Monday, December 2, 2013

Interesting New Project

I recently received an email from a fellow named Allan.
Allan had a Korean bow and was looking for bamboo arrows for it. A Korean arrow maker had quoted him $35 each for arrows but I figured I could do a little better than that.
After quite a number of emails back and forth we settled on what Allan wanted and I got started on his arrows.
I'm using the bamboo shafts I got from China. I have very few of these shafts left and I doubt I'll be re-ordering them. The Chinese manufacturer kept wanting me to order 1,000 shafts or more and become his American distributor. Well, that's not going to happen and when he realized that my orders would be for a couple hundred shafts rather than a couple thousand he lost interest in me and became somewhat difficult to work with. There are other bamboo shafts available from Asia and when I get some free cash I may check into them. But for now I won't be dealing in bamboo shafts when the few I have left are gone.

Luckily I do have shafts available for Allan's project.
The traditional Korean bamboo arrow has a wood nock glued into the end of the shaft. I'd gotten some nock blanks from 3Rivers and this was the perfect time to use them.

I'm actually quite unimpressed with these nock blanks. The quality control on them is horrendous with the tenons varying in size from one nock to another and few of them cut square on the ends. Some of the tenons were off center to the nock body and I had to put those aside for the fireplace. The next time I do a project like this I'll find a way to make these myself.
Before I glued the nocks to the shafts I cut in the preliminary string slot. I'll refine this later once I have the nock and shaft together but it's easier to do this first cut with them seperate.


Many people advocate taping two or three hacksaw blades together to do the string slot on self nocks. I don't really care for that method so long ago I followed my friend Sal's advice and got one of these tile saws. The blade is round and cuts going forward and backward. The cut width is almost perfect and needs very little enlarging to fit the bowstring properly.

The end of the shaft needs to be drilled to accept the nock blank tenon. I chose a drill bit size that would fit most of the blank tenons but was still small enough to use on the bamboo shaft. Some tenons were pretty loose and some needed to be sanded smaller to fit in the hole. Did I mention the poor quality control on these nock blanks?
When you drill bamboo like this it's important to wrap the end of the shaft with masking tape to help keep it from splitting during the drilling. Equally important is to not force the drill bit. Let it find its own speed down into the end of the shaft. If you're one of those guys who pushes a drill as hard as possible while you're drilling, you're going to have some big problems on this step.


After the hole is drilled and the drilldust tapped out, it's an easy step to glue the tenons down into the hole. I used the same epoxy I use for tips on this step. I know it's a good glue, it's easy to work with, and I have it in big bottles. I rest the shafts with the nock blank down while the glue sets so any glue settling inside the shafts will be up on the nock tenon rather than down in the shaft where it won't be doing anything constructive.

After the glue is dry I used the Woodchuck tool to give a rough shape to the nocks. I'll refine the shape with small files and sandpaper. At this time I'll also refine the string slot with the small files. If you're careful here and take your time you can get just about any nock/string fit you want. Korean arrows are typically somewhat loose on the string so that's what I'll go for.

Sanding will let me fare the nock down into the shaft so there is a pleasing transition from shaft to nock. This area will be wrapped with thread but the profile will still be obvious so there won't be any hiding of shoddy workmanship here.

The large nocks won't let me use my regular gasket lacquer as a finish so I'm using spar varnish in a spray can. The spar varnish is actually a better coating than the gasket lacquer so Allan won't be getting shorted on the arrow finish. The reason I don't normally use spar varnish on arrows is that it just doesn't lend itself to production work.

I got three coats of finish on the shafts before I ran out of it. I had to wait a day before I could get to town and get another can. The instructions say to recoat within 1 1/2 hours. If they can't be recoated within that time then I need to wait 72 hours before adding more finish. I'll work on getting the fletching ready in the meantime.

Korean arrows typically use a very low fletch height. The cut isn't something I can buy pre-made and it doesn't fit into any of the choppers I have. It's time to break out the feather burner.
The feather burner has a wire that gets red hot when the machine is turned on. Rotating the fletched arrow on the tool puts the feathers against this red hot wire and they are burned to the wire's shape.
I got the wire shaped as I wanted and gave the burner a try on a sample bamboo shaft that I've been using to try different techniques and procedures with this project.
Good thing I tested first because there was an issue.
While the bamboo shaft spins well and pretty straight on my spin jig there can be little bumps and whoops along the length of the shaft. If these bumps and whoops are in the area of the fletching they can cause the feathers to go in and out as the feathers rotate into the cutting wire. On the sample arrow I had one perfect cut, one that wasn't that great, and one that was horrible.
Obviously, this wasn't going to work.
Then I had a brilliant idea: I'd tack glue the feathers to a straight wood shaft, burn them to shape, pull them off the wood shaft, clean the base of the feather, and then glue them on the bamboo shafts. Perfect!
But then I had an even better idea: I'll use an aluminum shaft for this preliminary gluing and shaping. Aluminum will release the Duco glue even easier.
Then I had to find a straight aluminum shaft. See, I don't use aluminum arrows. The only shafts I have of that material are some I've picked up in the field to repurpose for arrow finders. Out of the three metal shafts I have in my scrap bucket only one was found to be suitable for this task. But that one shaft is doing a great job.

After some initial fiddling to get the wire right (it expands when it's heated so that needs to be taken into account) I've finally got this step going in the right direction.
Four little dabs of glue are just right to hold the feather on the shaft while it's burned and the feather is easily stripped off afterwards.

I think I'll put the point tapers on these arrows next. I frequently glue on the points as the last step in making the arrows but this seems like a good time to do the tapers.
Bamboo shafts have a hollow center but it's easier to work with the point taper if the bamboo is solid.
So we'll make it solid.
I drilled out the end of the shafts for an inch or so and glued in bamboo bbq skewers. These come in different diameters so choose a drill bit suitable for the skewers you use. You can also use hardwood dowels from the hardware store. I just use regular wood glue for this step. Be sure to wrap the end of the shafts with masking tape before drilling them. There is a little bit of variation in the diameter of the bbq skewers so while they all went into the hole far enough, some went in further than others. I'll trim the ends before tapering for the field point.

Here's how the tip taper looks if you don't fill in the bamboo with a skewer or dowel.

While this is a bit of an extreme example you can easily see why the shaft will be easier to work with when the center of the bamboo is filled.

Once the glue is set the ends of the shafts are tapered for the field points on the Woodchuck taper tool. With bamboo you need to use a sanding-type taper tool. The pencil sharpener style of taper tool won't work on bamboo.

Because there is variation in the diameters of bamboo shafts the field points won't all fit on the shafts the same. Some will be fine and some will seem a little large for the shaft. We just need to accept that and put them on the best we can. I find epoxy easier to work with than hot melt glue since it's easy to adjust the tip to ensure it's on straight. You can use hot melt if you want to. Whatever glue you use for the tips be sure to clean the inside of the tips of any oil or grease from the manufacturing process. No matter what glue you use, if the tip is oily the glue will not stick and you'll lose tips in the targets.

These arrows will be shot off the hand. The bow doesn't have a shelf to rest the arrow upon so the archer's hand takes that place.
Consequently, it's a good idea to treat the front of the feathers in a special manner so they don't cut the archer's hand as they rush off the bow. For applications like this I like to wrap the front end of the feathers with some thread. Luckily, this fits with the asthetic of the Korean arrows, too. While I'm at it I'll also wrap some thread back on the nock and catch the back end of the feather. While I don't think it will be needed on these arrows wrapping thread on the wood nock will strengthen it and help keep it from splitting from the pressure of the bowstring.

Here's what the thread looks like with a bit of finish and some gold trim.
Remember how I said the tips will fit on each shaft a little different? Here's a good example of one just a little large for the shaft diameter.
With the thread wrapped, finished, and trimmed, and the tips glued on, these arrows are all done!
This has really been an interesting project. I've learned a lot and had a great time making them. If I do another set like this I'll do a couple things differently, but not much. I'm quite happy with how these have turned out. I hope Allan is just as pleased with them.
Thanks for reading this long post.
As always...
Happy archery!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An Act of Kindness

A friend took me to lunch today at Nic's Pizza in Apple Valley. I'd been helping her move some stuff around in her garage. She decided we were both hungry so off we went.
The waitress in Nic's seated us, took our drink order, and began to walk away when my friend called her back. I thought she wanted to change her iced tea to something else.
"I want the check for that table," she told the waitress, pointing to a table with two men sitting at it over by the windows.
I glanced over and it was a Marine Staff Sergeant and a Lance Corporal having lunch.
Although my friend tried to pay for their lunch anonymously the men found out who had done it and came to our table to thank her. In turn, she thanked them for the job they are doing and told them to be careful.
I got a little choked up.
Thank you to the Marines for doing what they do.
Thank you to my friend for an unselfish act of kindness.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

No, no, no... this isn't good

So, close upon the heels of yesterday's post regarding the little scorpion that stung my foot the other night...

Jim and Carol, a wonderful couple, are bringing me their old bed frame and such tomorrow. They got a new bed and asked me if I could use the old frame and headboard. Yup, I sure can.
Today I was cleaning some things in the bedroom so we'd be able to get in there easily to work on the bed. I still have some bags of clothes my mother gave me from her recently passed husband that I haven't had a chance to go through yet and they were piled at the foot of the bed. I stacked the bags in the closet and got a few other things that were at the foot of the bed. I turned back to the area and just about had a fit. There, sitting on the carpet nonchalantly, was a very large scorpion. I called Fayme so she could see it too and went into the kitchen for something to put over it. A plastic tub served to trap him and he never moved until I slipped a piece of card stock under the container so I could lift it up with the scorpion inside. Fayme brought me a large glass jar and we transfered him into that.

I have to say that I am not at all happy about this one.
That first little scorpion was kind of cute but this one is a whole lot larger and it was in my bedroom. No, I am not at all pleased.
We'll be getting a blacklight in the next couple of days and we'll be checking closely for more of these buggers. Scorpions fluoresce under a blacklight so it should be easy to see any when the light hits them.
So it's rarely boring out here... but sometimes it does get a little too exciting. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fun Times

It's been interesting out here in our new home.
As I like to tell people, there may not be a lot to do but it's rarely boring.

A pretty good thunderstorm came through last week. We were returning home from the store and were getting a few drops of rain as we got closer to home. The rain got heavier as we drove up the hill from the highway and by the time we were within a mile of home it was coming down like wild. Thunder and lightning, too. One bolt we saw while we were still a ways from home looked like it may have landed right in our front yard. I got soaked getting the gate open to drive in.

Later in the afternoon, after the rain had stopped, I went outside and glanced toward the mountains behind us. Imagine my surprise when I saw a small brushfire on the side of the mountain!
There was already a helicopter surveying the fire and a short while later it was replaced by a CalFire forward air control plane. Not long after that a couple fire retardant planes came in and made drops
to encircle the fire with retardant. Those pilots were incredible. They came into the drop from the peak of the mountain ridge and followed the ground profile downhill to the fire where they dropped
the retardant and pulled out of the dive. It was amazing to watch.
The retardant slowed the fire's progress and the day's rain and high humidity also helped. We could see the fire all night but it didn't get much larger. The next day two ground crews hiked into the site and spent the day putting out hot spots and marking areas for a water dropping helicopter that worked with them.
The incident web page said there were about twenty lightning strike fires in the area. Most were very small. Some were just one dead tree. We've got more thunderstorms forecast this week but so far they
haven't showed up.

A couple nights ago I took a quick shower before bed. As I was walking to the bedroom I had a horrible sudden sharp pain on the outside of my left foot. I felt my foot for broken glass or something similar but didn't find any. On Fayme's advice I got a flashlight and looked closely at the floor. Sure enough, scorpion. First one we've seen.
Little bastard got me in the foot.
I caught him and put him in a jar in case he needs to be identified if I started convulsing or foaming at the mouth or something equally worrisome. I felt fine after icing the sting site and went to bed. By the following morning I couldn't even tell where it got me.
Apparently I'll survive the experience. The scorpion is still in the jar and I think he'll be less likely to survive.

I headed out yesterday morning to town to get some stuff and stopped to chat with our neighbor at her front gate:
"Hi, Mary. Guess who got stung by a scorpion last night?"
"Oh, no! Not Fayme!!"
"Nope, I got it."
"Oh, good!!"

Me: ???!!!
Her: "Well, you'll handle that a lot better than she would."

Too true. After an initial quick look on the internet to see scorpion sting symptoms and first aid I was fine. There is a very dangerous one in California but he's over by the Colorado River. The rest appear to be simply painful.

Happy archery, and watch where you put your feet!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Hello, everybody!
As has become normal, I apologize for not posting more often. This dial-up internet access severely limits what I can do on the internet. For instance, when we had DSL in Anaheim I used to visit about a half dozen news sites each morning and was able to keep fairly well informed about what was happening in the world (nothing good, I can assure you). Now I can only get one site to load and when I click on an article to go deeper than just the title and teaser blurb it will not load. I am woefully uninformed now.
Oh well, I'm still loving where I live, regardless of internet challenges.  
I did an interesting set of arrows recently. A fellow had been getting his arrows made by another arrowsmith who passed away last year. He decided to give me a try to see if I can fulfill his requirements.
No word yet on how he likes the arrows but I thought you'd like to see one aspect of them.
Some states require that the hunter's name be on the arrows he uses. Here is how that was done on this gentleman's previous arrows: 
Now, my calligraphy with a Sharpie marker surely leaves something to be desired so here is what I did on the new arrows (I've blocked out a portion of the gentleman's name to protect his privacy):

 In addition to the owner's name I also put down the spine of the particular arrow and the total weight of the arrow. Forgive me for boasting but I think it came out pretty good.
Something else on these arrows...
Different arrowsmiths have different artistic styles. That's what makes all this interesting and fun: no two people make them the same. The fellow who made the earlier arrows really liked cresting with lots of lines, many more so than I typically use. The customer wanted to reproduce the cresting on his new arrows because the pattern has come to be associated with him with his friends and at the local shoots he attends.
Well, that was just too bad for me. I can assure you that after making two dozen arrows plus two flu-flus, totaling 676 little black lines, I am heartily sick of little black lines!

If you want little black lines on your arrows... don't worry, I'll get over it and be happy to make more.

Happy archery!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hurrah! A New Post!

A lot’s been going on here since the last update. My apologies for taking so long to get anything new on the blog here. The dial-up connection makes frequent updates a challenge… and, I’ve been busy.
This may seem a little bit scattered as I remember things I wanted to write but I’ll try to get it all to make sense.

We did the Chamberlin Ranch 3D shoot in April. This is a great shoot that I make every effort to attend each year. It’s held on a private cattle ranch just north of the little town of Los Olivos, which is just north of the town of Solvang near California’s central coast.
Last year’s Chamberlin shoot was pretty interesting. It rained. A lot. Really a lot.
We got there Wednesday and had to be towed into the event site by a tractor due to a muddy road that my little truck wanted nothing to do with. It stopped raining Friday afternoon and everything dried out well but it was still a very interesting time.
This year the road was graded and graveled to prevent the muddy morass we experienced last year. Of course, this year’s weather had nary a drop of rain. Daytime temperatures were in the mid 80’s and nighttime was in the mid to upper 40’s. All in all we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

At this year’s shoot I had the rare privilege of meeting one of this blog’s readers. I am really, really bad at remembering names but this was a woman who is a SCUBA instructor with the Los Angeles County SCUBA program. Probably the two most common SCUBA certification programs in the US are NAUI (National Association ofUnderwater Instructors) and PADI (Professional Association of DivingInstructors). Both of these programs turn out well trained divers but the LA County program is known for the depth and thoroughness of its training.
Anyway, before I get into a past life of working in a dive shop, I had an absolutely wonderful time chatting with this lady about everything under the sun. She was a joy to spend time with and meeting her absolutely made the trip for me. I wish we could have spent more time together.

Not long after we arrived at the site, the booth wasn’t even set up yet, a young kid came by with his father and asked me for beef jerky. His dad said he’d been saving his money so he could get plenty of beef jerky at the shoot. I hated to tell him that I didn’t have any jerky this year. The poor little fellow just deflated. Our move in October just tapped me out on money and I couldn’t afford to get the meat to make jerky before the shoot. This kid wasn’t the only one I had to give the bad news to. The jerky I make has been pretty popular.
I had a bow horse for sale at the shoot and while there were a couple people looking it over no one came by waving money to get it. Joe Dabill, one of the area’s premier knappers and primitive skills instructors asked me about the horse and we ended up settling for ten of his knapped arrow heads in trade for it. Another very talented knapper, Ralph Lawless, was interested in a set of used arrows I had and we made a similar deal. I think all three of us were pleased with the results of our respective trades, I know I am. The two of them have items that they can use and I have expertly knapped arrow heads and a knapped knife blade.

Ralph Lawless, a knapper of exceptional talent

Some of Ralph's work modeled after actual local artifacts

A bit of Joe Dabill's work

The shooting line for the clout shoot

Richard and Gary discussing the finer points of archery
A surprise visit from Fayme's daughter and her family
Fayme and Maggie, her new grand daughter

A little before the Chamberlin shoot we attended a local SCA event. The al-Sahid/Gallavaly Anniversary was held on the old George Air Force base which has been decommissioned and is now open to the public.
We had a great time at the event. I had my booth all set up but also took along the bow horse, tools, and a piece of Pacific yew that I’ve been working on. Some good friends, Rebecca and Joe, spent the day with us and we had a great time. I donated an interpretation of a medieval war arrow that I’d made to the archery contest and it went home with Nico, who did quite well that day. He also won the rapier events.

Rough shaping the bow's profile with a hatchet modified by the talented David Brunetta

I had to keep an eye on Mike, he really wanted that stave

Rebecca doing what she does best: being wonderful

Nico with the war arrow and the prize rabbit (the rabbit is not skewered, it's just being held in the same hand as the arrow)

Last weekend we took a two hour drive and did the SCA Robin Hood Tourney archery event in Van Nuys. Another great day!
In addition to all the wonderful SCA friends who were there I also got to see Francis, Joseph, and Heath (who has been pictured in this blog in his full kit as an English archer). To top off a great day, our good friends Sal and Aimee showed up unexpectedly and spent the day with us.
Lexy, who built a bow with me at the 2011 Great Western War, was also in attendance with her family. I am happy to report that she is still interested in archery and bow making.
I donated the last of the war arrows to this event for them to award as they saw fit and it went home with Baron JonThomme, who I am sure will treasure it as a memento of the day and the people he spent it with.

Explaining the fine points of bowyery to a young admirer

The next shoot we have coming up is the ConejoValley Archer’s Pacific Coast Traditional Challenge. This is a two day trad archery 3D shoot in Simi Valley, CA. If the Chamberlin shoot is the best one I go to every year, this one must be a close second.
We tent camp in the little county park adjoining the archery range and that is the only gripe I have. A few years ago the county tore out beautiful big eucalyptus trees to make room for RV pads in an effort to “upgrade” the park. What used to be a beautifully natural camp is now concrete and grass sod. Where we used to pay a reasonable camping fee with no complaints now we get hassled every year by the county park rangers who squeeze every possible bit of money out of every camper and who threaten death and destruction on anyone who disagrees with their interpretation of the rules. While I do like the new showers that were installed I’d gladly give them up in exchange for not being attacked by the rangers every year.

I’ve been doing some interesting arrow work lately.
I know crossbows have little love in the world of mundane traditional archers but they can be popular in the SCA. Especially for those who cannot pull a bow for health reasons. And frankly, a medieval-type target crossbow has little relation to the modern crossbows that hunting archers find so upsetting.
All that is a lead in to some bolts I made for a Lady who shoots a crossbow in the SCA. The colors may not be medieval but sometimes utility trumps authenticity and she’ll be able to see these in the target.

Bright bolts

I’m also making some that are more authentic. These bolts are a custom order and they will be presented to a recipient along with a reproduction of the Ulrich crossbow that resides in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Heavy bolts

I had to order a few hundred arrow shafts recently. I was just about at zero in the lower spined shafts. Sometimes getting a few new shafts is a mixed blessing. It’s good to have them available to make new arrows for folks but it’s a lot of work before I can turn them into arrows.
First I spine all the shafts on my spine tool, then I weigh each shaft on a digital scale. The spine and weight numbers are written on the end of the shaft. Next I spread all the shafts of a given spine group out on a table; lightest at the left and heavier moving to the right. Shafts are then gathered into bundles of a dozen shafts with weights +/- ten grains. Most are much closer in weight than that. These are the bundles that I use to make arrows. Doing all this prep work takes me an inconvenient amount of time but there is no substitute for it; it’s got to be done in order to turn out high quality arrows.

Sorting shafts by weight

The results, well grouped shafts that will become matched arrows
One strange little thing that you’ll see in my arrows is how I refer to the spine. The industry standard is to sort in five pound groups and this is written as: 45/50, 50/55, 55/60, etc. You will note a slight inconsistency in that: the actual groups listed have a spread of six pounds. Plus, a number is repeated in two adjoining groups. In the 45/50 and the 50/55 groups, where do the 50 shafts go, the lighter group or the heavier? I prefer to refer to the groups as 45/49, 50/54, 55/59, etc. Not a big difference but it just seems to make more sense to me.  
Our washing machine died a couple months ago and we’ve been going to a local laundromat about once a week. It’s kind of a hassle but it’s also a little fun to people watch.
We decided to turn the old washing machine in to a used appliance reclamation event yesterday but we wanted to keep the metal drum inside for a fire pit in the back yard. Holy cow, what a pain in the butt that was to remove. I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult but it involved breaking my screwdriver, a sledgehammer, a hacksaw, a pry bar, a Dremel tool with a cut-off wheel, a socket set, wire cutters, and well scraped knuckles.

The beginning...
The end.
The good news is we got the drum out and ready for its first campfire, we also got a plastic drum that was around the metal one and will use it to plant tomatoes. The remains of the washing machine were turned in as scrap metal. 

New lives
Long time readers of this blog will remember that we welcome prospective bowyers to the monthly Pasadena gatherings. Since the movies Hunger Games and Brave, there continues to be a lot of interest from people fascinated with the idea of making their own wood bow. Some of these people will not finish their bow as they learn that it’s not as easy as they may have thought it was. Others will stick to it and turn out credible works. Some few will really do something special.
Gabriela made her first bow with us at Pasadena and did a great job on it. Only trouble is that it turned out far lighter than she wished, a not uncommon occurrence with new bowyers (and some old bowyers). So she made another one. And it was just what she wanted. I wish I’d gotten pictures of the artwork Gaby did on the back of her bow, it is really special and very well done. She also made the quiver you see in the picture. Some people are just plain talented.

Gaby did a fine job on her bow
Jessica has been working on her bow for a while. She’s not able to make it to every month’s gathering and she can’t usually stay the whole day. She’s been very patient with herself as she learns how to use the tools as well as learns how to make a wood bow. Lately she’s taken on a job that will make it difficult for her to get to the gatherings but I know she’ll keep at the bow when she can, until it’s done. I wish every new bowyer had Jessica’s patience and attention to detail.

Jessica putting in the time on her bow

We just about lost Wallop, the cat, recently. He’s been getting daily medicine for some time for an internal problem but he recently took a turn for the worse and went downhill rapidly. We were literally scant hours from taking him to the vet to have him put to sleep. He’s fourteen years old and it just didn’t make sense to prolong things.
But then he turned a corner and began improving; the vet visit was canceled. He’s doing pretty good now so we have our fingers crossed. I know that with his age and his infirmity we kind of have him on borrowed time but I’m going to cherish him as long as I can. Wallop’s been a good friend and companion, even if he does occasionally fart next to me in the bed.

Wallop, the cat
And last, beauty is where you find it.
Living out here in the desert has shown us a bit of a stark landscape. Joshua trees, creosote bushes, and cholla cactus don’t seem to give much in the way of a beautiful view. But if you know where to look for it, beauty is where you find it.
Happy archery, and happy life.
Thanks for reading.
Please note that many of the photos used in this post are by Fayme Harper ©2013