Every year, in the beginning of December, the Shire of Coppertree gathers at Warrior Archery in Sherrill, NY, to hold their annual Holiday Shoot for the archery community. Consisting of a dozen targets downstairs, and a “wild game hunt” of 3D animal targets upstairs, the shoot runs from a bit before lunch to about 3 PM, with a hearty dayboard served all afternoon. For non-shooting attendees, they offer an A&S salon, where people can gather and work on projects, teach impromptu classes and demos, and enjoy fellowship with other artisans.
The “Save Christmas!” range, developed by Lord Snorri – photo by Baroness Amalie Reinhardt
Each year’s shoot has a theme, and this year’s was “Save Christmas!”. A dozen hand-painted targets were made, each with a classic Dungeons & Dragons monster trying to make off with a piece of holiday loot: presents, candy canes, even Christmas trees! Each one was a friend-or-foe target – you needed to hit the monster without hitting the holiday swag, or you’d lose points. Four of the twelve targets were also timed ends; archers had 30 seconds to shoot as many shots as they could.
Photo by Robert of Ferness
One of the hallmarks of the Coppertree Holiday Shoot are the lovely prizes: scrolls (by Lady Vedis Aradottir) and trophy arrows for the winners, and a table of prizes for the runners-up, with donations by several well-known SCAdian artists, including THL Robert of Ferness, Mistress Elska a Fjarfelli, and Lord Snorri skyti Bjarnarson, as well as garb accessories from Sister Marykate at LARP Essentials. Even the Marshals are well-rewarded, this year receiving hand-woven trim pieces and bolts of red brocade cloth for their hard work.
This year’s Holiday Shoot was also the Kingdom Archery Championship tournament. The outgoing Champion, Lord Snorri, chose to use the shoot itself as the qualifier, and the top twelve finishers (who were subjects of Æthelmearc and desired to compete for the championship) got to continue to shoot for the pleasure of Their Royal Majesties Timothy and Gabrielle, who were in attendance and shooting!
First, Second and Third place trophies, plus a special Championship trophy; courtesey of Lord Snorri and his fabulous woodworking father.
The first round of eliminations was grueling, and took nearly two hours of competitive, cut-throat shooting to winnow the field of hopefuls down to eight, and ended with a high-stakes, one arrow shootout between young Mary of Harford, and Celsus of Delftwood. Mary emerged victorious, and after that, things went quickly. The next round had all eight of the archers shooting together in a 40 second timed round, at six 3D animal targets. Each one needed to be hit once in order to advance to the final round. Three of the eight archers advanced: Lord Ronan a Conaill, THL Robert of Ferness, and Baron Edward Harbinger – His Lordship Robert’s advancement was particularly noteworthy, as he was shooting period equipment (a sixty pound longbow) and in full archer kit: helmet, gambeson, etc.
Those three worthies then engaged in another timed contest, this time 30 seconds, at three paper targets, 20 yards away. One of these was a standard 24” Royal Round target, but the other two were period target faces from the Luttrell Psalter. As an added wrinkle, all three targets must receive a scoring arrow from an archer if that archer’s scores are to count at all. All three archers shot well, but in the end, Lord Ronan was victorious, and was chosen by Their Majesties as Their new Archery Champion.
Lord Ronan chosen as the Æthelmearc Archery Champion – photo by Baroness Amalie Reinhardt
Herein is a report of the Court of Her Majesty, Queen Anna Leigh, at Her Crown Tournament held in the Shire of Blackwater on October 6, Anno Societatis 53, as recorded by Sophie Davenport, Silver Buccle Herald, and Master Madoc Arundel, Shrike Herald.
The combatants and consorts were presented to Her Majesty in a stately manner. The Kingdom Seneschal and the Earl Marshal’s Representative both spoke to the combatants about conducting themselves and fighting in an honorable manner. Once the first round was set, Her Majesty called for the Order of the Millrind. She spoke of one who has served behind the scenes for quite some time and deserves recognition for such service. She then had Chrestienne de Waterdene called forward and inducted her into the Order. Scroll by Lord Rhys Penbras ap Dafydd.
Mistress Chrestienne is inducted into the Millrind. Photo by Baron Steffan Wolfgang von Ravensburg.
After a day of honorable and chivalrous fighting, Earl Gareth Kincaid was named as the victor of the tournament, and with his inspiration, Countess Juliana, was presented to Her Majesty, who placed the ancestral coronet upon his head and proclaimed him to be the Prince and Her Heir. He then took the consort’s coronet and placed it upon Juliana’s head, naming Her to be the Princess.
Gareth and Juliana ready to be crowned Prince and Princess. Photo by Baron Steffan.
While the populace was still gathered, Her Majesty called for the Order of the Pelican. She understood that the Order was lacking one who has toiled quietly for many years as an exchequer and tollner, and has been teaching others how to keep the monetary records properly in the ever changing proscribed manner. She then called forth THL Alina Marie de Valenciennes and instructed her to consider becoming a member of the Order of the Pelican. Scroll by Lord Owen Tegg, calligraphed by Sophie Davenport.
THLady Alina receives a Writ for the Pelican. Photo by Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope.
In the evening, as recorded by Master Madoc Arundel …
Evening court was moved indoors due to the weather and moved up to allow those leaving site to do so earlier.
Court opened with Her Majesty exclaiming on the merriment of the day in spite of the weather and congratulating Her heirs.
On October 6th, 2018, We, Anna Leigh, Queen of Æthelmearc, expel Matthew Gibson, known in the Society as Tegrinus de Rhina, from participation in any SCA activity for the duration of Our reign.
The children present were called into court and instructed that goodies could be found in the large wooden chest held by Duke Sven. The children were then directed towards His Grace and released from the Queen’s presence.
The children are sent to find the toy box. Photo by Baron Steffan.
Master Tofi Kerthjalfadsson was received in order to swear his oath of service as the Kingdom Exchequer.
Master Tofi swears fealty. Photo by Baron Steffan.
Her Majesty received the Ladies of the Rose, Garnet, and Edelweiss, who had observed the fighting earlier that day. The ladies assembled named three gentles who they felt had great courtesy on the field. Each of these gentles was called forth to receive a token in acknowledgement of their comportment: The Honorable Lord Cid Hiyo; Lord Matthias al Tabai; Earl Thomas Byron of Haverford. The ladies then asked The Honorable Lord Arden Scot of Clan Scot to come forward and be recognized as the epitome of chivalry on the field this day. THL Arden was then asked by Her Majesty to bear the Shield of Chivalry and join Her court.
THLord Arden is named bearer of the Shield of Chivalry. Photo by Baron Steffan.
Her Majesty, being a great supporter of the zymurgists within our kingdom boundaries, then summoned Baron Cormacc mac Gille Brigde. Baron Cormacc had proven his skills as a brewer and was entered on the rolls as a Companion of the Sycamore. Scroll by Lady Murdia Drusilla Vettia Portia.
Baron Cormacc receives a Sycamore. Photo by Baron Steffan.
Next called forward was Lord Godfrey de Bayeux, who was standing as the Thrown Weapons Champion. Upon presenting himself, Her Majesty spoke of his puissance in thrown weapons and invested him with the regalia of a Companion of the Golden Alce. Scroll by THL Mairghread ui Stilbhard uu Coinn.
Lord Godfrey receives a Golden Alce. Photo by Baron Steffan.
A call went out for those for whom this was their first event. Five individuals came forward and were greeted by our Queen, who welcomed them into the SCA. Each gentle was offered a choice of drinking vessel to start them on their journey within our Society.
The Order of the Fleur d’Æthelmearc was summoned and advised that their number was incomplete. Her Majesty spoke of the great skill of an artisan that had yet to be entered into this order’s rolls. Lady Felice de Thornton was invited forward, whereupon the Queen spoke of her excellence in the production of exquisite scrolls, and inducted Lady Felice into the order. Scroll by THL Edana the Red.
Lady Felice is inducted into the Fleur. Photo by Baron Steffan.
As quiet once again descended upon the hall, the Order of the Millrind was summoned and likewise advised that, despite the induction earlier in the day, their number was still incomplete. Lady Lasairfhiona inghean Aindriasa was called forth from the kitchens, where she was still laboring in cleanup following the day’s repast. Her Majesty spoke of the service of “Lady Lush” in many kitchens and with the Kingdom hospitality staff at Pennsic. Lady Lasairfhiona was then entered into the rolls as a Companion of the Millrind. Scroll by THL Zofia Kowalewska.
Lady Lasairfhiona is inducted into the Millrind. Photo by Baron Steffan.
Her Majesty spoke of a special guest who had traveled from the Midrealm to render service on the field. Duke Valharic was called into the royal presence, whereupon the Queen remarked on the number of bye fights His Grace had fought that day, spoke of His grace and skill on the field, and thanked Him for His service. She then presented His Grace with the first Titus inspiration token. His Grace then begged leave to address the populace, which was granted. He spoke of his self-serving reasons for appearing this day … of his relationship with Duke Titus, the inspiration that Duke Titus had been to him personally, and his burning desire to not only feel that again but to pay it forward. He thanked Her Majesty for Her indulgence and for allowing Him to serve on the list field.
Duke Valharic addresses Her Majesty. Photo by Baron Steffan.
There having been two kingdom championships determined this day, Her Majesty wished to acknowledge these achievements to all present. She called for Her Archery Champion, Master Ambrosius, to come forth and speak of the day’s archery contest. Master Ambrosius spoke of the great skill demonstrated, and of such skill that a three-way tie had ensued. Although THL Cynwulf Rendell was named as Her Majesties Champion, an error was made in the announcement of the victor of the tournament this day, with Ronan O’Conall having emerged victorious from the three-way tie. Her Majesty will have Ronan O’Conall called forward and invested as Her Champion at Hael Investiture. Her Majesty states, “We thank THL Cynwulf Rendell for bringing it to Our attention and to the archery community for the love and support they have shown.” Scroll by Isabella Montoya.
Master Ambrosius talks with Her Majesty about the Archery Championship. Photo by Baron Steffan.
She next called for Lord Godfrey de Bayeux, Her Thrown Weapons Champion, to speak of the thrown weapons contest. Lord Godfrey also spoke of the impressive skill displayed at the butts, and named Lord Meinolf Grimsson as carrying the day. Scroll by THL Shirin of Susa.
Lord Meinolf is named Thrown Weapons Champion. Photo by Baron Steffan.
Her Majesty spoke of the jousting tournament which had taken place offsite earlier in the day. Nohaaj had emerged victorious, and his success had been proclaimed in the presence of the equestrian community prior to this court. Author of the scroll unknown.
Her Majesty then asked to speak to the steward of the day’s event, and to the principal members of his staff. She praised them for providing such a wonderful event. She gifted each of the staff members with a token of Her appreciation. As the staff prepared to leave, She held back Lord Raadjgier Katla. She spoke of his willingness and eagerness to honor every request, and for doing so in such a graceful and assured manner. She then named him Her Inspiration For The Day and presented him with her Inspiration token.
Lord Raadjger is named the Queen’s Inspiration. Photo by Mistress Arianna.
Sir Vladimir Mechnik was permitted an audience with the Queen. He came forward and spoke of his admiration for Duke Titus, of the spark that was his enthusiasm and the motivation that was his counsel. He then produced the list tree shield that bore Duke Titus’s arms. Sir Vladimir stated that the managers of the list felt that this shield should be retired with honor and respect, and had requested that it be presented to Anna Leigh. Her Majesty thanked Sir Vladimir, and explained to the populace that the Seedling Herald ensures that all fighters in a crown list have a shield to represent them, and it bears their personal device if they have one registered. Since shields that are no longer needed are generally recycled with new arms for new fighters, the “retirement” of a list shield represents a significant spirit of respect.
Sir Vlad returns Duke Titus’ tourney shield to Her Majesty. Photo by Baron Steffan.
The Queen gave leave to Her Heirs to address the populace, whereupon His Highness Gareth rose and spoke of Æthelmearc’s commanding presence within the known world. He spoke of flying the flag at foreign wars and at events both near and far. He emphasized that his reign would see a great war fought on our own soil, and spoke of his definition of “our land.” It is our land because we house troops on this land in perpetuity. He stated that it was not just the presence of troops that was needed, but spoke also of the importance of volunteers to provide the services necessary to manage this war, the teachers and class coordinators to address the needs of the A&S community, and his desire that Æthelmearc populate these positions at a number greater than all other kingdoms combined.
Prince Gareth addresses the populace. Photo by Baron Steffan.
There being no further business, the Court of Anna Leigh, Queen of Æthelmearc, was closed.
Master Cynwyl MacDaire’s Hand-carved horn with silver embellishment
By THL Elska á Fjárfelli (Susan Verberg)
Lord Otto Boese’s 13th century Magyar (Hungarian) archery kit. All photos by THL Elska.
For the Arts & Sciences portion of the Pennsic War Point this year, last year’s participant Mistress Fredeburg selected and organized this year’s contingent of Æthelmearc artisans.
Lady Shirin of Susa’s Canon page from the Armenian Gospels of Gladzor
As in previous years, each side could choose 12 entrants consisting of five Laurels and seven non-Laurels.
But this year, different from previous years, the item to be displayed could not have been entered in any previous A&S competitions, making this competition quite the last-minute challenge for our artisans.
Master Robert of Sugar Grove’s “bench for His Excellency”
To preserve anonymity performance entries were also not allowed, as were cooking entries for public health safety.
While in previous years only awarded artisans (Sycamore or higher) could vote, this year all Pennsic attendees could participate. Each person wishing to vote for their A&S Champions of choice would be given three beans to place in any of the entrants’ cups. At the end of the competitions the beans would be counted and scored for a winner-take-all for the 2 War Points.
Lord Hrólfr á Fjárfelli’s weaving broken diamond twill fabric to create a Viking-age apron dress
Although our side did not win, the results were very, very close with a difference of only 82 points from over a total of 1,800 votes cast. The quality of entries was incredible and I think our Æthelmearc artisans deserve a big thank you for giving it all they had!
Our artisans were:
Master Robert of Sugar Grove
Master Cynwyl MacDaire
Lord Hrólfr á Fjárfelli
Lord Otto Boese
Lady Shirin of Susa
Thank you Mistress Fredeburg for organizing such an amazing team, and thank you Lady Shirin for stepping in at the last minute when one of our allies had an artisan drop out.
This month’s On Target topic: proper preparation prevents poor performance!
It was a privilege to be the archery marshal-in-charge at Blackstone Raid. When I got to the site, the weather seemed to be perfect, so I set the range up the night before the archery competition. What we did not know was that there would be a sudden change; a microburst hit around 1 a.m.
The next morning, I went out to look at the range and a good bit of it was down… but fortunately I was prepared.
I had an extra box with spikes and washers, as well as extra rope. As you can see, the rope had clips and rings on it, so that I could pound spikes and retie the hay bales.
I also had extra targets, which was good since some of the original targets were destroyed in the rain.
In addition, I had a roll of camo-patterned duct tape that was perfect for outdoors. And for the first time, I had built backstops for the targets. Placing a backstop roughly 4 feet behind each target meant many of the arrows never dug into the dirt, or as we like to say, became “worm chasers.” Not having to look in the ground saved archers a lot of time.
Finally, I had brought an extra prize, which turned out to be important – I had planned for first, second, and third place prizes, but then I had one shooter strike a deer target in the heart it well over 50 yards, so on the fly I was able to give a prize for the best shot of the day.
In conclusion, if you’re the MIC, it never hurts to overpack!
This month’s installment of On Target: the art of dumpster diving, or one man’s trash is a marshal’s treasure.
Here are some of the things I’ve dug out of the trash over the years.
First, a styrofoam block. Cover it with some clear tape so that it doesn’t send pieces all over the range when it gets hit. Put a piece of cardboard in front of it, lined off to look like a brick wall, and you can put things on it to shoot.
Next, I found this mutant alien lizard at a game. It had a futuristic blaster in its hand, but I covered that with a round piece of cardboard (out of the trash) to look like a shield, and now I have a troll from Lord of the Rings.
Last, I found this beat up target of a deer. Taping it together made the perfect stencil, which I used to make the beautiful target you see at right.
Anybody can buy something at the store, but doing it yourself is so much more fun and rewarding. The smiles you see on the range will bring you plenty of satisfaction.
This month’s safety tip: if you are reaching into a trashcan, remember that you are trespassing, so be sure to ask the store manager first. The person may even assist you. Also, there could be nails, rusty cans, or broken glass, so be careful.
I hope you all had a happy New Year, and I look forward to seeing you when the weather changes.
This month’s On Target: Stocking stuffers for the Archer you love!
It’s Christmas time and we’re all just a little lost about what to give that archer in our life. I found this cute little Christmas tree ornament you both can enjoy. Everybody that looks at it will say, “Where did you find that?” The truth is, I’ve forgotten… but if you Google “archery ornament” you’ll find some like it.
Now just like the “Marshals Field Box,” your archer may need nocks, fletching, glue, and points. For those all day trips, a modern shooter may need some jerky, power bars, and carb mixers to go in their water. Also, the hunter in him or her might need field dressing gloves and doe scent.
Finally, remember “GLG” – Guys (and Gals) Love Gadgets. No matter how many pocket knives or multi-tools we have in that overstuffed pocket, one more is always welcome. And at the end of the day, who doesn’t need a corkscrew or a bottle opener?
I hope this helps you out with your Christmas shopping.
This month safety tip: whether you’re driving to the range or driving to Mom’s house, it’s Christmas and people are always in a rush and not very careful. Drive safely, my friends!
For weeks now, I’ve been studying the rocket arrow and gunpowder. First I must say that much Chinese Warfare in history was written years after the fact, so historical information is shaky. Gunpowder was the first chemical explosive invented somewhere between the early and mid 9th century. The Chinese word for gunpowder is “huo yao xuo yau.” The Chinese wasted little time developing flamethrowers, rockets, bombs, and landmines. Another culture, believed to be Italian, even developed a torpedo rocket.
Here are the rockets that I’ve personally developed:
Parental discretion is advised, keep this away from children! The rocket I made did move and would have gone further if I added more fuel. For safety reasons, I will not be telling anyone what I used for fuel, but it was not gunpowder. A demonstration was held at Archers to the Wald and with the marshals’ and sites’ permission, I’ll be doing demonstrations throughout the upcoming year. The video below was taken at Archers to the Wald by Lady Catalina Iannarella d’Colliano.
This month’s safety tip: again, please do not do this at home. I’ve been studying this and doing tests for months.
– my adventures at the two and a half day Bow Making Workshop at Primitive Pursuits in upstate Arnot Forest during prime fall colors… By Elska á Fjárfella of the Dominion of Myrkfaelinn.
The third day started cloudy and quickly turned into drizzle. Even though we worked outdoors for most of the workshop, we fortunately had the luxury of a roofed pavilion, courtesy of Cornell University’s Arnot Teaching & Research Forest, as getting the bow staves wet or even damp should be avoided (I’d brought mine home to stay the night in the car, instead of all alone under the pavilion.). Moisture can swell the wood and make it harder or inconsistent to work with, as one of the students found out the hard way after she got some raindrops on one of the limbs. For our tillering convenience, the instructors had come up with an ingenious clamp system to secure the bow stave out of some rope and 2×4’s, which I duplicated at home the following week. I don’t think it will be used only for bow making!
Clamp in use. Basically, it’s made up of a flat piece of 2×4 with a small cut out and two pegs at the other side (behind bow). A rope loop is placed through the cut out (helps wedge the stave tight to the wood pegs) and a piece of 2×2 or 2×3 is pushed through the bottom of the rope loop. With your hand push this lever down and secure the tension with in a piece of scrap wood wedged in between. Do not hammer the scrap wood in; it clamps better if pushed down by hand.
After we had carefully hacked out the main shape with the hatchet, while staying about 1/8th of an inch away from all pencil marks, the bow was now ready for rasping and scraping. We’ve been testing out the pencils from gear hungry and to date, I cannot find anything to criticize. Using one of the clamp stations, I clamped down my bow and with a farrier’s hoof rasp started scraping off all tool marks right up to the pencil marks, leveled the back of the limbs, and shaped the handle. Most important in this stage is to keep checking progress so as to not go too fast, and to check both edges for symmetry (one limb side should not higher or lower than the other). The limbs are only as thick as their thinnest part, and special care needs to be taken in this regard, especially where the handle tapers off into the limb. From there on it’s pretty simple. The widest and thickest part of the limb is right at the taper of the handle, and from there the shape should gradually get narrower and thinner up to about halfway, to then thicken again to compensate for the skinny tapered tip design. Using mostly my fingers I would run them up and down the limb and feel for thickness irregularities, especially around the knots, and carefully rasp and later scrape them down. The thinnest part of the limb is about halfway, which is where most energy is stored, and therefore the most bend should happen when pulled back to fire.
The thinner middle in this drawing is exaggerated to give you the general idea.
Instructor Sean marking the belly of my bow.
From this time on, the instructors were kept busy and would regularly swing by to check our bows, adding crosses to show where to stay away and squiggles where more wood needed to be removed. This step was quite a challenge as it is hard to see; the differences are minute and were mostly only ‘visible’ by touch. It sure helped that I have experience throwing pottery, as that’s all about seeing with your fingertips too! Interestingly, as our instructors would remind us now and then, we’re still not making a bow – we’re making a bow shaped sculpture! Not until the tillering stage, where the limbs are starting to get flexed, is the bow sculpture slowly transforming into a bow.
Hard at work rasping and shaping the sides and handle of the bow ‘sculpture’.
It’s starting to look like something!
When the limbs of the bow finally start to have a little bend, as tested by gently bending, it finally is tillering time! The first tentative bending is done by putting the tip on something solid like a concrete floor, pushing away on the handle with one hand (and that elbow braced on your hip if needed) – nowhere else – and steadying the upper tip with the other: the wood remembers stress and the wrong pressure in the wrong place can permanently alter the flex of the limb! Now the rasp gets put away and the scraping knife is put to good use. We used knives similar to carving knives, fairly long but with a slight burr added to one edge for efficient scraping. And once again, all tool marks, now from the rasp, are carefully removed and the backs of the limbs are smoothed out. Then it is a matter of carefully removing layers of wood from the belly of the limbs until they started bending more and more, and more evenly. Also at this time we made a bowstring using the Flemish twist technique, and added nock points to the bow tips with a small saw (handmade by three hacksaw blades taped together). Carving or filing nock points works as well; just don’t carve into the back of the bow, only the sides and belly. The string would still be fairly long, so the bow bends shallowly and gently gets accustomed to becoming a bow.
Knock points are added and string is made
With each removal & tillering check, we would string the bow and flex it shallowly about thirty times to exercise the stave so the wood becomes used to the flexing and compression needed for proper bow function. This exercise is also important as the changes just made with scraping take a while for the wood to remember and might not show up in the next tillering if proper exercise is omitted. We tillered both using a tillering stick, and with the help of our instructors and fellow students by putting a foot on the string and pulling the bow stave up while they would squat in front, look & critique. It was very instructive to see many types of trees and bow shapes and strengths and see how the limbs would bend differently from one to the other. The big thing to look for is where does it bend. Where does the limb curve, and where does it not? Ideally, the bow limbs curve most in the middle, with a bit less at the beginning near the handle, and near the end at the nock point. Where it bends too much (it’s thinnest there), wood needs to be removed everywhere else, and where it is too stiff wood should be removed right there. Note that adding wood is not an option! And always check the edges of the bow to make sure they have the same thickness; that it does not slant from one side to the other, as this could introduce weakness and even twist.
Fairly quickly my bow stave was bending well and looking good. Interestingly, the limb with the two knots curved beautifully right from the start. The knot free limb had a reflex which was messing with the tillering, it kept looking flat and stiff. Rather than overcompensate and weakening that spot, the instructor decided it was easier to just heat treat the reflex straight. Which probably looked a whole lot easier than it was. When both limbs had a good bend, and looked even (also check the negative space when strung between stave and string), the bow still was too heavy for me. It drew in the upper forties which I thought is a bit much. But as the tillering was correct, instead of messing with the belly of the bow and making it thinner, which could change the tillering, now the best option is to make it narrower and thus remove from the sides. There is a balance between how thick a bow limb should be and how wide, as a wider bow has more air resistance which needs compensation in strength while thinning makes it weaker. Thus with the lower poundage draw weights it is better to go narrow in width than lose too much thickness. As mentioned before, twice as thick is eight times as strong, so taking off a little belly could quickly be way too much…
Looking for proper bend using the tillering stick: the middle of the left limb looks flat.
Ready for the first arrow!
Finally, the time had come to completely sand the bow (except for the back of course!), measure the right length for the bowstring (about 6 inches from the top if I remember correctly) and string it! Use a brace height of about a hand width (between string at rest and handle) and do not immediately pull to full length, go little bits at a time. Never leave a bow strung longer than it needs to be, it can develop string follow (stays slightly bend when unstrung) and loose strength. And never dry fire a bow, the energy that would otherwise travel with the arrow does not leave and can blow up the bow instead… And then the most satisfying of sounds: the thock of hitting the target with your first arrow!
The bow is still ‘young’ and needs ‘training’; exercise it regularly, shoot with it regularly, and not until it is a couple months old and you feel there is no more tweaking to be done is it time to finish. Oil, varnish or a stain – it does not really matter as long as you like it and it weatherproofs. Smooth the edges if you have not done so already. Carve pretty knock points. Add a leather wrapped handle. But most of all – take your bow and enjoy the great outdoors together!
The end: lots of happy students with their precious sticks! And each and every one looks different…
One last thing: be patient while crafting your bow. Take your time, put it away, come back to it; have a conversation. Read books, talk to bowyers: there are many different styles and techniques, and another way might work better for you. I found this course to be such fun, that I am already scouting our woods for logs to harvest, and with the experience I had enough information to make a quick bow with my son (and the band saw) from a stick harvested a couple days prior. We made it together and you should have seen him, he was so proud to shoot an arrow with a bow he’d made himself…
Simon (at right) with his self bow made from a 2” diameter green stick. Using a bandsaw for general shaping and tillering greatly shortened the time needed to make a bow, this one took about two hours, but also gave much more room for error as it is very quick and easy to take too much off. To save time (and limbs) a blend of modern and traditional techniques seems to work best: rough shaping with the bandsaw, and fine tuning with rasp and knife.
Want to read more?
Traditional Bowyers Bible’s Vol 1-4, Allely et al.; The Lyons Press, 2000 The Art of making Selfbows, Stim Wilcox The Bow Builder’s Book, Horning ed.; Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2007 The Heritage of the Longbow, Pip Bickerstaffe; self published UK, 1999
For more information on the Bow Making Workshop. click here.
All photography and drawings by Susan Verberg, 2016.
– my adventures at the two and a half day Bow Making Workshop at Primitive Pursuits in upstate Arnot Forest during prime fall colors… By Elska á Fjárfella of the Dominion of Myrkfaelinn
The first cut made: the log is cut down to eye level.
Fast forward a year, and the log is peeled, dried and ready to be worked. If you know what you’re doing, it is possible to start with a live log and end with a dry bow in a couple of weeks. Luckily, at the workshop the logs were harvested the year before and dried to perfection. Now it is time to measure. We cut our log to the length of each person from floor to eye; this biometric length seems to work out for most people, and is one reason why a self bow is so personal. Then we established the back of the bow as reference. Do we include that knothole, or go around? We looked for the grain of the wood and marked the center length of our log and with pencil, dot the center width from top to bottom, while following the grain. With a straight grained log this will look like a mostly straight line from top to bottom. With knot holes (from a branch) and curves, this line will curve around & with them, and for optimal strength our bow would have to as well! With the types of trees available a flat belly bow, which is wide & thin, is a good design: the shape helps spread out compression as it is much stronger in depth than in width. The density of the wood and the poundage required give an indication as to how wide the bow should be. Twice as wide is twice as strong, twice as thick is eight times as strong!
The log’s length is measured and the exact center marked in pencil. From the center point, measure and mark a line 2” & 4” above and below. The middle 4 inches makes up the handle, and the 2” above and below will flare towards the outer edge of the bow limbs, and flare down from the handle to the belly of the limbs. Then on either side of the center line we add another line to mark the outside of our bow, about ¾ inch for a 30-40# and 1” for a 40-50# draw weight. Halfway up the bow limb we make another mark, and draw a line from there to the edge of the tip or knock point (which is about a half inch wide). This will make for a tapering shape to the top part of the bow limb, which helps reduce air drag and results in a faster, quieter and/or stronger release.
Then it’s time for some refined whacking of log with a hatchet! Day two started with this quote from the instructor: “all you have to do is cut away the wood that is not part of the bow inside”. Right! To help with coordination, the hatchet is held right below the axe head and only short quick chops are made. To help remove the excess in short chips and not long strips (which could run off right into your bow measurements by mistake) small nicks are chopped first along the path of where you intend to remove wood to cut up the wood fibers and then, layer by layer, wood chips are removed to about 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch around your pencil drawing and about three quarters of an inch for the bow limb depth. The bow is only as big as the deepest tool mark, so the first day of chopping was rather tentative with lots of checking and rechecking of pencil marks. By the end of the day I had the backs of the limbs, the handle and the edges roughly chopped out and was surprised at the level of precision possible with a sharp hatchet and some practice!
Using a hatchet to rough out the bow shape.
A few things to keep in mind:
– Always chop away from the center or mass. As the bow is widest at the beginning of a limb, a chop towards the ends which has a split that runs too far, will most likely miss anything important as the outer limbs taper into the nock.
– Stop regularly to check your marks.
– Keep all planes square: chop a flat belly (the part facing you when shooting) and square off the edges.
– Work on both limbs alternatively, don’t finish one and then start the other, it’s easier to keep them similar if worked on parallel.
And whatever you do, do not touch the back (the part facing away when shooting: visualize a bending person and you’ll “see” where the terminology came from) – once the surface of the back is established either by peeling or scraping the bark it is off limits!
Lots of wood chips are made…
Wood grain is like fiber rope within a tree: just as a large cable made up of lots of small wires is strong enough to moor a ship, the same is true for plant fiber; enough of them together can withstand thunderstorms! But if there is fraying or some sort of damage, then one wind gust can fell a mature tree… and one scrape, nick or dent can do enough damage to make a bow unstable and set a precedence for a fatal crack!
We finished the second day with lunch around the campfire – it was hard to put down the stave and take a break!
– my adventures at the two and a half day Bow Making Workshop at Primitive Pursuits in upstate Arnot Forest during prime fall colors… By Elska á Fjárfella of the Dominion of Myrkfaelinn.
When my hubbie decided he needed a better bow, he teamed up with Edward of Delftwood to make a longbow from a premade bowstave. It took him about six trips to Syracuse to get her done, and the bow he made is an absolutely gorgeous contrasting color triple layer laminate with a narrow “D” profile, made with plausible period materials and techniques. And while laminating is a period technique (one only has to think of the short, curved horse bow of the Mongol hordes) it’s not what came to my mind when he talked about making a longbow. I’d thought of stone age bows… Norse longbows… the incredible English longbows…
Reading up on the subject I quickly realized that what I like are self bows made from one piece of wood, especially ones with character (also called flaws). I could not find anyone to help learn about making self bows, but fortunately, we live in an area with an active primitive skills group of people (or Ithaca hippies, and do they look the part…). As part of the Primitive Pursuits outdoor classroom, which specializes in kid’s summer camps and after school programs but also has occasional adult weekend workshops, once a year a Bow Making Workshop is offered right here in town! And this year I decided to take the plunge…
Our son Simon checking out the different self bows on display.
With just a couple of common tools like a rasp, a knife and an axe, and the abundance of his surroundings any person could, and can, make a bow strong enough to take a deer. Actually, a metal rasp, knife and axe is not even necessary, as one of our teachers demonstrated: he’d made a bow with a stone axe and a flint scraper he’d made himself, as well as creek sand as both file and sanding paper and it was completely indistinguishable from the bows made using modern tools! Like Europe, the American northeast has abundant hardwood forests with many suitable trees, and making a bow suitable to hunt from locally harvested materials is not out of our reach at all, even for us modern people!
First things first. We started the workshop with a sing-along to honor the trees and say thanks. Not something I am used to, but nice in a graceful kind of way. Then our two instructors introduced themselves: Justin, barefooted and wearing an inside out sheepskin vest and Sean, also barefooted and pledged to eat and work from and with local materials only (he had a smoked squirrel for lunch). And while normally feeling a bit out of norm as homesteaders etc, here I was likely one of the more normal ones of the dozen and a half students! I felt right at home…
Talking about wood.
Then we got right into bow making. As the bones of a bow is the wood, good care needs to be taken to find a suitable log. As a general rule, dense hardwoods like hickory, maple, oak, ash, and elm make good bows. Conifers like pine do not, and softwoods like willow and basswood do not either. Of course, the exception to this rule is yew, which is a low density conifer and makes awesome bows. But it also needs fairly specific strategies to work well with and is therefore not recommended for the beginner.
Next up is the quality of the wood. Of course, ideal would be a perfectly straight 6 to 7 foot, knot free trunk to be split into log staves. But who’s got one of those… Making a bow is much more forgiving that I expected and if reasonable care is taken in having a mostly straight, mostly knot free log, apparently it will be fine. What is to be avoided are twist and bends, especially for the beginner. A little twist could be worked around, and a reflex or deflex bend could be removed with heat, but these are more advanced techniques. Know your limitations and keep looking to find a log to go with your comfort level.
Demonstrating how to safely remove bark.
Our logs were cut between 6-7 feet (to fit the instructor’s truck bed). A 4-6” diameter log could be split in half for two staves, using a wedge, a mallet and some splitting wedges to keep the split going. When it is split wood glue is put on the ends. Paint and beeswax works as well, the advantage of wood glue being that it also works under tension (it’s stretchy) and can sometimes prevent cracks that might otherwise have happened anyway. The logs are dried in a cool dry place, like a garage or basement. Whatever you do, stay away from the hot woodstove!
About half of the split logs the students could choose from had the bark already removed as they were harvested in the summer, which was very convenient. Removing the bark facilitates drying and also prevents bark beetles from taking up home and destroying the potential stave. Some people advise getting winter wood as the wood is driest that time of year, others advise getting summer wood as the bark peels off easily. The grain of the wood gives a bow its strength and flexibility, but only if the back is one continuous growth ring from top to bottom. With the types of trees mentioned, the wood right below the bark is the wood used for making a bow, and baring the growth ring is easy if the bark is loose and can be peeled right off. The exceptions are locust and osage orange, where the outer sapwood needs to be removed and only the inner core is used. If the bark is not loose, it can also be carefully peeled first with a drawknife and finished with a scraping knife. Using a drawknife is an acquired skill, so practice first on some scrap wood until you get a feel for what’s happening. Whichever way you choose, always make sure to peel away from knots so as not to violate the grain curving around imperfections. Grain does not tend to go straight, so keep a close eye on what’s going on and always, always follow the ‘yellow brick’ grain.
End of day one, each with our own split log. I choose a piece of shagbark hickory.