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Mary Rose Replica Bow Build-Along--An Entrance into the World of War Bows

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Steve - you didn't waste any time with that ERC!  I'll be highly interested to track your progress as well as J.D.'s

What a coincidence!  I just happen to putting the last few coats of tru oil on an erc elb.  It draws right around 80# at 31".  Right now I can only get it back to 28", where it pulls in the low seventies.  Is yours going to bend in the handle?  I noticed that you mentioned chasing a ring.  It has been my experience that the heartwood/sapwood seperation on erc rarely follows a single ring.  On the bow I mentioned above, the sapwood is only 1/8" i some spots near the handle, and nearly 1/2" thick at the tips.

Thanks guys. 

Justin, the bow is progressing along well.  I'll get to 'serious pics' soon but I've been learning so much, and I've been so interested by this project I wanted to do a careful build-along to encourage others to try this kind of bow and give them the missing bits of info to do it.  I got some sweet ox horn off Ebay too--thanks!

I had no idea you could get that kind of weight out of ERC!  That's awesome.  It's such beautiful wood. 

I'm finishing up my stuff on materials--I'll post as soon as I can.

         J. D. Duff

Welcome again to medieval war bow country,

In this tantalizing/torturously slow progression toward our goal of shooting a flaming arrow into a thatched roof at 200 paces, we have arrived at step #2:  obtaining raw materials.  The 175 or so Mary Rose bows were all of Yew, which reflected the strong preference of medieval archers and bowyers, but was not an accurate cross-section of all military-issue bows as just as many bows were made from white woods—in some cases more. 

Experts agree that the variety of ring counts per inch, widths, depths, lengths and overall mass of the different bows are best accounted for by the fact that the yew was sourced all over Europe.

Material Options for the Medieval War Bow:

Best:  Alpine Italian Yew.  This is the same species of Yew as the famed English Yew, but tends to be much denser (barely floats, if at all) and makes a very slender, high-weight bow.  High Alpine Italian Yew would have been the favorite of both bowyers and archers for its strength and consistency.  With renewed interest in war bows, some of the original plantations of Italian Yew have been revisited and a number of replica bows have been made from them.  As a point of interest, the three war bows pictured on the couch are for sale in the UK.  They are selling for around 550 pounds!

English Yew and Swiss Yew also make good war bows.  As a general rule, English Yew has more widely-spaced growth rings and makes a physically larger bow of the same draw weight. 

Pacific Yew, aka Oregon Yew is a good alternative to the European Yew woods but is a markedly different species.  Pacific Yew is lighter and when grown under the right conditions it is the tightest-grained Yew there is.  Problems with Pacific Yew have to do with its more brittle nature.  It also tends to be weak around pins and character whereas Italian Yew can hold together even with quite a lot of character.  Excellent, full-length staves of Oregon Yew are available through Don Adams:

Ash and Elm can also make good war bows and they were used a great deal in medieval times.  At one point, bowyers were required to build two white wood war bows for every one Yew bow.  The problem came when they tried to pass white wood bows out to archers—archers who wanted Yew!  Our own Thimo has proven that heavy war bows can be built with dense Elm staves.  Ash and Elm are widely available and a good option for a first shot at a war bow.

For my first attempt at a war bow, I have chosen a decent 78” Pacific Yew stave.  It is not the best Yew out there, but not nearly the worst.  Careful tillering will likely yield a serviceable war bow.

So take a look at the pics, grab your longest, cleanest, hardest Yew, Ash, Elm or other white wood stave and take the plunge.

Step Three Tomorrow.          J. D. Duff

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Great post, JD. I'm looking forward to seeing the thatch go up.  Any thoughts on how well Osage will stand up to the challenge?  I'm going to give it a shot, once it dries.


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