Friday, 17 May 2019

Broken Arrow

Today I broke the ash bow that I’d spent many hours fashioning from a board. In fact, the bow was nearly ready for backing with genuine snakeskin and I had high hopes that this bow would be, if not a masterpiece, at least reasonably serviceable. The destruction event occurred when I was flexing the limbs prior to removing more wood. During the process, there was a resounding crack and my bow was rent in twain. To say I was disappointed is an understatement especially as the breaking bow took a chunk out of my hand (strength through pain). I’d put a lot of effort into the project and now I have two pieces of expensive firewood. Well, not quite useless, I’m sure I’ll find some use for the ash. This is the third bow to break from the large piece of ash I bought some time ago. The two ‘successful’ bows I’ve made from the board are very weak and next to useless. It could be that I’m a very poor bow maker, or perhaps I’m very unlucky. A third possibility involves the intrinsic quality of the wood. I don’t know how the wood was dried. It could have been air or kiln dried. As I understand it kiln drying is the quicker of the two processes but is prone to leaving the wood brittle and dry. Over drying the wood is generally not a problem for most building projects but can lead to catastrophic weakness during bow making. To test my hypothesis I’ve ordered a wood moisture metre to check the water content of the ash board. They are fairly inexpensive and at least I’ll know whether the problem is down to me or the wood. It will also be useful for checking how the drying process is proceeding for the tree staves I’ve harvested from my property. Ideally, the wood should be in the 8% to 10% range.

Moving on…….. Although a little dispirited I’ve decided to continue anew. The eucalyptus staves harvested 8 months ago have been drying naturally in the barn. Eucalyptus is not an ideal bow wood so to compensate I’m going to build it long and wide for the sake of safety. There is a trade-off for making a ‘safe bow’ in terms of efficiency and speed. To prevent splinters rising from the back I’ll add a backing of rawhide. Enough writing for now. I need to make a bow. But before I go I feel encumbered to write an ode that the muses have begged me to share. Read and weep.

Achy breaky bow 
Four score and 10 hours (and a bit) I have laboured on your form and sweat has glistened my brow and trickled to the grain to remain, ingrained.
From stout ash, you came and ached to be fashioned by knotted hand.
Driven by madness barely perceived I worked late until the sun descendeth like a descendy thing.
The stroke of the adze and rasp have contoured gnarled, knotty lines to manifest driven beauty unparalleled by man.
As I worked you split asunder with a crescendo of doom. A craven tumult descending into a babble of pandemonium.
My sweat and blood mingled with your splintered disarticulation (not a real word).
Cruel fates and Hade’s furies have drained my soul; my very being is laid prostrate and supine.
O woe, can it be my toil has been but a barren sham? A work of labour lost?
Bugger! I shall start anew to fashion a piece to grace the table of the gods.
Nay, stay my hand. Once lost can never be the same. Yet I will go on with fingers stout and a bow will bow to my very will.
My bruised heart still beats and shall create again, but not before I test your moisture content with an instrument designed for this sort of thing.
The wood will rise again (unless the moisture content is less than 5%) and bend with fury to cast an arrow to its mark.
An arrow to wend and rend my foe.
Let me go now I need to think and drink.
Later I will escape my grim demeanour to run naked upon the dale, shouting: “Arse, big fat ARSE”.               




  1. After reading this I went web-searching on bow making. I found some really interesting sites.
    But what they told me was that it is not simple or easy. So good luck with your bowyering. It will be good to follow your progress. Thanks.

    1. Yea Mr Doonhamer, bow making is harder than you first think. After all, a simple bow is basically a stick. But then you have to pick the right tree species and the grain has to be straight (good luck with that). And then there is the drying process. I make simple longbows but that doesn't mean they are simple to make. To be honest, the skill resides in the tillering process. This involves taking wood off both limbs in order that they bend in harmonious accord. Therein lies the skill. And this is a skill attained after much practise. I confess, I'm still a novice in this regard.

  2. It really makes me wonder how our forebears, with no technology, produced these bows in sufficient quantities, culminating in that wonderful October day in 1415 when our stout-hearted yeomen once again put those uppity frogs back in their place.

    Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
    Or close the wall up with our English dead.
    In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
    As modest stillness and humility:
    But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
    Then imitate the action of the tiger;
    Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
    Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
    Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
    Let pry through the portage of the head
    Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
    As fearfully as doth a galled rock
    O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
    Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
    Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
    Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
    To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
    Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
    Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
    Have in these parts from morn till even fought
    And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
    Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
    That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
    Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
    And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
    Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
    The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
    That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
    For there is none of you so mean and base,
    That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
    I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
    Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
    Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
    Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

    1. Stirring stuff, Ted. Shakespeare's poetry is nearly as good as mine.