Although our fraternity of archers has some members whose sole interest in a bow is that it will shoot an arrow, most of us are more particular. Among the commonly used phrases that describe desirable qualities in a bow are "sweet to draw", "good action", "well balanced", "does not kick", "good cast", "smooth shooting" and others like them. The experienced archer knows what they signify; and the experienced bowyer, as he critically examines the stave that is to become a bow, sets them up as his goal. Can that goal be reached, or is the making of a bow a hit-or-miss process in which complete success is accidental?
My answer to that question is that, given a stave of good wood, the bowyer of long experience will turn out a weapon that the average archer would call good. He can do it because experience has taught him to give proper weight to the relationships among dimensions of a limb and its mechanical properties, and to observe the limitations of wood, and to work out his design accordingly. However, unless he has thoroughly analyzed and studied the fundamentals, he is not likely, with experience as his sole guide, to get the mechanical excellence of the stave to express itself to the utmost in the bow.
It is not my intention to discuss the selection of the stave. I shall begin with the assumption that one has been secured from a reputable source, and that it has properties suitable for our purpose. What I hope to do is to convey, in simple language, the fundamental facts about stiffness, and bending, and motion of the limbs and their relation to shapes and dimensions, and other matters of importance in the performance of the finished bow, and to apply them to the design and construction of the bow. An understanding of these fundamentals will be of great assistance to the experienced bowyer and the beginner alike in their approach to the engaging task of making the stave yield all that it has. Perhaps complete success will not be achieved the first time, or the second; but each effort of the craftsman adds something to his fund of the knowledge that is acquired by directed effort, and gives more assurance of the arrival of the day when the perfect bow will emerge from the chips and shavings of his basement shop.
I can imagine no greater satisfaction than that of taking a stick of wood that looks hopeless, and of enticing a really fine weapon from it. When a fifty-cent pair of yew billets, culled from the dealer's "saleable" stock, have been made into a bow with which championships have been won—a bow which an archer of many years' experience and a champion numerous times, calls the sweetest weapon he ever drew—that is satis-faction to the maker of the bow.
Perhaps we can agree that the limbs are the business part of the bow. They are. They deserve most of our attention. After that comes the rigid middle section, and its relationship to the limbs. We shall therefore first consider the limbs, then attend to the midsection, and finally deal with the bow as a unit.