This isn't a thread about technique. I have been thinking about some of the approaches and ways of
looking at the process of turning a stave into a bow, and I thought that since it has been useful and interesting to me, that it might help other folks as
well... I don't claim to be much of a bowyer; but one thing I may have going for me is my ability break things down and put them into a semblance of order
- that and still being close enough to a beginner that some of my musings might prove useful to other beginners.
Navigating The Stave Without Getting Lost
Sometimes my Mom needs me to help her with her computer. Again, I am not much of a computer tech; but the stuff she needs is usually pretty simple. Over and over again, I see her trying unsuccessfully to memorize a series of steps and buttons to push... I tell her, "Mom, you need to learn to navigate on your computer..."
That feeling of being "lost", and not knowing or remembering what to do next, can not only be frustrating - it can paralyze a beginning bowmaker into non action. I should know... I worked on my first half way decent stave for nearly a year, getting it only to about half draw, before I got to meet Tim Baker, and he helped me step out of my "frozen-ness" and push forward... In my case, I had been worried about breaking the stave... I came to the point I realized I would learn more breaking the bow with Tim than I had in a whole year of piddling around...
So, my hope is to provide a very general road map, with a general route, and suggested places to visit along the way.
An Approach - A Philosophy to The Steps in Stave Reduction
Take a moment and examine a good bow very carefully. Look down its limbs, and run your fingers along it. See and feel how it goes from wide and thick near the handles, to narrow and slender at the tips. It happens in a graceful, beautiful taper, with no bumps, dips, or washboard. The belly mirrors the back, and the width of each limb is consistent to the other, from end to end.
Now, if you knew the shape you wanted, and were skilled enough with your chosen tools, you might be able to fix that perfect shape in your mind's eye, and go straight at it. You might quickly arrive at the beautiful and perfect form required of a durable and excellent bow, with perhaps just some reduction on the belly needed to bring the final bow to your desired draw weight. But we need the wood to tell us how much of itself is necessary to get the right bend and draw weight... So for the most part, we follow a familiar path from beginning to end. Hopefully it will be a deft dance with our partner the stave as it becomes a bow, and not a walk in the dark, stumbling over a stick...
Let's look at the order of reducing a stave until it is the shape of a lovely bow, using the useful metaphor of the shape of the bow, itself. The limbs start thick and wide near the handles, and taper towards the ends, where the wood is the most spare. Think of the tools you use to shape a bow. Start at the thick end, as far as speed and ease of wood removal. The Axe, bandsaw, and drawknife begin the work. They represent the thickest, most robust part of the bow limbs. Further along, the limbs start to gradually reduce in size, reminding us of how the spokeshave and rasp refine the general shape. Out at the tips, the limbs are graceful and delicate, teaching us about how the scraper and sandpaper finish the refining process…
By taking a unified approach to creating the shape of the bow, and carrying through from a rough beginning with the rougher tools to a smooth and
accomplished shape with progressively more controllable and subtle tools, the project stays on a straight course, much like the taper along the limbs of our
Like I said, nothing new...
I have come to look at the process as a series of Establishing and Refining the stages of the bow's shape and bend. Again, I am not talking about any sort of new process. I am only expressing it in a way that organizes things better for me. I hope that this will help others, as well. One of the things that slows beginners down is Not Knowing What To Do Next. It is often a comfort to understand what one is doing… And to know what one is to do next. I guess it's just another form of "Baby Steps", or "The Longest Journey Begins With a Single Step…" Ha ha.
Here, then, are the basic steps, as I see them:
Decide on Desired Bow
Select Appropriate Stave
Assess Stave For Necessary Corrections and Compensations
Perform/Establish Initial Heat Straightening (If needed)
Establish Bow's Back
Refine Bow's Back
Establish Width Profile/Taper
Establish Initial Handle Width
Establish Initial Tip Width
Establish Thickness Profile/Taper
Establish Dips and Fades
Establish Handle Thickness
Refine Heat Straightening (If necessary)
Refine Centerline (Tracking)
Refine Width Profile/Taper
Refine Thickness Profile/Taper
Refine Dips and Fades
Establish Initial Bend (Floor Tillering)
Match Limb Shapes
Match Limb Strengths
Establish First (Low) Brace
Refine Brace Shape
Tiller to Full Draw
Make Dedicated String
Establish and Assess Shooting Characteristics of Bow
Refine/Narrow Limb Tips and Handle
Refine and Re-assess Shooting Characteristics
Refine As Needed
Final Sand Bow
Finish Seal Bow
Now that I have Established the basic steps, I will next Refine the idea, with details for each step.