Bow Copier

For the past few years the , the only daily newspaper in , where I grew up, has published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license as part of GateHouse Media.

Furthermore, at least relative to the newspaper industry’s low standards, the SJ-R site is excellent. (Latest indication I’ve noticed of how low newspaper site standards are — visit the ‘s site, click on “home delivery”, and you’ll get the home page content again — actually you get “page not found” but the site returns the home page content for any page it doesn’t know about — see the archived home page and /services.)

Today’s paper has a curious feature that I’ll take advantage of the limited rights granted by GateHouse’s use of the most restrictive CC license to republish, as I did previously with the Google Chrome Comic.

Bow builder Bob Linksvayer has been constructing his own bows, arrows and other hunting equipment since he was a teen-ager. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register / CC BY-NC-ND

Bob Linksvayer makes all types of traditional hunting equipment including bows, arrows, knives and other gear. What he can’t make, he trades with other craftspeople. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register / CC BY-NC-ND

Bow Builder

By Chris Young (
The State Journal-Register
Posted Oct 10, 2009 @ 09:39 AM
Last update Oct 10, 2009 @ 10:13 AM

For Bob Linksvayer, building his own bows and arrows is about more than living history and keeping a lost art alive.

Linksvayer, who has made his own archery equipment since he was 13 years old, marvels at those early hunters who calculated the trajectory of arrow flight without math and crafted their bows to compensate.

He shows how the art of making arrows requires patience — it takes up to one year for the wooden shafts to dry.

Ancient hunters needed knowledge. They were masters of the natural history of their area, choosing only the best wood (hickory) for bows and the straightest shoots (arrowwood viburnum) for arrows. They made stain from walnut husks and bowstrings from woven flax. A coyote’s jawbone makes the perfect knife handle — with options for both righties and southpaws.

“For every coyote walking around, there is a right- and left-handed knife handle in the lower jaw,” he says.

And he shows how it all works perfectly when everything is done right.

“These arrows have been through a lot of deer,” he says with a smile.

Linksvayer, who lives east of Springfield between Dawson and Mechanicsburg, has taught the art of building a bow for 20 years. He also participates in historical re-enactments.

He will be demonstrating the art of woodworking today and Sunday during Lincoln Memorial Garden & Nature Center’s Indian Summer Festival.

He’s a hunter who proves the worth of his wares. A pile of antlers testifies to his success rate. His arrows are fletched with the feathers of a turkey he shot.

“I’ve never had a deer mounted,” he says. “Instead, I use the antlers for tools.”

“When I see a buck walk up under my stand, I look at the antlers and wonder how many knife handles I can make.”

The big sporting-goods retailers probably are glad Linksvayer doesn’t have a lot of peers. He says he tries to make or trade for everything he uses.

“It takes me 10 to 12 hours of constant work to build a bow,” he says. “If I am teaching a class, it takes exactly 28 1/2 hours.”

It’s all in the details

Squinting at the trunk of a hickory tree, imagine the curve of the back of the bow just below the surface of the bark.

“The last ring of the tree — the outermost growth ring — is the back of the bow,” Linksvayer says.
He cuts staves from the log and removes all of the heartwood from the center of the tree, preferring a tree trunk at least 10 inches in diameter. The larger the tree, the flatter the back of the bow can be.

“A bow is nothing more than a handle with two springs on it,” he says. “In the process of building a bow, they have to be exactly the same. You can’t deviate from that.”

A bow on full draw has a lot of potential energy ready to be unleashed.

“You never draw back a bow and release it without an arrow,” Linksvayer says. “There has to be a load.”

When the string stops, shock waves of the release of the arrow surge back and forth through the bow. If it’s not constructed properly, it could fail.

Bows have to be carved in one piece, he says. Adding a handle later is no good, as the whole thing will be too weak.

The process of removing wood from the inside of the bow is called tillering.

“Wood is removed from the belly of the bow so you can bend it,” he says.

Ideally, enough wood is removed so both limbs will bend the same.

However, a bit of additional wood is removed from the upper limb to give the arrow a bit of higher trajectory, so as gravity pulls it towards the ground, it can strike its target at 20 yards right where it is intended.

“The falling arrow will cross the line of sight about 20 yards out,” Linksvayer says. “I try to keep my shots within 20 yards or less.”

Linksvayer became interested in bows as a boy of 13. His father wouldn’t turn him loose with a gun to hunt rabbits, but relented when he offered to use a bow.

“I read as many books as I could,” he said. One book was shipped in for him to read, but couldn’t be checked out. He went to the library every day to read, draw pictures and take notes.

“I came to the conclusion that the Indians and our ancestors did not have a written language when they developed bows,” he says — a bit of insight that makes the feat of engineering all the more amazing.

But while Linksvayer has accumulated years of experience building bows, he still can’t speed up the process.

“Nothing is fast by today’s standards.”

Article by Chris Young/The State Journal-Register used under terms of CC BY-NC-ND.

3 Responses

  1. Elaine says:

    Mike….are you trying to tell us that as the son of a master bow builder you are quite skilled in the art of bow making? Did your dad give you private lessons and did it take 28.5 hours?

  2. Elaine,

    Bow making must have been something he got back into later in life. As a kid I remember his hobbies were model railroads, when I was younger, then woodworking, then model rockets.

    But to answer your question, it only felt like 28.5 hours. :-/

    I’m well aware of my similar tendencies, even if not applied to the same subjects.

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