Hi /out/, Let's make an American flatbow.
Tools you'll require:
>Set of wood rasps, one flat, one round
>Fine file/sand paper
Tools that will be useful:
Unfortunately, as I did not intend this as a build-along series, I do not have images for every step of the way. In fact, I am missing a large section, but I'll do my best to answer any questions and make do as best as possible.
Side note: This thread is a repost from /k/. If you'd like me to stop, I will. I thought some sc/out/s would be interested in making their own bows.
The first step is selecting a good tree. This is a step I perhaps failed to do well enough. There have been a variety of trees used for bows throughout history, many of which provide the necessary characteristics. Common examples in America include ash, osage orange, oak, and walnut.
Yew was traditionally used in English longbows, but is generally not ideal for American flatbows due to the difference in design. English longbows typically have a round, D shaped body where the flat back of the bow is formed by a single ring of sapwood while the interior belly was formed by heartwood. The sapwood was powerful under tension while the heartwood was powerful under compression, giving performance closer to a composite bow; impressive for a self bow.
But enough about longbows. I chose an ash tree because it was easy to identify and one of the first that I found that seemed straight. It's important to examine the tree for knots, bulbous or twisted sections, or anything else that may suggest the underlying wood is flawed.
Unfortunately, while downing this tree (using an admittedly improper tool) I broke my hand axe. Once the tree is downed, you should cut the straightest part from the tree with your saw, about 8 feet in length.
Examine the log you now have, look at the grain, see if it's even or uneven. My log had the grain very off center at one end and wasn't as straight as it appeared when it was part of the tree. I worked with it regardless. It caused me some issues down the line.
Now strip the log of bark, being careful not to damage the underlying hard rings of wood underneath. If you do, it will only make it harder for you.
Now you must split the bowstave. I split mine into 4 quarters. If you have the splitting wedges, they'll be useful at this point. You can also try to split it with your hand axe, but this may be very difficult. I used a variety of tools, including chisels, the hand axe, and even a steel pipe, but my method was far from ideal.
Here's the proper way to do it.
The bowstaves now need to dry out. I let my first stave dry for a month before working it, which is generally to short. The English would dry their staves for 1-2 years (with the bark on) before shaping them into bows. I picked one of the worse staves for this bow, as it's the first one I've made. On my second and third bows (if I ever get there), I'll be working with better wood and will hopefully get a better result.
I laid my staves on the floor and had a fan blowing at them to speed up the process. The other ones are still there, drying, as I work on this one.
The next step is to rough out the bowstave. You'll want to draw the dimensions on the back of the bow. I used these dimensions, but increased the ends by 4 inches each to better accommodate my long draw length.
Once the dimensions are drawn on, you'll want to get it down to size and get a rough shape worked out, not getting too close to any of your lines so that you can work on them more finely with the rasp, drawknife, and files.
Once you've roughed it out, leave at least an inch or so along the belly of the bow, you really don't want to mess this part up, or you'll ruin the bow, or at least put an upper limit on its draw weight.
Once the sides are roughed out, rough out the belly. I measured the height along the sides, marked it, and drew the line I was aiming for. If the stave curves forwards or backwards, be sure to be careful in that area to make the lines parallel to the back, or you'll once again limit the draw weight. If any section of the limb is too thin, it will bend a lot more in that area, it's called a hinge and will almost certainly cause your bow to break if it's drawn.
Here is the completed roughed out bowstave that I made. I'll get into what it's on in a minute; this is my only picture of my bow before I started the tillering process. I've cleaned it up with the drawknife and made all the edges smooth, the corners should be sharp. You should be really careful at this point, I as cutting toward the handle (and therefore into the grain) and made a few nicks in the bow that are unsightly and made tillering more difficult. Then again, I had no vice whatsoever, so I was bracing it between my legs, against walls, and stuff like that.
Protip: if you don't have a vice, you can put one end of the bow under a table, put the bow on your knee (as your sitting) and put your other knee over the bow. This is about as tight a grip as you'll get without proper tools. It's still a massive pain in the ass.
Now the process of tillering begins. Tillering is making sure the limbs of the bow bend evenly. This means that there are no "hinges", where the bow bends suddenly and sharply, and no straight sections that don't bend at all. Each limb should also bend the same amount. This is difficult and takes a lot of time.
Once you get it roughly correct, move on to finer tools to reduce the sections slowly. You don't want to bend the bow too quickly, so if you see a hinge, stop pulling and work on correcting it. It shouldn't be necessary to sat that you do this by removing wood from the unbending sections and leaving the straight sections alone.
There are a few ways you can do this, each one being more complex and expensive than the last. The easiest is to just attach a loose rope on the bow, pull it, and see where it bends.
The second easiest is to make a tillering tree, which is essentially a 2x4 with notches cut in it. The loose rope is attached to progressively lower notches so you can see how it bends and view it from afar, which helps greatly.
The most complex and expensive (and honestly probably a waste of money) is the pulley tillering system, which I decided on because it was cool. Details to follow.
Essentially, this is a 2x4, one screw eye, a bent S hook, some rope, and two perpendicular pieces of metal.
Here's the top. The bow rests on the metal, the pulley with the S hook goes on the bowstring.
Here's the bottom. Notice that the rope that goes to the top pulley is attached to the screw eye. The other pulley is on the screw eye as well. This just acts a lever, allowing you to pull your bow down more easily, view it from afar, and test progressively higher weights with little difficulty.
Here it is in action. Notice the limb on the right is bending less than the limb on the right, indicating that it's thicker and should be thinned to even the bend.
One thing that you may have noticed from other my first picture with the rough bow was that the limbs were twisted compared to each other. In the original bowstave, the surface of the stave rotated about 90 degrees, which is known as spiral grain. It basically makes bowmaking a bitch. I was able to work around it for the most part, but it made tillering a lot more difficult, as the limbs would be the same thickness, but the twisted limb would be stronger or weaker. This is why it's important to go slow and keep checking your work.
The other part of tillering is getting the weight down to what you want it. If you're trying to just shoot targets, around 30 pounds should be ideal. I just wanted as high a draw weight as I could mange, so my bow is rather thick.
I found it useful to trace the bow both drawn and at rest in GIMP and compare the angles and stuff. I've seen other people put a grid behind the bow drawn on a board, which might honestly work better, but this seemed a lot easier. It helped.
Once tillering is complete, you're practically done. I rounded the edges on the belly of the bow, but not the back. You want to keep the outermost ring as intact as possible. I used my fine metal file for finishing tillering and finishing most of the bow. It's practically complete at this point, you only need to finish it. and seal it with beeswax or something of the sort. I have not get there yet. It could probably use a little sanding and wax still.
And now for more picture of the [close to] completed bow.
You'll want your string to be this far away when your bow is completed. You should dial your poundage in from this distance. To get this, the bow string should generally be about 3 inches shorter the nock-to-nock distance.
Things I've forgotten:
Fixing bent sections:
If you have a section bent forward or backwards on the bow, you can adjust this by heating the section and bending it the opposite way. A heat gun is ideal, but I did this over my apartment's electric stove without issues. Not all bow woods can be bent in this manner, check before attempting it. Luckily, ash could. I'm not sure if this is the same method used for creating recurves, but I wouldn't be surprised. I may use it to correct some of bending my bow is retaining while unstrung. It's possible it's retaining its bent shape because it's not fully dry.
Use the round rasp to create two grooves angled 45 degrees an inch from the end.
Interesting thing about this bow: because the upper limb is bent slightly to one side, the string is slightly to the left of the handle, which should reduce the issue of the bow pushing arrows to one side when they're fired.
Next projects I'd like to work on are hemp/flax bowstrings and arrows. Clearly, I have no bow string at all, currently.
I'm not sure how strong this bow is, but I can barely anchor the string behind my jaw. I'd guess it's around 60 pounds at my full draw of 34 inches.
I'm actually in the middle of building a pyramid bow right now. Red oak board I the best I can get in this southern California wasteland. If it doesn't explode in my hand while tillering and shoot in, I'll post some pictures. I'm really excited about making a new bow after about 6 years of not having one.
Post more traditional archery gear everyone!
just a little tip
you could fix that axe easily. just fill the split up with wood glue then wrap it up with a single neat layer of thin nylon rope as tightly as you can the entire length of the break. let it dry a few days then soak the rope with varnish or polyurethane to protect it.
I did this to a full size axe and a hammer a few years ago and neither have broke yet
...or instead of putting multiple hours in re-enforcing a cheep part, you could replace the cheap part. A new axe handle that isn't shit is $10. You just described many hours of labor.
B-but I would have to shoot off of my hand and not a perfectly manufactured diamondwood riser....
I never tiller when the bow is braced, but I've seen pictures of old pros doing it. I wouldn't recommend it though. I can't recommend a bow exploding in the face as a good way to start the weekend.
It can feel tedious, but that's the best way to do it IMO.