How It’s Made — Traditional Asiatic Composite Hunting Bows
Video Rating: four / five
This video is an excerpt from The Discovery Channel's "How It's Made" program on "Traditional Bows" and featuring bowmaker Rodney Wright. There are a number of very sexy looking finished bows shown, including several laminated from contrasting pieces of timber. I have to say I'm a sucker for contrasting woods -- no matter what the item is -- so I enjoyed watching this rather slick video.
The video begins by explaining that, with the invention of the bow and arrow, mankind transformed into efficient hunter gatherers. Nowadays, with the subsequent invention of supermarkets and commerce in Western society, the need for hunting one's own food is no longer a requirement. However there are still plenty of people who use bows for recreation -- whether it be for hunting or participating in archery competitions.
The program shows the basic construction of a longbow, made from six laminations of cherry wood. While not exactly the traditional way to make an English-style longbow it is, nonetheless, an effective method -- especially when it comes to Asiatic-style bows. A composite bow is a bow made from two or more different materials laminated together and held under tension. The different and distinct materials are used in order to take benefit of the properties of each type.
An Asiatic composite bow normally uses horn on the belly and sinew on the back of a wooden core. This method of construction generates a lot more power than wood itself for the identical length of bow. The overall strength of a composite bow is comparable to a larger one with a much longer draw-length, though it also has a comparable or greater quantity of energy delivered to the arrow from a considerably shorter bow. Some Mongolian composite bows are known to have produced a draw weight of almost 160 lb!
First the cherry is sliced into six pieces about 1/4 inch thick (6.35mm) using a bandsaw, then the strips are thicknessed by using a wide-belt sander, carefully tapering the ends with each pass. The tapering helps to give the wood some flexibility which is useful in both the laminating process and the finished bow. A handle is then cut from a piece of what appears to be Indian rosewood, though its hard to tell from watching the video. This handle piece is again cut by using the bandsaw.
Super-adhesive glue is then spread on strips of fiberglass as well as the tapered strips of cherry. As the glue will set in less than an hour, the bowmaker needs to work quickly during this process. The strips are layered, with the fiberglass buttressing the cherry at either end. Next, the tapered handle section is glued in, followed by another layer of cherry and fiberglass. The outside of the assembly is then covered with masking tape to protect the bow from scratches as it goes into the former. Sideways keys help to position the form and also stop the glued laminates from wandering and slipping out of kilter as the pressure is applied. A heat strip assures that the glue will dry quickly and cure properly, and a special inflatable compression hose keeps even pressure over the length of the laminations.
An hour later the bow is removed from the form and is now ready for shaping. The profile of the bow is drawn on the laminated pieces using a fiberglass template, and the rough shape is then cut out on the bandsaw. A notch is cut for the "arrow shelf", then the handle is trimmed -- making it a little wider at the middle for comfort. The string nocks are then filed at each end using a metal jig and a round file. Fiberglass and moose horn are then glued at each end for added strength. Once dry, the nocks are then reshaped by filing and sandpaper.
Now another piece is glued over the handle to improve the look and feel, clamping the work together while the glue dries. Three hours later the handle is sanded and ready for the next step.
For a comfortable grip the handle is wrapped in a piece of leather which is then stitched with thread known as "artificial sinew". In centuries past this thread would have been made from real animal tendons but modern materials will now suffice. The bow is then marked with the makers name, the serial number and the draw weight of the bow. This particular bow will hold about 20 kilograms in check when its drawn.
A Flemish string jig is then used to measure out the length of the string accurately. Essentially a wooden jig with nails in it, this workshop aid speeds up the process of making the bow string which is always, we're told by the narrator, four inches shorter than the bow.
After cutting with a utility knife the nylon string is then waxed to make it easier to work with. 16 strands of nylon, 8 black and 8 white, are carefully measured, cut and twisted into a braid with loops at either end. The string is then hooked on the nocks of the bow. Finally the finished bow is tested out on a piece of unsuspecting fruit!