Making an Osage Orange Flat Bow

After I have chosen my stave I take the back down to one growth ring all the way down the back (the part of the bow that faces away from you). With certain woods you need to get past the sap wood, which is usually a lighter color and not as flexible as the heart wood. Here you see my shave horse and my draw knife, both are essential tools in bow making.

Showing the pristine growth ring with no "islands" or dings into it's surface. Think of the growth ring as a layer of long thin fibers. Cutting any of these fibers weakens the back of the bow and can cause it to lift at that point, like string cheese it will run the length of the bow.

The next step is to layout your handle section and the width of the knocks on either end (.5 inch). The handle should be about the width of your hand, I do 4 inches and then add one inch to each side for the fades. I mark the back of the bow because I will not be carving that at all.

Belly view
side view
 I have now begun shaping the stave. I leave the full width right at the handle and then taper it gently to the .5 inch width at the knocks. As I take away wood from the belly (the part of the bow that faces you) I follow the twists and bends of the stave exactly, leaving full thickness through the handle and a sharp taper to the beginning of the limb (the bendy part). With the taper from handle width to knocks, the limbs will be almost a uniform thickness all along their length. In some styles you will tiller all the way through the handle to make it "work" this gives you more bendy area and allows a longer draw length with a shorter stave.

My next step is to carve knocks so that I can test it with a tillering tree. On this one I chose to add horn overlays to the knocks. This strengthens them and adds a beautiful touch to the finish!

After the knocks are done you need to make a string (tutorial coming soon) and put your bow on the tillering tree. This is just a two by four or similar that has a notch for the handle to sit in and then notches for the string cut about every inch going down the length of the board. 

I start with a loose string so that  I don't over stress the bow and begin pulling it just enough to see the bend. I am looking for evenness between the two limbs and making sure that there are no flat spots in the bend of the limbs.

If I see a problem I take the bow off and take a little wood off at the problem area and then check it again. I can't say how important it is to take a little and check, take a little and check. Sometimes the wood doesn't show the change right away so I recommend flexing it by pulling the string about twenty times before putting it on the tree. It is a long process and you will have to develop an eye for the curvature, but you will get better each time. Just remember to take it slow and check often!

If you don't want to make a tillering tree you can test the bend by pushing the tip against the ground and looking down the bend of the limb, be cautious not to bend it too much at first or you will over stress the limb and create a hinge.

The very last step is to shoot your bow! Before you do this you need to "exercise" it, checking it on the tillering tree is a good first step to exercising, but I like to pull it to half draw about 20 times and then to full draw 20 or 30 before loosing arrows. This will make any last errors in the tiller apparent and allow you to fix them before you really get shooting. Some bowyers say that you need to put 100 arrows through a bow and then re-tiller. I have found this to be pretty accurate, as the bow breaks in it will loosen up in certain spots and need a fine touch.

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