Making a Bow and Arrows (When You Have No Idea What You Are Doing)

Tags: #<Tag:0x00007fd9a0ac7f20>

(Dennis Lanigan) #1

I am in the middle of making a bow and I thought I would share my experiences as I build it. In no sense should this be construed as a tutorial as I have no idea what I am doing and I am just having fun figuring this out.

Here’s the bow I’m working on. It’s not quite done, but it’s getting there (if it doesn’t break that is…). The bow originally was a 3"X1"X6’ a maple board from a local hardware store. The design is a Mollegabet style. I chose this style because I am following this great video tutorial on YouTube by Mike of Boarrior Bows called “How to Make a High Performance Bow for $10”.

You’ll notice that’s not a bow string. That’s because I don’t know how to make one! Sam Harper over at does, so I’ll likely follow his YouTube video on how to make a Flemish Bow String.

Here’s my bow on a tillering stand.

I learned how to make a tillering stand and other helpful hints from the book The Backyard Bowyer by Nicholas Tomihama. He also has videos on YouTube on insane topics like making a 100 lb PVC Crossbow.

(Kevin Tucker) #2

The hardest part about making a bow is that first snap. Sheer disappointment.

(Dennis Lanigan) #3

One way to prevent bows from breaking is backing it with rawhide. I have a bunch so I’m going to back mine before I go further on it.

Speaking of rawhide, on a whim I searched to see if rawhide had been used for bowstrings. Sure enough it was! I’d much rather use goat rawhide than buy Dacron string from some big box store. I even found a youtube video on making rawhide bow string.

(Dennis Lanigan) #4

Anyone have The Traditional Bowyer’s Bible Volume 2? Looks like that’s a great source for how to make bowstrings and, most importantly, test their strength. As I looked into more about rawhide bowstrings, I started to get worried about whether they can be strong enough. Bowyer’s Bible explains how strong it is and what weight limits the string can hold.

In the course of that, I discovered that people also use flax/linen and nettle for bow strings. Since I sew leather by hand, I just happen to have the recommended Irish linen thread on hand. So i’m going to try and make both strings, as rawhide strings seems awfully easy.

(Kevin Tucker) #5

I have those, I’m thinking there’s another source that I really liked. I know Practicing Primitive is solid and there’s a good bit of stuff from the Institute of Primitive Technology.
Nettle is really strong, but I’m thinking my experience has been more with dogbane, but I have to admit, it’s been quite a while since I messed with it.

(Dennis Lanigan) #6

Like I said Nettle cordage is option too. I thought I would have to wait until the nettles dried out in the Fall, but this tutorial on cordage making says cut the Nettles fresh. I just happen to have a huge patch growing tall on the side of my garage, the same place I’m making the bow.

Welcome down my traditional bow making rabbit hole.

(Dennis Lanigan) #7

I read pieces of Bowyer’s Bible Volume 2 in google books, and it said Nettle is “excellent” string material. So I’m going by that. I wish I knew more on how to test strings though, as different species and processing techniques can change materials from strong to worthless.

(Dennis Lanigan) #8
  1. Nettles on the side of my garage. Urtica dioica spp gracilis? (What do I look like a botantist?)
  2. Cut a handful to try some out. 3. Nettle fibre pulled from the woody pith core of the stem.

I don’t know if I hit the sweet spot for when to harvest nettles for cordage. Some info says harvest after the first frost. Some say just harvest tall and green. Some of the fibres pulled right off, and others did not, almost like the inner wood pith need more time to mature. If you check out Jon’s tutorial, you’ll see his fibres came off in wide strips. Mine did not. I have no idea if that makes them worthless or not, but I’m going to dry them out and make some cordage anyway.

(I do know if I was in Cascadia I would wait until the first frost and then dry FAST inside right away, probably by a fireplace. In the sunny and hot midwest Nettles seem to grow a lot faster, so I don’t have to worry about rot as much).

In linen string making I’ve seen people use a break, scutcher, nail comb (called hackling), and use a spinning wheel for making flax into string. I’ve seen it done for nettle fibres as well, but I don’t know if I’m going to take it that far as I would prefer to not have make more tools

Here’s a quick 3 minute film on flax processing (and feature a break, scutcher, nail comb, etc.).

Here’s the finished nettle cordage.

(Dennis Lanigan) #9

I have Primitive Technology: Book of Earth Skills. The cordage article by David Wescott “Gathering and Preparing Fibers” is OK.

(Andrew) #11

Any good references to boreal bow tech? There’s an article in Primitive Technology 2 about Arctic bows, but if I remember correctly, it’s geared toward sourcing driftwood from the Arctic coast.

A friend up here has gone through various experiments with local materials, and has settled on birch laminated with spruce compression wood (which I could be getting wrong). I’m not sure if he used fish glue or modern glue on the latest iteration. Since I don’t have unfettered access to his brain, it would be very helpful to have some additional guides from which to collect further details.

(Dennis Lanigan) #12

Here’s a boreal bow resource about a bow from where you (Andrew) are now:

As for actually making the bow, I’m gathering that birch is really difficult first bow material to get started on. A lot of people seem to recommend going wide on the working limbs like I did on mine. Sorry I don’t have a specific guide/how-to. The folks at PaleoPlanet seem really helpful. Here’s a birch bow made by someone on that forum:

(Carl J Geib) #13

This is a lot more advanced then the 1 bow I’ve made so far. I’ve been wanting to try my hand at something like this but haven’t. The one bow I made was a father son style bow using a couple of juniper branches and some para-cord as the string (and to lash the juniper together). All things considers the bow still works fairly well 2 years later, I had anticipated the para-cord stretching and the bow being unusable. I never did get the accuracy down past about 15 feet I never compensated enough for the drop but 15 feet or closer I was surprisingly accurate with it.

(Andrew) #14

Wow. I kind of want to be Marcus Lepola. In addition to the Athabaskan and Eskimo bows, he built a baidarka and has several articles about Alutiq bows. Very cool if we add a node in Prince William Sound. Have had some property scoped out there since before we decided to go boreal.

(Dennis Lanigan) #15

That article is huge. Basically explains how to build a skin boat with actual skins. Most skin boats now use ballistic nylon with polyurethane over it. Did you see the Siberian ski article? You gotta make those! I will send you leather for the bindings if you do.

(Dennis Lanigan) #16

The mollegabet maple bow in this post didn’t work. I should have paid more attention to the straightness of the grain in the wood before I even started. Oh well. I had fun making it.

My second bow is near finished. It’s a shagbark hickory bow. The tiller is pretty close. One limb is a little funky. And the string I made out of linen thread works great. So far…

My next stave I am working on is a Yew stave my friend gave me.

Here’s the bow drawn out. I just cut down the stave with a hatchet.

The profile of the stave already is not good. The whitish-yellow color is the back of the bow, or the side facing out when shooting. The ideal is for the stave to naturally re-curve to provide more power to the string. This stave is doing the opposite which already works against the bow (edit: bowyers call this “backset”). I’m hoping some elk sinew glued on the back will bring the stave to a straight profile. We’ll see.

After rasping the sides I had to stop because I forgot to grab my calipers. I need to draw the thickness of the bow and rasp down to that. But with all the knots and curves I need calipers to match any undulations on both sides of the bow rather than just rasp through them. Once I have my calipers I can stay true to how snakey this bow is supposed to become. Unlike the maple bow or the shagbark bow, I can’t just plow through this one.

I’m following the Yew bow building chapter in The Traditional Bowyer’s Bible vol 1 by John Strunk.

(Dennis Lanigan) #17

The hatchet I’m using is the Robin Wood’s Wood Carving Hatchet. I got it for $80 shipped from England. It’s working really well so far.

If I was cool I’d be using the abundant flint around here to make an adze to make this bow, but I’m not that cool yet. Maybe once I go to Winter Count and get some more flintknapping tips.

I’d also be cool if I was using the crooked knife I’m trying to make to work on this stave. The only thing holding up that project is a I can’t find a metal can big enough to hold the red hot burning knife as it cools in oil. I’m not sure the knife will dig into the Yew though. I’ll have to buy a can I guess. I have a feeling the crooked knife will just bounce off even though technically Yew is a softwood. The hatchet cut the Yew really well that’s for sure.

(BenSpiritbear) #18

Nice looking work! Ive usually made mine with white oak. Its not as popular anymore but its very good and has a long history of bow use. I do have hickory and some osage around. Need to make another one this year, maybe one of each.

(Dennis Lanigan) #19

Just FYI: Now is the time to cut trees for bow staves. The Traditional Bowyer’s Bible Vol 1 has a chapter on cutting and curing staves if you’re at all interested.

(BenSpiritbear) #20

I was out walking around looking for some good ones the other day but didn’t end up cutting anything. Its back to being frigid cold and my toddler is sick so hopefully next week I can get a few things cut. My aren’t the best but they usually work good. Ive been thinking about making two or three extra and try using them for trading.

(Dennis Lanigan) #21

I would trade for hickory staves.