Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuktut Nogait Bow Makes A Great First Impression!

One of the reproductions that I'm most excited about making this summer is a bow from Tuktut Nogait National Park in the Northwest Territories. On Monday, Chuck Szuch and I examined the bow. This was my first good look at it and having Chuck there, with his decades of archery experience, made for a very informative session.

The wood was identified as Pacific or Western Yew, which, as the name implies, isn't native to the Atlantic or the East, where I live. I have two yew staves en route to St. John's. My plan is to use one stave to make the reproductions for Parks Canada and to use the second stave to make myself a functional bow.

The bow is in two pieces, with a join in the middle of one limb. I couldn't quite understand how a join would work in the middle of a limb like that - it seems like a weakness in the part of the bow that is put under the most stress. But Chuck helped me through the science of how a bow works and the trick here is that this would have been a composite bow with a cable of sinew strung along the back. When you draw a bow it bends into a "C" shape - the outside of the C is stretched and the inside of the C is compressed. In this style of bow the sinew cable runs along the back of the bow and is the part that is stretched, while the wooden body of the bow is compressed. The design of the bow actually pushes the join in the limb together when it is drawn.

(Click to enlarge)

Its a fairly short and slight bow with recurved limbs, about 120 cm long, although there is damage to both ends and the string nocks are missing. The cable backing of sinew would have run the length of the bow back and been tied to the wood, rather than glued down like other sinew backed bows. The cable is twisted to provide tension. The join between the two pieces of wood is on the shorter (lower?) limb at the elbow where the recurve takes place. The lashing for the cable backing is especially thick at this point on most bows, so in this case it would not only fix the cable to the back of the bow, but it would help join the two pieces of the bow together.

(Click to enlarge, the slightly thicker part in the middle of the bow is the grip)

Its still early days for reasearching this bow, but it was great to have Chuck's input at this early stage on the principles of archery. I need to do more research on bows from the Western Arctic - so far most of the cable backed bows I've seen have been much thicker and heavier than the Tuktut Nogait bow. Perhaps that's the result of being forced to use less than ideal wood, usually driftwood, to make bows from. The Tuktut Nogait bow is made from Pacific Yew, which is an excellent bow wood, so maybe that is how they were able to craft such a fine bow.

Here's an interesting article by Dick Baugh that explains some of the process of building a cable-backed bow, called A Cordage Backed Bow.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Chuck examines the Tuktut Nogait bow
Second: Detail of the join in the limb
Third: Back view of the bow
Fourth: Profile of the bow

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