Introduction to the manufacture of the Longbow today
Yew has to laymen been considered the prime material for the making of longbows. Yew trees are long lived native coniferous trees which grow very slowly on chalk and limestone, they are associated with Church Yards; it is considered that the story that they were planted there to ensure a ready supply of material for longbow manufacture is a myth. It is more likely that the trees were associated with pagan worship and the tradition of allowing the trees to grow near churches was a superstitious practice followed by simple people. What is not a myth as every countryman knows is that the trees are very poisonous including the wood dust. This means that workshops are required to have dust extraction systems and face masks have to be worn. Recently a bowyer became temporarily blind and although he recovered he still has an extreme allergy to the wood and its dust.
The best yew in the middle ages came from Spain and Italy, where it is grown at high altitude resulting in slow growth which ensures that the wood has a close grain which gives an extra spring to the wood. At that time barrels of wine imported in England had to be accompanied by a tax of yew staves.
Yew wood continues to be regarded as natures most perfect bow material having natural elasticity, sweetness of draw and cast second to none. This is because the pale sap wood resists tension and forms the outside of the bow and the orange coloured heartwood resists compression and forms the inside curve of the bow and is therefore a natural spring.
The perfect tree has to be 9 to 12 inches in diameter, straight and free from knots and pins, with a close grain. The best yew to-day comes from Oregon where it is harvested from the Cascade Mountains. As 6 foot lengths of yew are rare billets 3foot 6inches long are used. The logs are split, using sledge hammer and wedges shortly after being cut to ensure that the wood dries out evenly. They are then seasoned for 4 to 5 years. Eventually the billets will be jointed at the handle to make the longbow.
Bows are made from matched pairs of billets, spliced together at the handle.
Perfect pairs of billets are extremely rare, consequently no two self yew bows will look the same as the skill of the Bowyer is used to follow the undulations of the sap wood and the heartwood, raise pins as necessary and produce a bow of character and beauty. We import all our Yew from Oregon cut for us by one of Americas leading traditional archery experts.
A variety of tools: axe, draw knife, spoke shave, flote and scraper are then use to give shape to the bow. Care is taken to follow the grain.
The bow is fitted with polished horn nocks carved to the later Victorian pattern from black Water Buffalo horn. The horn is drilled and fitted with a string retaining ribbon.
The bow handle can be covered with material to suit the customer. Each bow is fitted with an arrow plate made of mother of pearl or exotic shell.
After the bow has received its final tillering check it undergoes a thorough sanding using progressively finer grades of paper culminating with boning and three coats of hard glaze varnish. Each bow is fitted with a single loop Flemish string made from Dacron.
In addition to the self yew bow a number of other woods are used either alone or as part of a laminated bow. Examples are: Hickory backed Lemonwood bow, triple laminate long bow with exotic hard wood core, triple laminate with Yew or Osage Orange core.