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Adventure 7: Legolas Meets Paul Bunyan, the Making of a Bow

March 2, 2012
Do you remember that moment in Return of the King when Aragorn jumps out of the Corsairs ship, Narsil in hand, and kicks the asses of ten thousand orcs? And that BUM-bum-bu-nah-BUUUMMMM music plays in the background? Love that part. Love that sword. My first thought every time I see that sword: “I gotta get me one of those.”

But you know what? Having a broadsword is only fun when someone else you know has one too.  Even then, where does one stage a broadsword fight these days? The grade school playground? There are plenty of places that offer fencing lessons, but nowhere in Southwestern Michigan can you take a broadsword class. Very disappointing, yes?

I was forced to find another character to mimic. Though he isn’t my favorite in the group, the part where Legolas stabs an orc with his arrow and then shoots the next orc in line with same arrow…that was also pretty bitchin’. So what about a bow? There are plenty of cool people who use bows: Legolas, Katniss Everdeen, Robin Hood, a number of awesome Native American characters. What would be even better? If I could make my own.

© 2001 - New Line Productions, Inc.

I thought, “Seriously, how hard could it be?” And that’s why I’m an idiot. Cause it is hard. So hard, in fact, that this entire post is dedicated to my first attempt/utter failure at this project.

Step 1: Get some wood. A long bow should be approximately as tall as you are. I’m a whoppin’ 5 feet, 5 inches tall. Towering, I know. The tricky part is finding a branch around 5 feet long with no knots or bends. Obviously, pine is not an option. I looked into yew, but it requires a lot of special treatment. Finally, I decided my best option was just to tromp through the woods and see what I could find. To my delight, I found a lovely 10 foot sapling, straight as an arrow (ugh, I really just made that joke). I chopped down the sapling with a small hatchet (don’t worry, I made a donation to the Arbor Foundation to make up for it), and hacked it off at 5 feet.

Step 2: Split wood vertically down the center. This is a pain in the ass. I have no electrical tools, so if a hatchet can’t do it, I can’t do it. I took my dad’s suggestion of using a hammer to drive the hatchet through like a wedge. It worked. And I made quite a racket in the neighborhood. Also fun.

Step 3: Make wood usable. After doing a little research, I learned that using “green” wood for a bow doesn’t work well. It’s recommended to let the wood dry for a while. To speed the drying process, I stripped off all the bark (my kitchen was an absolute mess after this, by the way), and then tied the bow to a shelf in my closet so there wouldn’t be any warping. Then, I went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for a week.

Step 4: Curse a lot and be angry. Now equipped with a large hunk of dry wood, I’m ready to start the tillering process. The handle of the bow should be approximately 1 to 1.5 inches wide, while the tips get tillered about eight inches from the top, slowly narrowing to about 0.5 inches at the end.

© PrimitiveWays 2011

Why so much cursing? I didn’t realize the ends would be quite so narrow. When I split the wood in half, I accidentally cut passed the core of the sapling on the ends, but not at the handle. This really sucks because it significantly raises the likelihood that the bow will snap during the tillering process, and, even if it doesn’t snap while I’m tillering, it’s more likely to snap under a 55+ pound draw weight. So….I have to start all over.

So why make a post about it? I don’t want you to think I’m slacking off. I have several projects in the works right now, but if I wait until they are all completed before posting about them, you won’t hear from me for weeks. Think of this as a progress report.  On the bright side, I’ve never chopped down a tree with a hatchet before. Heck yes, I’m just like Paul Bunyan. Although, I like the sound of “Babe” better.

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