Archery the Old Way

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Published on: Feb. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

on it is the shape of a bow. Wilson has several books on the bowyer's art that offer dimensions and many other instructions for shaping a stave into a bow. He uses a special hatchet to hew to the lines he has drawn. The tool's blade, instead of being V-shaped, has one flat edge like a broad axe. By the end of this work, a bow is really taking shape.

Tillering, the fine tuning of a bow's shape, comes next. The trick here is to shave off only small curls of wood at a time. "You've got to be careful. You can take it off, but you can't put it back on," Wilson says.

A wrong move could weaken the bow so that it breaks when pulled back. For example, knots in the wood are weak spots requiring special care. Wilson leaves a few extra layers of growth rings mounded around knots for extra support.

Wilson once made a bow with a knot touching the edge of the back. He only did that once. When he pulled back to shoot, it cracked, ruining weeks of work. Now any knots stay away from the edge.

A favorite tillering tool is the spoke knife, which looks like a miniature draw knife sporting a half-moon blade. Wilson says it was invented to shape wooden spokes for wagon wheels and the like. Good tillering carves the bow so that it curves evenly when pulled back. To check his progress, Wilson pulls the bowstring and sights along its "limbs" for places that don't bend enough. A few more whiskers come off those spots. He checks again. For especially fine work, Wilson cuts glass to use as a scraper.

With some bows, the work is essentially done here. But this bow will get two layers of sinew and hide glue on its back to make it more powerful and durable. Wilson fishes out from a tackle box a couple of 4-inch bunches of white tendon that came from a deer's hind leg. He hammers the tendon lightly on an anvil to begin splintering its fibers, which he then picks apart like stiff, leathery shoelaces.

Steaming hide glue is waiting in a coffee can as he takes the bow into an adjoining room. He clamps the flat weapon in a vise and checks the glue with his finger. "Too hot," he says, adjusting the flame. "It should

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