I am sure that there cannot be an archer out there that hasn't at some point wanted to make their own bow, I wouldn't be at all surprised to note that there are also a huge number of folk who only shoot bows they have made themselves. In the UK there was a new class developed just for the folks who want to make and shoot their own home made primitive style bows.
If you do decide to make your own bow you will first have to decide upon the style. There are any number of books offering advice to the would be bowyer, most notably the "Bowyers Bible", with these 4 volumes it is possible to build just about any design bow that has ever been thought up..
There is however, nothing like being "shown" how to do something by a real person, someone who knows exactly what you should and shouldn't be doing, having a bowyer on hand to correct any errors or more importantly prevent them from being made in the first place will enable you to learn quickly and efficiently.
If you have an inkling that an English longbow would be your bow of choice then you are in luck because Lee Ankers from Heritage Longbows has equipped his spacious workshop with several work stations designed to offer bow making classes to those who are either after an interesting woodworking experience or archers who really want to make their own bows.
We were invited along by Lee to test run one of his bow building workshops, the cost starts at £175 for a 2 day instructional and even includes lunch at the local pub. He is based in Cannock, Staffordshire so if you are not within striking distance you will need to arrange some accommodation - we stayed at a local hotel just a 45 second drive from the venue, Lee has links with local hotels and B&B's which will cater to a range of budgets.
Together with my bow building companion Wayne we travelled up on a Tuesday morning. One of the great attractions of the Heritage bow making classes is that they operate when you want rather than on set dates, this way you can fit them into your schedule when it is convenient, we found this very appealing and is sure to mean that there will be a steady stream of archers beating a path to his doors.
Given that we had just 2 days to produce a bow, Lee had questioned us closely on the bow we hoped to make. For my part I wanted a fast shooting Longbow of moderate weight - hopefully 50# to use for field shooting. I had in mind a laminated bow of Ipe and Lemonwood backed with Bamboo - having taken all my details as regard shooting style, draw length etc Lee suggested that he would have the stave glued the day before, otherwise we would spend a good part of our 2 days waiting for glue to dry.
Upon arrival we were presented with the glued up staves, Lee knew I wanted fast as I had mentioned it several times, I was delighted to find he had introduced a set back in the limbs at the glue up stage - something I had meant to ask for but had forgotten - this short cut is a sensible way to run a 2 day course and we were fully briefed as to how the stave had been cut and glued. At 75" in length it was basically just 3 layers of wood glued together.
Lee's methods are simple and straightforward, as is his manner. Having spent most of his adult life working with wood it is obvious he has an affinity with the stuff making everything he does look deceptively easy.
The best way to learn to do something is to copy someone who knows what they are doing and this is exactly what happens, Wayne, myself and Lee each have a stave, Lee approaches the task in small stages showing clearly what he is doing with his stave, you then copy what he has shown you while he watches and makes sure you cut or scrape neither too much nor too little.
In many ways Lee is a traditionalist, he likes his bows to come "full compass", he uses horn for the arrow pass and the nocks, a great advantage that he has is that he is a British champion with a Longbow so knows exactly what he is looking for in a bow. In other ways some might feel that the use of power tools and traditional bow making do not go together - I am not one of those. I had come to produce a bow and it would be daft to pretend that things like band saws, routers, linishers and belt sanders do not exist. lee is not precious about the bow having to be made with just ones hands and a cabinet scraper..
Because of the introduced set back of the limbs the marking out is a tricky business, at least it would be if Lee wasn't so experienced, in the short time it took to explain how he would mark out the bow and where the lines that we would be working with would go, he had already done it. Slowly and carefully we tried to mimic his positive pencil strokes.
the next job was to cut it out on the band saw - Lees bow positively zipped through the saw in smooth confident sweeps and within a couple of minutes looked bow shaped - I have used a band saw before but even so knowing that every saw cut will affect the final bow produced is both exciting and nerve wracking.
There is still a lot of wood to come away from the bow which will need it's back rounded - this bit is important, I know this from previous attempts I have made to make a longbow, if the back isn't uniform in terms of curve then you will be introducing twist into the limbs which will be the devil of a job to get out - especially for the inexperienced bowyer. I just loved Lee's solution, using an upturned router on his home made jig template he runs his bow across it twice each end and instantly transforms his stave into something which looks very much bow shaped.
A steady hand and cool head are required for this approach to pay dividends and with Lees careful coaching we both produce very acceptable results. Lunch is an excellent steak & kidney pie and chips washed down with a couple of well deserved beers.
With much still to do we arrive back to really get in to the shaping of the bows with the bowyers greatest tool the cabinet scraper - I am feeling quite bold after the beer and shavings are soon flowing from my stave as the bow is shaped, the first job is to round the limbs over the last 7 to 10 inches at each end and prepare the wood to accept a horn nock.
Lee has developed his own procedures and techniques whilst making bows, one of which is that he likes to put the nocks on and tiller with those rather than use tillering grooves, he says it saves time, so as soon as the ends were finished to his and our satisfaction......... we were each given the horn.
One horn tip will make both nocks if drilled and cut correctly, this turned out to be great fun because it is hard to see how a lump of horn stuck on the end of you bow will become a nock.
One thing I most definitely like about the Heritage Longbow style of nock is it's small neat appearance - I am not really into a huge lump of horn at the tip of my bow regardless of how ornate it might look - I prefer my tips light for speed.
Lee demonstrates real skill on the belt sander, moving the bow and horn effortlessly over the fast moving belt. we were so mesmerised by the technique that I hardly smelt the powerful pungent aroma of burnt horn. We took considerably longer to complete our nocks as one false move will leave you with either half a nock or half a hand. I was particularly pleased with the neat result I was able to achieve under lees guidance.
Back to the benches to work down the edges and sharper corners on the bow and all too soon the day had escaped us.
The second day started with a briefing on how we would take our bows from here to the tillering stage and through to the finish. Watching Lee with his scraper take long measured shavings from the length of the bow we were starting to get to grips with the pressure and fluid motion required. After a short while we were holding very passable bows, the next couple of hours were crucial as the bows were put on to the tiller and slowly teased out over the first few inches of draw -Lee explained each time the bows were drawn where we should be taking wood from, he was able to read the bow and advise " take 12 passes from here". The bows were off and on the tiller as we slowly but surely took small amounts of wood away and the bows started to come round up to first 15" then 20" and finally 29" for mine. My draw is 28" and although Lee likes to tiller his bows out to 30" I was happy that I would not be drawing further than my standard 28" so for me 29" was just fine.
Quickly a string was applied and the first shots taken on Lee's personal indoor range. I was hugely pleased to note that the bow had very little hand shock indeed, much less than I had expected and much less than most Longbows I have shot. Part of this may be down to lee's insistence that the arrow pass is placed exactly at half way which he claims makes the limbs work much more in unison - true or no, there is no doubt that Heritage bows have very little hand shock at all.
The final finish is your choice and I decided I didn't want a handle, the arrow pass was inserted by drilling out a small shallow hole and a disc of horn cut from a rod was placed in it. I also preferred a wax finish and after 2 coats of sanding sealer we applied a wax coat with the use of a drill and linisher, in short time the finish of the wood was shining through.
To say I was pleased with the result is an understatement - there are few pleasures in archery that can match the shooting of a bow that one has made ones self, despite the help and advice from Lee I feel very much that this was a bow "I made"
The final article weighted in at 44#, somewhat under the 50# I had hoped for, which only goes to confirm what a skilled job making a longbow really is. However I was thrilled to find it would shoot an arrow around 155 fps which for a 44# stick I made myself is pretty quick..
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