Archive for the ‘Yew bows’ Category

Thank yew Linda.


Three lovely yew logs freshly cut.

For the last two years I have searched the internet on an almost daily basis hoping to track down some yew suitable for making a good bow. Having finally located a good piece, and made a bow I am happy with, I resigned myself to making it last as it was looking unlikely I would find any more.

But life has some strange twists to it and I was surprised one day at the beginning of May to find Linda, a lady archer that I shoot with at my local club and one who I have built a bow for, waiting for me outside my house when I returned from a walk.


The largest log cut and split to give the first two staves.

Linda had been tipped off that a tree surgeon was about to cut some yew on some local church property. She had also been in contact with the contractors who had told her we could have what we wanted as long as we could pick it up quickly as the site was being cleared in the next hour or so.

A quick trip to the other side of town found that a very helpful team of workers had separated any pieces of wood that might be useful to us and were ready and waiting to load them into Linda’s car. They have also promised to tip me off when they are cutting some clean ash.

I have ended up with three pieces, one is about 7 ½ “in diameter, one about 7” in diameter, and the other 4” in diameter. The shortest one is 7 feet long the longest over eight. The two largest both have a branch coming out of one side but have fairly clean sides opposite. I have sealed the ends well and after leaving a month decided to speed the seasoning by getting it down to slightly oversized staves as early as possible.

I don’t have a band saw big enough for this job, especially as it is green wood, so rather than risk just splitting it, I used my electric, circular hand saw to cut a 1 ½ ” groove down either side of the log at a level that was just behind the branch on the biggest piece. Then, using a hammer and bolster, split the piece using the grooves as a guide for the bolster. It worked a treat. I then had a fairly flat surface to use the circular saw on again to cut the good side in half.


Two staves clamped to the board the third is now on the reverse side and all three are drying in the shed.

I used a power planer to square up the staves to about 2 ½” by 2 ½ “, leaving plenty of room to follow the natural grain later on. The smaller stave I have trimmed down to a little bigger than this. There is a lot of sap wood on this one, and something like half of it will have to be removed at some point.

The undersides have been given a coat of PVA to try and stop cracking and I have weighed and dated each stave so as to be able to keep a watch on the rate they are drying. All three staves are now clamped to a sturdy ash board to help keep them straight as they dry.

The last log I will leave for another month or two and then treat it the same as the first. But will leave what will be another two staves, (giving me five in all) in one piece, so that they do not all finish seasoning together. Needless to say the first bow will be for Linda.

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John drawing up the 90lb yew bow having been reassured about the creaking string.

A trip to the Warbow Wales, St David’s day shoot provided another chance to test the 90lb yew bow and its linen string. Both are still standing up well.

3 inches

Hazel bow just starting to bend on a loose string. Scales reading 80lbs to get it to here.

I was feeling below par, so I got a couple of friends to shoot it in the flight for me. This also put both bow and string under more pressure than I can at the moment.

I was pleased with the results and also had the added bonus of the surprised, or was it worried, looks on their faces as the heavily waxed string creaked as it slid across the side of the bow and it’s side nocks. It does this as it reaches the higher draw lengths. I have got used to this but it can be disconcerting to start with.

The hazel bow is making progress. I started to stretch it on the tiller and was amazed find how heavy it is having got it to only 3 inches it was already taking a pull of 80lbs. I continued tillering on a long string until I reached bracing height, then fitted a correct length string. Working on the shape of the bow I got it to 15 inches and by this time had reduced the draw weight to 55lbs at this distance. This in theory would give me around 80lbs at 28 I’m not intending to tiller past 29 inches for this one it’s too short.

At this point I decided to apply the heat treatment. I toyed with the idea of buying a heat gun but decided that using charcoal would be more in keeping with how it might have been done in medieval times. Using a two foot long tray I heated it in three sections each had two 10 minute spells suspended 5 or 6 inches above the heat this ended up with the bow turning a fairly even nut brown colour along the deepest part of the belly.


Toasting the belly, only time will tell!

After cooling, it is obvious from a quick flexing of the stave that this treatment has stiffened the stave considerably. This is now going to turn into a very heavy bow or it is going to snap on the tiller!

I have decided to give it a week or so to rehydrate before I put it back on the tiller and in the mean time I have fitted some buffalo horn nocks as the string was starting to cut into the wood. I had intended self nocks.

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Full Circle


Remember the picture of the Poletti bows that I have on the “What’s it all About” page? Well the above picture does not match that one of course, but it is a mile stone on my bow making journey.

Three yew bows, all made by myself. The nearest one is the knotty bow featured in earlier posts. The middle one is a 55lb draw weight bow made from another stave bought on e-bay. This time from a dealer named “bowyers-bench”.  A lovely bow that was limited in the weight that could be obtained only by the size of the stave. The seller had in all fairness said that this would make a bow of a maximum of 60lbs, so he was not far off at all. I am more than happy with my buy. It is one of those bows that you could shoot all day, as well as having the richest of colours.

The bow to get excited about is the one at the back. This is the bow that I set out to make 18 months ago at the start of this blog, a 90lb bow from very high quality English Yew.

The full build has its own page now. You can find it on “The Yew Bow” page using the  menu on the right.

The 55lb yew bow in a wet and muddy field.

The 55lb yew bow in a wet and muddy field.

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I couldn’t wait!

Strung with side nocks fitted.

I know I said I was going to wait but I fitted horn nocks to the bow yesterday, and in an attempt to get the string to sit fairly centrally on the bow, I have used side nocks. This has compensated for the slight misalignment of the string, due to the odd profile of my stave, quite nicely.

I can’t believe how well this piece of yew bends. I fully expected to have to settle for an odd tiller shape due to all the knots causing stiff areas. Because of this I decided on full compass in order to have as much clean wood bending as possible.

The bow is shown at 28 inches. It is only about 44 lbs but is quite happy going round to 30 inches and it keeps its shape as it does.

At 28 inches.

We have a fun shoot for the juniors at the club tomorrow and I think I will take it along and give it a first outing

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1st Stringing.

The yew stave clamped to the bench with the English ash boards behind.

Some warm but unseasonal weather this week has given me a chance to make a bit more progress with the yew stave.
The steaming worked well for the original deflex in the stave and it remained straight after it had cooled and dried. Unfortunately the sideways curve returned as it dried out, so I re-steamed it, for a bit longer this time and also clamped it down on the bench to set for a couple of days.

I have removed even more wood from around the knots but I have still left them well raised, with only some cosmetic work left to do around them now.

Because the stave was tapered, the sapwood at the heavy end was much thicker than the sapwood at the lighter end. So I decided to take the bottom limb down a further two rings, disguising the step down below a large knot. Even now, in places, the sapwood is getting close to 50% but I do not have enough heartwood to take away more.

Strung and braced at 6″.

I started to shape this stave entirely by what the tiller showed me, as I gently started to bend it. A long string at first, led to the removal of wood from the bottom limb until the curve started to match the weaker top limb. Surprisingly, not much more work with the scraper soon allowed me to get it braced up at 6”.

I will leave it now until after the Easter break. The heavy boards behind the stave on the bench are English ash. I am intending to make some heavier self bows from these.

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My impromptu Steamer

This was another first for me today. Having got most of the waste wood away from the curved top limb, I made a crude steamer out of a piece of PVC tube and a wall paper steamer. The limb was curved in two directions, towards the belly and to the right

The pipe allowed me to confine the steam to the area I wanted to bend and the bucket let me add water until I had just enough weight to shift the limb down as far as I wanted.

Bungee rubbers connected to the garden fence were enough to provide the sideways force needed. The whole process took no more than half an hour and I am pleasantly surprised with the results.

Much straighter than it was.

Now if the stave stays straight as it dries out I should be able to find the final shape of the bow.

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Stage One.

Because of the three cuts across the sapwood on my piece of yew, I decided to start by removing all the sapwood above the cuts. The first unmarked ring was six rings down, so I have gone down to this with the intention of probably making the final back of the bow 1 ring below this one. To start with I have left the knots themselves proud, standing 6 rings up from the back rather like islands.

Back taken down six rings to get below the cuts. Knots left as islands.

This means that I can now see the depth of wood at the handle area that I have left to work with. The triangular cross section of my piece of wood is very limiting, especially at the thin end, but even at the mid section it will limit the choice of profile.

Keeping the handle area as wide as I can, I have also started to remove wood from the sides of the thick end, gradually getting it down towards matching the thinner one.

Island removed.

One by one I have also now started to reduce the islands around the knots. When this is done the plan is to have a go at steam bending the reduced stave, in order to remove a slight deflex and bend in’ what will eventually be, the top limb.

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The Big Challenge.

Stave as it arrived

My yew stave has now arrived. Buying from E-bay like this was always going to be a risk and I was not expecting too much. I was just hoping to get something I could make some kind of bow out of.

Although I admire those beautiful yew bows which appear almost free of knots or blemishes and have pristine creamy backs. I have always been drawn to those that have a sapwood/heartwood line that resembles the waves on a surf beach as it flows over and around a succession of knots.

The three cuts in the sapwood.

If there is a bow in my piece of yew it will certainly be of the surf beach variety.

There are no less than six knots, of the larger variety, along the back of my stave.

It arrived with the bark removed but the cambium intact.

Typical of most English yew, it has very deep sapwood, which is as well, because there are also three, 4 mm deep, cuts around the handle area.

The heartwood however is at a minimum; partly because of the size of the log it has been cut from, but also because the log must have been quartered, leaving a triangular cross section. This at the thinner end will not leave much heartwood by the time I have achieved an acceptable profile.

Surf beach.

All this has not left me despondent, quite the opposite in fact.

Any bow that emerges from this piece of wood is certain to be full of character and already I have made a start.

Slightly reduced at the sides and with a patch of cambium removed to reveal the sapwood.

As I started to use my draw knife to remove some of the excess from the thick end of the stave and to find the first unmarked growth ring, six down from the cambium under the three cuts, it was easy to picture medieval bowyer working at his trade.

I just have this nagging feeling that this particular piece of yew may well have been amongst his firewood.

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Yew Fever

From the very start of this blog my ambition has been to build my own yew self bow, though lately I have been tempted to just give in and buy one. Locating a yew stave at anything like the price I can afford was beginning to seem a very uphill task. Then, at a shoot in Hereford in November, I happened to see a yew warbow that John Marshal had made. This one had been backed with hickory and it got me thinking.

The yew board from Yandles.

A trip down to Yandles found me sorting through probably 50 or more yew boards. I had looked before, but then I had been looking for that sap wood, heart wood combination that is so necessary for a self bow, but impossible to find in a place like this.

Finally I found the one and only board (1.5 inches thick and about 10 inches wide) that I might be able to get a reasonably straight six foot length out of. This would not be long enough for a war bow but I fancied a new target bow so I purchased it for the princely sum of £27.50.

I decided to back it with Maple. Not for any scientific reason, but simply because I had a piece of maple in the shed that I had rescued from the skip at a local timber merchants. I would not be risking much money with the following experiment.
Originally intending to make a bi-laminate, I found a row of pin knots running right across the only fairly clean piece of my yew board, so having already cut out a 1.5 * 1.5 inch length, I then cut a core depth strip from this, and turned it around. By doing this I was hoping to spread the fault onto both limbs rather than have it all on one. Now I had a tri-laminate, yew, yew, maple.

I used Titebond 3 to glue the laminates together and the resulting bow, 55lbs at 28 inches, I am very pleased with. It has taken quite a lot of set, but it shoots well and is certainly one of the cheapest bows I have made. The total outlay for this bow, including knock and string materials, is less than £40.

The £40 bow. Tri-lam, yew,yew,maple, 55#28 with the remains of the yew board.

After another trip to Warbow Wales and the sight of yet more yew selfbows being shot, left me in no mood to resist bidding on a yew stave that appeared on e-bay this week. The bidding was only aided by a single photograph, and led entirely by the heart and not the head, but I am now the owner of a Yew self bow stave, and I eagerly await its arrival on Monday.

This piece of yew was over three times the price of my original board, but if I have the skills to find the bow that I hope lurks within, it should be well worth the money.

Would you have bid on this?

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