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Chapter VI
The Bowstring
Part 1 of 3

Much has been written on the subject of making bowstrings. Perhaps because for over five hundred years the Belgian bowstring makers have had an almost complete monopoly of the bowstring business. That this has inspired the writing of meaningless instructions may or may not be so. Surely it would have been more risky had the Belgian method been common knowledge and capable of adoption. Still, there have been some practical directions published; for the world war taught the archer the value of acquiring a measure of the art, so long kept secret in Belgium, handed down from one generation to another in the same families. And should the reader wonder that nobody could learn the secret from examining and even dissecting the Belgian strings, let me say this. I have submitted Belgian bowstrings to the very best American makers of hand-laid linen fishing lines, which have been made the same way, by the same families, for more than one hundred years. The world record lines, famous for their excellence; twisted out of flax as a bowstring is made. And yet these expert line makers could not duplicate the Belgian bowstring. "It is the queerest thing I ever saw," said the head of the business, a man over sixty years of age who all his life has been an expert in the making of hand-laid twisted linen fishing lines. "I've never seen any flax like it; the strands are amazingly long. We couldn't make up bowstrings made in just that same way for anything like the price you sell them for. We would like to make bowstrings if we could do it at a profit, but it is easy to see that we are shut out."

Nevertheless, when during the late war the real Flemish strings could not be had, a multitude of bowstring makers suddenly appeared. And so I am going to tell how a practical substitute for the Belgian string is made. But before starting, let me say that, no matter whose directions you may follow, you cannot turn out bowstrings equal to the Flemish make, nor, as far as my experience goes, will your strings be anywhere near as cheap as you can buy the best from over there.

By all means, let your first bowstring if possible, be one of good professional make. Then if you have the courage and skill to warrant attempting production of your own, well and good. And before taking up the directions I will add that my reason for giving them is really more to tell how a bowstring is made (but not in the Flemish style), rather than to tell how to make one. Still further, let me say that, if you insist upon making your bowstrings, it will be better to start with them already partly made for you and simply do the finishing. From any first-class cord dealer you can obtain a variety of real Italian hemp already twisted into string, that makes a better bowstring than anything you may ever hope to produce by your own hand. As while admitting that one can but admire the ingenuity of an archer who makes a good string by hand, the want of the stretcher and the heckle is always apparent, and the string inclined to be rather soft. A soft string, by the way, not only wears badly but affects the cast of the bow.

The advantage that the Belgian bowstring has over the best we can produce lies in the fact that it is still one solid mass of hemp after being carded and cleaned. After the eye has been made by hand, a spinning machine neatly spins it to the required cording, the maker at the same time adding the sizing. Lastly, the maker hand-finishes the end, which must be strengthened by weaving in reinforcing and at the same time making a cord finish, needed to stand the wear and strain of the bow end.