The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
Home > Books > Bows and Arrows > Introduction
Chapter I
Part 2 of 4

In bow making, machinery is just as positively barred out. A circular saw may be used to advantage for cutting out the stave from the billet. After laying out the bow from a template laid on the stave, a circular saw or a band saw can be used for cutting out along the bow lines. A jointer is a perfect machine for dressing the back of the bow, and for taking off the outer edges. A novelty machine serves admirably for shaping the belly. These are all standard machine tools, and can be found almost anywhere. Doubtless they are used to more or less extent where bows are manufactured. But bow making for serious archery is not a manufacturing job, the manufactured article failing utterly to come up to requirements. The use of these machine tools for producing a weapon of any high value is prohibited by the very purpose for which the bow is made. A bow is an instrument depending for its quality upon its ability to bend like a flat spring, and do so along well defined lines —and the tree does not grow that will provide wood so perfect that the many advantages of machinery can be utilized for shaping this large wooden spring as it must be shaped to do its work properly.

After cutting out his stave with a saw, your old-fashioned bowyer proceeds to shape it in the rough with a hatchet or hand ax. To persons who have never seen the work done this is a statement which causes considerable surprise. Why use so crude a tool? is the question. The answer is simple enough. The bowyer's reason for using his hatchet is to him at least a good one. He knows that a machine would trim the stave down cleaner and more quickly, but he also knows that it would cut the wood irrespective of how the grain ran and without attention to flaws if any there were. And he knows that after considerable time and effort had been spent, he might have to discard the bow as use-less. On the other hand, his ax will find any defect in the wood almost at once; it will follow the grain, and if this is cross the work ends with the chop that reveals the defect.

Again, a good workman with a spindle machine or novelty machine can give the bow stave a perfectly shaped belly in a few minutes; but the method cannot insure that the bow will be found equal at both ends—that has to be found in the growth, and accommodated by the skillful hand of the bowyer.

So far, the best that can be accomplished with the aid of machinery is to simply rough out the bow, and even this can only be done by an expert, qualified to do the thinking for the machine. As to the matter of time lost by the hand method, this after all can hardly be serious. In the presence of Mr. Arthur Knight, president of the Archers' Association in 1925, and of the young champion Lagai, the writer took a rough stave and with his hatchet and a few planes made a bow ready for finishing in some twenty minutes by the watch. I have yet to see machines do much better in time. And we have yet to consider the cost of the ma-chines, and that of maintaining and running them. This of course may be scoffed at by manufacturers of archery goods. But I would not be a Scot born, and son of a long line of that race, were I to allow a dislike for treading on someone's toes to prevent my presenting the facts as I see them. It is my desire to keep all my many friends; but in this work I must hew to the line and let the chips fall where they may, the one purpose being service to the archers.