Was led to an interesting older article from 2003 about bowyer Lukas Novotny’s attempts to recreate composite bows. He is still handcrafting and selling them, by the looks of it. It features the sort of difficult, pernickity, single-minded attention to detail that never fails to impress me.
Most bows made with dustars and siyahs as single elements are Turkish. To make them, Novotny cuts 76-centimeter (30”) sections of wood and soaks them in cold water for three days. Then he steams the two pieces into curves of some 60 degrees. For bows in which the dustars and siyahs are separate elements, typically known as Persian five-element bows, he steams the dustars into a gentle curve and finds branches growing at the desired angle for the siyahs. To assemble the parts, he tapers both ends of the handle and, if needed, the ends of the siyahs. He then cuts V-shaped splices into the dustars and, after brushing on glue, fits the pieces snugly to form a strong, undetectable joint.
Next comes the horn; Novotny uses water-buffalo horn. He prepares it by shaving off the surface ridges, cutting it roughly to size, then steaming and flattening it. He can now shave the horn until he has twin strips of uniform thickness the width of the wood core. He glues the horn strips onto the bow’s belly so they meet in the center of the handle. Then he winds a rope around the bow using a traditional tool called, in Turkish, a tepelik . Unlike modern clamps, the tepelik creates an even pressure along the curve, squeezing out excess glue. The bow is now left to dry for several weeks with its ends tied to maintain a soft curve….
Interesting article in the New York Times this week entitled Today’s Girls Love Pink Bows as Playthings, but These Shoot, about the rise of weapon toys for girls in the brave new Katniss / Merida world. As the writer slightly wearily points out, “it’s the same type of toy that has been marketed to boys for years, except these are mostly purple and pink.” Several manufacturers have brought or are bringing out versions of their ‘boys’ toys for girls, including Hasbro and Zing with its Air Huntress line.
The Nerf Rebelle isn’t even really a bow, of course – it’s more like a vertical toy crossbow. There is also an actual crossbow and a multi-barrel sci-fi gun, all firing soft ‘nerf’ slugs. You can get an extensive, dissembling insight into how these things are actually marketed at the blog My Last Dart:
The Air Huntress is essentially a pink version of the same toy for boys. You can even see the two side by side here:
From the NYT:
Barbie, ever pretty in pink, has naturally gotten into the act with a Katniss doll that slings a bow and arrow in authentic brown. The action figure shelves at toy stores now display a Black Widow figure (modeled after Scarlett Johansson) alongside the new Captain America…. All of this is enough to make parents’ — particularly mothers’ — heads spin, even as they reach for their wallets. While the segregation of girls’ and boys’ toys in aisles divided between pink and camouflage remains an irritant, some also now wonder whether their daughters should adopt the same war games that they tolerate rather uneasily among their sons. The Rebelle line was introduced last summer, and a dozen more of the toys are on the way this year.
“Basically, I’m a total hypocrite because it’s a weapon and it’s pink, but they really enjoy it and it’s something they play together,” said Robin Chwatko, whose 3-year-old daughter got a Nerf Rebelle a few months ago after coveting her 5-year-old brother’s Zing bow.
Sharon Lamb, a child psychologist and play therapist who teaches counseling psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, says toys that stimulate aggression are healthy for children.
“I don’t see this as making girls more aggressive, but instead as letting girls know that their aggressive impulses are acceptable and they should be able to play them out,” she said.
But, she added, “What I don’t like is the stereotyped girlifying of this. Do they have to be in pink? Why can’t they be rebels and have to be re-BELLES? Why do they need to look sexy when aggressing, defending the weak or fighting off bad guys?” … At Zing, which started out making toys marketed only to boys, the idea for its Air Huntress line bubbled up from customers on sites like Facebook and Amazon — as well as employees who had read “The Hunger Games”.
Clearly, not much has changed in the toy world, or the retail sector in general, where ‘shrink it and pink it‘ remains the mantra for selling to American women. The manufacturers are, of course, merely responding to the cultural changes and their focus groups, and they aren’t going to start challenging stereotypes anytime soon. The actual benefits of actual archery for kids – discipline, control, confidence, strength – remain elusive with these plastic weapons. The difficult made easy. Still, for someone somewhere this might be a gateway to the real thing, and that’s still good.
Found these excellent videos on YouTube about traditional Korean bowmaking, constructing the gungdo (각궁) of bamboo, sinew, horn and various woods. Unfortunately, all the videos are in Korean, the only option is YouTube caption subtitles (click on the little icon below the screen that looks like an addressed envelope, and select ‘on’, ‘Translate Captions’, and then English or whatever language you like). While the captions are great at producing barely comprehensible joys as ‘Longing stroke / the sound of shoes voc robbed’, they do mostly give you the gist of what is going on, and occasionally deliver real insights (the ‘cloven hoof’.) Anyway, get stuck in:
Half a world away, I found this excellent slow and steady series of English longbow making videos from Bickerstaffe Bows, full of explanations, detail, and seriously hot woodworking. Enjoy.
(well, I say half a world away. Did you know that Britain and Korea share a megalithic culture? That you can find the same kind of mysterious late-Neolithic flowerings in Cornwall and Gochang? You do now…)
New this week at the big archery trade show in Nashville, the Hoyt Stealth Shot. Essentially a set of recurve dampers, similar to that attached to (and often removed from) many compound bows for years, it promises a 1/2 to 3/4 feet per second increase in arrow speed, consistent arrow separation, better post shot reaction, less noise, increased accuracy and feedback and who knows what else. It’s apparently World Archery legal as long as the string isn’t actually touching the dampers at rest (i.e. at brace height). But it’s adding two more variables (which will wear), and obviously changing the bow balance and weight. And separation isn’t an issue anymore with the Beiter nock system. Anyway, watch it here:
I am grateful (not for the first time) to John Magera over at A.T. for his clear and cogent thoughts on the subject: “I think if folks have been paying attention over the past few years, there are a few top archers who are constantly tinkering with gear, and then there are one or two who use pretty basic setups, and they don’t change much. It’s especially worth noting that the archers in the latter category are consistently higher ranking than those in the former… As with anything new, there is a small group of world class archers I watch to see whether they adopt it permanently. If not, then that’s all I really need to know.” I’m guessing Jake Kaminski is stuck with them for a while though… 🙂 But I also wonder if it might help passable/intermediate archers like me more than it might help national team members. Possibly.
This has been around for a while, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a look. Korean teenager Dong Woo Jang – whose previous hobbies included studying spider anatomy – started making bows as a hobby, and gave a brief (8 minute) TED talk on the subject. Watch it here:
His handmade take on a traditional Korean bow shoots pretty well, but the more interesting aspects are unfortunately only glanced upon; the exploration of cultural heritage, the creation-as-escapism from a difficult ‘pressure cooker’ environment, and the hazily interesting idea of a ‘bowtopia’. But the diagrams are beautiful, and the fetishisation of the axes and blades cheerily worrying. Teenagers, eh? Great stuff.
There’s a good list of more ‘handmade’ TED talk stuff here.
As recommended on my trip to Lilleshall, I have invested in a pair of AdiZero shot-put shoes by Adidas. They come in a few colours, with a smart ‘Adidas Track & Field’ label on the inside. As you might imagine, they are designed for shotputters, and the idea of using them for archery comes from Kisik Lee, who writes about the older AdiStar model in his ‘Inside The Archer’ book:
“The shoes are called Adidas adiStar Shot Put Throwing Shoes. They have a flat sole and thin hard inner sole and we feel that this shoe provides for a greater stability than the average joggers that archers generally wear, which have spongy inner soles.”
The inner sole also slopes slightly down from heel to toe, which assists in keeping your centre of gravity off your heels and slightly further forward to maintain stability. Also as recommended, I ordered them half a size bigger than my feet, and they are pretty tight. If you decide to go for a pair, a whole size too big won’t be a problem, especially considering how tight you can lace and/or strap them. Nose around on the internet, prices vary a lot (from UK websites at least).
I love them. They work. They are a bit bright and brash for me, and it’s yet another ‘thing’ in the kitbag, but there’s always pleasure in specialised bits of clothing. The suit of armour. I hope they will make me a better archer; that’s down to me and not the shoes, but every little bit of confidence helps. And these help.
Poor Folk Bows is the journal of Sam Harper and his quest to build his own bows – and to teach other people how in the process. There’s lots of goodness here, but I particularly enjoyed his arrow build-along.
His writing is shot through with warmth and humour. I’d like to try some of his builds someday, although my woodworking skills are basically non-existent. I am always, always impressed by people who have the chops to do things like this. Looking forward to more from him at some point.
If you enjoy this kind of woodworking p*rn, there’s a website called TDPRI about Fender Telecaster guitars where they have a competition every year to build a guitar for $210. Some of the build-alongs are absolutely staggering: this one is a particular favourite.
A preamble: This archery blog has been doing pretty well recently. Hello to you, reading this site for the first or third or tenth time. I’m up to over a thousand hits on a really good day, when I get retweeted/reposted a few times (thank you – you know who you are!). When people start translating your articles into French, you know you’re doing something right…
One of the most gratifying things about blogging is that you know where your audience is coming from. Literally. All over the world:
So this last week, as before, the US and the UK are neck and neck in the lead for page hits. But I’ve also had forty-two hits from Columbia, fourteen from Venezuela, and six from New Caledonia, which I am embarrassed to say I had to look up. Altogether 89 countries. Amazing. Thank you. And testament to the global reach of the sport, practised from the Faroes to Japan. (Only one hit from Korea, though…)
Anyway, this internationalism got me to thinking about my bow. Like most modern recurve bows, it’s made up of interchangeable parts, with standardised fittings (such as ILF limbs), sockets, weights, lengths and so on. It’s not really one thing. What I call ‘my bow’ is actually many things that become one when I assemble it and use it. I made choices about those things, but where they come from is mostly out of my hands. I suddenly wondered how far my bow had travelled.
So I started looking. The riser is a Hoyt Matrix, second hand, 2003 vintage. I love the purple fade. I emailed Hoyt to ask them where it was made, nearly ten years ago, but they didn’t get back to me. Internet nosing suggests all Hoyt bows are made at their facility in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the USA. That’s 4876 miles from London as the crow flies, not including whatever it did it the ten years it was owned by someone else.
The limbs are by Uukha. EX1 “Carbon Monolith” (#38). These are made, with great care, in France. On their website, they proudly say: “We have chosen to develop our bows in France, and to produce it in our own workshop. We do not have any subcontracts in Asia or Eastern Europe.” Uukha are based in Roubaix, a famous cycling destination, and a mere 180 miles to London. Almost locals.
The stabilisers are Axiom by Sebastian Flute. I emailed them. “The Sf-Archery products are made in the Win & Win factories in Korea and China.In the case of Axiom Stabiliser set, it’s made in China.” The email was actually signed ‘Sebastian Flute’. Nice chap. I don’t know where Win & Win’s factory is, but given that the main industrial centre of manufacturing in China is centred round Shanghai, I’ll take the distance from there. 5727 miles.
The sight and button are made by Shibuya of Tokyo, and the back of the button packet proudly says ‘Made In Japan’. The various Shibuya recurve sights were ubiquitous at London 2012 (according to their website, they were used by over 50% of participants). I have the older, aluminium model. That’s 5979 miles, twice.
The clicker, my wristguard, and my arrow nocks are by Beiter of Dauchingen, Germany. I mailed them and asked if they manufactured their stuff there. “Yes. We do not manufacture anything out of our company; all our vendors are from the region; we do import only the carbon tubes for the stabilizers from the US.” Thank you, Mr. Lorenz. 557 miles, thrice.
The arrows are made by (surprise!) Easton, also of Salt Lake City, Utah. 4,876. I have a set of all-American ACC’s, although apparently they manufacture some of the indoor arrows overseas.
My tab (KSL Gold), and my fletchings are made by Arizona Archery Enterprises. They got back to me: “Yes, the KSL tabs are manufactured at our facility in Prescott Valley, AZ, USA.” 5300 miles, at least.
My rest and my finger slings are made by Spigarelli. They got back to me. “Good morning. Both of them are produced in Italy.” Spigarelli are based in Rome. Sadly, Rome is over 1,100 miles from London. Just thinking about the place makes me hungry.
Finally, the grip is not the original Hoyt grip. It is a lovely wood grip made by Svenning, who the previous owner thinks were a Swedish company. If so, they must have folded before the internet era, because I haven’t been able to find out anything about them at all.
So ‘my bow’ has already travelled at least 35,000 miles from at least seven different countries to sit in my hands, not including thousands more via distribution centres, warehouses, shops, and post offices. But where do we stop? One thing you quickly find out about recurve archery is the large number of near-mission-critical items required. Where was my bowstand (SF), my quiver (Easton), my bag (also Easton), or my string made? Or the less critical stuff: my chestguard, bracing height gauge, beeswax, tools… About the only bit of equipment that appears to be British-made is my bowstringer, by KG Archery of Nottinghamshire. (There are, of course, several British manufacturers making top-end recurve equipment, such as Border and Petron, along with many world-class traditional bowyers).
But that isn’t even the whole story. I’m not remotely the first to write about this kind of international manufacturing in the globalised age. The American journalist Thomas Friedman examined the supply chain for his Dell laptop a few years ago and found a huge network of interrelated companies, mostly in South-East Asia, a techno-business ecosystem. Even if something is designed and manufactured in one country, the actual materials and components, wherever they are assembled, may have come from all over the place – often another continent. The fibres, the screws, the grommets, the chemicals, the paint, or the packaging may have come thousands of miles before they even hit the factory. (For a more high-tech perspective on manufacturing in the globalised era, you might want to read about why iPhones apparently cannot be made in the USA.)
It’s great having a new, well-behaving bow. The Uukha limbs are smooth and quiet and the Hoyt riser is beautiful. But: all my other equipment remains the same. The arrows and the tab and the rest and the button are just as critical. I’ve changed only a couple of components of a set that has come all this way to create ‘my’ bow. I doubt I’m ever going to throw everything away and start again afresh, even if I carried on upgrading forever – and it’s received archery wisdom to only change one thing at a time, anyway. It’s a variant on Theseus’s Paradox – ‘The axe that I’ve had for years, which has only needed two new heads and three new handles.’
Actually, perhaps I should consider all the effort in a different way. I am immensely grateful for a post by Greg Ross over at the Futility Closet, a compendium of all sorts of wonderful things, who tells a story about Douglas Adams in Japan:
“On visiting the Gold Pavilion Temple in Kyoto, Douglas Adams was impressed at how well the 14th-century structure had weathered the passage of time. His Japanese guide told him that it hadn’t weathered well at all; in fact it had burned to the ground twice in the 20th century.
“So this isn’t the original building?” Adams asked.
“But yes, of course it is.”
“But it’s been burned down?”
“Of course. It is an important and historic building.”
“With completely new materials.”
“But of course. It was burned down.”
“So how can it be the same building?”
“It is always the same building.”
“I had to admit to myself that this was in fact a perfectly rational point of view, it merely started from an unexpected premise,” Adams wrote. The essence of a building is its design, the intention of the builder. The materials may decay and be replaced, but these are only instantiations of a persistent idea. “I couldn’t feel entirely comfortable with this view, because it fought against my basic Western assumptions,” Adams wrote, “but I did see the point.”
Exactly. In this sliver of an era where modern archers don’t make (or directly commission) their own equipment, the essence of my bow is my intention to create it and use it. It is a persistent idea. The parts may change, but the idea of ‘my bow’, the thing personal to me, stays the same. Remember that the next time you realise you’ve left your tab on the kitchen table.