Monday, March 30, 2015

Arrow making

A friend who, to conceal his name from the all-seeing five eyes of GCHQ etc etc etc I shall refer to only as Dr. Paul Lowing, has bought himself this human-powered item

A completely anonymous person's bow & arrows

and being versed in the fact that I used to make such things, was rash enough to mention it to me.

One rapidly learns that arrows have a capacity for vanishing even - indeed especially - if shot on closely-mown grass such as can be found on the school playing-field up near the cricket nets. If you are so misguided as to shoot them at rabbits, something that a thriller-writer named Douglas Hurd banned long ago when by some misfortune he chanced to be Home Secretary, you can often recover the arrow because with a rabbit impaled, an arrow doesn't penetrate grass nearly as well. - I shall not say how I happen to know this thing, but I do happen to know it.

When you lose all your arrows and learn the cost of new ones you develop a small but highly significant trick. - First, you hie yourself along to B&Q and buy a bundle of four-foot garden canes.

Four-foot garden canes

Select straight ones: it makes the job easier. Drill a 1/8" hole just above a node at the heavy end, and cut off the cane 11mm beyond that tangent of the hole which is nearest the node. Attack carefully with a knife, follow up with a round needle-file, and thereby create a nock out of the hole, such that the ears of the nock are half-an-inch long.

Bamboo nock-making. Drill the hole first, just beyond a node, and file the slot slightly trapezoid so it grips the bowstring

Take a file and smooth off all the other nodes. You now have a huge long arrow with no fletching and no head. Take this into the garden and selecting a dandelion at 10 yards' range, attempt to hit it. The length of the arrow is such that it is far too bendy, and it will (I guarantee this) fly to the right because of the Archer's Paradox. Remove the arrow from the lawn, and cut one inch off the forward end with a junior hacksaw. - Its fine teeth will cut the bamboo neatly. - A beam being bendy in proportion to the cube of its length, the arrow will now be significantly stiffer, and it will fly a little less to the right. Continue cutting it shorter until it hits the centre of the dandelion, spraying yellow petals aloft and causing heart arrhythmia with the excitement.

Henceforth ignore the length: this arrow now has exactly the right spine (bendiness) for your bow. And that is why Papua New Guinea arrows are so long. Arrows made this way vary in length and weight and diameter, but not in short range accuracy.

To protect the tip, apply glue, whip with fine string (stops it splitting) and insert a short wooden plug.  If you have a windy-roundy-pencil-sharpener, make a pointy drill the same pointiness as the pencil. Use this to drill the bamboo, and use the pencil-sharpener to make matching pointy dowel plugs.

Pencil-sharpener and matching pointy drill

This latter is usefullest should you come to add a foreshaft with a flint arrowhead to slay the muntjac deer who creeps into the garden at dawn. You will, of course, need to cut the arrowshaft a little shorter to suit.

 Tip of arrowshaft bound in glued linen bookbinding thread, and drilled with the pointy drill. Arrow foreshaft sharpened with pencil-sharpener to match.

 This arrowhead is obsidian. I cheated and glued it in place with epoxy.

This one's English flint. There's no flint in New Zealand. It's rather more authentically glued in place with melted pine resin.

Only now do you open the drawer where you keep all the goose flight feathers that you collected from your local National Trust Property lake last summer (the Canada geese shed them between June and July, and they float downwind to one end of the lake, and the National Trust volunteer wardens ask you what you're collecting them for, and you tell them you use them for writing which though unlikely happens to be true, and if they disbelieve and get all officious you tell them to Whuck Off, and they go "Oh! Oh! Oh! that rude man told me to - " but they do whuck off and you can get on with collecting).

Your supply of feathers. Mostly goose, but also unknown sea-bird feathers collected from Farewell Spit. Some of the goose feathers may be black swan feathers. Vexingly, black swan flight feathers are white, or I'd export them to England as a novelty.

Select three identically curved feathers, cut five inches from the middle section of each, cut each feather ¾" high, and use your bench grinder to prepare the base for gluing.

 The fletchings on an arrow must all curve the same way. Doesn't matter which way.

 Goose quills on the right are used for writing. Some people will tell you that the curve matters according to whether you're right or left-handed, and you are most welcome to believe them if you so wish.

 Quills on the left are ready for curing before you can write with them. This is a Whole Nother Topick which I don't propose to explore.

 Cut the middle five inches for a fletching.

 Most goes to waste, alas.

Pretty shapes make pretty arrows. But size is what stabilizes the arrow in flight.

You'll have to roughen off the natural bamboo glaze with a fine file or the UHU won't stick. You have to use it like a contact adhesive.

The feathers will look absurdly huge, and they will - I guarantee this too - make the arrow slow down rapidly and you won't be able to hit the standard 100 yard straw target because the thing will be near the end of its trajectory and probably won't fly more than 130 yards even on a deserted Scottish beach where you can test flint arrowheads and be sure of finding them uninjured on the sand.

A clothyard shaft. Actually this one's a metre long, and a clothyard is only 37 inches. My draw is 28 inches, so ten inches sticks out in front of the bow at full draw.

HOWEVER you will find that you can throw a matchbox anywhere on the lawn, aim down the arrow, and actually hit it. Every time. I specify a matchbox because you can't throw a matchbox very far, but with these arrows you can hit rabbits up to 25 yards away, and you won't actually need a point on them and you will find that they are amazingly humane killers as blunts, a bit like shooting a man with a broom handle. (Disclaimer: I have never shot a man with a broomhandle.)(Disclaimer clarification: I have never used a broomhandle as a projectile wherewith to shoot a man.)(Disclaimer clarification 2: The experiment does not involve going up to a random man who happens to be using a broom and gratuitously shooting him.)

All this I discovered when trying to work out why ethnographic collections always had such huge arrows with such enormous feathers. And when I was more heartless towards lagomorphs.

 An alternative nock, for solid wood shafts. Epoxy two bits of bamboo onto chamfered surfaces; hold in place with a rubber band, and smooth off when the epoxy has hardened.

 Alternative footings for solid wood shafts. Chamfer the front of the arrowshaft; cut a long slot in a dowel of ashwood, bind the base of the slot to stop it splitting, epoxy all over the chamfered  end and your fingers and elbows and knees and drip some on the floor and step in it, push footing onto shaft, bind with rubber bands and smooth off when the epoxy hardens.

 Arrowheads. Mostly flint, but there's an obsidian and a bottle-glass one too. The big bit of flint is a hand-axe which I used to chop down an elm sapling one rainy night to make 2 of the the bows in the final photo. (I tell people that one arrowhead warped, and they actually believe me.) The round flint scraper (top right) is one of a great many I used in making the uglier of the elm bows.

 Different lengths, different weights, but they all fly to the same point of aim.

If you haven't yet come across them, see if the Library has copies of all four volumes of the Traditional Bowyers' Bible trilogy. Better than anything else ever written about archery incl. Hansard and he was my grandfather's wife's uncle. (Final disclaimer: I haven't read the fourth.)

Three of the ugliest, and one of the prettiest, bows I've made. Top three are six-foot English elm; bottom is English yew. Also a plan chest, a filing cabinet and an ironing board.

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