Making Lemonwood Bows
Making a Plain Self Long Bow, Plain Ended
With a square stave in your possession, smooth the back with the plane set very fine. If the plane digs in, turn the stave around. Plane the back smooth and finish it with the scraper. Around the middle of the stave draw a pencil line. One inch above this line draw ahother. Three inches below the center line draw another. This four inches will be your handle, and it is so placed to permit the arrow to leave the bow one inch above the true center.
Now look down along the stave. While Lemonwood bowstaves are reasonably straight, very few of them are absolutely true. There is bound to be some side warp. Straighten the stave by planing. If the warp is to the right, take off sufficient on that side to straighten it. At the same time you will, of course, be tapering the stave. On most staves a little planing is sufficient; more work is necessary with others. A stave with a concave or reflexed back is sought after. The bow is built against the natural tendency of the stave to warp in this direction, and usually results in a better casting bow. When your bow has been straightened as to side warps, you want a true center line penciled down the back, so that you may lay it out according to the following tables of measurements. Insert a pin or thumb tack in each butt end of the stave, and stretch a string between them. See Plate 2.
The following tables give actual measurements, in sixteenths of an inch, taken from finished Lemonwood bows 5'0", 5'6" and 6'0" long. The weights (the pull in pounds) are given. Since bow making is a non-dimensional art, these figures are not absolute, and the measurements of a 60 pound bow may result in one of 45 pounds, or some other weight. You can always take off wood, hence it is better to figure on making your bow stronger-four or five pounds more than the finished bow will be.
Now, using your center line, measure off on each side of it half of the figures given under the heading "across back", depending, of course, on whether you are making a 6'0", 5'6" or 5'0" bow. Connect up these measurements and plane down to this line—just up to the line, not past it—this will give you a little leeway. See Plate 2. Then, on the tapered sides, pencil in the belly measurements—that is, the distance from back to belly, or thickness of the bow you propose to make. Plane down on the belly side up to these lines. Round off the handle section until it looks like cross section "A", Plate 2. Continue this rounding of the belly to the ends, so that cross sections look like those on Plate 2.
One of the commonest faults of amateur bow makers is to take off too much wood in the upper limbs and not enough just above and below the handle. The result is that only two or three feet of the entire bow works or bends, undue strain is placed on these weak spots and the bow breaks. A good bow should be stiff at the handle, a distance of about 6", and then the entire limb should bend evenly to the tip. A long graceful curve is to be striven for. See Plate 7. A distinct dip should be made above and below the handle—called the Buchanan dips. The handle or grip proper takes up 4", then the dips begin and the dips take up about 1" on each side of this 4". Look at the finished bow on Plate 2.
If you bought a roughed out stave, practically all the preliminary work has been done for you, and making the bow is a far simpler job.
It is best to work slowly and cautiously, always remembering that it is a simple matter to take off wood, but impossible to put it back on. When you have one limb about finished, place the tip on the floor and bend the limb. You can tell if it is far too strong or about right. Look at the curve the limb is assuming. There may be spots in your stave that are difficult to plane. The wood rasp may be used on them to advantage. Keep your bow wider than it is thick, or, after you have strung it, it may turn. When you have both limbs worked out, you are ready to cut the notches in the ends of the bow.
Begin an inch down from each end, and with the round file, cut notches diagonally on each side on the ends as shown on Plate 2. Do not cut the notches across the back, because the grain of the back must be left whole and without breaks. The notches should be at least 1/8" deep. After you have finished with the notches a preliminary stringing or bracing of your bow is in order. It is assumed that you have made, or now will make, a bowstring as described under string making. Read carefully "Stringing or Bracing the Bow". Slip the loop or eye of the string over the top limb, run it down the bow the proper distance (given under "Making Bow Strings"), fasten the lower end to the bottom notch, and brace the bow. Lay the strung bow on the floor and look at it. If the limbs bend evenly and both alike, you are ready for a trial draw. If they do not bend evenly, it will be necessary to unstring your bow and scrape away wood from the stiff portions. Scraping is safer than planing, as you may easily take off too much.
You should also look down along your strung bow and see if the string bisects the belly. If it does not, but throws off to one side, your bow has a turn in it. This is corrected by taking off wood from the side of the bow opposite, i.e., if your string bears to the left, take off on the right side of the bellv and vice versa. Turning is usually caused by "stacking" a bow, which means it is thicker from back to belly than it is wide. Flat, Semi-Indian Type Bows have no tendency to turn because they are ever so much wider than thick. While it is said a bowstring should bisect the belly of a long bow, in practice a bowstring that throws off to the left—the arrow side of the bow—is no objection, at least, that is the writer's opinion. Many fine osage hunting bows I have used were made with this in view. Then the plane of the arrow nock and the string are about the same, and the arrow goes straighter to the mark.
After your bow has been corrected where needed, string or brace it again. The next step is tillering it, which means working on the limbs until they bend evenly and are well balanced at full draw. There are two ways to do this. First, pull your bowstring five or six times a distance of twelve to fifteen inches. This settles the wood a bit. Now have a friend draw the bow about half the arrow length and get off and look at it. You can easily see if it is bending nicely. If it isn't, mark it with a pencil, and take off wood where needed. (Whenever you scrape off a bit of wood, pull your bow a few times to settle the new bend.) Continue this until the bow is at full draw. Lengths of arrows are given under "The Arrow" in the "Fundamentals of Archery". When, at full draw, the bow bends evenly and the limbs have a graceful arch, you are ready for a final very light scraping, coarse and fine sandpapering and finishing.
The second method of tillering is to make yourself a tiller. This is a wooden instrument with a notch at the top to hold the handle of your bow and other notches cut in the side to which you can pull the bowstring. See Plate 7. Space the notches for the string three or four inches apart until the last one is the proper draw length from the handle. Now, by stringing your bow and drawing it to the top notch you can get off and look at the bend. Pull it up notch by notch until the full draw is accomplished and you can see your bow at full arc.
The finish on your bow is a matter of taste. The smoother you sandpaper and steel wool the wood, the finer will be the polish. A good one is orange shellac and a bit of linseed oil. Dip a soft rag in a drop or two of the oil, then dip in the shellac and rub it on the bow. Dip and rub, dip and rub, until the whole has a fine polish. A couple of coats of good varnish, steel wool rubbed between coats, is good too.
An attractive handle on a bow dresses up the whole weapon. Colored cords, braids or tapes may be used. Fancy dyed leather with a narrow binding of a contrasting hue is fine. A grip of heavy calfskin, laced up the back with a thin leather thong looks sturdy and businesslike.
You laid out the handle when you started the bow. For guides draw these pencil lines in again. The back of the handle is padded so that the grip is thick and comfortable. A block of soft wood, 4" long and as wide as the back of the bow and half an inch thick is glued or tacked to the back of the handle. Then it is tapered off and rounded so the grip feels right. Your handle material goes on over this wooden pad and belly of the bow. Glue it on with waterproof glue and wrap it tight.
A string keeper adds the last neat touch. Drill a very small hole in the upper extremity of your bow, run a leather thong or fancy cord through it and tic it to the top of the eye in your bowstring. Pull it up so the string lays along the belly of the bow. This string keeper prevents the string from sliding down the bow limb.