Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Primitive skills – Self flat Bow, Arrows, Woven quiver, Glues, Fixings, Birch Tar, and Flint knapping

A rather monster post this one. I’ve had a busy last few weeks making an Ash flat bow, primitive arrows, and a woven quiver, alongside a little flint knapping and natural glue making.
It’s taken a few man hours both in the woods and at home, but the job is finally finished.
Wilderness Survival Skills are a bushcraft school based in Wiltshire (UK) and have recently ran a series of winter craft courses running in a logical order to make the above items, along with shave horses, and continuing in a few weeks time with Buckskin and Moccasin production. That’s a serious amount of crafting and I’ve been lucky enough to be along for the ride J

These types of primitive crafts take time and lots of it, so some my work was continued after courses at home, particularly as I was keen to practice some of the skills further before making the final objects. My first attempt at a flat bow also ended in a crack at the final tillering stage that can hopefully be repaired with a rawhide backing. So I felled another tree with axe and saw, and quickly made another in-between weekends.

Home in the woods. Canvas tarp, and a bivi bag

Splitting the felled Ash tree stem with wedges

The draw knife and shave horse do nearly all the work, after the Axe.

Tillering on a home made jig with scale to measure draw wieght

Oils curing

Next up was the quiver weaving.
Something fairly new to me was the proper woven willow basket. I’ve made a few baskets and containers before, but not with conventional willow and nice patterns. I really enjoyed the process even though it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever completed. Towards the last third of the basket, I was getting the hang of the different weaves, and remembering what to do and when. The strap is made from rush, and rush it I did at the start messing it up, but again with patience and a little more thought (and remembering to ask questions when stuck) I did the weave properly towards the end.


A bow is just a stick without the arrows, and unless I made some, that quivers going to end up stuffed with all sorts of things or worse, end up as a strange ornament! But before they are made the group prepared the glues, cordage, and tars needed to make them.

Making Birch Tar using Silver Birch bark rolled up tightly into an old festive chocolates tin. This was made using a fire built up around it to force the naturally occurring oils out of the bark, through the bottom of the tin and into a smaller container placed underneath.
This I used to coat and seal the surface of my arrow shafts, and can be used on the bow too. Enjoying the smell is also a bonus, as well as scaring the newly emerging and hungry flys to death.

Making the pine resin glue with beeswax and charcoal 

Pitch sticks ready for action

Then I spent some time removing usable flakes from larger flint cores, to then pressure flake some flint arrow heads. I made a few out of glass to practice beforehand, then attacked the flakes. I threw in one of the glass ones and a bone one (made from a roe deer shoulder eaten a few months ago) for good measure, to make up the seven needed.

Shafts were then nocked for the bow string, and heads fixed into place with the pine resin and artificial sinew. Sinew from deer leg tendons were also made and used during the courses.

Then onto fletching, using turkey feathers, more sinew and pine resin.

Then eventually the arrows were done!

This then completed the project. Hurrah!

This type of work seriously keeps you busy and focused, and an actual project like this gives you a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. (especially when the bow stays in one piece at full draw J)

If you ever fancy learning any of this, give Joe O Leary a shout via his website at: -
Hope you liked the post; feel free to ask questions by leaving a comment.