Sunday, 9 September 2012

Making my own Longbow

I've been shooting the longbow for a fair few years now and making my arrows essentially since I started, much cheaper given the amount I break, but have always fancied having a go at making my own longbow but never seemed to get the time. Finally this year I decided to find a course and have a go after all what would the worst that could happen. So after some research I decided on the course offered by Lee at Heritage Longbows in Cannock. One great advantage with Lee's courses are that he does not restrict you to specific dates rather you can simply phone him and arrange dates to fit.

So having travelled up on a Wednesday evening and stayed over at the local Cottage B&B just around the corner from Lees workshop I headed in for the 9:00 start on Thursday to start what promised to be an entertaining 2 days. Now I had no specific requirements about bow material and Lee had glued together a number of staves made of Ash, Purpleheart and Lemon wood and so having looked at both we picked the longest because I was looking at building a bow with at least a 32" draw length but as it turned out I can happily draw it to 34". Normally I shoot bows around the 90lb mark but having had a previous conversation with Lee heavier bows are more difficult and so given this was my first attempt I was hoping for a bow in the 60 - 70lb range @ 32".

Lee's method of teaching is based essentially on showing you what to do initially and then letting you get on with it yourself whilst he keeps an eye on what you are doing. There was one exception to this and that was the initial cutting to, rough, shape. For this he marked up the stave, based on a template, discussing the whys and wherefores and then using a circular saw cut the stave, based on the markings, and ran the belly over a router to form the initial shape of the belly. Now some people may say hey this is no way to make a bow but to be frank I could have spent many hours cutting and scraping by hand to get to this point but this first cut is not what makes a bow and anyway why not use our 21 Century tools.

From this point on the hand work began and as Lee provided me with a cabinet scraper and reminded me how to use one (I was at school the last time) I set the bow in the vice and used the scraper to complete the basic shape of a traditional English Longbow and after and hour or so of scraping I finally had the shape I desired and then it was time for lunch.

After an excellent lunch it was time to fit make and fit the horn for the nocks and then shape them into Lee's Heritage Longbow style. This as it turns out is remarkably simple and rather quick with a belt sander. So first it's a case of sanding the ends of the bow to a nice conical shape that will fit a piece of pre-drilled horn supplied by Lee. Once fixed in place with Super glue it was time to run it over the sander to achieve the distinctive but simple shape that is perfect for holding the string. Once the majority of the sanding was done it was time to return to the vice and cabinet scraper to smooth to join between the horn and the wood of the bow before cutting the grooves for the String and an extra one in what we decided would be the top limb for stringing.

AdviceAfter a cup of tea and some biscuits it was time to start what would be the longest part, in total 7 hours, of the bow building tillering the bow. Now tillering can be one of those jobs that takes half and hour (for Lee) or several hours and it all depends on the wood and in my case I had a particularly stubborn lower limb that would require a lot of scraping.

Now Lee prefers and teaches the traditional Full Compass bow style which provides a beautifully curved look at full draw and as I was going to find out a nicer bow to shoot. So it was on to the tillering and time to see what and where needed scraping so as we started to tension I worked in small increments first with a long string and after each increase in draw Lee would take a look and say 10 or 15 scrapes here or there. So it was off with the bow and back to the vice and cabinet scraper before back to tensioning the bow. As I moved down to the 32" draw, maximum Lee has marked up, the bow was finally taking on its final shape and so it was time to make my string before the final tillering process.

With a quick lesson on how to make a double loop flemish string it was time to have a go myself and so having picked a couple of colours I made my first bow string, using fast flight material, and then fitted it to the bow before another cup of tea. Once the bow string was fitted it was time for the final tillering and sanding / wire wooling to a nice smooth finish.

With the hard work essentially finished it was time to add the arrow pass. Now given that the bow was made to come full compass the arrow pass simple goes in the middle on the appropriate side and a hand grip below it. I decided that I would go for a simple Mother of Pearl Arrow pass and leather handle. Once the handle was in place it was time to Serve the string and shoot my bow.

As it turned out my bow was only 54lb @ 30" and hence a little lower than I had wanted but having shot it one Lee's in-door range and subsequently at my club for it's draw weight it is a very quick bow and one of the smoothest I have. I suspect this last feature has something to do with the full compass style and if I buy a new bow I will definitely go for this style.

I must say there is something satisfying  shooting a bow you have made yourself and I am planning on a return visit to make a warbow in the new year but in the mean time I'm clearing space in the garage to have another go. Lee will happily supply pre-cut staves based on the same templates used on the course.


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