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Adventure 7: Part II – Bow Tillering

March 26, 2012
The act of tillering has two definitions. For novice bowyers, such as myself, tillering is the awkward process by which one accrues multiple blisters on the thumb and palm from repetitious motion with a small blade. Experienced bowyers, however, use the term to describe the process of adjusting the tiller by removing wood from the upper and lower limbs.Before I delve into the fascinating story of my three puss-filled, painful palm blisters, let me do a quick recap of the process thus far:
First, I took my trusty hatchet out into the woods on the hunt for the perfect sapling. The articles I’ve read about bowmaking suggest a small, very straight sapling or branch that is roughly equal to the archer’s height and about two inches in diameter. Nothing too soft, nothing too hard, something Goldilocks would fancy. I chose my sapling in the middle of January right before a huge snowstorm. Unfortunately, my tree identification superpowers are seasonal, restricted only to the summer, when the darn things actually have leaves on them, so I have no idea what kind of wood I’m using.

Tie the bow down while it dries to prevent warping.

Next, strip the bark and dry the wood for a period of two to four weeks. This part involved no blisters, but I’m still finding bark shavings under the cabinets in my kitchen. Plus, I got a bunch of mud on the carpet, and after using a stain remover stick to fix it, we now have some really clean splotches that don’t match the regular wear of the rest of the carpet. Oh well, it matches the melted part of carpet from my Spanish lessons. (see earlier post)
Fast forward six weeks, and here we are, on the beach, tillering away. I’m using a small three inch blade with a handle of the same size.
The goal is to slowly strip away the wood until the handle measures approximately 1.5 inches in width and tapers off to about 0.5 inches at the ends. The wood strips away quite easily, and I end up with a nice sized pile of curly-q shavings at my feet.
Like I said, my stupid girly hands aren’t quite as rough and tough as they need to be…yet, but there are ways to make it a fun process. It’s been an unbelievably warm spring here in Michigan, perfect beach weather. Every Sunday, I swing the bow over my shoulder and hike down to the waterfront, bury my feet in the sand, and tiller to my heart’s content (or until the blisters start). The last two weeks, there has been a fisherman on the beach as well, and he looks as happy to be there as I am — three rods stuck in the sand, Red Hot Chili Peppers on his radio, and enjoying the view. Ahhh, yes. Kindred spirit.

Smooth waters make for a nice, peaceful tillering environment.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be tillering the belly of the bow as well. After that, I’ll sand the whole thing down and figure out a way to string it. Then comes the arrow-making process… honestly, I have absolutely no idea how that’s going to work out, but we’ll see when we get there. I’m keeping my eyes open for possible arrowheads-to-be when strolling by the rocks on the beach.
Hopefully, the next time I post about the bow, it will be a completed project. Next weekend, I’m going to see The Hunger Games. I’ll have to keep an eye on Katniss and maybe learn a thing or two. After all, I’ve never even used a bow before.
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