How I started making bows
I remember being around the age of 5, tying strings on sticks and shooting other sticks. I remember my brother building a pretty sophisticated bow like this. He put batteries on the handle and wrapped it all up in tin foil. That became our model for a while, and the object was to make a bow such that when you squeeze it, it makes a sound. James was the only one of us to be successful at it.
On the Christmas when I was seven, and James was eight, he got a fiberglass recurve bow, and I got a BB gun. But I really liked that bow, and a few years later, I got one, too. I loved that bow, and I shot it until I was a teenager, and it became too short for me.
My dad was a history buff, and he was especially interested in plains Indians. That also made him interested in traditional archery, and his interest rubbed off on me. I remember we used to have this book called Mystic Warriors of the Plains, and James and I used to spend hours looking at the pictures and reading about how the plains Indians made their weapons. It was all intoxicating.
I always wanted to make a bow, but all I ever had to work with was a pocket knife, and nobody to teach me how to do it. I got in trouble one time, because I cut a branch off my grandmother's dogwood tree to try to make a bow. I butchered one end of it, because I had spent hours cutting it off with my pocket knife. I never did finish that bow. I just became worn out trying to whittle it down enough to get it to bend.
Around the age of 20, my dad gave me a book called America Indian Archery that explained (not very well) some of the processes of making bows. Since then I thought a lot about making bows. The thought crossed my mind many times that maybe I could make a bow out of a board from Home Depot. I had seen some that seemed to be about the right size, and I figured it wouldn't be too much work. But I was too intimidated to try it, and I wasn't sure if you could make a bow out of a board.
Skip ahead several years, and out comes Lord of the Rings. I noticed there were several places on the internet where you could get sword replicas from the movie, so I did a search for Legalas' bow and found a few. Oh, how I wanted to buy a bow! Then I also got interested in English longbows and wanted one of those. I found some pretty cheap ones on eBay and elsewhere made of red oak and came pretty close to buying one.
Last year, I went to Scarborough's Faire, and there was a booth where you could shoot a bow. I had been wanting to shoot a bow for a long time, so I gave it a try. Out of ten arrows, I got two in the bull's eye. I was so excited, I went home, got on the internet, and started looking at pictures of those English longbows. That was the closest I ever came to buying one, but I was too poor.
Then it occured to me that perhaps I could just make one. I started trying to find out if there was any information about making bows on the internet. To my delight, not only was there LOTS of information about it, but I also discovered that you COULD make bows out of boards. Some people were even making them out of red oak boards from Home Depot.
I read a whole lot of web pages about building bows, but I was still intimidated by it. I would have to buy some tools, too. Finally, one day while I was taking my daughter back to her mother's house, something went off in my head. I was GOING to make a bow. After dropping Grace off, I drove straight to Home Depot, bought one of those red oak boards, a file/rasp, a Stanley surform rasp, a rattail file, and a 1 x 2 red oak board 6' long, which is actually 1.5" x 3/4" x 6'.
I went slowly, and after three weeks, I had a functioning bow, though badly tillered. Oh the joy! It was indescribable! I went to Mark's house (a guy in my Bible study), because he said he had some targets I could use, and in his back yard, I shot that bow for the very first time with a cedar arrow my dad had given me over ten years ago. Incredible, crazy joy joy! I was ecstatic!
I only intended to make that one bow because I wanted a bow and was too cheap to buy one. When I started it, I had no intention of making bows for a hobby. I just needed that one. But after the joy I experienced when I finished and shot a bow I made with my own hands, I couldn't stop. I kept making more and more bows. Mostly, I just made red oak board bows in the beginning, but eventually, I broadened my horizons. I made bamboo bows, osage bows, wood laminated bows, and even fiberglass bows. It has been quite the adventure, and there are still things I haven't tried. I LOVE making bows!
Lately, I have been experiencing the same thing with arrows as I once experienced with bows (desire and intimidation), and I feel it is only a matter of time before I make my first set of arrows. I already bought a fletching jig, and I've been cooking up ideas in my head for how to make dowels out of square blanks, and how to make a spine tester.