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We asked new archer Ian Tillot to tell us all about the bow making course he attended with Ben from Barebow Archery - this is his story...
Before I start the review of the course I should tell you a bit about myself. I have not been shooting for long, about two years. I shoot a recurve and have tried various longbows belonging to others at the club when the opportunity arose. There is something about longbows that takes you back to your childhood making your own bow from a stick and a bit of string and seeing your unfletched stick arrows fly out of it a short distance.
I had my birthday coming up and I fancied getting a longbow so started looking on the internet to see what was about and how much it would cost for a bow. Now as a complete novice this threw up a whole host of questions, style, weight, draw length, types of wood etc….. What do I go for? While trying to answer these questions I started finding longbow making courses. Problem solved make one and find out all the answers.
With some searching I settled on Ben’s course at Barebow Archery. After reading his piece about himself, he sounded like the sort of person who made bows for the joy of it. So I booked myself on a course. These are usually one to one but Ben will take two together if required, so I could ask for the date that suited me and he would fit it in if he was available. Having booked on the course I mentioned it to Steve of Archers Review and he asked if I would write a piece about it from a novice archers point of view.
Day 1. I knock on the door of a house on an ordinary street at 9:30 am, which is answered by Ben. Ben works out of his workshop at home and he and his family are very welcoming. I have arranged to make a bow of 60# to 80# with a draw length of at least 29 to 30 inches which could be used for most types of shooting. Ben had a stave of Hickory, Ipe and Lemon wood glued up with forward cast ready for me to start on.
The chosen design for the bow was a war bow of similar dimensions to ones Ben had looked at from the Mary Rose. All the information about what I needed to do was given in a clear concise way which answered questions before they arose. So to a background of AC:DC on the stereo I started to measure, mark, cut and rough out the shape of the bow. The entire time Ben was there with words of encouragement and instruction but never taking over. The use of any power tools was begun with a quick safety talk but most of the work was done by hand.
Once the rough shape and dimensions where achieved using the band saw, the task of rounding with rasps and scrapers began. Making a bow is hard work and quite slow because you are always aware that if you remove too much wood it will affect the finished bows performance. A couple of cups of tea, a reminder or two from Ben’s wife about lunch and a lot of conversation about ourselves and archery later I had what was beginning to look like a bow.
After a nice ploughmans lunch the process of tillering the bow and teaching it to bend began. This is a long process but a very necessary one as you go back and fore between the tiller and scraping of excess wood trying to get the bow to bend smoothly and achieve the bow weight you required. Through the entire process Ben explained what was happening with the bow and marking where wood needed to be removed. After several hours of this Ben decided the bow needed a rest and the horn should be prepared and attached to the bow ready for shaping the next day. So after drilling the Rams horn and tapering the ends of the bow to match the horn was glued in place and left to dry over night. It came as quite a surprise to see it was 7pm when I packed up and headed home. I couldn’t wait to come back as the bow was taking shape nicely.
Day 2. We started at 10am, shaping the horn to take the string. The horn is easier to work and shape than I expected. Once it was cut down to size and the corners removed the proper job of shaping with rasps and files could begin. The shaping took quite a while but once it was done the bow was back on the tiller. I couldn’t help but grin to myself looking at what I had created. Ben’s patience was limitless through the whole thing. He was doing odd jobs it the background, making arrows, when I didn’t need his attention and expertise. Ben only did any work on the bow when I asked him to. One point in the tillering process he scraped one end, which required more work, while I worked on the other. This was to help speed up the process as quite a bit of wood needed removing and not having Ben’s experience and expertise I was only taking small amounts in fear of over doing it. Not long after the bow was tillered to 30 inches to Ben’s satisfaction and showing 80# on the scales.
Finishing the bow was a labour of love, sanding and scraping out all the tooling marks, smoothing and blending in all parts of the bow. I opted for a bow with no hand grip and just a small cross branded in the wood to mark the arrow pass. The feel of the wood was too nice to cover it with a grip. While the first coat of oil dried I made my first ever bow string, which was more involved than I had expected, but as ever with Ben’s tuition I completed it in good time. One more coat of oil and a cup of tea while the oil dried and I would be able to shoot my bow. The anticipation of shooting a bow I had made was palpable.
I strung the bow, placed an arrow on the string and drew the bow, now about 75# after sanding, aimed and released. The huge grin on my face said it all. It was a thing of beauty and I yes I had made it.
Now this is why I recommend you try this course or one of Bens bows. Ben is a true craftsman, he loves what he does and it shows in his attitude and work. He was always there with the encouragement and advice but never lost patience or took over. So when you finish the bow it is all your work. Yes it is hard work but the more you put in to it the better the results you will get. It was 8pm when I left with my bow a huge grin on my face and a spring in my step. The lateness of the hour reflected Ben’s attitude, if it takes time to do it right then the time will be taken and it will be done right.
To finish I must say a very big thank you to Ben for answering so many questions, many unasked and for two unforgettable days. Lastly I would like to thank Ben’s wife for reminding us to eat and putting up with the dust and late finishes.
From my point of view the course was great value for money I had fun and I got a bow !!
Thanks for reading
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