archer forum.

mini-crossbow part 1 – the prod/bow/limb

Funny how things won’t let go sometimes.  The story starts, ‘ Many year ago, when I were a lad……’ of ten or eleven, I decided to build a crossbow but mum found the twigs I managed to snap off the privet hedge sticking out from beneath my bed, and that was that.  Then, when I was in my teens, I found a book of wood-work projects in the library and there was a how to make a cross-bow project!  ‘Sorry’, said the librarian, ‘you’re too young to take a book out of the grown-ups section in the library’.

Oh well, time passes but I have finally, after many years, gotten around to building a child-sized cross-bow.  To make things a little more demanding I decided to make the crossbow with a yew bow (called ‘prod’).  In the end, I made the whole thing, stock and prod, from the same piece of yew.

At the outset, I want to say a grateful thanks for all the advice and encouragement recieved from the craftsmen and women of the Arbalist Guild forum.

I have carved yew many times and it is a beautiful wood to look at but is very hard and particularly prone to cleaving, which can be used to advantage when roughing things out as you can split huge chunks of waste away very easily – most of the carving for this project was done with a hatchet. I have never needed to bend yew before and it is really strong and really stiff.  In the end the prod was cut to 15mm in the centre and tailed down to 5 mm at the ends and still needed two hands to flex it across my knee  but to string it needed a jig and pulleys – a 10mm thick (average) stick needing a pulley to bend it!!!!!. Oh, it is also very toxic – leaves, berries, sap, wood, bark and root, all very poisonous (sawdust too). I digress.

The important part of a yew bow is the sapwood – it absorbs the bending forces of the spring.  The surface of the sapwood must be all of the same growth-ring  (layer) of the wood and must be undamaged. It forms the part of the bow that faces away from the archer/shooter. Any break in the sap-wood will allow a seperation between the layers and lead to catestrophic failure.

As this project was for a mini-bow, the sapwood was too thick and was reduced in thickness to about 3mm (1/4 “); this was the longest part of the project as the surface of the sapwood then needed to be finessed so that it was all from the same gowth ring and was undamaged.  The shape looked like a ‘dogs hind-leg,’ as it followed the contours of the timber, up and down, all over the place, but the on first prod I made, the top surface was carved nice and smooth and it snapped as soon as I bent it hard. Funny though, when the second prod was strung, the tension resolved the shape into a lovely smooth cuve.

Now the other important bit.  On such a short prod (17 inches, or 42cm), the prod needs to be pre-formed into a curve as it can’t bend enough to work as a bow.  There are three ways to do this, all use the application of heat – hot air gun, steaming, or boiling. The prod needs to be heated enough to soften the lignin in the cell walls, the wood can then be bent into a new shape and left to set. Both hot air and steam dry out the timber so I opted for wrapping the yew in towels and pouring boiling water over it for a while – I kept it hot for about 15 minutes, and then very quickly (speed is ESSENTIAL – more than 30 seconds was too long, don’t ask me how I know….)  bent it into a form made of an ash batten attached to a few nails in a baseboard.  The batten was initially sprung to a 3″ deep curve  on a base-board; this curve was then marked out and the nails driven in so they stood 2″ proud of the board (note, I needed a 2” deep curve but bent extra in to allow for spring-back). The batten was clamped to the nails,  the hot prod was clamped to the batten; this way the prod took the curve of the batten and the batten took any nail-marks – it sounds too simple to work but it was very effective, however the prod sprung-back to a very shallow 1.5 inch curve after cooling for a few days – needed more heat to cure in a deeper curve, probably.  Interestingly the prod seems to be much more flexible now and can flex to a full draw of 5 inches but would only bend half this before boiling.

Once strung with a temporary string, the prod was put to one side in order to make the stock.  Who am I kidding, I couldn’t wait to test it and spent much time firing pencils off a piece of 2×1 that I lashed the prod to. Once I got that out of my system I measured the normal draw on the prod at 4.75 inches and set to work making a medieval-style of stock, but that, together with some pictures is part two of this post. In the meantime, why not spend some time perusing some beautiful medieval crossbows in my pinterest clipboard on decorative weapons at  http://www.pinterest.com/avenuew/decorative-weapons/