Making a hickory bow

I finished the bow I've been making for Jess. It's a full pyramid flat shagbark hickory stickbow. It's got a near center-cut shelf and a non-flexing handle. I tillered it out to a 30" draw, since Jess' max draw is 29". Note that there are a lot of other ways to make bows a lot of other types of bows, in particular most commonly when you see a "traditional bow" (one without wheels and stuff on it) you will see a laminiated fiberglass backed recurve bow. These bows get their energy from fiberglass rather than wood. They are easier to maintain, often a touch easier to shoot, etc. On the other hand, I made this bow using a matchette, a couple files, and a pocket knife.

I used a combination of different sources. I read the "backyard bowyer", and watched youtube videos on making osage bows, and in the end my primary source was a website http://www.murraygaskins.com/durable.html . That website is specifically for hickory.

Before I launch off into building the bow, a note about hickory. Hickory is well known to be a very easy bow wood. It's flexible and generally won't snap, even if you build a crappy bow. The downside is that it has a lot of "string follow". It's so bendy that over time it just bends and stops snapping back. The reason people love osage bows so much is that it's not impossible to make a bow that doesn't break, and if you can it keeps it's snap really well so you can keep using the bow forever. BUT it's way harder than hickory. Hickory is weird, you can violate the grain all over the place, and it won't generally fail. With something like osage if you cut into the outer grain, your bow will usually snap in half.

All of this is to say that for hickory you can use a board, even without backing the bow. Where most other woods you NEED a stave. I used a stave, but based on my reading you can get away without it.

Okay... on to the bowmaking!

I ordered a stave off ebay and picked it up general delivery in mountain view. The stave cost $30, and I payed a decent amount in shipping. A stave is a split chunk of wood, meaning the grain should be mostly unbroken. This is good since it makes for a stronger bow (one less likely to snap).

I drew out my rough pattern. Note that I kept the outer ring of the wood. It depends on the wood which ring you want to keep but you generally want the entire "back" of the bow (The side away from the shooter) to be a single growth ring. With hickory it matters less, but beset is for ring to be the outside of the tree.

I highly recommend looking at other bows before you do this. Take measurements of a bow you like, add a margin for error (1/8" maybe to each line, or 1/4" to each measurement). I roughed out my bow far too roughly. If you get it close you can do this entire process pretty quickly, if you don't it takes a LOONG time. Turns out it's easier to take wood off with a machette than with a file. My problem was I didn't know what I wanted the bow to look like ahead of time. So rather than having a picture when I started I built one in my head as I saw it take shape, this meant I had to do most of the shaping with a file.

Okay, next I roughed out my pattern with a hatchet and machette. The hatchet was just to help with the splitting, my kukri machette was far more useful overall.

Then, I started filing. I did this with a shinto saw rasp as recommended to me by a bowyer. Another common choice is a draw knife. If you have a non-straight-grained wood a slightly dull draw-knife seems better, since it follows the grain naturally, then a shinto rasp for finishing work.

And filing

I should note somewhere probably that it came with urathane sealant on the outside of the stave. I sanded enough to take this off, but tried to avoid taking off much wood, I wanted to keep that outer tree-ring as in-tact as possible.

I chose to make the cutout (not that common on a stick bow), and realized the shinto rasp didn't really do concave shapes well, after some fiddling I did most of the sharp concave shaping around the handle with a pocket knife, a little bit of it was done with a flat and a round rat-tail bastard file and the shinto rasp.

You file until it was starts to bend. Once it starts to bend you watch the bend carefully occasionally as you file, to make sure it doesn't hinge anywhere and that the limb doesn't twist, you want it to bend nice and evenly with the most bend in the middle of the limb and the least towards the tip and handle. Once it's bending a decent amount, you want to make sure both sides bend the same amount. You use a long string at first and put it on a "tillering stick" this is just something to hold it in a partly drawn position at a specific draw length while you look at it. As it gets more bendable you draw it farther and farther. Bend it several times before each time you increase. This "warms up" the bow and everyone claims reduces the probability of it snapping on you.

Once you get it to the draw you want at the poundage you want (don't overdraw it!), then you test fire it a lot. Start by shortdrawing it. Because this bow is hickory I wasn't AS careful as you'd want to be with other woods. I shot 40 arrows at half-draw, 40 at 3/4 draw, 60 at my full draw (26"), And then 40 at 30" draw (1 inch over Jess' draw). For a total of 180 arrows.

I didn't take any pictures of how I made the string. I couldn't get ahold of material for a string, but I had an old commercial one I didn't like 'cause it had too many strands. So I took it apart and rebuilt it. The string I built is 8 strand. I reused the same serving again as well, the trick with serving is finishing. When you get near the end, take a loop, take the rest as wrap it the same direction, but inside the loop. When you are almost at the end, run the tip backwards behind the loop. Now use the loop to continue wrapping as you were before, and simultaniously unwrap what you just did. When you're done you'll have a loop at the end, and a piece of string running under the turns you did with the loop. Pull the end of that string hard and everything is tight!

Once I was happy with it I sanded it and decided to coat it with linseed oil. I did 20 coats, and that seems pretty good. Urathane would be good too, but I wanted to make it easy for jess to modify and urathane is messy to take off. I guessed at the poundage, so she may need to sand it a bit to drop the poundage down.

I seem not to have taken any final pictures of the handle. I have just a little heartwood left on the handle and the end of each fadeout adding a really nice accent. The linseed oil brought out a pretty strong yellow in the wood which I really like. So, it came out pretty as well :). Sorry, I also lack any full-draw pictures. I can't take pictures of myself very easily (I need a timed camera app on my phone). I promise you that it's tillered pretty evenly and bends nicely across the whole limb, it could use a little more bend towards the handle, but I didn't want to drop the poundage further.

Another question you'd probably be curious about is how long it took. Roughing it out took about half a day, I think it'd be faster overall if you took a day to rough it out. Sealing and sanding it took a day and a half to 2 days. The rest is filing and shaping. I probably I put in 4 solid days of sanding at least. So probably this took about 1 week of solid work minimum, maybe another day or two. I think I could do it again in closer to 4 days. Sealing isn't continuous either, and I had to take a lot of breaks in the sanding due to sore hands and such arms.
(Image below is from before it was sanded and sealed)

Anyway, it's a bow, and it shoots! It's surprisingly sweet shooting with no handshock. It's 62" which is "too short" for a 29" draw from what I've read, especially since I have long fadeouts and the handle doesn't flex on this bow, so it'll probably get bad string-follow very quickly and lose it's "snap". I've been testing it at about a 5 1/2" brace height (distance from handle to string). At that height it bites my left wrist hard on a fairly minor mistake in my release. The string isn't quite lined up with the handle, it's slightly left. This makes the window near center-shot which is cool 'cause it'll handle misspined arrows better, but it also means it's easy to hurt your arm. The bow feels like it's about maybe 55 lbs at 29" right now which if it's true was close to my target, just a touch high. It also feels like it shoots at the speed of my 45 lb recurve. If that's true, it's doing well... but that's entirely unscientific, just my "feel". I couldn't get a hold of a spring scale anywhere in Ukiah. Jess needs a 45 lb, so maybe I'm wrong and guessing higher than it is, maybe it'll lose more as the limbs get more bent and follow the string, or maybe she'll have to sand it down a little. Any of the above would be just fine with me :).

A few more photos: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/smalladventures/sets/72157632523099653/"


Homelessness and paperwork

I don't have pictures right now due to difficulties uploading, so I figure it's a good time for the most boring post of all! One thing that's been interesting leaving my apartment is all the various paperwork and laws relating to being homeless.

Beware, below is boring banal bullshit about funny legal stuff. If you're not curious about the weird details of being semi-homeless don't bother reading :).

The paperwork I just resolved recently is car registration and license. It turns out that you can register your car and have a license, without having a California address. They want to know what county you'll be spending time in, but that's it. So, it turns out that one was super easy. You just tell them you're home is wherever your home is and they're happy. Cool!

More interesting has been health insurance, something I haven't finished dealing with. I'm using my parents in Massachusetts as my address. MA has special health insurance law (the thing called Romneycare during the last election). Because this set of laws include socialized support for people with super low incomes, it also requires proving you live in MA. This seems pretty reasonable to me, but it means that that when I checked the standards I don't qualify. That's also fine, since I don't live there right now that seems pretty fair.

Okay, so how about CA insurance, since I'm living in CA? Well, due to the special MA law it's somewhere between hard and impossible to get non-MA insurance with an MA address... Interesting!

Alright, next I started looking at address services. This gets pretty interesting. To use an address service you have to have an address to redirect from. This relates to the law that says it's illegal to open someone else's mail. As a result to use an address service you need to tell them where it *would* have gone had it not gone to you, and sign some forms, to prove to the U.S. Postal service that no really, it's okay for them to open your mail. This sounds at first like a problem.

BUT, they apparently accept an address like "make, model, license-number" for things like mobile homes and boats. So there's the workaround to using one of these services. I still haven't gone through the rigmarole of getting this set up, but it's certainly possible, and probably what I'll do eventually.

Unfortunately, the above problems (combined with some odd email issue I don't quite understand), cost me a class that I really wanted to take :(. Oh well, I'm stuck in town tomorrow so maybe I can get get some of this done then.

Oh, for those who don't know. Unless there are specific rules to the contrary in some area you can camp in national forest for 14 consecutive days in "dispersed camping". Dispersed camping is where you're just camping in random unofficial locations. On the first night that your gear is there you must be too, and your gear being present counts as camping there. This is mostly what I've been doing, though mostly I've failed to stay in a single place for even *close* to that long. One thing I've been finding though is that a surprising number of offroad parks don't change the normal dispersed camping laws, this is great since they are (for example) all over Oregon, and often just a little ways away from various cool national forests... woot!

Another interesting issue. In relation to urban car living, most towns in California have laws about sleeping in your car. This is due in large part to the dust bowl and all of the migrants that stormed over California at that time. Basically every municipality passed it's own NIMB (Not In My Backyard) laws trying to force the new homeless to other towns. At the same time, in most places they don't care if you don't look "weird" and you make yourself easy to ignore. The weirder you are and the less the cops can typecast you and your vehicle the more likely they are to get nervous and check it out "just to be sure". Once they do that they'll have to tell you to move on, even if they didn't actually care. As an example, a large black SUV parked near a freeway sets off their "what the heck?" detectors (as Jess and I found out with a rental). Whereas an old beatup pickup, or even better a white ford-ranger with a metal cap and a magnet on the side that looks like it's a utility company, is not likely to raise any eyebrows.

Towards being more subtle I just completed a full set of curtains for the truck. My cap's windows are slightly blacked out, so black curtains aren't even visible, you just see nothing. The curtains are just appropriately shaped pieces of cloth with velcro on them. The inside of my cap is carpeted (I have no idea why), so the velcro sticks there and holds the curtain in place. During the night I use the age-old mountaineering technique of peeing in a gatorade bottles (I've no idea what they peed in before gatorade :P). This also reduces the number of times getting into and out of the vehicle, the time when you look the weirdest.

In most places no-one *really* cares that I'm sleeping in the back in the first place as long as I park near train-tracks or similar. The best method for this is to look for other campers and RVs and park near them. The locals will already know where no-one cares. The curtains just help make me easier to ignore.

For all the above IANAL bla bla bla :D. I'm just explaining my understanding. If I'm wrong please do let me know in the comments or something since I'm quite curious, but obviously I'm not giving legal advice. If you have any other interesting issues, questions, or solutions! Please do post below!



What have I been eating since I've been on the road?

Well, a lot of things. When I'm in an Urban environment I'm largely stuck eating purchased food of one form or another. Cooking makes me look pretty odd and looking odd is what you most want to avoid when living out of your car. You don't want to be noticed.

But, when in the woods I can eat all sorts of delicious things. My last post talked about wild foods, but here's some of the more normal foods I've been eating. I should note that below is what I eat when I have time and materials. When doing SAR work for instance I eat WAY more boring of food (stuff I qualify as "backpacking food).

This is a spam chili. I just took some canned beans, onion, garlic, tomatoes, and a few spices and threw them in a pot. It came it pretty good.

It's mostly broccoli and yellow squash in a soup. I think I made this using some rice and lintels I'd started that morning in the thermos

Here's an old classic of Jess' with a slight twist. I had a lot of olives and some artichoke hearts left over from my previous life to use up (I'm trying to get my food to take up less of my space). I also had some refried beans, some instant rice, salt, and cumin, so I made up some delicious burritos.

This is brussel sprouts some root vegetable and mullein tea. A light dinner one evening. I'd found the mullein while on a hike that day.

Here's a classic simple meal. This is Spam spaghetti. I'll use all sorts of things for protein in spaghetti, jess likes lintels a lot... it happened this time Spam was what I had. I don't actually eat spam all of the time, I Just happen to have more photos of those meals it seems :P.

Another stir fry. I find that I buy a lot of broccoli because it's one of the few vegetables commonly sold that seems like it'll really have the flavours I want when I'm standing in the store. Basically, I keep craving it. I suspect my desire for broccoli will drop as I get better at gathering. I spent a good chunk of time in the Sierra in an area where there weren't many edible greens because it was too early in the season - now the good greens are out in force so I can hopefully start replacing more of the purchased veggies with gathered.

What I tend to make usually follows approximately these lines. I like soups and stir fries a lot. I'm currently in Washington with a friend and on our way up we stopped for the night and among other things had broccoli, peaches, kale, and some other vegetable I forget now. I used better than bullion (a huge staple for me in spicing food) and vinegar, the peaches lent a little sweetness. At the last second I threw in some soy sauce 'cause it just wasn't tasting right, that did it and it came out pretty rich and tasty.


Surprisingly busy: wild edibles

Sorry it's been so long since a post. It turns out that there's no cell signal around highway 108 and 120 in the Sierra where I've been hanging out.

I've been tanning, building a bow, learning to flyfish, eating various edible plants, and volunteering with Search and Rescue. I've now scheduled quite a bit of my summer out to do things like get a hunting license and get some more rescue certifications. Lots of things probably deserve their own posts, and the projects I've been working on mostly aren't complete.

As an interesting topic, lets talk about some wild edibles.
This is basically a sopaipilla. I dug up a cattail plant. I took the root and the root comes into two sections. One section is hard and will cook up like a potatoe, this I just ate straight after boiling a bit. The other section will cook into a gooy mess when boiled.


The part that's gooy I scraped to try and leave most of the fibers behind. Then I took my mass of what is essentially just straight carbs, and rolled it in a little conventional flour to dry it out. I added a tiny bit of sugar, then I fried it in olive oil. Delicious! Cattail sopaipilla

This cattail happened to be in the early stages of flowering. So I also ate the flower head.


You eat it a lot like corn on the cob. I think I caught it just a little late, so it was a little fibrous, but definitely edible.

Another one I tried to pull up didn't come up with the root, since I'd already damaged the plant I took it apart. It hadn't shot up it's flower stalk yet. In these cases a couple feet of the partially grown flower stalk at the center of the plant near it's base is super delicious and sweet, so I stripped off leaves 'til I got to that tasty part and ate it raw.

Another interesting thing to eat is thistle. I've not had much success in the past, but I was out on a run and I saw an unusually large thistle, and it just seemed worth trying. I cut down the thistle and stripped off the thorns with my knife and this was the result.


As it turns out it's like a giant stalk of extra flavourful celery. Quite tasty though tastes like a lot of it is water. I would definitely do this again.

Note that whenever gathering wild edibles I always check carefully to make sure the plant is plentiful, or that my disturbance will help and not hinder it's growth. Depending on the plant I often like to find one of the larger clumps of it and pick from there. If the plant is the sort where such will help sometimes I'll prune it a bit at the same time, taking off dead leaves in a wet environment for example is usually helpful (in a dry environment you may be removing the plant's sun protection).

This is kindof a spiritual thing, but I also like to ask the plant, and I always always thank the plant.