Arrowsmith

One of the things of saving up for a new and heavier bow is the realisation that you’ll also need to buy some new arrows. In the past I’ve just opted for buying some middle of the range wooden arrows that normally are around £80 for a dozen. These arrows will have 4″ fletching and plastic nocks, they’re wood and functional.

As I’m wanting to eventually get into the ‘warbow’ poundage I thought I’d take a look at how much the medieval reproduction arrows would cost. So we’re looking at 1/2″ shafts, 7″ hand whipped and hand cut fletching, horn reinforced nocks and arrow heads that are produced in a limited quantity. In short a lot of work goes into each arrow and the customer base is small. This means that to buy a set of arrow can get expensive quickly.

Quarterpounder

With this in mind I decided it was time to add arrow smith and fletcher to my skill set in the hope of being able to make a quality arrow at the fraction of the price as my own labour would be free. Now, I’m not exactly the most naturally craft person but I do enjoy making things and learning new skills – in the past I’ve been on a blacksmith course and I’ve also made my own longbow on a bowyer course – so I’m definitely up for the challenge of making some arrows.

The first thing I needed to do was research what equipment I’d need to start making my own arrows. The most useful source I found for this was Richard Head’s youtube channel, where he covers all the steps in great detail and I’m sure for the first few dozen arrows  these videos will be a constant source of guidance and reassurance.

After watching numerous videos and reading what I could I decided to order some tools as I’m afraid my tool selection is not very extensive. For the general tools went to eBay and picked up the following.

Tile Saw with a round blade – £6.95 – This will be used to create the nocks. The round blade should create a smoother cut.

10 piece Needle File set – £2.11 – to smooth out the nocks.

3 piece Rasp set – £1.75 + £1 p&p – to remove the excess horn from the horn sliver once it’s been glue into the nock.

2 piece Cabinet Scrapper – £3 – used to smooth out the rasp marks from horn and wood.

Rotary Cutter – £2.29 – used to cut the fletching into shape.

After spending a grand total of £17.10 on eBay it was time to pick up some more specific arrow making supplies. The first thing I wanted to pick up was an arrow cutting template so that I could ensure that my fletching was neat and uniform across all the arrows.

After searching around I found a German seller – Histro Fakt – who sold English Warbow Society fletching templates. I picked up the ‘Livery Arrow’ and ‘Poitiers and Crecy’ templates for 5.99 Euro each this coupled with postage to the UK came to around £17.

My next stop on my arrow making equipment purchasing odyssey was to actually buy the components to make the arrows. The other items that I’d purchased so far are an investment, as I can reuse them for every arrow I make, so the actual arrow components will be where any real saving will be made in the future.

After looking around for a supplier of all the bits I needed I stumbled across Now Strike Archery whose prices where very reasonable. For my first attempt at arrow making I thought I’d start with just 12 arrows until I’d got the hang of it. So from Now Strike I ordered the following.

Nock Cutting Jig 1/2″ – £19.99 – This will ensure that my nocks are cut to the right depth and are nice and straight. This item can be used over and over again so is classed as tool rather than a consumable.

Horn Sliver x 12 – £6 – The horn needed to reenforce the arrow.

Black Linen x2 – £6 – Used to whip the fletching to the shaft.

Fletching Needle – £2 – Helps to split the feathers in older to place the lined more accurately when your wiping the fletching.

Full length feather x24 – £13.20

Full length feather x 12 – £6.60 – this will be cock feather.

Ash 1/2″ arrow shaft x13 – £19.50 – I decided to go for 13 just incase I messed up on my first nock cutting!

So with posting of £10 that came to £83.29.

Now Strike didn’t have the arrow heads I wanted so this led me to Barebow Archery where I found some 1/2 steel bullet point at £2 each. I’m just awaiting a reply back but if I buy these that would be £24 + p&p at probably around £5.

If we look at the actual cost going forward for a dozen 1/2″ shaft, horn nocked, hand fletched arrows arrows IT will be around £90 including p&p.  This  still seems a little expensive to me but when you consider the price of buying the equivalent finished product the  price does look really reasonable.

Bearbow – Deluxe Medieval Arrow x6 – £150. x12 = £300

Now Strike – Deluxe Medieval Arrow x 1 – £21. x12 = £252

The Longbow Shop – Poplar Bobtail x 6 – £110. x12 = £220

All of these prices will need p&p adding to them so suddenly the price of £90 with p&p doesn’t seem so bad! Once everything arrives I’ll get cracking and I’ll share my trails, tribulations and hopefully, my triumphs!

 

 

Anchor Away

Last week I changed my anchor point from the corner of my mouth to behind my ear. You often see medieval depictions of archers drawing their bow behind their ear and it is these depictions that the modern warbow archer has looked at for guidancance.

Luttrell Psalter f.147v – British Library

At the moment I am no where near a warbow draw weight but it is something that I aspire to.  So whilst I save up for a heavier bow, at 80# @31, I thought I’d try and nail down the drawing technique with my lighter 55# bow.

Now, I don’t know anybody in person who shoots from behind the ear or for that matter shoots a heavy bow so I’ve been watching videos of warbow archers on youtube and bothering @keoghnick on instagram.

From my online observations it looks like the archer has a much narrower stance than the modern stance, to the point where the front leg is placed slight further forward than the back. As you place your arrow on the bow you learn forwards at the hips and as you move back into an up right position you stretch your back, push with your bow arm and pull with the draw arm and then slightly lean into the draw. This allows you to use your back muscles and not just rely on those in our arms. No movement is wasted in the draw process as it all helps get the bow back. Leaning into the shot also seems to allow your back to bear more of the weight much like a weight lifter would have an arch in their back as they do a deadlift.

I decided to try and video myself drawing this way so that I could see what my form was like. I didn’t knock am arrow as I don’t have the space to loose in my garden but it did give me a good guide to what I was or wasn’t doing. The video can be found here, I tired embedding the video but I gave up after a few attempts.

One of the things I found strange was the feel of the bow when I drew without an arrow nocked, it was probably physiological, as I was concentrating on the draw, but the bow felt really heavy. Another thing I noticed was that I was bringing my draw arm up and over leading to a rotation of my shoulder. This is something I’ve never consciously done before so I need to stop doing it before I overload my shoulder.

I’ve now been shooting from the ear for a few sessions and I can honestly say that it’s really comfortable. It does take a while to get used to the motion and the anchor but after a while it started to feel really natural. As an added bonus that extra inch or so added to my draw is leading to the arrows traveling quicker and faster. All in all I’m happy with my progress and as the weeks go on I’m hoping my technique will become more refined.

 

 

Stacking on the Pounds

The English Longbow was what first drew me to archery as it’s relatively accessible and has a tangible link to the past. For me, at least, my interest in the historical side of the longbow is as important as the shooting side so this one object encapsulates two of my great interests, history and archery.

When I first picked up the Longbow I was extremely fortunate to have as my first instructor – albeit for only two hours – a man named Kevin Hicks who is the embodiment of history and archery. Kevin does some amazing work by bringing history to life for both children and adults and he’s also a fantastic story teller and a great archer. His knowledge of both the history of the bow, his skill as an instructor and as an archer really energised me to get out there and bring archery into my life.
My aim, after joining a club, was to shoot a bow as close to a modern equivalent of a medieval longbow, especially those we’ve now labelled as ‘warbows’, as I could. However, as things tend to happen in life complacency settled and I’ve been happily shooting at 55# for nearly three years now.

This isn’t a bad thing as I can easily manage the weight which means my form and aiming have had the chance to develop. Recently, however, I’ve felt the need to increase my draw weight to go a little heavier and try to creep closer to the 100# mark.

If I’m honest, I have a few obstacles in my way that although won’t stop me outright I know they will slow me down. The first of these obstacles is the lack of a group of similar minded people. I shoot at a club where longbow archers are a small minority and on top of that, I’m already shooting a bow, at #55, that others consider to be heavy. So learning the technique of drawing a heavy bow will have to be one of constant self-evaluation and research, which is fine as that’s pretty much how I’ve developed so far. The biggest hindrance, I feel, is that I can’t just try another archers bow to get a feel for the draw weight so that means I’m pretty much guessing at what I can handle.

This then leads to the next issue in that I don’t want to keep forking out for new bows in 10lbs increments as that will get really expensive, really quick. So my solution is to save my pennies and then buy a bow at 80# @30. Whilst the coffers are being filled I’ve been working on strengthening my back muscles with daily weight exercises as well as practice my draw using several tension bands. Once I’ve got my bow then it will be a case of taking it slowly by shooting a few dozen arrows with the 80# and then dropping back to the 55#. After a while, I should be shooting the bow without issues apart from moving my knocking point to behind my ear.

That’s the plan anyway. Does anyone have any bowyers they can recommend that won’t cost the earth?

Shooting Gloves and Releasing the Pain

One of the things I’ve found whilst shooting with a glove is that my fingers, especially the tendons that connect my finger tips to the rest of my hand, the ones that go over the interphalangael joints, become tender. The longer I shoot the more painful it becomes.

This happens because I have a habit of cradling the string as I draw in the corner of the joint which leads to the string cutting into the tendons. As an added bonus because I’m cradling the string in my joint as I release the string rolls across the tendon and then across my full finger tip which adds to further discomfort.

To try and remove this discomfort I’ve done a few things. The first is to fit a thicker string on my bow. My orginal string was 10 strands and I’ve added a few more so it’s now at 12. As the string is now thicker it’s less likely, I hope, to cause finger pinch. This however, comes at a cost as a thicker string leads to a slower bow which in turn will effect the flight of the arrow, this isn’t ideal. 

The second thing that I’ve done is purchase a thicker shooting glove so that my fingers are better protected. The issue I found with this is that with a thicker glove you loose dexterity in your fingers. Now for me the main reason why I shoot with a glove and not a tab is that I like the added agility a glove gives me, it brings me closer to a more intimate shooting experience and I don’t want to loose this by shooting with a thicker clumsy glove. I tried a number of different gloves that weren’t quite right but eventually I found the Bodnik Speed Glove that gave me an ideal balance between protection and dexterity. The speed glove does this by placing a fine layer of canvas material over the fingers. This canvas layer is soft enough that you can bend your fingers easily yet thick enough to protect you fingers from the string pinch. It’s a really excellent glove and seems to have helped eliminate the pain I was experiencing. As an added bonus it’s also very smooth so my release seems to be a little more consistent.

The third, and last thing, that I’m trying to do is change the area of my fingers that I’m using to draw the string. So instead of the string resting on my joint and tendons I’m now trying to rest it just above them on the bottom of my fingertip pads. This, like all technique changes, is a work in progress as thinking about where my hand holds the string when I draw puts a conscious thought into my shoot sequence that can and has thrown everything else out. This will go eventually as it just a matter of making that conscious action a subconscious one.

A combination of a thicker string, new glove and a change of technique has removed all of the discomfort I had when drawing and shooting for a prolonged period. This in turn has allowed me to get more out of my shooting as I can easily lose myself in the moment of the shot and not be “pulled back” to reality with a physical discomfort. Losing myself in the shot where everything else just drops away is the heart of archery and hopefully, one day I’ll be able to achieve that state everytime I shoot.

The Courtesy Cup Challenge

My last was a good shoot I scored a new personal best on Worcester with my Bodnik Phantom flatbow and then competed in the inaugural ‘Courtesy Cup Challenge’ which is so prestigious that two archers have only ever competed for it.

‘So what is the Courtesy Cup?!’ I hear you all shout in fevered anticipation followed by ‘tell us more for we desire this knowledge over everything’; so in my aim to not disappoint you, my dear reader, I will tell you a story, a story of high adventure, loss and woe and then ultimately a story of redemption. It sounds good, doesn’t it? So here goes….

Each week I always end up, as you do, shooting with the same archer, we both shoot an English Longbow and over time we’ve seen each other go through the peaks and troughs of our archery journey. As a big bonus we also end up chatting and gently ribbing the compound and recurve archers. It was from one of these chats that the idea of the ‘Courtesy Cup Challenge’ arose.  The ‘Courtesy Cup Challenge’ is a simple idea which boils down to at the end of each shoot we’d pin a small drinks cup to the target and shooting only an English Longbow try and get an arrow into the cup with, as ABBA advised, the winner taking it all and the loser having to fall. The agreed rules are as follows.

  • English Longbow only
  • No sighters
  • Target at 20yrds
  • Arrows that pass through the side of the cup don’t count
  • 3 arrows only
  • Coin toss to decided who shoots first
  • Shoot one arrow at a time then leave the line and then the next person goes
  • After 3 arrows the person with most arrows in the cup wins

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Now to make this a little more exciting we decided to put a little wager on the outcome so each week we put in £3 each, so between us that’s a lofty £6 a week with the winner taking all. If no one wins outright or if it’s a draw after 3 arrows then the pot rolls over to next week, I suspect the pot will roll over a lot!

Archery for me has always been about relaxation and fun, I want to shoot well but I also love shooting – even when I’m shooting bad. The ‘Courtesy Cup Challenge’ is just another way, that may get expensive, of having a little fun whilst shooting a bow. Are there any little games you guys play when you’re out and about with your bow?

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Bodnik – Phantom 

In October to celebrate my birthday my wife bought me a new bow. I’d been dropping hints for a few weeks so the decision came down to what bow I would like. I’ve been shooting my self-yew English longbow for a year now and I really love it, it has a draw weight of 55# at 28″ and is a pleasure to shoot.

My choice came down to getting a new English Longbow and increasing the draw weight as a step to building up to warbow poundage or try a field bow. I decided against the warbow option as I’d need more space and shooting time to get used to the poundage than I currently have. Once that decision was made it came down to what field bow to get.

After watching lots of YouTube videos and reading up I decided to go with the Bodnik bows by Bearpaw as everything I had seen and them about them was really positive.

After I’d narrowed the bowyer down it then led me to my next question, which Bodnik bow would I buy? Everything I’d heard about the Quickstick, Slickstick, Mohawk and co was excellent, there was a lot of reviews and alot of information so I knew that if I bought one of these i’d have an excellent bow.

The problem, however, was that everytime I browsed the bows on the Bodnik site I was always drawn to the Phantom. It looked gorgeous but there was very little third party information about it to be found on the net. I did find two third party reviews that although were positive made me feel a little apprehensive as there are so many reviews out there for the Slickstick and Quickstick that it was a worry that there was a derth of information about the Phantom.

I mulled my choice over for a few days and decided to just dive in and order the Phantom, I was already in love with how it looked and I knew that if I didn’t buy it I’d regret it. So what follows are my thoughts on the Phantom.

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Stats
Bow Length: 54 inches

Draw Weight: 20 – 55 lbs

Handle: Black Mycarta

Limbs: Bamboo with white Curly Birch

Grip: Locator Grip

String: Whisper String

Brace Height: 6 3/4 inches

Warranty: 30 years Bodnik

I ordered my Phantom from the Longbow Shop which with the strength of the pound at the moment worked out being a cheaper than ordering direct from Bodnik. I placed my order for a 55# Phantom and was told that it may take upto eight weeks to make. I was therefore a little surprised that around three weeks after order my bow is was made and sent from Germany to England.

Out the box.

wp-image-103819381jpg.jpgThe bow out the box comes with a Bodnik Whisper string which has a copper nocking point pre fitted. I’d have preferred the nocking point to have not been fitted as it was really out when I was setting up the brace height of the bow. Another slight disappointment was that the bow didn’t come with a bow bag, naively I expected it too.

The bow handle is made from black mycarta with the limbs being bamboo and curly birch which makes the Phantom extremely light. Aesthetically I think the bow looks amazing with the contrast of white from the curly birch and the black/brown of the mycarta.

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I’ve been using the Phantom for a few months now which has given me the time to get a real feel for the bow and how it handles. The first thing that immediately hit me was how short the bow was. At only 54″ it’s light and small enough to shoot in tight spaces without catching your limbs on branches or bushes – or the bow limbs of the person next to you if you’re stood on the shooting line. As the bow is light and short it’s not surprising that it’s relatively thin as well. I haven’t found this to be a problem but it does mean that the arrow shelf is smaller than you may expect.

The Phantom is also a very quick shooting bow, arrows leave this bow like bolts of lightening with zero hand-shock, it’s an absolute pleasure to shoot. The bow is also fitted with a Bodnik Whisper string which makes the bow super quiet. If I’m honest I could have probably got away without fitting the beaver balls to the string as it’s quiet enough but beaver balls are ace so I fitted them anyway.

The one thing that I didn’t really get a long with on the bow was the grip. Firstly, it wasn’t on tight enough so the bow twisted at full draw and then when I tightened it the leather string snapped. After this I removed the grip totally which isn’t an issue for me as I normally don’t use a grip anyway.

In closing I really love this bow as it encapsulates what traditional archery is to me. For me traditional archery is about you, your bow, your arrows and the moment, everything else just gets in the way. The Phantom is light, short, quick and powerful meaning that you can just grab it along with your arrows and go. With the Phantom you’re not compromising portability for quality, the bow looks stunning and like all Bodnik bows it comes with a 30 year warranty.

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Concentrate

They’re moments when you’re told something that is so obvious you wonder why you weren’t doing it in the first place. These moments are eureka moments where something falls into place and your archery level jumps up a notch. At the start of your archery journey these moments happen regularly as you pick up new techniques but as you progress, and develop habits, they happen less frequently but they still do happen.

One of these moments for me happened a few months ago when I was told to concentrate on the end of my shot, on the moments from my arrow leaving my bow until after the arrow hit the target. It’s true that whilst in flight I couldn’t influence the arrow hitting the mark but by not keeping full concentration until after the shot landed I was effectively not concentrating on the full shot.

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I’ve discovered that archery is as much a mental activity as it is a physical one. If your head is not where it needs to be you’ll shoot badly. Going back to my shooting, I had incorrectly conditioned myself to see the shot as everything up to the point where the arrow left my bow. As soon as the arrow was released I was beginning to think of the next shot and not concentrate on the arrow in flight. Which meant that even if I made the ‘perfect shot’ I couldn’t rely on my memory to subconsciously store the information about how I achieved that shot as I wasn’t giving myself the time to process the actions and the feelings I’d just experienced.

Muscle memory is a key component in archery as it relies heavily on developing consistency in every element of the shot processes in order for you to put your arrows where you want them. In order to help develop muscle memory, you need to give your mind the time to process the rhythm, movement and feelings of your last shot, whether it is a good shot or a bad one. By losing concentration half way through the shot process, because I’d convinced myself to think that the shot was over after the arrow was released, I’ve been limiting my ability for my subconscious mind to recall the shot I’d just made as my conscious mind had been thinking about the prep for the next shot.

What I’m now trying to do is see the shot process as starting from the moment my eyes focus on the target until a second or so after the arrow has hit. When the arrow leaves the bow I’m staying fully focused on the target and keeping my bow hand and release position in place until after the arrow hits. I’ve found that this approach has really helped with my consistency and my ability to self-evaluate my shots and it’s also made my overall approach to archery a lot more relaxed, which can’t be a bad thing.