Sunday, July 15, 2007

Splitting and Peeling

Having had a couple of months to season, I got my lengths of wood out to try to turn them into bowstaves proper.

On the left (if the formatting works, and your screen is wide enough) an end-view of the larger of the two logs. You can see where it has started to crack slightly in the seasoning. Trust me that this didn't make it at all easy to split. I can see why this oak might be appropriate for bows; its _tough_ and it really didn't want to fall apart.

On the right, I have finally got the bastard started, after which it went better, but its still holding on something fierce.

Eventually I got the thing split in 3:

The wider bit on the right _may_ be big enough to split again, but I'm going to see how much I lose in the shaping - we're looking at the wide ends here, and it narrows a bit up the other end. The peeling by contrast was easy; as you can see, once you picked the end of the bark up with a chisel it came off in big clean strips, leaving a smooth outer growth ring exposed. From the sound of it, I should be using this as the back of the bow as intact as possible.

The peeled staves - especially the bottom one - revealed some small knots that may be troublesome. Also, while the angle of the last shot exaggerates it a bit, they're not what you'd call perfectly straight and there was some twist in the split.

Finding a Bowstaff

Having read a bit more - notably the Bow Construction FAQ I discovered that, of the woods commonly available near Flagstaff, oak, juniper, and cedar might be suitable. Checked with the Forest Service about getting a permit to cut a tree, and they said that cedar here is limited. In the end I went with oak because:
* the oaks here grow very straight.
* its the most common, and I might as well make my first mistakes on common wood.
* there's a stand of them growing in our front yard, which needs thinning anyways. (Hurrah for minimising effort.)

Jamie is leaning against our chosen vitim.

Following the advice from the FAQ, we picked a tree from 4-6 inches in diameter (well, 12-16 inches in circumference, which is easier to measure before you cut it down) and with a fairly constant width. With a little help from Jamie, I cut down the tree and stripped off the branches, and, since I couldn't find any references to whether you seasoned it before or after splitting, put it up in the rafters of the shed. This would have been about the beginning of April. (Since then I have found at least one reference to someone splitting first and then seasoning, but even there it was unclear as to how much of the shaping happened before the staves were put away to season. Hopefully having done it the other way round isn't going to cripple the attempt from the start. We'll see.)

The rope alongside is roughly the length of the finished bow. I cut the staves long so I could work around flaws or knots to a certain extent.

The Mark I

Brief mention of my very first attempt at bowmaking, back in Febuary. I had read that cedar was a usable wood, and my nephew James was very excited about making a bow when we were up at Volcano, which has a lot of cedar around. Didn't have time to do any more research before we went, so we just had a go.

Not really knowing how big a tree to go for, we picked a cedar sapling that was already downed but resting well above the ground, figuring it might have had a chance to season a bit. It looked solid and bug-free; one of the advantages of cedar. This particular sapling was about the right diameter for a bow already, so I just cut it in half lengthwise to get a D-shape, shaping it with an axe. What I didn't do was make any effort to make the center of the bow thicker, and that combined with a helpful relative demonstrating how it could bend just as well the wrong direction - to the sound of an audible crack - meant that it snapped in half the first time we tried to string it. This was unfortunate, but it brought home to me exactly how much of the stress is naturally right where your hand rests, and the need for a reinforced handgrip.

The Longbow Project

This is a record of my project to make a longbow from scratch. Lets be clear here - I have no idea what I'm doing, so look elsewhere for your expert advice. But I wanted a place to keep all of the web resources I've been finding in one place, and if I document the progress then maybe someone can eventually tell me where I went wrong... Plus its just kinda fun. Those who have witnessed my projects in the past will know that this may take some time (remember the barrel thing? I'll go back and finish that one day, I swear...)