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Chapter IV
Making the Bow
Part 5 of 10

This template is to be the guide for laying out a bow on the bow stave, the markings on the latter being exactly the same as those on the template. To serve as a handy reference, the different dimensions may be written on the template.

Having laid the bow out and made sure the lines marked on the stave are correct, then proceed to cut away roughly the surplus wood of the stave. And for this work, no matter what many writers say to the contrary, use a sharp hand ax or hatchet. Simply stand the stave on end, hold it with one hand and chop with the other, if you are right-handed operating on the right side of the lower limb, the marking on the stave toward you so you can watch closely every cut made by the ax. Reverse the stave to work on the other end; and of course chop literally all around, closely following the lines but never cutting into them. If the ax accomplishes this work without running into the stave deeply, then you have a fairly good start. This because the ax will surely discover any flaws, which may not have been visible. And if in the process the ax runs across the stave and spoils it, you are saved further work on a bow which would surely go bad at some later stage. On the other hand, as already intimated, if the ax does the work satisfactorily, the stave is thus proved reliable.

The depth of the bow stave in the rough, from front to back, will be 1 1/8 inches. This is the standard used by all dealers in bow wood, and a beginner will have done well to have patronized one of them.

Having roughed out the bow by chopping down its sides to the guide lines in the manner described first, rough-shaping the back should follow. But first smooth down the sides with a plane so a guide line can be drawn on each of them. And in this smoothing, of course be careful not to work into the guide lines marked on the stave in the first place.

Now you must decide which side of the flat of the bow is to be the back, as this is to be the base to work from, the taper being cut away in the opposite flat, called the belly. If the wood is lemonwood or any other not having a visible growth of sapwood, the professional maker decides by examining the run of the grain. If it is yew, then the sapwood decides the point, as it must form the back. (More is to be said of sapwood, but this has been covered in the previous discussion of bow woods. Generally, we plane down the white sapwood of a yew bow so that a uniform thickness of 1/4 inch is left at the sides.

To decide which flat of a lemonwood or an ironwood bow stave to make the back of the bow, must be left to the judgment of the maker. To here attempt to give instructions for deciding from the appearance of the grain, would lead into a long and intricate discussion, with small hope of attaining much success; this because, as previously remarked, each piece of bow wood is a separate law in itself, and there are no general rules to follow. If there were such rules, there would have been no need to use the hand ax in chopping the bow out of the stave. But the ax was the best rule we had to guard against wasting time on a stave with a flaw or two hidden in it. And by the same token, the ax will have thus also insured the amateur maker that he cannot go far wrong whichever flat of his stave he selects for the back.

Having chosen the back, plane down the edges 1/8 of an inch, a flat cut.