© 2011 Joshua Stark
I have to admit, I was too daunted to attempt a bow for the first couple of years I'd considered it.
I would start thinking about it, even buy a piece of oak to start, and then take my recurve out to the range, draw it, and consider the power in those limbs. I'd wonder: Do I trust my woodworking skills enough to pull a bow of this poundage wrought by my own hands?
That's an interesting take on a lesson I'd taught my high school students way back in a past life as an economics teacher. You see, almost every senior would come into that class with the same bad advice about the world - trust no one. So, one of my first lessons was to teach the two most valuable components to a functioning market system: Informed self-interest, and social trust.
That first concept appears in every textbook, along with other half-truth attempts by the authors at being "cool", with the same catastrophic results as if they, themselves had appeared in class in baggy pants and backwards ball caps to rap about the "invisible hand" or the "science of choice".
The second concept, though, that of a social trust, never shows up in any text - at least, not directly. And yet, a social trust is as important to a functioning economy as an informed self-interest. To prove it, I'd ask my students a series of questions, starting with this: Would you give your credit card information to your best friend? I'd get snickers of derision at that suggestion; "heck no!" Then I'd say, "well, you gave it to the gas station attendant. What's his name?" Stunned silence would follow. Other questions were similarly designed, with the goal of getting students to understand that a market system requires an implicit trust in others, and that without it, we cease to have the wonderful things the market provides us.
And so, as I would stand at the range, I'd consider how I have no idea who built my bow, presumably some able Korean, but I trusted this person to make something that I would repeatedly pull back to my face, straining, to loose a deadly-sharp instrument through the air. We are amazing, trusting creatures, and it provides us with much. I also thought it extremely funny that I wouldn't trust myself to accomplish the same task.
Then, I stumbled upon an easy introduction to building bows. Particularly daunted by the time, patience, and space needed to work on finish-tillering the bow (where one scrapes off the belly of the bow until one reaches its desired power), I was elated to find instructions that required no tillering of the belly. It was a youth bow, designed with wood from a local hardware or lumber store in mind, and it made a bow of around 15 lbs. draw weight. It was also made nigh indestructible by a linen backing.
I built the bow over a few weeks, although the actual work was very quick (I was thwarted by the second wettest December on record here). I've shown it in various stages of completion here at the blog, and now here is the finished product in action:
The shooter is the recipient of my first bow, and the best nephew I've ever had. Am I still nervous it will break? Frankly, the only thing I'm nervous about is the string, which is the first bowstring I've ever made, too. It's made out of silk threads, so I'm not too nervous, but the tips of the bow and the string serving (the extra cotton string wrapped around the string to help protect it from abrasions where it meets the tips and the arrow) could both be improved. It's something I'll work on.
This first project has given me loads of confidence, and I plan to make more. If you are interested in a kid's bow that works, please head on over to the TradGang site, specifically here. I modified the design a bit (to make the limbs a bit stronger, and I used leftover purpleheart for the tips and handle instead of oak), but the general design is obviously a great bow for kids. I highly recommend it, too, as a first project. If you don't have kids, find a neighbor or friend who does, and make it for them. You'll all be happier for it.
Here's one more pic of the bow in action:
Trusting fellow, isn't he?