Friday, October 11, 2013

Beothuk Bows - Finished!

A Beothuk Bow and Arrow
The Beothuk bow reproductions are all done now.  Both bows are made from Mountain Ash saplings and are each less than an inch wide - one is approximately 22 mm wide and the other is 25 mm  wide.  Each bow is approximately 5'11" long unstrung, and about 5'10 with the caribou/reindeer rawhide bowstring on.  They are quite light, with draw weights of 20-25 lbs each when drawn to 30-32 inches.  The limbs are long enough that I could trim a few inches and increase the draw weight by a few pounds, but for now, I'm going to keep them as they are.

Beothuk bows should be the height of their owner and the arrows should be the length of their draw, from the centre of their chest to the tip of  their outstretched fingers.  After Europeans started arriving in Newfoundland, the Beothuk began using hammered iron nails for arrowheads, similar to the long loose points inside the lower bow.  

The twisted rawhide makes
 a great bow string
I still want to monitor the bows for a couple more weeks before sending the most stable one to the client, just to be sure that there are no surprises in store.  The wood has been drying and now that the ochre is on, there is oil coating on them that needs to set.   Both bows have been stable for a week or so now, so I'm hoping their desire to twist is passing.  The wait will also give me a bit of time to continue test shooting the bows and create some wear patterns in the ochre around the grip, string nocks, and where the arrow rests. Plus, they are just fun to play with and even with their light draw weights they are still legal for small game hunting in this province, so long as I use them with blunt arrows.

Drawing the bow.  I'm not much of an archer, but I can say with all honestly that I've hit the broadside of this barn. Of course, I was aiming at a cardboard box in front of it, but still... I hit it.
The bows unstrung have a bit of set in them, which I haven't done a lot to discourage as they dry.  One of them will be used in a static display and it will  most likely be left permanently strung.  This will damage the bow over time, but at least the bow is light and set with a curve to it, so it won't be stored under a lot of pressure.  I have a hole in my dining room wall from a bow that lost its string and I don't want to risk the same thing happening in a museum display case.

The pith canal in both finished bows,
compare the groove to the groove in
fragments A and D/E below
I've mentioned it before, but here's a final look at the pith canal on the belly of both bows.  Its not continuous on either bow, but I feel that the width and depth of this natural groove is a good match for the groove that is visible on two of the Beothuk bow fragments photographed by James P. Howley 100 years ago.  If you enlarge the black and white photo below, you'll be able to make out the channel running down a the middle of a couple fragments.  I think this suggests that the original bows were made on saplings or branches similar to how these reproductions were made.  That canal would not be preserved at all on a bow that was made from a quartered log, for example.

Here is an index of the previous blog posts related to this build, from earliest to most recent:
Beothuk Bow Fragments
from Howley 1914

Beothuk bows, arrows, and arrowheads

Photo Credits:
1, 4: Lori White
2, 3, 5, 6, 8: Tim Rast
7: After Plate XXXIII from Howley 1914


  1. Correction: There are two holes, not one, in our dining room wall from bow/string mishaps.

  2. Neat project. I'm curious, though: Has any study work been done on draw weights for various Native American bows? I ask because I was a competitive archer ("instinctive" and "field archery"-- none of that fancy hi-tech crap punching holes repeatedly in some perfectly-spaced target face) and used a 40#. It would have been too light for hunting where a 50-60# would have been the right weight. Too light a weight would have reduced accuracy because you'd have to increase angle; a heavier weight allows you to aim dead-on (more or less) and eliminates a certain amount of guess work.

    1. The studies of draw weights for Native American bows come primarily from the field of experimental archaeology and lots of experimentation and bow building by archers and bowyers who may not be professional archaeologists themselves. The tricky part of it is that archaeological specimens are not suitable for stringing and drawing themselves, so we have to rely entirely on reproductions based on careful examination of original artifacts. The impression that I get is that on average, most bows were on the low end of the draw weight range, 30-45lbs is a range that I hear tossed around. Other bow builders can get 60-80lb bows out of the same wood and same dimensions, but I don't know if that was ever the norm.

      You make very good points about draw weight and accuracy. Someday I want to try these bows again with a high draw weight as the goal rather than something safe for a display case. There were a few places along this build where I made safe choices rather than try for higher draw weights. I would take the 20-25lb draws on these bows as the absolute minimum on a range extending upward.

      Here's a pretty cool clip of an experiment with a 40lb bow and small stone points:


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