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Making your own bow – Part 3: Shaping the bow
In part three of his series on making your own bow and arrows, Cleve Cheney gives instructions on how the bow is to be shaped and says that one has to begin by working the back of the stave down to a single growth line.
Don't at this stage attempt to bend the bow – even slightly – it is likely to break. Before we make any attempts to bend the bow we must work carefully on the back of the bow with cabinet scrapers (or a piece of sharp glass) or fine wood rasps to scrape off wood down to one growth ring for the entire length of the stave. This is where the success, or otherwise, of the bow is determined.
Be patient at this stage and work slowly shaving off small quantities of material at a time until you have reached the point where you are down to a single growth ring.
The next step is to sandpaper the back with progressively finer grades of sandpaper until the surface is smooth with no nicks, or scratches (see figure 1). This is important as the bow will start to break at a point of weakness such as a scratch, nick or gouge when the limbs are bent for the first time. Now we can proceed to the next step. See figure 1.
To lay the bow out reduce the stave width to about 75 mm. Now with a pencil draw a line down the middle of the stave. Measure 20 to 25 mm either side of the centre line making for a width of 40 to 50mm depending on the type of wood. For locust a width of about 44 mm is good while for ash and hickory a width of around 50 mm will work well (see figure 2). For the purposes of this article let us work on the assumption that we are building an ash selfbow and work on the appropriate dimensions for this wood. To determine the length of the bow take your draw length, double it and add about 20 per cent. An average draw length for an adult male is about 28 inches (71 cm) so let us work on this assumption.
2 x 28 = 56 + (20% x 56) = 56 + 11.2 = 67, 2 inches. Let us round this off to 68 inches which in metric terms is 1727, 2 mm. Let us round this off to 1728 mm. See figure 2.
Now find the middle of the staves total length and measure 55 mm either side for the handle of 110mm total length. See figure 3.
Clamp the rough stave or oversize plank in a padded vice. Use old cloths or wood between the steel jaws of the vice and the stave to protect the stave from damage - don't over tighten the vice. See figure 4.
The width of the handle will finally be 32 mm and the thickness 45mm. Let the width of the handle flare gradually to full width after a distance of 50 mm on the upper and lower limbs (see dotted lines in the upper sketch of figure 5). This design is called a handle bow. Other designs are possible.
Seen from the side the handle section will look as shown in the lower sketch of figure 5. The design gives a total non-bending portion of the handle of 210 mm (just over 8 inches).
Having a non-bendable portion at the centre of the bow will shift the area of highest stress up the limbs of the bow. Seen from the side the bow will taper from the handle towards the limb tips (nocks) - initially to about 25 mm and finally after being worked down to about 12 mm.
With your draw knife begin to remove wood from the belly of the bow. Work slowly. The amount of wood you remove will determine the final draw weight of the bow. Work the wood down until you get close to your drawn guidelines and then switch to the wood rasp.
You now start entering a critical phase of the making of the bow because you must continually check to see that the limbs are bending uniformly. At this stage the stave will look like that shown in figure 6 which you will have worked down to where you must begin the "tillering" process. Before starting with tillering you must put a "backing" onto the bow (should you wish to do so). "Backing" is the process whereby you glue some natural material onto the back of the bow such as leather, snakeskin or sinew to strengthen the bow and make it less likely to break and also to increase the poundage of the bow.
If you decide to "back" the bow that is the next step then before moving on to the "tillering" process.
About the Author
Cleve Cheney, hunting and environmental editor of Africa’s Bowhunter is a very well known figure in bow hunting and in conservation circles in South Africa. Cleve Cheney has been in conservation for 27 years, of which 20 years were spent with the National Parks Board – most of it in the Kruger National Park. During the time spent in the Kruger National Park Cleve culled no less than 50 elephants with a rifle and he has hunted most African game during culling operations.
Cleve has also been an avid bow hunter for 22 years and he has an extensive technical knowledge on bows, arrows and broadheads. Cleve is also an accomplished bowyer and has built many recurves over the years. He began offering bowhunting education courses more than 15 years ago. Until recently, Cleve was a lecturer at the South African Wildlife College where was a lecturer and instructor. He has a diploma in Nature Conservations and a MA degree in animal Physiology. Over the years Cleve has written more than a hundred articles on tracking, hunting, survival skills, and bow and rifle hunting. He started an 18 month long professional hunters course at the SA Wildlife College where he trained the first group of professional hunters.
Cleve has trained many bow hunters and his educative articles on how to hunt African game, as well as many other articles on different aspects of archery bow hunting an bush skills has been published in Africa’s Bowhunter, Game and Hunt magazine, Universal Hunter and many other magazines. He has been the lead article writer for Africa’s Bowhunter for more than 14 years.
His book on tracking, The Comprehensive Guide to Tracking: In-depth information on how to track animals and humans alike, is probably the most in-depth study on this subject available. For those who want to learn more than the basics, this book is a treasure trove of tracking information, insights, methods, and knowledge. The book is divided into logical sections: teaching yourself to track; understanding wildlife behavior; identification of tracks and signs; gait patterns and pressure release; blood trailing; tracking specific animals; track, stalk, and approach; bird, reptile, and invertebrate sign; man tracking; and dangers in the bush.