Garage Archery and Bowcrafting with Stick Part 1
So, this summer, apart from getting married, I decided to take up bow making and archery.
I don't know, but it might have something to do with The Hunger Games, Hawkeye, Brave, the Green Arrow and the general pop-culture resurgence of archery as a whole.... but I like to think I'm not that shallow, so let's pretend that has nothing to do with it.
Regardless of my reasons for getting started, I've rather enjoyed this hobby for the last 5 months. I just completed bow # 14 and fully expect to make many more for the foreseeable future. And, after much pestering by our glorious leader Phrost, I am creating a thread to chronicle this pursuit and what comes of it.
I will be posting about each of the bows I've built, my poor attempts at making arrows and my experiences shooting thus far. It should take a little time to catch this thread up to where I am, but once I do I'll try and post about my builds as I go through them, discuss ideas and plans and generally go through everything step by step.
So, where to begin?
On June 29th, the night of my rehearsal dinner, the day before I tied the knot, a derecho rolled through Northern Virginia and crushed the ever living crap out of everything. I took the week off from work following that to spend time with my wife and our visiting families, see the sites and such. I did not get back to work till the next week, and when I did, on my way home from work, I came across piles of downed trees along a walking path that had been chainsawed by our local forest service.
I had by this point ressolved myself to try making a wooden bow, and saw here a perfect opportunity to harvest a stave. After all, what did I really know?
I had watched a series of videos on Youtube by some guy posting under the name PrimitivePathways. His stuff seemed straight forward and like something I could do. So I bough some tools and I got to work.
My plan was to make a simple pyramid bow. No glued on knocks or riser or backing, just that: one piece of wood shaped into a bow.
I got to work, manfully, with my tomahawk- a wedding gift from Olorin- and draw knife.
I did have difficulty in establishing a single growth ring across the length of the stave to serve as the back to my bow. There were several knots in the wood, and I had to cut through several layers to get down to a clean ring beneath. Frankly, this is something I still need to sort out, and I will as soon as this next thing I realized is done...
After many, many hours of hacking and cutting, I remembered, "Oh, right, this needs to season for a few months before I can really shape and tiller it".
So I put my stave in a corner and there it still sits. Now what?
I still wanted to make a bow- I have every intention of getting back to that stave-, and I just didn't have the patience for this. I suppose I could've bought a seasoned bow stave on e-bay- and I still might-, but that's not what I did. No, instead, I turned to PVC.
Now, the first I'd really seen was this video...
And while it seems like a perfectly serviceable build- if anyone gives it a go, be sure to post the results here-, what I found after just a tiny bit more digging just seemed much more to my liking.
I found the channel of one Nick Tomihama from Hawaii who posts under the name The Backyard Bowyer (www.backyardbowyer.com) and has written a few books on the subject for sale on Amazon. I dove into his channel- now at over 200 videos- and the e-book of The Impossible Bow, and I was hooked.
Rather than inserting pipes into pipes and fiberglass rods into them, Nick's method is more versatile and artful and produces- as far as I'm concerned- much nicer results. Through the use of slow heating- much lower and slower than a propane torch- you can soften PVC to the point it can be reshaped as you see fit. While it is certainly possible to just bend the pipe into various bow shapes, the round tube is not ideal for delivering energy to an arrow and from that arrow to a target. The best results come from shaping a pipe in such a way that the center- the riser- remains round and relatively unbending while the limbs taper out until flat at the tips. Once flattened and tapered, the tips can be knocked and the bow strung, or you could add recurve, reflex, deflex, siyahs/bow-ears, string follows and other complexities which can result in very strong, fast bows suitable for hunting, fishing and repelling invaders.
I went to the hardware store and picked up the necessaries and ordered the cheapest heat gun I could find on Amazon- it's a finicky beast, but it still works. Other tools I've found handy/necessary: hacksaw, PVC clippers, clamps (at least 3), round flat and curved files, sand paper, heat resistant work gloves, kitchen pots of varying diameters with straight cylindrical sides, lots and lots of glue and tape.
I got started by preparing my workshop, building my flattening jig and tillering tree.
There are several builds available on Google for tillering trees/boards, but I used the one in Nick's book The Backyard Bowyer: The Beginner'sGuide to Building Bows. I am still using this tiller, and I measure the weight of my bows' pull by the simple expedience of placing them on the tiller, pulling them to 28", zeroing my scale, placing the whole tree and pulled bow on there then taking the string off the 28" nail and pulling down so the force goes into the scale. As it is, my measurement of bow weight is not all that precise. If I ever make another tiller and I have the opportunity to do this, I think I'd like to try this setup right here...
The flattening jig is a simpler construction: 4' 1x4" pine board with 3/4" wooden cubes on the corners of one end to act as spacers for your pipe as you place it over the heated limb and apply direct pressure to the limb on a flat surface and so.... flatten it.
This setup is effective, but I have since moved onto a more advanced jig which you can see here to the right. Rather than using wooden blocks- which must be added to when you want to do pipe greater than 3/4"- simply drill holes for 3/8" bolts, affix the proper washers, hex nuts and wing nuts for hand tightening and you can vary the height of your flattening jig and the size of pipe it can accommodate.
The simple jig I first built worked well enough, but why not skip that step?
As you can see in the Backyardbowyer's tutorial, he recommends a 2x4". I simply used the pine board I already had from the first jig, but I may switch over and see whether that gets me more consistent results.
And when I come back to this thread, I'll totally tell you about the first two bows I built. For now, sleep.
Garage Archery and Bowcrafting with Stick Part 1
I used to play around with making longbows. I still have 4 of The Traditional Bowyer's Bible books. It was pretty cool for someone like myself who doesn't work in a trade to actually get to make something.
Garage Archery Part 2: Wherein bows are actually made!
A month and a half later, I follow up!
At this rate, this thread will be real time with my hobby in 2014- I'm putting the finishing touches on bow # 16.
Right, so when I left you last, I'd built the tools I needed to get on with actually building bows: a tillering tree (for making all bows) and a flattening jig (for PVC specifically). And so the time has come to cover the first two bows I made.
I decided to keep the first bow simple, a selfbow in a longbow pattern. I followed the build along for this bow
Only, as I wasn't sure what weight would work for me, I went with a 3/4" diameter 68" long pipe rather than 1.25" at 66" long. Here, I learned a valuable lesson about the relative strength of the various thicknesses of pipes.
On the build itself, I had little enough difficulty flattening the limbs. I heated them up on my concrete patio, I'd say each limb took a bit under ten minutes to reach a good, maleable state. The pipe should be evenly heated along the entire length to be flattened to the point you can- while wearing your handy gloves (cause when it's hot enough to flatten, it's hot enough to burn skin)- squeeze the pipe flat between your thumb and forefinger. As the limbs were somewhat long and skinny, it was a little difficult keeping them straight and more or less in line.
One annoying thing that cropped up on this first attempt was that, when flattening the second limb, you need to ensure that the other already flattened limb stays down with its back flat and level with the ground. After an initial goof where I didn't realize the limb had come up off the ground rotated out at an angle, I reheated the limb and kept the other down by slapping on a few bricks.
With the limbs flattened and in line, I got to tapering them. This was a bit trying with a simple hand saw, cutting a nice even V shape into the end of the limb, but it was doable; I imagine if you have access to, say, a band saw this will be no problem at all. I bound the V together with JB Weld and a section of 1" heat shrink tubing. I could only find that tubing in 4" sections which kind of stinks, if anyone can point me to where it's available as a roll or if you know where I can find better than 1" tubing I would really appreciate that.
All built, it was time to string the thing. Stringing bows can be a bit tricky already without making the string yourself, so I decided to cut at least one corner and just bought a string from Amazon.
A few things on determining what length of string to buy. First you need to know your bow's AMO length, that is the Archery Manufacturer's Organization length: the distance between nocks measured along the body of the bow. If you are trying to find AMO for a straight bow of any kind, this is pretty easy, all you need is the distance between nocks. With a recurve, you'll need a flexible tape measure to hold against the belly of your bow as you run the distance from nock to nock. Then it's a matter of finding a fitting string- so long as those strings are listed and sold by the bow's AMO length and not their own length-, if, by chance, you're buying from someone who simply lists the length of the string here's your rule of thumb: 3" shorter for long bows, 4-5" shorter for recurves. If the string is an endless loop style string, you will be able to shorten the string by an inch or so simply by twisting it tight before fully stringing the bow, it gives you a little room to work with on the brace height (distance between the string and the riser, your handle).
Long story short, I bought a longbow string for a 68" AMO length bow, which is actually wrong. The pipe, the whole bow tip-to-tip is 68", but the nocks are cut in about a half inch from the ends, so the actual AMO is about 67". However, as I mentioned, the endless loop style bowstring can be twisted to shorten it and give you the brace height you want.
So here it is.
And the next step after stringing it was putting it on the tiller to find out how strong it was. To do this, I place the bow on the tiller, pull it down to the 28" mark and zero out my bathroom scale. Then, place the tiller on the scale and take the string off its hook and hold it there, effectivly pulling the force down into the scale and giving a rough estimate on its strength.
In this case, an utterly anemic 15#@28"
I didn't even bother to shoot this thing. 15# is very much a child's weight.
I went ahead and completely repeated the process with 1" pipe and got better, though still light, results.
The one difference in the build was that the 1" heat shrink tubing I found did not go far down the tapered sections and didn't give me much confidence, so I slapped a bunch of duct tape in place. Duct tape fixes everything.
Nothing to fight off invading Normans with, but it was a start: a target bow.
I slapped on a coat of black spray paint, some gold on the tips (I had it laying around from one of Beth's old projects) and slathered the riser in electrical tape.
Now, as I'm in a garden style condo and don't have a yard or a basement or a wife that would be all that understanding of shooting through the living room, it was a little while before I actually got to shoot this thing out. Between building bow #2 and shooting bow #2 I actually built two more, recurves, but I'll get to that in my next post.... in like February- I kid, I kid!
Also, I'll get to arrows in the next post as well. If you must know, the arrows in this video are old fiberglass target arrows borrowed from my in-laws' neighbors. These were awful arrows, many missing a fletching, and two that had cracked and shredded bodies we simply wound in electrical tape... which, after having seen this picture, I realize was really dumb on our part.
Right, so here's my brother in law shooting this in his parents' back yard at a water melon.
I took this bow out camping and had a few more opportunities to shoot it. I found the low brace height of the long bow style had me taking a lot more string thwacks to the forearm than my recurves have, but at this light weight it was fairly tolerable. The light weight of the draw also made this a good and easy bow to learn with, allowing me to spend hours working on my draw, anchor, sight picture, etc. without concern for wearing out my shoulders.
At some point, I learned a cool new way to wrap cord for handles, and so I replaced the electrical tape on this bow's riser, it's the one in the middle. Paracord on 1" pipe is an excellent fit for the hand, didn't get sweaty and sticky the way electrical tape could.
Then, back in November, I sent this bow off with the 11th bow I made to my brother and his girlfriend in Oklahoma as a much belated birthday present.
Here she is with it.
Alright, so bows 1 & 2. There you go.