Friday, March 2, 2012

Looking for Arrowwood

Not exactly...
I'm in Alberta now and I took my dad out for a drive on Wednesday to see the country.  When I was a kid and he told me that, it usually meant we were going to the middle of nowhere to talk to some guy about a bull or a tractor he was thinking about buying.  In this case, my loosely hidden agenda was to cut some sticks that would work as arrow shafts for this weekend’s workshop. 

Had my eye on these bushes for a while
I get my ochre from a pit near a cove in Ochre Pit Cove in Newfoundland, so why not try looking for Arrow wood in Arrowwood, Alberta?  According to the town website, the town got its name from the arrowwood shrub (viburnum), which may or may not have grown locally.  Its a pretty little town, but not the trove of arrow shafts that I was hoping for.  I didn't see any growing wild and I didn't want to cut up people's hedges, so we kept moving.  Eventually we wound our way back to a little copse of willow shoots that I'd been eyeing for several years just outside the Bow River Valley.  
Lots of nice straight shoots, with a little deer trail running through the snow.

I think we have some good straight shafts to work with.  If not, I brought some dowels to use as back ups.  

The reddish shoots were a little too slender for arrow shafts, but the shoots that were a year or two older seemed pretty good.  If they were too old, the bark started to split and wounds appeared on the shoots.  I found a dozen or so shafts, that I think will work for us.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. Cool Tim! Glad you got to spend some time with your dad and get some work done too. Wish we could have been there to watch you work your trade!

  2. Cool Tim! Glad you got to spend some time with your dad and get some work done too. Wish we could have been there to watch you work your trade!

  3. Richard WisecarverMarch 22, 2013 at 12:31 AM

    The Inupiat and Yupik people of Alaska use splits of spruce wood for arrows, duck spear shafts, fish trap splints, some harpoon shafts, and drum sticks. The splits are made with the wedge shaped butt of the antler handle of a crooked knife. Bone or antler wedges are used to make plank shaped boards and then the wedge butt is driven into the grain end and twisted releasing a long split as much as 8 ft. long for a fish trap splint. Similar to the way Europeans used a much larger froe, These splits are easily whittled to the proper shape, polished with a piece of sandstone. Heat and an antler wrench can straighten any warps. Spruce is light and strong and makes excellent arrows. I have recovered a lot of fragments from northern sites.

    1. Good to know. I like split spruce as well for long lance and dart shafts. The Innu in Labrador often used spruce for their arrows. The Beothuk in Newfoundland were said to use pine for their arrow shafts and I suspect they were using pine splits rather than branches, although the references aren't specific about how they were worked and I don't know of any surviving examples. I think splitting wood was an important and easy to overlook aspect of many arctic and subarctic cultures.


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