IT’s Always the String…

It's always the string

Of all the components of primitive tools, cordage is always the weakest link. Bow drills, traps & snares.. and the hunting bow, are all good examples. The reason… ? Generally cordage serves as a flexible way to either restrain or deliver a force, and thus is subject to the greatest stress during use. It either abrades, till failure, or breaks under the load.

Retting Pawpaw Bark @ Open Skills Day August 23, 2014

When observing hand made primitive bows, I most often see well crafted self bows.. fitted with the most modern fast-flight strings… The reason ? Making a truly effective prehistoric bowstring is the hardest part of making a primitive bow. The forces involved in delivering energy to an arrow stress the string the most.

There are many different materials that can be used in the manufacturing of a bow string.. To name a few, vegetable fibers like Dogbane, Nettle, and Flax have been used. Animal materials like Hide, Sinew, Gut, and even Wale Baleen… can all be used to make a functional bowstring. In the tropics, some vines are strong enough to withstand the stresses delivered by the bow limbs. Sometimes a combinations of these materials have be used.

Survival Bow Making

The major advantage of vegetable material.. over the hide or sinew is that they are less susceptible to variations in humidity. A hide bowstring will work well, with very little stretch on a low humidity day… but will stretch much more then a dogbane string in the rain. Stretch in a bow string, directly robs power from the bow. The energy stored in the bow limbs is directly absorbed into stretching the string. This lowers the poundage of the bow, and changes the aim point….. So, picking a bowstring material can be a trade off, between availability… and general weather conditions. Also, I have never met a animal fiber bowstring.. that my dog didn’t want to eat ! That, and the constant vigilance required to prevent mice from nipping at the string.. can be a real problem.

Coming up soon.. we will be having both a Basic Cordage class and a Bow String-making class, where we will be learning the manufacture techniques and application of both hide and vegetable fiber bow strings… If your curious.. sign up !