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Making Bowstrings

The simplest kind of a bowstring is made of linen or flax twine prepared especially for this purpose. All that is required is to splice an "eye" in one end and fasten the string to the bow.

A bowstring is usually affixed to the bottom of the bow, in the lower nock or notch, with a timber hitch. It is better, however, to have two "eyes" on your string. The bottom one may be made small so that it fits tightly. The upper "eye" should be large enough to permit it to slide easily down the bow limb. The "eye" of the string, and the middle, where the fingers and arrow touch, should be whipped or wound with linen thread. These are the wearing points and should be protected. Good whipping is tedious work, but it doubles the life of a string.

In my shop we use strings of various kinds; strings of prepared linen or flax twine; strings made of linen thread, handmade in three plies; strings made of three lays of linen threads, thickened at the upper and lower ends; strings made of linen threads, one lay for the body of the string, three lays for the thickened top and bottom.

Linen is the best fibre of which to make a string. It is very strong and does not stretch. Stretch in a fibre is an objection, a bowstring must always maintain one length.

Making a Bowstring of Linen or Flax Twine

Cut off a piece of flax twine. Allow 18" more than the length of your bow. This twine is made of four lays or plies. Open the lays in one end for a distance of 6". Leave 3½" of twine, and open the twine again. Insert an ice pick, fair sized nail or small marlin spike so that two lays are on each side of the instrument. In this opening insert two of the opened end lays, pull them down and you will have an eye about 1¼" in diameter. Open the twine again under the insertion and pull through the first pair of lays and then the other pair so they cross each other. Continue this opening and crossing of the lays down the twine. The last two inches of the loose lays you can thin out so the crisscross splicing tapers into the body of the string. Whip the eye, and under it for a couple of inches, and wax well.

Making a Simple Three Ply Hand Laid String

This string looks like a little rope, and that is what you really are making—a small three ply rope. Eighteen threads of No. 10 Linen makes a string strong enough for the average 5'6" and 6'0" bow. Drive two nails in a board. These nails are to be 18" further apart than the length of the string you wish to make. For a 5'6" string this would be 7"; and for a 6'0" string it would be 7½". Run out 6 strands of thread between the nails. Fasten one end to a nail and twist the threads 20 to 25 times clockwise or until it begins to kink from twisting. Wax the strand well. Clip a spring clothespin on each end of the strand and put it aside. The spring clips will keep it from untwisting while you work on the other two strands. Prepare your three strands of 6 threads each, fasten them to a nail, pull them all even and carefully roll the three strands counter-clockwise. Any kinks in the strands will work out during this process. Wax well. The result should be a smooth round rope. Open six inches of this rope into three strands, and back splice an eye about l¼" in diameter. Thin out the strands so the splice flows into the rope in a neat taper. See Plate 1. Whip the eye and the bottom of the splice.

Making a Three Ply Hand Tapered String

This string is made the same as the Three Ply Hand Laid String, except that it is thickened at the loop or eye and at the bottom for additional strength. Run out six threads of No. 10 Linen. Now cut off four threads each 12" long. Wax each of these 12" threads. Beginning 4" down from the nail, apply a waxed thread to the six on the nails; 6" from the nail apply and work in another; 8" down another and 10" down another. Cut off four more 12" threads and do the same to the other end of the untwisted six strands. After you have thickened both ends with the addition of these four staggered threads, wax over them. The wax is to make them stick in place. Now loosen one end of the strand and carefully twist it clockwise about twenty-five times. Prepare your other two strands the same way. Fasten the three well waxed strands to a nail, pull all even and straight and roll the three strands counter-clockwise until you have a nice little rope thickened at both ends. Eye splice your loop as described, whip it well around the eye and below it. See Plate 1.

Making a Tapered String, Simple Strand Center

Run off 18 threads of No. 10 Linen between two nails as described. Remove one end, and twist or roll all eighteen threads clockwise about twenty-five times. Wax the strand well. Nineteen inches down the strand bind it with a piece of cord, so that you can open the strand above this tie. Be careful that you make a tight tie, yet one that may be easily cut off when ready. Open up the strand to this tie. Divide it into three parts-6 strands to a part. See that there is no twist in anv third. Cut 4 threads each 12" long. Beginning at the tie apply one thread. Wax it in with the other 6 strands. Two inches down wax in another 12" thread; 4" down another and 6" down another. Thicken each 6 thread strand this way. Fasten the cord at the tie to a nail. Roll each thickened strand counter-clockwise until it begins to kink. Clip on a spring clip clothespin to hold it, and twist the other two strands the same way. Pull the three well twisted strands out straight and roll them clockwise so they assume the form of a rope. Do both ends of your string this way. Make your loop or loops and wax well over all.

Wax is to a string maker what tar is to a sailor. A string should be always well waxed and the best wax for a bowstring is pure beeswax to which sufficient resin has been added to give it body and stickiness.

A bowstring is always shorter than the bow. The distance between the taut string, when the bow is strung, and the handle is called the "fist-mele", and is the distance between the edge of the clenched fist and the tip of the extended thumb. See Plate 7.

There is a certain amount of stretch in a laid bowstring, and this must be pulled out before the string is used. The bow itself usually does this the first time you put on a new string. You then take up a little on the string by twisting it a few times or taking in on the timber hitch.

Fifteen threads of No. 10 Linen are sufficient to hold 5'0", 5'3" and 5'6" bows up to 35 lbs. pull. Eighteen strands are sufficient for 6'0" bows with weights up to 45 pounds; twenty-one threads holds up to 60 lbs., and for very heavy bows of over 60lbs. 24 threads are enough.

On unstrung 5'0" and 5'3" bows the loop of the bowstring should be 3" below the nock. This gives you about 6" between the string and handle when the bow is braced. It should be 3-1/2 " down for a 5'6" bow. This gives you a fist-mele of 6½". The loop should be down 4" on an unstrung 6'0" bow. This gives you 7" between string and handle when the bow is braced.