CRAFTING THE PERFECT WEAPON
Alan quickly designed a prototype take-down handle, New England hickory core flanked by Osage orange, laminated with primitive hide glue, cut for center shot and including a crowned shelf. He assembled a set of heavily reflexed, laminated limbs to plug into the handle’s friction-fit sockets, hardwood side-plates reinforced with hide-glue-soaked linen to prevent lateral travel, an Osage dowel secured through each socket base accommodating half-round divots at the limb butts when properly seated. It was a simple, secure design, though there were friendly disagreements regarding details. Alan is all about pure function and performance, while I’m equally concerned with streamlined aesthetics.
So, when I built my own handle (our first lefty), lines became less blocky (making Alan openly nervous, fearing failure). I added a crowned shelf of gorgeous mountain mahogany, the core cat-claw instead of Eastern hickory I’d had no hand in cutting and curing. The mountain mahogany, as gorgeous as African bubinga, I’d discovered while stalking desert muleys the previous January. The bulk of the riser consists of naturally deflexed Osage we’d cut months earlier and seasoned with great care, ends waxed and sealed against checking (splits); a one-in-a-thousand section of wood providing perfect take-off angles without interrupting grain integrity with saw or file. I patiently sculpted the handle so it became an extension of my hand, eliminating potential torque, making it my own.
Limbs were trickier. This was when having Alan watching intently over my shoulder was absolutely necessary. They involved faces of tediously tapered Osage (compression wood) backed by desert hackberry (tension wood), reflexed on a 24-inch radius, further reflexed (but not quite static) after splicing more hackberry into the tips, the lighter material used to reduce weight and increase speed. All was slathered with warmed hide glue (Knox gelatin rendered into a cold honey consistency) laid up and carefully clamped into laminated plywood jigs of Alan’s own design — controlled chaos at it best. Into the hot box (a plywood coffin heated by 100-watt light bulbs) they went. After curing, the real tedium began; rasps, files, sandpaper of ever-finer grit, removing wood, creating tapers, tillering and smoothing, the edges and back, in particular, taking on the consistency of glass before sealing all surfaces in hard wax.
The bow’s draw weight exceeded expectations (it’s Alan’s first hunting-weight bow). And the upper limb (stiffer for tillering purposes) shattered disastrously after a dozen shots. I was devastated. Alan was unfazed. The lower limb became an upper and another was tediously assembled — just enough of the original staves remaining to create additional laminations. Alan added bridges, preventing string over-travel; string nocks a shoulderless design, again, to boost performance. This proved a sound move. The bow, a forgiving 73 1/2 inches made to accommodate my extreme draw length, proves an orgasmic shooter.
My wife and I moved to Idaho a week after my bow’s completion. There isn’t much I miss about New Mexico (especially the near impossibility of drawing quality big-game tags), but I do miss Alan’s jocose wit and contagious fervor, making hunting wood and those hours in his sawdust-heaped shop. I invited him up to investigate Northwest bow woods (yew and viney maple), but he’s busier than ever building primitive bows — our take-down vision — for paying customers. We keep in touch, via letters (Alan eschews telephones and the Internet.)
I soon won several traditional-only 3-D tournaments with Alan’s bow, as I’ve come to think of it. One of these I won by posting 98 points better than second place in the primitive class, and that second-place shooter swiftly demanded my disqualification. My bow’s too efficient, he said, (it does shoot on par with modern longbows), too “modern.” The official in charge refused, and I offered the man my $5 plastic trophy, prompting a rapid departure punctuated by muttered curses and gravel-spitting tires.