Walnut Bamboo Longbow Build: Final Filings

profile longLong skinny objects that aren’t fashion models are not easy to photograph, especially in a barn. Here’s the walnut-bamboo flatbow/longbow at the need-to-carve-the-handle phase.

This post continues the walnut-bamboo flatbow type longbow build. Part 1 and Part 2

The handle is glued up and posing for photos. At this point, photography is a form of procrastination, rather than a distracting chore. Because the next step feels really dangerous…..

But first more pictography…

glue dry closeA close-up of the handle reveals glue globs, which are easily sanded away. More disappointing is the gap between the yellowheart and zebrawood. You can see it just to the right of the walnut fade rising up to meet the handle. At worst it will be an aesthetic boo-boo. I’m not going to sharpen the seppuku knife, but still, that’s pretty bad.

profile weirdWeird angle: the grain in the wood makes the limb look like it dips. Nearly threw up the first time I saw it. “My bow! Oh, it’s just an optical delusion.”

OK, now for the tough part. I have to take perfectly respectable handle wood (aesthetic boo-boo notwithstanding) and cut into it. Worse. Rasp it.

I’m always a little jittery before the first cuts. Which doesn’t make sense in the case of handles. The first passes with a rasp, even if placed wrong, won’t have lasting consequence. A lot of wood needs to be carved away here.

OK, so the first cuts….

first cut close

Looks painful, right? I actually started a little too far back. The right side is the handle end, the left will accommodate the arrow shelf. I wanted a bit more handle. So I commenced pushing the rasp to the left.

Important note here: I like to cut my shelfs to center. You’ll see that in upcoming pix. A center cut diminishes the arrow’s “archer’s paradox“. The arrow doesn’t need to curve around the handle to sail straight toward the point of aim. If that fails to make sense, I sympathize. I included the link to the Wikipedia page if you care to explore further. Or you can watch this 11-second video.

Anyway, I cut to center or as close as I dare to minimize the boiled linguini affect on the arrows.

The other thing I tend to do is cut the shelf close to dead middle of the bow. I do that because … now that I think about it, I’m not sure why. Maybe I read something somewhere and got it in my head that it would be a good idea. It makes intuitive sense, right? I mean, why would you not want the arrow to nock on mid string. Won’t that help it fly straight?

Um … maybe. Let’s leave that question for another day. I’m busy carving my handle.

handle closeFurther carving and now a first pass with sandpaper.

first sandingGratuitous identical shot but closer. And, unfortunately, not much better. Bad light. Camera was drinking. Yada.

Since Brother James asked: No, I don’t draw a handle design before I start carving. I start carving and holding and carving and holding till it looks and/or feels about right. I’ve heard at least one other bowyer admit to the same approach. I have an idea in my head. I know about where the center of the handle is and thus where the grip and shelf will be in relation to that. But otherwise …  it’s magic. Well, at least it’s difficult for me to explain. I’m planning a post or series on handles. Maybe I’ll have it figured out by the time that posts.

shelf cut

The shelf. I drew (free-hand) a line and did a rough cut with the bandsaw, a life-changing power tool that you should never use because it’s way too dangerous.

The rough cut doesn’t bother me like the first cut with the rasp does. I guess I’m into it by that time. That and the rough cut leaves enough room to hone with a rasp, file and sandpaper. Much more control.

I know, the same is true if not truer for the first raspings.

Probably there’s some neurosis at work in bowyerism part of my brain.

handle rigbhtThe right side of the handle.

A this stage, I’m satisfied. Not quivering with glee, but satisfied. I have what appears to be a working handle.

handle left The left/shelf side of the handle.

I love zebrawood. The contours make even so-so designs look smarter, more deliberate.

handle sans dip

AT this stage, I’m sitting on my custom bowyer chair (white 5-gallon fence stain bucket, with lid. I’m sorry I felt I needed to add the lid part, but nowadays, you can’t take any chances.) and I’m staring at this handle. I’m done with it. Why is it staring back at me as if to say I’m not?


handle with dipNote the dip in the shelf. A nice touch. I don’t know why. It just is.

Now it’s done. Done carving. It still needs to be sanded and finished.

Note: At this stage, I can’t help myself. I strung the bow and fired off a dozen arrows. It worked.


That’s my favorite part — a working bow. Here’s what may be my second favorite. Look again at the pic above. That’s the handle and fades with no finish. Here they are with a first coat to bring out the warm wood colors:

handle left close good

The difference between the bow in this photo and the one above it is boiled linseed oil.

Minwax stains covered my first bows. I like their “Natural” stain. But after hitting a bow with linseed oil, just to see what would happen, I haven’t gone back.

Now, linseed oil won’t help your bow resist moisture. Whack it with a lacquer or polyurethane to repel dampness. I’ve used both. Seems to work OK. I’ve had Minwax spray on poly peel from bamboo rind, but that might have been caused by some screwing around on my part.

I’ll continue experimenting with lacquer and polyurethane. But for now, I’m hitting each new bow with linseed oil and stopping there. For now.

The final post in this series looks at finishing touches, like the string. Oh, and buring the bamboo. Another fun part.

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