Dec 26 2006

Elm Bow Update

Published by at 10:59 am under Plant Materials

The survival bow is fine, but I want one strong enough to bring down whatever I encounter. In this region the superior bow-wood is clearly elm (Ulmus glabra). There are however a few downsides to this wood. It is hard to find a properly straight bow-length piece and it has a seriously bad tendency to warp sideways. This has ruined several good bowstaves for me so, I hope this will not happen this time.

To reduce the risk of warping I will keep the bow-stave oiled and to dry it as slowly as possible, it will be seasoned outside. Also, cutting the wood in winter, when the sap is down, will hopefully help too. The bow will be worked green to it’s near-finished dimentions and then dried.

I found a very good stave yesterday, it’s quite remarkably straight for being elm and has smooth bark, which I have found to indicate good wood qualities. Coarse bark almost invariably means thin growth rings. It was cut down with an antler axe

After using the same axe to cut it to a more managable length, which is still much longer than the finished bow will be, it was split. To make sure that a major knot did not end up in on the back of a limb, the antler wedge was hammered through the knot to start the split.

I decided to split free the thick end first. When it comes to splitting wood, there are a few handy tricks:
– Hammer in wooden wedges from both sides, that will reduce the risk of the split running off to one side.
– Use a fork in a tree to guide the crack if it starts to run off to one side. Put a little more pressure to the thick side to get the crack bak in the middle.
– If you meet resistance at a point, use an antler wedge to drive through whatever is budging.

First below: Pounding in wedges from both sides.
Second below: Guiding the split with a tree fork.

The best half was chosen and an approximate outline written on the belly side (inside) with charcoal. To measure the middle point of the bow, make one of the bark strips as long as the bow, fold it over and you have half the lenght of the bow. Photo is of the two halves, of which the left one was chosen.

The antler axe proved ineffective for removing wood from sides of the bow, so I ended up with a combination of chopping with a core of flint and splitting in the budging places with the antler wedge. This stage is far from finished, and I will probably continue this work today.


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