Back in August of 2012 at the BCUK Bushmoot I learnt how to make a Bhutanese Bow with Wayne Jones of Forest Knights. As far as I know Wayne is the only instructor in the UK running classes in making this type of bow. e hopes to run another course at this year’s Moot and I want to be on it as he builds them in a slightly different way now. This article is a step by step guide to how I made my bow in 2012
The Bamboo Bhutanese Bow
This is a quick bow to make when you have an instructor like Wayne to guide you. The bow is made up of two pieces of tapered bamboo joined together in the middle by some sort of cordage or tape around the handle area. I tried to take pictures of all the steps but must admit to missing a few as I got so wrapped up in the whole process. To make up for this I rehandled the bow at home and took some pictures of the missing steps.
I have done a bit of research about this type of bow. It seems that archery is a national sport in Bhutan with many villages in the country running archery competitions. Kids as young as three are taught how to use the bow. Due to the nature of bamboo the outer layer of the bamboo becomes the belly of the bow and the inner part becomes the back: as the outer layer is very hard it will not take the expansion forces exerted as you draw the bow (it will crack), but as it is a grass the inner area (which is fibrous) is more flexible.
Below on the left is a picture of the finished (reworked) bow and on the right Spikey is holding the tube of bamboo we used to make it.
The finished article and how we started
Wayne Jones researched the bow for me as well and found this in the Bowyers Bible: ‘Unless the bamboo wall is unusually thick it’s best to overlap two billets at the grip secured by a couple of rivets made of nails or dowels, the grip is then wrapped with rawhide, sinew or even tape. Overlapping stiffens the midbow and increases poundage per bow length. Such bows can be made in minutes. Even though “quickie” bows, they are excellent in every regard.
This design is a good choice for kids’ bows: quick and easy to make, and fairly indestructible.’
Wayne brought a supply of large bamboo to the Moot for us to use. With this type of bow you need to use very large bamboo so that when you split it into quarters you get fairly flat limbs. I do not know the type of bamboo that was used or where Wayne sourced it but I am sure if you were to ask him he would help you.
In the first picture below Wayne is showing us two limbs made from one piece of bamboo he had carved earlier. As bamboo gets thinner as it grows higher you need to make both limbs from the same piece of the column to ensure both limbs are of the same width and thickness.
I cut out a section of tube that was 103 cms long to begin with so that when the two limbs were joined together the bow would be my height. NB I am not 2m 6cms tall, but as the limbs overlap at the handle these measurements produced a bow of my height. You will need to experiment for yourself.
Finished limbs and start of the bow
I used an axe to batton out the bamboo into quarters and selected the best two pieces to work with. I made sure when I was battoning that I kept the blade of the axe at 90 degrees to my body. This would ensure that if the axe slipped out of the split it would swing away from me.
Battoning out the limbs
Here you can see many of the battoned-out pieces of bamboo ready to be shaped into limbs. You can clearly see the node plates on the inside of each limb, which keep the structure rigid. These need to be knocked off and eventually filed flat.
Plenty of battoned out limbs
In this picture you can see Mark using the back of his axe to knock off each piece of the node plates.
Breaking the node plates
To make full use of each limb it is best to use string to mark out its shape. Allow an extra half centimetre or so so you can finely trim the limb after you have axed the shape out. I made the handle area (thicker end) about 5 cms wide and the tip of the limb (thinner end) about 3 cms wide. Once you have blanked out the first limb you can use this one to mark out the second limb so it is the same shape.
Using string to draw the limb shape
Keeping the limb to one side of my body, I experimented first with using an axe to cut the excess off but soon swapped it for a large chopping knife loaned to me by my friend Sargey (Andy Sergeant). This was so sharp with such a good weight behind it that I soon had the first limb blanked out. I then used a smaller knife to trim the limb down to the line I had marked with the string. I used this finished limb to mark out my second limb and repeated the whole process until I had two roughed-out limbs.
Shaping the limbs
I used various tools such as my Japanese rasp, a cabinet scraper, a small knife and wood files to smooth out what was left of the node plates and to curve all the edges of the limbs. If you do not smooth off all the edges, you don’t just risk a splinter, there’s a good chance your finished bow will develop a split when you draw it.
Smoothing the plates
Take your time smoothing the plates and edges down.
Smoothed plates and sides
The outer layer of the bamboo is left untouched and this will become the belly of the bow. The smoothed inner side will become its back.
The belly (left) is left untouched – The back (right) is smoothed
I used a rounded file to produce the nocks to hold the bow string. Make sure you get them the right way round.
Nocks produced with a round file
Make sure the edges of the nocks are sanded down so there are no sharp edges. A sharp edge will potentially cut your bow string and could cause a split to occur.
Lined up neatly and the edges rounded off
When I first built this bow I left the handle area as you see it in the picture below. After shooting the bow I found the handle area just too wide for a comfortable grip.
Ready to work the handle area
I marked out one handle so I would lose 1 cm on each side, making the actual handle 3 cms wide. Then with a sharp knife I carved out the excess.
Mark your handle area on one limb, trim off the excess and then use the first limb to mark out the second limb
I then used the first carved handle to mark out the second handle and carved that one as well.
Trim off the excess from the second limb and you are ready to join them together
To take this picture I got my son Finlay to hold the tape taut and my wife Alison rolled the bow to tape the limbs together.
Keep the tape taut and roll the limbs
This method ensures the limbs stay in the correct position and the tape is put on as firmly as possible. Once I had the limbs secured I taped up the middle of the handle by myself.
Secure both ends
I find that the tape does not offer a good grip so I put on a leather handle using a common whipping technique.
Finish taping the handle and add any leather for a comfortable handle
Tillering is the process of testing the bow to see if it forms a balanced curve on each limb. Initially we had just a piece of paracord attached to the bow to do this. The tillering stick in the picture allows you to see if the limbs are balanced. If they are not balanced you need to remove a small amount of the inner side of the bamboo using a light rasp or cabinet scraper wherever the limb looks stiffest. This is one part of the process that is very hard to show without taking a whole string of pictures and probably where going on a course and getting one-to-one tuition on it pays dividends. Dick Baugh wrote a good article on tillering on the Primitive Ways website that is worth a read.
Wayne supplied some Dacron for our bow strings. I twisted one end as you would do to make cordage and used that to make a timber hitch for one end of the bow.
For the other end I created a loop using the Flemish twist method. Sam Harper in his blog Poor Folk Bows has an excellent article including a video on making the Flemish twist and the timber hitch.
The finished bow. This was taken after I had reshaped the handle. I plan to wrap the exposed tape in strips of rawhide to cover them up.
Ready to shoot
I like this bow much better now that I have rehandled it as it is far more comfortable to hold. I think some more of the cadets will also want to use it now because of the reduced handle size.
A nice shot of the bow in action with an arrow in flight.
If I could ever source some of this bamboo I would definitely make one or two more. In comparison to my Ash Flatbow and Holmegaard this bow shoots just as well but took only a fraction of the time to make.
Wayne hopefully will be able to show us a more traditional way of attaching the two limbs together using carved wooden pins instead of the tape at this years Moot.
If you have further information or links on this type of bow I would love to hear from you.