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Δευτέρα, 18 Νοεμβρίου 2013

Custom barrel shaped made primitive arrow . A personal understanding




Article by Aristodemos Nikiteas, member of Association of Historical Studies "Koryvantes"



   “You ask what is a proper limit to a person’s wealth? First, having what is essential and second, having what is enough."
                                                                           Seneca, Letters to Lucilius,2




It has been my understanding for all my life as an academic that, knowledge is best understood when theory is followed by practice.  The question which one came first, theory or practice, is going to be left unanswered and actually in the end, it doesn’t really matter as long as one is complementing the other.
 
My motivation in making a primitive hunting/fighting arrow, is fuelled by the desire to understand the difficulties and the complexities that an arrow maker encountered thousands of years ago.  Under no circumstances do  I claim here that I have made something new or near perfect, if fact, there are some exceptional contemporary makers of primitive arrows that put my example to shame. My effort here is for my own education and that possibly some of my conclusions can be part of the general jigsaw of knowledge in achieving a good primitive arrow.

What is a primitive arrow? Definitely not something that was used only a few thousand years ago, because as we speak now there are hunters who hunt with bone arrowheads and hand made arrows with exceptional results.  So, for me it is an arrow that was first used before the age of metals, but is also effective today.
It is a desire of many traditional archers to try to move away as much as possible from mechanised and mass produced materials and use their hands and materials that can be harvested directly from the field. With this understanding I am pursuing  the making of “my” primitive arrow.

First of all, I had to use materials that are easily accessible  and for me there is a plentiful supply of ash locally. 
So, seven months ago I went out to the woods  to harvest wood for my second primitive bow and I cut some nearly straight branches from ash trees. I was told by a tree specialist that a wet winter will create softer wood and when I had cut the branches  they were very soft and flexible. At that time they felt like 30#  spine, but I was curious how the wood would naturally dry after some time. When they were still fresh, I removed the bark and used fire (modern gas burner I am afraid)  to straighten them as much as possible,  and you can see in the photographs the before and after straightening. (Photo 1 and 2)

  Photo 1 - Before

Photo 2 - After


After seven months the wood was harder and I had straightened it further and then the first problem was evident. Logically, the strongest part of the wood should be the part nearer the tree trunk and I decided that this should be the back of the arrow, but it was also the heaviest and the thickest – not ideal for a good FOC.

The front measured 9mm and the back 13mm. I started to reduce gradually the diameter of the shaft from the last 2/5s of the shaft until a 9 mm diameter was reached but I left the last 4 cm unchanged in order to construct a kind of bulbous type traditional nock.  The centre of the shaft measured between 10 mm and 10.5 mm in diameter. It wasn’t a perfect circle, but  I wanted the wood to follow it’s natural grain.

Now I had a good handmade  barrel shaped arrow with a good size traditional nock which I can use with the Mediterranean three finger release, and thumb and index release (pinch draw) which appear quite often on  classical Hellenic vases. (Photos 3 and 4 ).

Photo 3 - Barrel shaped shaft
   Photo 4 - Bulbous type of traditional nock.


To my pleasant surprise when I tested the spine the shaft came to 57#. Despite the fact that there is a lot of sap wood in the shaft the characteristics of the ash  make a shaft that successfully (in theory) can be shot with bows from 55#  to 70# because of the barrel tapered shape. The question then was what kind of bone arrow head I had to make. Large, small, heavy. light ?

My testing bow is a 60 #  with 6.5" brace height. The shaft at 57# is possibly too high for a 60# bow so I made the decision to make a heavy bone arrowhead in order to soften the shaft’s spine and perhaps be able to use it  with two other bows I have of 55# and 50# strength. The shaft was already around 500 grains weight.
So, I took the metatarsus bone of a large animal to draw and cut my arrowhead, and after  the hard work of sanding it down to the desired shape I had in my hand the basic shape of my arrowhead. (Photo 5). Very carefully I filed both sides at the centre of the arrowhead to create a hollow in order to lock it in successfully with the shaft. (Photo 6 ). The arrowhead’s weight came to 210 grains.And then I cut the arrowhead socket.(Photo 7). I made the decision to use 3 x 5”  natural turkey feathers and left them untrimmed (Photo 8).  

The use of 3 feathers and the benefits to the stability of the arrow is well known from  prehistoric days. Otzi the iceman had three feathers in his arrows and that was  in 3300 BCE and we can very reasonably assume that the practice goes back further. I personally think that in classical times the four feathered arrow was in common practice. It is well known that in order for an arrow to fly correctly it must have the appropriate feather area coverage according to the power of the bow and arrow weight . Many arrows in archaic and classical illustrations on vases and other ceramics appear with small round feathers. In order to improve stability they may used four feathers. Just a personal thought.  Four feathered arrows with barrel shaped shafts have been found in Germany dating to 300 - 400 CE. I attached the feathers on the shaft by using just hemp string. I needed the help of a second person here to hold the feathers in a straight line in order to tie them correctly. (Photo 9)
                            

 Photo 5 - Basic shape of bone arrowhead
  Photo 6
                               Photo 7

                               Photo 8


Before the fitting of the arrowhead I used a rubber tube with a metal attachment as an arrowhead to test the flight of the arrow. The attachment was around 200 + grains. This is something that I do when I am testing arrows and I want to make sure before I place the correct arrowhead on the shaft that the right weight of arrow point is being used. In this case I wanted to see if the arrow flies well in order to avoid damaging  the bone broadhead.



Well,… it was very good. Perhaps with 713 grains arrow weight, a 70# bow would have been more balanced, but there are many hunters who use heavy arrows for maximum kinetic power. Eight out of ten shots stay within a 30 cm circle from a 15m distance. The test was made with my 60# @ 28” Grozer Sythian bow, brace height 6.5”. For an arrow that is not perfectly straight but with a well balanced mass because of its uniform grain structure, I noticed that it recovered from the paradox movement within the first 5 m (at least visually)  and its rotation was very evident. It is a misconception that the feathers have to be angled for rotation of the arrow to be achieved. The natural feather  from the same wing,  will spin because it  has a rough side which produces lift and a smooth side over which air flows freely. 



After the test I fitted the arrowhead also with hemp string (Photo 10 and 11) and the arrow was complete.

                                Photo 9

                               Photo 10


I am sure that I haven’t said anything new to many of you,  but what I established is that if an arrow has to be made from  a tree branch  and not from sawn or split timber, it is evident to me that in order to balance the shape and the shaft’s weight, it has to be tapered which is necessary for creating a good FOC. I am sure that the  Neolithic man understood this through practice and experience.

 In the classical period and with the knowledge of maths and practical applications in physics, from the Babylonians to the  Hellenes,  Archimedes, Pythagoras, Euclid, Democritus etc. they would also have been  able to understand the theory in basic ballistics.The making of this arrow has re-enforced to me that the advantages  in the flight of tapered  arrows was known from the very early days of man and practised in most cultures through the ages in hunting and warfare.

Robert P. Elmer in his book “Target Archery” made the following statement. “I believe the parallel arrow shaft is a product of modern American technology. I don’t know of a race of men that lived by the bow that shot anything other than tapered shafts”.
What do you think?

I now make all my arrows tapered  and I have seen  many improvements in my practice and more importantly, it has allowed me to use the same arrows with a variety of bow strengths.
How about you?


Technical notes:

Materials used: Ash shaft, bone, hemp string, turkey feathers.
Total arrow length 32 ¾”
Length to the base of arrow point 30”
Arrow weight:  713 grains.
Bone arrowhead weight: 210 grains
FOC 10.6 %
Feathers from the nock 1”.
Feathers length: 3 x 5”.


  • Many thanks to all the experts for the knowledge they gave me in: “The Traditional Bowyer’s Bible” Volumes 1 to 4.
  • Robert P. Elmer.
  • The Worshipful Company of  Fletchers.

 Photo  11



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