Saturday, 30 April 2011

Side Nocks!

I've been having some minor trouble heat straightening the latest longbow, so while it's having another rest clamped up after heating I've been working on my own new longbow.
The nocks I've done recently have all been similar, and I was considering having a go at medieval style side nocks. These are a horn nock with a single groove in the side which looks a bit weird at first.
I found plenty of info' on Alan Blackham's excellent 'side nock page'
which inspired me to go for it. Here's a pic, I used 'white' Waterbuffalo horn (from Highland Horn).
I've just seen the 'explain more' box ticked below, so here goes.
The pic shows the archers eye view of how the top nock looks, a sort of 'off the shoulder' look if we use a ladies dress ananogy!
It does tend to pull the string slightly to the right but the bottom nock has the groove on the right, so the string ends up sitting slightly on a diagonal. I havn't got it finished and shooting yet so I cant explain much more.

I'm still undecided about the rest of the finishing on the bow. Do I add an arrow plate? I'm not sure there's any real evidence for them on medieval bows, and what about a leather grip? I rather like the plain no frills bare wooden Yew longbow.
I've unclamped the other longbow and it's nice and straight now... on the other hand the bow with the side nocks has taken a hint of twist/bend now it's fully tillered. This was always quite likely as I'd heat tempered the belly and put in a fair bit of reflex, I was anticipating this pulling out during tillering to give a fast bow with no set or maybe even a hint of recurve.
Of course as the reflex pulls out you can't be certain it will pull out straight. Side nocks may be exacerbating the issue though.
To put it in perspective the bow is actually fine and is perfectly shootable (my big Yew bow is bent and twisted like a dogs back leg) . To give you some idea of what it's like, if you look down the length of the back of the bow, each side should swell slightly out towards the grip and then taper back towards the far tip. At the moment one edge runs about straight while the other tapers out and then back in, so we're talking about half an inch, which is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things.
I've put that onto my heat bending jig, clamped it and given it 45 mins at 250 degrees C. I've got to resist the urge top tinker with it for a few days now.
Just as well I've got 2 others on the go to play with!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Hazel Bow in the Sun

What a glorious bank holiday weekend. I fancied a change from the longbows and the one I'm currently working on was still clamped up following some heat straightening (it was taking on a slight sideways bend).
So I pulled out the Hazel stave which I cut last August and set about turning it into a bow. I knew exactly what I wanted as it's based heavily on the one I did last year, and my fave' Hazel flatbow (on the table alongside the stave).
I did the roughing out with the bandsaw to save time (and my elbows). I even used it for some fairly twitchy cutting down of the thickness near the grip. The pic shows how I clamped the flat belly of the bow to a block of Oak to keep it sitting square on the bandsaw table while I took a series of small cuts, these were then chopped out with an axe. The area I was reducing is the fade from handle to limb and it's tricky to work on as it's concave.
The rest of the limb had been reduced with drawknife and spokeshave.
You may notice I've rotated the seat of my shave horse slightly, this allows me to have a long stave protruding past my left side while I work on it without my falling off the seat. It was great to be working outside in the warm sunshine. Cup of tea, my tools all to hand, a stave to work on...bliss. You can see the stave has a fair bit of reflex, I'm going to heat treat it to try and maintain that. It will have my minimalist style short asymmetric grip. I'm aiming at about 50 pounds draw weight at 28". The bow shape is what's generally called a pyramid shape, that is roughly even thickness with a straight taper in width to along the limb, going to a narrow tip. The extreme tips may be given a hint of recurve. I'm hoping it will be slim, elegant and fast as lightning.
Hmmmm, we'll see.

On Monday (2nd) I shall take my staves and tools upto the club (Celtic Harmony Camp) as they are running a Beltane festival up there. The Longbow club will be running a 'have a go' and there will be tons of other stuff. I'll set up and do some work on various staves, maybe help with the have a go too if they get too busy.
Another bank holiday, you wait all winter and then 3 or 4 come along at once, hope it's a fine day.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A Different Approach to Twist

Having struggled with the sloping sap/heart wood boundary on the last bow (see lower cross section) I thought I'd take the opposite approach on this next one.
The wood is the sister stave to the 'Recalcitrant Yew' (see the entry 6th January 2011), the heartwood is exceptionally dark and fine grained, and this stave was chosen by a chap who accompanied the lady who had the recalcitrant bow.
By the way I've since heard that it's performing admirably and she's very pleased with it.

Anyway the stave has a similar problem to the last bow I made, that is the sap wood appears much thicker on one side of the bow than the other, rather than slavishly following a growth ring and having the back of the bow sloping at 45degrees I shall shape the back to fit nearer the ideal contour. I shall still follow the ring along the length of the bow. Hmmm, maybe a picture is worth a thousand words.
I hope the picture makes sense, curved line at the top is our frame of reference which corresponds to the majority of the bow.
It is possible to correct a twist with heat, but it's difficult to clamp a bow tight enough as the stave is only an inch or so thick, and it's tricky to apply twist without adding unwanted bend.
Whereas there's plenty of length and leverage available when bending along the length of a bow.
The amount of twist shown is fairly typical in a stave and isn't really a problem, it's just a matter of deciding how you want to tackle it.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Yew Staves 'in the tree'

It's not obvious what a suitable piece of Yew looks like when it's hiding in a tree so here are a couple of pics.
I spent a lovely morning walking in a Hampshire woodland with my wife, brother and sister. I took a pic of where I'd cut my Yew last February, my brother is pointing out where I sawed it (it will have yielded 3 longbows and one shorter flatbow eventually), interestingly there is a white painted stump right next to it, I wonder if that piece was taken by another bowyer?
You can see the limbs have all sprouted up from a fallen Yew and there are still a few potential staves there.
We inspected dozens and dozens of Yew trees, I was looking for the perfect piece. There were a few 'possibles' but not much of real interest until my brother spotted a near perfect limb/trunk which I have earmarked for harvesting later in the year. This will probably yield 2 good clean longbows and possibly 2 more with a bit of character (from the knottier out side of the log).

Here's a couple of pics of my finished quiver too. My 'arrow extractor' which is used to dig 'em out of trees and target frames, is made from a ground down chisel (far more practial than the huge Bowie knives some carry) it did have an ugly plastic handle, which would have looked out of place in the new quiver. I fitted a nice antler handle with a waterbuffalo horn end cap to cover the porous end of the antler. It fits snugly in the pocket which was made to suit.
The stitching was done by piercing the holes first on a 5mm pitch, this gives a good compromise between too few which is faster to stitch and too many which looks finer, is stronger, but is slow.
I lay a steel rule about 3-4mm from the edge of the leather and trod on it to hold it down when making the holes.
There was a lot of work stitching the quiver but it was enjoyable, the sort of job you can plod along with whilst watching TV.

I couldn't resist adding this final shot of a beautiful Yew, which has an almost art nouveau or fairy tale quality. No staves in it but wonderful.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Reactions Feedback.

The new reactions boxes on the posts have resulted in a few 'explain more' marks.
I havn't looked back through every post but I noticed the heat bending and leatherwork posts had been checked.
I'll post some more pics on both these topics soon, but here's some more heat bending info'.
With the heat bending it's used to get the bow limbs roughly straight and symetrical which makes tillering simpler and allows me to use stave which would otherwise be unuseable.
Steam or heat gun works as the heat source, the big advantage of a heatgun is it can be done while the bow is clamped on the jig, the advantage of steam is it heats a larger area more venly.
Once the wood is at 100 degrees C or above it becomes pliable. With the heat gun, I set it to 250C and keep it about 3/4" from the area to be bent for about an hour. The wood needs to stay in its jig for a few days to stop it moving back. There is about 10-15% over bend needed, E.G If you want a 100mm bend then you need to bend it on the jig to 115mm as there is some spring back.
I try to avoid bending the wood too much before it's heated up to avoid over stressing it, so I'll heat it for 15-20 mins and then bend it and put in pegs/clambs etc to hold it in position.
If you want to try heat bending it can be quite a surprise how bendy the wood becomes, try it with a bit of scrap wood.

Friday, 8 April 2011


I bought some leather to make a new quiver which I've made a start on. There are some useful leatherworking video clips on Youtube which showed the use of an awl.
Previously I'd punched holes, but this would take forever on all the stitching on a quiver. I couldn't find an awl so I improvised by grinding a point onto a cheap Electricians screwdriver (43p from Wilkinsons,I bought 3 of 'em as I'm always misslaying them at work). It works a treat, the steel is neither too hard nor too soft so it takes a nice point without snapping or bending.
The handle is too skinny and it hurts the palm of my hand after a while so I've turned a wooden handle from a scrap of Ash, using my pillar drill as a lathe. I used my old quiver as a guide to cut out a paper pattern and I've stitched it using alternate holes and single stitching just to tack it together so I could see how it looked and make holes through both sides together for the internal partitions.
There will be 3 sections to hold arrows numbered as ones, twos or threes for field shooting (arrow are named and numbered for identification purposes). There will be useful pockets for tab, glove, my tool for digging arrows out of trees etc. I'm using a sheet of 1/4" MDF as a cutting board.
I've just added the 'reactions' boxes along the bottom of the posts so I can see if I'm hitting the spot.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Finished bow

These pics show the finished bow braced and at full draw, the undulations in the limbs can be seen in both shots, as can the slightly 'stronger' lower limb. This is something which I'm always slightly wary of 'designing in'. often it's said the distance between the string and the belly of the bow should be about 1/4" less on the lower limb, but I'm not entirely convinced as to why. I just tiller it so the tips come back evenly at full draw on the tiller supported as it will be shot. One problem is defining exactly where that support point is. Especially with short bows the appearence on the tiller can be deceptive and it's not until you shoot it that you can really see what's happening. A bow with ripples in the limbs like this one can look decidedly confusing on the tiller, and it's not until I saw it being shot on Saturday that I was completely happy with it. Back to the question posed some time back, 'Do I make mistakes?' Yes but I generally manage to work through them, even this afternoon I had to restitch the grip as I'd tied off the thread without pulling it tight along the whole length of the stitching. I could have left it, but for the sake of another 5minutes work it was worth doing it right. (Mrs Deer thinks... "get that right elbow down in line with the arrow")

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Shooting in.

I shot the bow a fair bit at the club and it performs well, I let a couple of other guys shoot it too so that I could watch it in action and see how it flexes. I was very pleased, the undulation in the upper limb can look a triffle odd especially from one side, but watching the bow draw I could see the whole limb working and the section between the the grip and the undulation starting to work nicely as the bow got to about half draw.
This pic is a composite showing the upper limb from both sides, you can see how different each side is, and the undulation looks more severe in the right pic, this is the area which gave me a few problems. Pretty amazing how the the grain contorts over such a small distance across the width of the bow.
It was good to see it shoot some different weight arrows too as my 70gn pile ones are a tad light, I think 100gn piles on 5/16 shafts would be about optimum. It seemed to shoot them all fast and true, which was a relief as I'd shot some late last night in the garage and I wasn't shooting well in the dark!
Being faster than my usual 40 pound Hazel flatbow caused me to lose one arrow into the woodland as I shot high. After a good deal of shooting and being strung for a couple of hours, it had followed the string by another half inch or so, but it soon settled back once unstrung. The swelling at the bottom of the pic is where the arrow pass is, I shall inlay some Waterbuffalo horn and build up a leather grip.
All in all it's a handsome bow, with a nice bit of character, It's settled down to a whisker under 50 pounds now.
The log which this came from will eventually yield 3 bows, two have been fairly testing and one pretty straight forward. The Fourth stave has a knot about 3/4 of the way up it plumb centre, I might be able to get a bow to one side of the knot, or maybe a short flatbow, I'll have to see.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Polishing Horn and tweaking the nocks.

Recently I bought some horn for nocks from Highland Horn and a couple of small buffing wheels and some polishing compound. I've had a chance to try it out on the horn nocks I've just finished, excellent! Using the coarser polishing compound, a big bar (actually they sell it by the half bar) of reddish brown stuff a bit like grainy soap reminded me of when I was a lad. I was probably 11 or 12 and rummaging in my Dad's work shop when I came across the same reddish brown stuff, what on earth was it? I asked Dad who replied 'polishing compound' leaving me none the wiser of course!
It's little things like this that make me appreciate and marvel at being a 'grown up'. Blimey you can just get on the internet and order all sorts of marvellous stuff, whereas when I was a kid I could barely afford a couple of arrows or crossbow bolts from DG Quicks.
Talking of buying stuff, I've ordered 2 small sides of leather, one about 1.6mm thick and the other about 2.6mm. I'll have plenty to make a new quiver and bracer and some of the guys at the club have chipped in with other stuff on the order to save p&p.
The longbow now has its final string and I've shot about 70 arrows with it, I'll take it up the club and give it a work out. It feels great, but I couldn't for the life of me string it without a stringer. Now this irritated me as it's only 50 pounds. I realised there were two factors, it's slightly longer than my own bow and the top nock was just slightly bulky. Being a bit of obsessive about these things I took a file to the nice polished nock and worked it down some more. I put an old string on it so that I could take the nock right down until it was flush with the string, that's to say the string groove is now exactly as deep as the diameter of the string. Now I can string it by hand (the push pull method) with relative ease and the string slides up over the nock and clicks down snugly into it's groove.
I'd also done some minor adjustments to the grooves in the nock to help the string sit square down the centre line, there is still a hint of meander in the back of the stave, but some of this is to avoid cutting into knots.
I found a good trick for polishing the string grooves. A length of hemp string was loaded with polishing compound by sawing it back and forth aross the block of compound, this string is then worked back and forth in the string groove Diabolo fashion and soon has the groove polished to a sparkling finish.