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Chapter XVII
The Bow
By Colonel Walrond
Part 1 of 3

OF all the implements of archery, the bow naturally first claims our attention. It is not intended here to speak of ancient bows or of the numerous forms of the weapon which have been in use in various times and nations, as that subject has already been treated at length in previous chapters. It is proposed to speak only of the bows at present in use in England and America for target-shooting describing what a bow should be, how it is made how to choose it, and how to keep it in an efficient state.

138, 139. Stators of Soli in Cilicia
138, 139. Stators of Soli in Cilicia

Bows are of two kinds 'self' and 'backed.' The first when of yew, is made of two pieces, grafted or spliced in the middle, each limb being in one piece; the latter is made of two or more strips of wood fastened together. It may be as well to explain that the part of the bow which is flat and furthest from the shooter is called the 'back,'the rounded part nearest the shooter is called the 'belly,' and the part in the middle which is covered with velvet or other material, the handle.'

140. Stages in the manufacture of the bow.
140. Stages in the manufacture of the bow.

Self-bows are made of yew and of lance, the latter being the cheapest bow obtainable; but it is of little use except for beginners to practice with, as it has not much cast, is heavy in the hand, and will not last long. Yew is the only wood which will stand well and is fit for a self-bow but, unfortunately, suitable yew is as scarce as it is good, and consequently it is proportionately expensive.

To make a really good bow it is essential that the wood should possess certain qualities: the grain should be close, straight, and even; the line dividing the sap and wood should be clear, even, and well defined, and it should be free from knots and pins. It is in all these points that yew is especially liable to fail ; and though some of them can be remedied by skilful workmanship in the manufacture such as lifting the knots and pins, or leaving more wood where they occur, and careful manipulation so as to place any knots where they will do the least harm, still, any bow which fails in these points is more or less defective, though the defect may be trivial.

From the phrase--'the English yew bow'-- so often used by ancient writers on the subject, it might be inferred that bows were formerly made from yew grown in England, and to a certain extent this was the case, but then, as now, the best wood was imported, the native-grown wood being vastly inferior to that procured from foreign countries. The best yew comes from Spain and Italy; and the more rugged and mountainous the part of the country where it grows the better the wood is said to be. The grain of the wood is also different on different sides of the same tree, that on the most exposed side being the closer. The trees should, when cut down, be in full vigorous growth, and of fair age, though not too large, the slow-growing trees producing the best material. Great difficulty is said to exist in finding suitable trees at the present time, as the happy hunting grounds of the bowmaker of thirty years ago have been depleted of the most likely trees; so that it is now necessary to find fresh and unexplored regions in order to obtain good trees. These are selected as straight and free from knots as possible, and from eight to Sixteen inches in diameter; but, owing to the 'cussedness of yew, it is quite a lottery how they will turn out, a tree apparently free from knots when growing being found on cutting up to possess quite an undesirable assortment of them below the bark; while, on the other hand, a knot which has given considerable doubt to the selector as to the wisdom of his choice, may turn out to be only on the surface, or to come conveniently on the outside of the section, so that it can be cut out of the bow altogether.

On the arrival of the selected trees in England[1] they are kept in the log for a year. The tree is then cut into lengths of about 7 ft. 6 in., and sawn longitudinally into as many sections as the bowyer thinks it will make bows; these are left for a year to season. The next year the bark is removed, and the sections are roughly trimmed and cut into lengths suitable for limbs. If the section scents good throughout, it is cut in two in the muddle, so as to fore, two limbs; but if a knot or shake appears which would render one half of it unfit for a limb, then the defective part is cut off, only one limb being procured from that section. The limbs are then put aside once more for a year. The third year the limbs are carefully examined and looked over with a view to being matched to form the bow. Those which appear to promise to assimilate best with each other are selected and tied together, the remainder being put on one side. The selected limbs are now trimmed into what is called the square, all possible knots being cut out, and carefully joined together by means of a double fish-joint. This is a somewhat delicate operation, as the joint must be carefully made, and none but the very best glue used. For choice this is always done in the spring, as it is desirable that the temperature should be neither too hot nor too cold, so as to allow the glue to set properly. The two limbs which are to form the bow being now fastened together another year elapses before anything else takes place. It may he as well to mention here that the 'fish' should invariably be double and not single, and that no splice should be in any way disturbed for at least six months after it has been made In the fourth year the centre of the bow over the splice is served with hemp strong!) glued on, in order to strengthen the splice, and also to form a foundation fro the handle, a small thin piece of soft wood having been glued to the back, to give it the required roundness at this point. The bow is then made approximately to take its proper shape, any pins (which appear as small black spots) and knots are 'raised' i.e. more wood is left round them than on the surrounding part of the bow-- and another year's grace is allowed it The fifth year the horns i are put on the bow is strung and alternately drawn and pared till the two limbs have acquired the desired shape, and even bend. When this is found to be the case it is weighed the weight marked on it and the bow is ready to have the handle put on and receive the final finishing touches and polish. It is advisable to keep the bow in this state, and not to polish it at once as it will continue to season better without the polish, which keeps the air from the wood.

141. Double fish and single fish
141. Double fish and single fish

The process of manufacture of a hacked bow is not nearly so elaborate. The hickory and hard woods are kept in steps for about twelve months. The yew portions are either the parts of limbs which have beef rejected as unfit, owing to a defect in the sap or wood, to be made up into self-bows, in which case they are spliced at the handle as before, or else the part to be used for the belly is sawn into strips about one inch and a half by one out of a log too large to be divided into sections for making self-bows, which had, owing to its age, lost the sap or white part.

The strips of wood having been duly prepared, they are placed in a strong wooden fram with an iron bed, having at regular intervals iron loops projecting above the bed. The strips, either two or three, according as a two or three piece bow is required, are then glued together by two men, one working from each end of the frame; which being accomplished, wooden wedges are placed between each loop and the how and driven home, so as to press the glued strips as much as possible against each other. The bow is then left till the glue is quite set, when it is finished in the same manner as a self-bow, except that the handle is for greater security lapped with string instead of hemp.

142. Frame for making backed bows
142. Frame for making backed bows

All bows, whether self or backed, should, when finished, have much the same shape, except that three-piece bows may with advantage be made 'whip ended ' that is, the ends may be reduced more rapidly than is advisable for a self- or yew-backed-yew bow. The bow, when unstrung, should on looking along the back appear perfectly straight, and not reflexed or set back in the handle, and the back of each limb should be in the same plane. In the case of self-yew bows, it is absolutely necessary that the natural grain of the wood should be followed, as any attempt to straighten a limb by artificial means would be fatal to it. Consequently, if the tree was not originally quite straight, the limbs have c to be spliced at an angle which will ill give the bow the 'Cupid' shape, or they may of necessity have to be placed so as to follow the string. This will not materially affect the bow, but in the case of backed bows none should he otherwise than straight in the back. Formerly it was the custom to make backed bows reflexed, and many bows are still made slightly so; but any of these will give an unpleasant kick when loosed, and should be carefully avoided. The reflexed bow is the worst possible shape, as it bends from the handle; and as the ends have to go further than those of a straight how to get to their rest, an unpleasant jar or kick is unavoidable; this is also the case with a bow which set back in the handle, though in a minor degree. Bowmakers say a backed bow which is set back in the handle will keep its cast longer than one with a straight back, and that it will gradually lose the jar; it certainly may do so, but unless one can find a confiding friend to get it into shape for one it is best avoided We c have seen that the bow should be straight in the hack; the back should be flat, with the edges slightly rounded off; and the belly should be gradually rounded If the back is too broad the belly has to be made too pointed, which makes it liable to crysal; and the limbs also are apt to get pulled out of the straight, or be 'cast' with use.

A bow should have an unbendable centre of about seventeen inches; from that to the horn the bend of each limb should be gradual, and similar. Should one limb bend more than the other, the bow will lose its cast, and not improbably the weaker limb will sooner or later break The top of the handle should he rather above the middle of the bow, so that when the bow is grasped with the left hand, the ball of the thumb will rest upon the centre of the boss The horns should be set true on the bow, and the edges of the nocks should be smooth so as not to cut or fray the string.