Since archery is one of the few bits of training that it has been possible to do while socially distancing we’ve been doing a fair bit of it this year – and after spending a fabulous day making ash longbows yesterday that is definitely going to continue even after covid-19 is just a memory.
I’d actually booked this course a few months back but it was postponed due to lockdown, now things are a bit more relaxed it was safe to go ahead. We were outdoors in a lovely little wood attached to an activity centre, the workbenches were well spaced out and there was easy access to handwashing facilities and plenty of sanitiser on hand. Adam who was running the course ran through the safety information first thing and then we were able to begin.
Before we arrived the instructors had selected ash staves with a nice straight grain and had done a bit of shaping to pre taper one of the sides – we then started our work by making the other side match. That was followed by quite a few steps of measuring and shaping to get the taper at each end right and make a nice smooth D shape profile to give the belly of the bow a nice curve. I was surprised at how few tools were needed – just a workbench and a plane plus ruler and pencils for the measuring. The shaping was pretty hard work – especially since I had a lower back injury from a couple of weeks back which really objected to being asked to stretch and twist and pull… luckily for me Adam and Glen from Now Strike Archery were bloody marvellous and gave me so much help. I did enough of each step to get a feel for what was required so I still got to do all the learning, but they did the bulk of the physical work for me for which I am extremely grateful. It only took a couple of hours to have turned the staves from square stakes into much sexier sleek bow shapes.
The final part of this stage was cutting the notches for the string – then it was time for a quick sandwich and a drink and a few minutes of enjoying the glorious sunshine we had been blessed with.
After a short break it was time for the serious business of tillering which is what transforms the shaped wood into an actual bow. This was the real masterclass – cutting a piece of wood into a bow shape anyone (with a working back) could do, this was much more subtle. First we fitted a long string and used it to pull the bow into a curve – looking carefully at the curve under the expert tuition of Adam we were taught to spot where there were imperfections that would effect the performance of the bow, this could mean reduced power, difficulty aiming or even breakage of the bow. These were areas where the shaping was uneven or the rounding had left a hard edge, even a tiny bump makes a world of difference. Once identified those flaws could then be adjusted before returning to the tiller and repeating again and again until a really nice smooth curve was obtained. Over the course of this process we would progress to the actual bow string and the bow would flex further and further until the desired result was achieved.
As we wanted fairly light bows since we’d like to be able to use them at re-enactment events without doing any injury to the people we’re shooting at, the next stage was taking out some of the weight, by narrowing the ends and the body, without changing the tiller. Again the expertise of Adam was invaluable, with his guidance we were able to craft bows that were a suitable strength and with the perfect draw length for our preferred way of shooting.,
The final stages were sanding to remove all the tool marks and give a beautiful smooth finish before applying a light coating of Danish oil to give a glowing sheen.
We are so pleased with the finished bows, they are both absolutely gorgeous and I am really looking forward to taking mine along to events and being able to talk to people about how it was made.
I really can’t recommend the course highly enough. If you want a bow this is definitely the way to go, Now Strike Archery will help you make a bow that suits your needs perfectly and for about the same price as I paid for an off the shelf bow at a re-enactment market. They also do courses for yew bows and composite bows if you like the idea of making your own but want something a little different. Adam really knows his stuff and is happy to tailor things so you get the bow that is exactly right for you whatever period of history you are interested in and whether you want a bow for target shooting or re-enactment battles. The other folk doing the course with us came away with very different bows to ours as they wanted theirs for target shooting. I promise you the experience of making your own is a million times better than just buying one. Now Strike also offer workshops in arrow making which I am very definitely signing up for as well as forging and other fun things. You can even book a package which includes making the bow and arrows, plus some expert instruction in medieval archery techniques