Monday, September 23, 2013

...seasoned over a fire.

Beothuk bow reproduction,
ready to tiller
I was back to the Mountain Ash Beothuk bow reproductions today.  I've been going back and forth between the spokeshave and fire trying to trim the wood down and drive out the moisture.  So far, so good.  I got to the point where I'm ready to start tillering the bows tomorrow.  So they should either start to take shape or break.  
I've been using heat to drive moisture out of the green
wood, straighten bends, and harden the bows.
For this project, I need one Beothuk bow that will look good strung in a static museum display.  Ideally, I'll get a couple functional bows done and save the best one for the client, but minimally, I need to get one done to the point where it looks good strung.  There are a few historic reports of Beothuk bows, but right now this short description is what I'm using as my roadmap:
The bow is about five feet long, made of the Mountain Ash (Dogwood), but sometimes of spruce and fir, seasoned over fire. - W.E. Cormack undated

I was happy to see a channel appear in the middle of the limbs where I shaved the sapling down to its soft centre.  The channel in the reproductions is the pith canal in the middle of the tree.  The little inset photo is a photo of a Beothuk bow fragment, showing a channel running lengthwise in a similar fashion.  I don't know for certain that they are the same thing, but I think its an intriguing possibility.  Those channels on the Beothuk bows are weird, but I think this might be their explanation.

The second bow on the tillering board.  They both need a lot of work.  This stave has a lot of natural bend in it.  I was going to leave it in, but I might heat bend it into a something a little bit straighter.  We'll see how it goes tomorrow.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. I think your idea of the pith canal makes sense. If it was not a pith canal on the Beothuk example, is there a possible functional reason they would add a channel to their bows?

    1. I haven't heard a plausible reason. If its on the back, then *maybe* it could be a channel for a cable backing, but aside from one description that says "There was a strip of skin fastened along the outer, or flat side of this bow." there isn't any evidence that the Beothuk used cable backed bows. Cable backing would have been a peculiar enough feature of the bows that I'm sure someone else would have commented on it. Someone told me earlier this year that they'd seen bows with incised lines on the belly, but I can't recall if they said they were functional or decorative. There might be a functional reason that I'm not aware of, but adding grooves like this to bows is not a common feature in bow making.

  2. Awesome build, I look forward to seeing it completed. I stumbled upon this post while looking for information on Hudson's Bay Lowland chert.

    1. Yeah, its a bit of fun. I don't know exactly what the finished product is going to look like myself. Its already changed some of my preconceived ideas on what Beothuk bows were like.

    2. What are the stave dimensions and what draw weight are you intending to achieve? I have heard people using Mountain ash before but never seen a completed bow.
      The stave appears to have some setback, is that by design or the natural shape?

    3. Beothuk bows were reported to be 5-6 feet in length, or the "height of a man". Based on photos of fragments, they were less than an inch wide (13/16ths or 21mm to be exact). I don't have any limb thickness measurements to work from. I'm not sure what to expect in terms of draw weight, but I'll probably be disappointed if they are less than 30 lbs and happy if they are more than 45. The setback is based on the shape of the wood. I did choose to orient the bows with the bend facing out and I didn't try to straighten it, so its not entirely accidental either. There is one image that shows Beothuk bows with a setback, slightly B shaped outline, but it was done in Europe by someone who had never been to Newfoundland, so I don't put a lot of stock in its accuracy.


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