Longbow shooting

keep both eyes open after all your brain has mastered binocular vision exactly for the purpose to be able to see three dimensions, the third being distance. From now on, squinting with one eye is for pirate impersonations or recurve.

With a Mediterranean loose (one finger above the arrow, two below) I hook the bottom finger onto my eye tooth. You can see that the arrow is pointing towards the centre of the target but dont take your eye of the point you want the arrow to go to- and let loose.

Shooting in this way with a reference point to the side of your face will mean that the arrow will shoot to the left.  This is best rectified when shooting instinctively by canting the bow- leaning the top of the bow to the right and perhaps leaning the head slightly to the right as well. See what works best for you.

Tuning the longbow

It is possible to tune a longbow, even though there are no screws to turn.

You could just stick with the string that came with the bow or you may find that a fastflight string is better, with more cast and less stretch.  Always consult the bowyer about whether he made the bow to take a fastflight string as it is  tougher on the bow.

Check that the string is not wearing- the last this you want is a string failure as this can be fatal to the bow. And you will be left with firewood.

Longbowmen of old would keep their strings in their pockets where they were clean and dry, stringing up their bows at the last minute when it was raining.

Keep your string well-waxed but not overly so.

If the serving is frayed then replace it. The serving should be no longer than the span of your hand.

With a double loop string you will have no worries about a slipping knot, but the only way to adjust the bracing height of the bow is to add or remove twists in the string.

BRACING HEIGHT
Bracing height is the distance between the belly of the bow (the side facing you as you shoot) and the string at rest.

Pay attention to the bracing height your bowyer has tillered the bow to. If you don’t know the correct bracing height for your bow, the traditional formula is 1/12th of the length of the bow (measured from string nock to string nock). So a 75 inch bow requires a bracing height of 6¼inches.

LET DOWN

The performance of your bow will alter during the shoot and you need to be ready for this.

During a round, if the arrows are falling lower. This may be due to:
a) the archer becoming tired and not pulling back so far each time an arrow is shot;  or
b) the bow is losing some of its performance as string becomes stretched or the bow loses some of its resilience.

NB:   If the string becomes stretched or the knot becomes loosened the bracing height of the bow will be reduced and affect the bows performance. Not only does the bow become less effective but the chances of the archers arm being struck by the string on the loose is increased.

During a round you can give the bow and string a rest by un-nocking the bow if there is a break in shooting between distances.

You can also adjust the bracing height by putting a few extra twists into the string or adjusting the knot.

The bow will also lose cast in very hot weather

  • The effect of laying the bow on the damp ground and the heat of the sun on a hot day will lead to the temporary softening of the wood and loss of cast. A hot days (27degrees C) can amount to a drop between 3lbs to 6lbs.
  • He then laid the bows on the ground for  minutes and found that they had lost a further 2-3lbs.

CAST

When a bow is drawn it quickly loses its power. Also, over time you bow will not fling the arrows down to the target like it used to when new. This is loss of cast.

A further consideration (also mentioned by Bert) is the loss of cast whilst the bow is held a full draw. He says that the poundage drops considerably during the first second or so.  This is why many longbow archers will let loose as soon as the string is pulled fully back. Paradoxically, it is also why some longbow archers hold there draw for a breath taking time.

Over the years, each time the bow is drawn, the wood fibres are stretched and the bow does not spring back into shape. It is said to have followed the string. The bow becomes less effective and will lose its poundage and cast.

  • .

Meeting the makers and suppliers

So often these days we rely on the internet for information and to do our shopping, but if you’re looking at buying a longbow or wooden arrows there’s nothing like meeting and talking to the makers and suppliers and handling the merchandise yourself.

So it was with great excitement we visited the International Living History Fair near Warwick, with it’s wide array of historic suppliers.

There were several bowyers there on the day, and a huge selection of shafts, piles and flights for arrow making.

First up, hardly through the door and we found Andreas Doebereiner of A Piece of History (who apologised for his website not being fully finished yet!). He had an excellent array of bows on show. From simple hickory unfinished self-bows at £60, which give you the chance to sand and stain or finish the bow to your own requirements, through to some of Steve Stratton’s warbows and his own Yew longbows. Sourcing his Yew from Estonia has enabled him to keep the costs surprisingly reasonable, and the quality really was good, with much straighter grain than any of the other sub £500 Yew bows we’ve come across.

I have to admit, I did let the side down for the English, by drooling over some of his horsebows – with a selection from Toth, Nomad, Kassai and some phenomenal horn and sinew laminated Grozer bows!

Next up was a quick trip to Richard Head, who was happy as ever for us to rifle through his fine selection of arrow shafts (nicking the ones with the straightest grain is one of the benefits of being there in person rather than ordering online!). Most suppliers there had the usual selection of 5/16″ and 11/32, but as one of the foremost retailers of materials for historic longbow equipment they hold some fine 23/64″ ash shafts, spined and ready to go, as well as Chris Boyton’s excellent 1/2″ to 3/8″ bobtailed warbow shafts. Along with a good supply of full-length feathers and piles for a variety of arrow sizes (including some rough and ready 1/2″ points), their stand is always worth a good trawl.

Richard always keeps a couple of bows on his stands, so that you can see the workmanship, but they don’t keep a stock of “off-the-peg” bows as they make the majority of them bespoke for the archer – nothing compares to being measured up for your bow by the bowyer himself.

Further around the fair (via a few distractions like the Wise Woman and Herbalist Jayne Milner who is fantastic!), we found the ever jovial guys from Fairbow, with a fantastic selection of longbows, horsebows and historical curios like their cable-backed bows. Though the bows are mainly imported from their bowyer in the Netherlands, the guys really know their stock and have immense enthusiasm for what they do. They make the majority of their arrows themselves, with some great horn nocked arrow shafts, constructed in the same manner as you would to foot an arrow – seriously nice looking shafts!

Several of the stands had small selections of arrow heads, ranging from simple machined steel piles through to a wide variety of hand-forged points in all shapes and sizes. The best of these had to be those from Hector Cole, who really is the specialist when it comes to archery blacksmithing, with a great range from plate piercing bodkins through to type 16’s, swallowtails and maille piercing points. He also had a great selection of knives and blades on sale for those moments when you need to get a point of of the woodwork!

Hector wasn’t the only one with impressive blacksmithing skills though – The Arbalist had some presentation quality arrow heads on show – you’d almost want to hang them on the wall rather than shoot them! They also had a good selection of longbows on offer, along with their fantastic range of crossbows. I had to drag myself away from those – maybe next year I’ll be able to afford one!

All in all a great (if expensive!) day out, with more than enough shiny toys for anyone of a historical or military persuasion – we’ll see you at the next one in at the end of October.

Though many of these bowyers will sell bows through shops, we always recommend you go direct to them – not only does it mean that they get paid more, it means that the bow they make will be personalised to you.

Richard Head – A well respected bowyer of many years standing. Prices range from £360-£1000 depending upon what you’re after.

Pip Bickerstaffe – Possibly the highest regarded and most prolific UK longbowyer. Prices from £175-£lots!

Green Man Longbows – Very interesting, mainly self pacific yew and the much discussed silver nocks. Prices around £750.

Pete Davidson – Well established bowyer with a lot of knowledge. Prices from £150-£lots.

Steve Stratton – A leading light of the warbow scene, and an experienced bowyer. Prices from £250-£lots.

Hilary Greenland (Sylvan Archery) – A very well respected bowyer with a range of historic bows. Prices from £280-£600.

Keith Rayner – Fantastic “design your bow” facility! Prices from £190-£400ish.

Pete Bakewell – Established bowyer. Prices from £220-£lots.

Chris Mussolini – Warbow maker. Prices from £100-£300.

There’s lots more very good bowyers, though many of them don’t have websites like Neil Harrington and Chris Boyton, but with a little searching you can usually find out how to contact them (if you need a website guys – just get in touch, we’d be happy to oblige!). PS: Chris Boyton now has his website up and running – http://boytonarchery.com/.

You could also have a look at the The Craft Guild of Traditional Bowyers and Fletchers who have a good list of makers, many of whom have huge experience but may be in danger of being left behind in this internet age.

There’s hundreds of arrow suppliers out there, but only a few of them really understand what is required from a wooden longbow arrow, and even fewer who can build a decent warbow arrow.

We run a Medieval Archery Events company and as we get through a hell of a lot of the things we have our own Wooden Arrow Suppliers, so we’ve got a bit of experience with what to look for. Later we’ll be including a bit of info from others with even more experience than ourselves. We’ll also be putting together a list of suppliers of finished arrows and arrow making materials.

First off – you probably want to look at shafts – now we’re traditionalists, so there’ll be no carbon or aluminium shafts here – we’re talking woodies:

  • Port Orford Cedar (POC)

It’s not traditional, but it’s solid. Medium weight – 29″ shaft average is around 345 grains . The Americans have sworn by this stuff for years and the majority of the POC available these days is from Oregon. There’s rumours of good quality supplies running low, but these may only be rumours.

  • Sitka Spruce

Mainly scandinavian and again not tradition for English longbows, but we use a heck of a lot of these. They seem to take more abuse than the POC before breaking and they’re very simple to straighten (can be done by hand in the field very easily). Medium weight, though slightly lighter than POC on average – 29″ shaft average is around 321 grains. Some of the bigger UK shaft suppliers are moving toward these and away from POC.

  • Boyton Pine

Chris Boyton is a well known bowyer and longbow archer himself, so he knows what to look for in an arrow. Many longbowyers swear by his shafts. Quality is always good, rarely needing to discard a shaft for flaws. Pine tends to be slightly heavier than POC or Spruce, the stats suggest around 369 grains for a 29″ shaft. These are extremely tough and are often recommended for heavier longbows (45lbs plus). As far as tradition goes, we think these do go back as far as the Victorian target archery revival (not Chris Boyton’s own, but similar woods!).

  • Birch

One of the traditional woods (as found aboard the Mary Rose) and as such is favoured by the re-enactment brigade. Due to it’s strength and weight it is also a great warbow shaft. Spine ratings tend to be pretty high (with even 5/16″ often spining above 45lbs and 3/8 being fine often for 100lb+ bows). Birch is anecdotally better than ash in damp conditions and less likely to warp/bend. Weight for a 29″ arrow – around 497gr for comparison.

  • Ash

Another one of the traditional woods and again pretty solid and heavy (29″ – 481gr average comparison weight but most ash arrows will be heavier due to being thicker). Spine ratings tend to be high again but unlike the birch you can get them pretty simply in spine matched sets from around 60lbs at 23/64″. With shafts available up to 1/2″ they’re popular with the warbow fraternity.

  • Poplar

Chris Boyton makes poplar shafts which are spine matched, so there’s been an uptake of this traditional wood. Solid and reliable and a little lighter (in theory 29″ would be 337gr, but you’ll probably be using them in thicker sizes) than ash and birch. Ideal for flight and clout due to the weight, but not so great for the re-enactment guys who need more weight to make the specs for either the BLBS or EWBS arrows.

There’s a load of other arrow woods which could be used – but these are pretty much the main ones which are available. Some people will happily shoot dowel from DIY suppliers (and you can get pretty much anything if you look hard enough) but without some serious testing we wouldn’t recommend it.

However, we’re always looking for interesting woods to use (we’re currently playing with some imported spine matched Bamboo – we’ll let you know how that goes) so if you know of anything, or of a good supplier – let us know

Longbows on Ebay

We’ve been there and done that – we’ve bought good longbows and bad off Ebay, so we think we have a bit of experience and we’re more than happy to share it with you!

Looking through Ebay you’ll find a whole host of things described as Longbows, with many of them simply being recurves (or even compound bows?!?) which the seller has no clue about and has titled wrongly, so the first thing we’d suggest is that you read around the subject for a while before even considering putting a bid in.

Once you have an idea of what you’re after – look out for a couple of key things:

  • Draw Weight – this is the amount of pull you’ll need to use to draw the string back. Usually measured in pounds (lbs) it is sometimes annotated as “#” – for example 45# @ 28″ – which translates as 45 pounds at 28″. Many people will buy a bow which is too heavy for them to pull, often leading to muscle problems and injuries and sometimes to the point where they cannot even pull the bow – don’t waste your money – check what you can comfortably pull before buying. The average male can pull around 30lbs reasonably comfortably, but most longbows tend to be in the 35-50lb range – don’t risk overbowing yourself – find out what you can handle before buying.
  • Draw Length – this is the distance between the bow hand and the string hand at full draw. The vast majority of Longbows are made for the average draw length of 28″. However – DO NOT presume you are “average”! Longbows are made out of wood and are under tension at all times – when drawing a longbow you are performing a controlled version of what you’d do if you wanted to break a stick, so if you pull a bow further than the draw length stated by the maker you are likely to break it. We’ve seen a few bows dramatically deconstruct themselves and it’s neither pretty nor safe. Buying a bow with the wrong draw length is the simplest way of turning your prized buy into firewood!

Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll need to decide whether you want to buy new or used.

We always recommend that you buy a new bow, but if you really want to buy a second hand longbow on ebay – read on.

    Buying Second-hand Longbows on Ebay:

Longbows are organic items, they deform and mould themselves to the draw of the person who uses them most often. Because of this – most longbow shooters will never let anyone else shoot their bow. Buying a used bow means that you will wind up with a bow which has formed itself to someone else’s style. Though this may not be a huge problem in some cases (a good bow will change over time to suit your draw style), a change in draw style could lead a bow to break.

Though longbows can often be “ambidextrous” as they’re shot over the hand, a left hander will deform the bow in a very different way to a right hander. Also, makers will often use the natural deformities in a “stave” (raw lump of wood from which longbows are made) to suit them to either a right or left hander. If you do buy a used bow – try to make sure the bow has been used by someone who shoots off the same hand as yourself. (If you’re a real beginner – watch out! A right handed bow is one which is held in the left hand – right handed people will draw the string with their right hand – getting this mixed up is a classic mistake!)

If you’re determined that you’ve found a real bargain used bow then be very careful to check all the photos for any problems – the classic one is that the bow has started to “follow the string”, which means that once unstrung and no longer under tension, the bow stays bent. String follow on a good longbow should be no more than around 3″ over it’s whole length. Ensure that there is a picture of the bow unstrung so you can check how much “set” or “follow” it has taken over it’s lifetime.

When you get your bow, be very careful to check for cracks on the inside (belly) of the bow, and lifting laminates or growth rings on the back (flatter side) of the bow. If you have any doubts about the condition of the bow – get it checked by someone who knows their stuff.

    Buying new longbows on Ebay:

There’s a lot of people out there who love the idea of making longbows for a living, and they all seem to advertise their bows on Ebay at some point or another, most of them sinking without trace pretty rapidly. However, there are a good few professional bowyers who will put bows on ebay for a variety of reasons.

Try to find out why they’re selling on Ebay, rather than direct to customers. It may be that they are simply keeping themselves busy making bows when customer orders are low, or that they are testing out new woods or designs, or it may be that Ebay is their favoured marketting tool. Sometimes customers aren’t as good as they should be and once a bowyer has made a bow for a customer order, it hasn’t been paid for, or the customer has decided (for whatever reason) that they’re  not happy with it – these bows can often be a bargain, but be prepared to ask questions – any self-respecting professional bowyer will be more than happy to talk about their trade and give their reasons.

For more information on buying new bows on Ebay, Pete Davidson bowyer of Traditional English Longbows has written an excellent article here: Buying an English Longbow on Ebay.

As with any Ebay buy, often it is research which will prove the key. Look at feedback not only for the positive scores, but for what they got them for – we once bought a pretty terrible longbow from what seemed like an excellent seller (100% positive feedback). If we had only looked a little closer we would have spotted that all of the feedback was for bookshelves he made!

Here’s a couple of professional longbow makers who are on Ebay – they may not have bows on when you click through, but it may be worth checking back every now and again:

  • Kunst-Griff – These guys are actually German (blasphemy we know, but they do make nice bows, including Longbows, Holmegaard bows and some very interesting historical reproductions). You may need to translate a couple of them, but it’s worthwhile. Not cheap if you’re looking at Buy It Now prices, but they occasionally have auction bows, which can be very good buys – we’ve got a couple of excellent flatbows we use often from these guys. (normal website – www.kunst-griff.info)
  • Irondale – Under the Ebay name Poseidonswake, Chris Mussolini often sells overstock through Ebay, and regularly has staves listed for DIY bowyers. (normal website – www.irondale-longbows.com)
  • Traditional English Longbows – this is Pete Davidson’s Ebay page where he sells experimental bows. We’ve not had a chance to shoot with any of them yet, but we’ve heard good reports. (normal website – www.tradlongbows.co.uk)
  • Heritage Longbows – Lee Ankers uses Ebay to advertise his custom bows – you buy one then tell him what you want once you’ve won. We’ve not had a chance to shoot any of Lee’s bows yet either, but we’ve spoken to him about them and he’s more than happy for customers to go visit his workshop and test the merchandise.

info@thearchersparadox.co.uk

Irondale Longbows

We’ve got quite a bit of experience with Irondale Longbows, as we use them day in day out with our medeival events, in rain and shine (and occasionally snow) with a huge variety of customers – some less gentle than others!

Chris’ bows are simple, effective and honest – he doesn’t mess around with fancy nocks, braided grips or inlays unless you request them, and he specialises in making simple and inexpensive longbows and warbows.

From self-ash longbows with or without horn nocks, through to double and triple laminate bows from a variety of woods including Ipe (greenheart), Ash and Bamboo.

Specialising in full-compass bows, Chris has been making bows full-time for several years and has built bows for us from 20lb @ 30inches, through to 75lb @ 32″ and we’ve seen some real monsters he’s made (150lb warbows don’t phase him at all, but they phase us and our muscles!). We’ve also seen some really very nicely built and finished flight bows by him, which have turned us green with envy. He’s also honest enough to tell you if something isn’t right – we requested a couple of Holmegaard bows from him which he made, but felt weren’t up to standard, so he refused to sell them to us!

If you’re looking for a real bargain, it may be worth having a look at his ebay profile – Poseidon’s Wake.

We’ve found that our Irondale longbows have served us well, and we’re very happy to recommend them to anyone.