“What was that?”
“Aw…” I flexed my white oak board bow to quarter draw and inspected it. “It lifted a splinter, right under the backing.”
It was a beautiful fall day, and I was stump shooting with the first two bowyers I met since I had made my own board bow a few months before. We were in a creek bed shooting at an old can on the ground, and after my shot we all heard my bow crack.
We inspected the limbs and found that a splinter lifted along the grain that ran off the edge of the upper limb. “You should have rounded the corners of the back more. That’ll happen if you leave the edges at a 90 degree angle, especially on a board bow with grain runoff like that.” Both of my companions agreed on this assessment – a rare occurrence with them.
The analysis made sense, and I made a mental note to consider this when making future bows. “Dang,” I replied, “the shoot’s tomorrow and now I don’t have a bow.”
“That’s OK, you can use one of mine.”
I thanked him as I unstrung my broken bow, and happily tagged along while they continued stump shooting. The breeze sighed in the trees and sunlight danced through thinning autumn leaves. The crude banter of three archers contrasted with the serene forest scene. We continued for another hour.
“You know what? I have a seasoned Osage stave at the house. Let’s just go make you a new bow for the shoot.”
“You want to make a bow before tomorrow?” I was doubtful such a thing was possible.
“Yeah, let’s go now! Meet at my house in an hour.”
I cut, scraped, filed, sanded, and burnished that stave for nine hours straight. By the time I had it tillered to 20″ I was too worn out to string it anymore. I relied on my friend to flex it for me after each scraping. I paused at dusk to assess the remaining work. My fatigue was fogging my tillering eye, and I feared I was hurting the bow more than helping it by continuing to scrape. I also hadn’t filed the handle or shaped the tips. And once all that was done I needed to finish it with something to protect it from moisture.
Too much to do, and not enough time. I called it quits for the night. The next day I borrowed a selfbow to shoot at the meet, and I shot terribly. It was still a blast. Over the next few days I applied the finishing touches to the bow, and it turned out great. It was 63″ ntn, 55lb at 28″, and had a propeller twist with a smooth, rounded transition from belly to back. I named it Janky.
It’s exchanges like this that make me proud to be a part of the bowyer community. For years I’ve dabbled in building bows, and one thing is always constant – the overwhelming generosity of my betters. If you’re new to building bows and stumble upon others that share the obsession, you won’t be short of help. It’s a ubiquitous trait among bowyers to automatically mentor those new to the craft, offering an abundance of free advice, old tools, and some much-needed encouragement. You can try to refuse the help if you feel unworthy of an expert’s attention, but it doesn’t matter. You will get help whether you like it or not.
Over time, Janky’s tiller developed some problems, but never enough to noticeably hurt its performance. The wood matured to a dark brown. Dents and scratches marred the smooth finish.
And I still can’t shoot that old, Osage bow without thinking about the generosity that led to its creation and the camaraderie enjoyed while building it.