How is Understanding Passed on?
Quite often I receive inquiries by phone, e-mail or letter, from people wanting to know where to learn
about building horn composite bows. Usually the person is asking material and how-to guides that are
available. What is there to read? Or sometimes, Are there any videos? Where did you learn? What are
the sources you used? I always find this a hard question to answer.
For sure, discussion of horn composite bows is found in a lot of places, and a number of works include
detailed descriptions of the materials used, the composition, the assembling, and so on. There are a
couple of videos out that document the entire process in considerable detail.
But, speaking for myself, I didn't learn from one single work, or from a collection of writings that I can
easily identify and list. When I began building horn composites, I read--and read a lot (and I still do).
Much of what I read, however, wasn't necessarily in the form of articles on how to build bows. Rather, I
read epic poetry, memoirs of Moghul emperors, Hindu stories, travelers' accounts--all kinds of things. In
the most unusual places, maybe just one line in an entire text, something was said that gave me a little
more insight into what these bows were all about. Maybe something about how a horn bow was cared
for that offered a clue about its materials. It is in those places, the most unexpected ones, that I picked up
a great deal of my understanding about horn bows, which is why I sometimes have a hard time
responding quickly and easily to the question about what to read.
In the years since I started building horn bows, I even got my hands on a couple of bows. One of them
which was damaged enough to let me take it apart without feeling too guilty. At the same time, I looked
at paintings, Persian and Rajput miniatures, and range of other pictures--portraits of Moghul emperors,
Hindu kings, you name it, even comic book illustrations out of India. These paintings and drawings--and
not all of them are necessarily accurate--reveal much about the shape of horn composites, the limb form,
the angle of the siyahs, and all sorts of other information I might have passed over had I not already
begun to build a base of understanding. A lot of experimentation and working with different designs also
helped, as it allowed me to see what happens if this is changed, if that is modified.
The effect is a cumulative process of learning, laying some foundation somewhere and then continually
building upon that. The learning will never be finished.
Bamboo composite bows
What is not seen. The core of these bows are multiple strips of vertical hard woods and bamboo.
A standard bow consists of 2 hardwood side strips and 3 bamboo strips sandwiched between bamboo faces.
This unique style of laminating has been done for hundreds of years in Japan. The immediate advantage results in a very light but very powerful bow.
Any draw weight is possible. The length of a bow can vary depending on your draw length, but are no shorter than 66" and no longer than 74".
Bows are custom made for draw length and purpose (whether for hunting or target-shooting or for long distance shooting). If the bow is for HUNTING or for LONG DISTANCE shooting , the cores are of different combinations of woods and bamboo.
The Bamboo used for these bow are the classic varieties used in Japan and grown by me in the United States. Cut, dried and cured following age old techniques and traditions, followed by special tempering processes come into play to make a one-of-a kind bow.
The finish of these bow is the following:
Translucent coats of Urushi (Japanese lacquer) is the standard finish on all the bamboo bows.
What is urushi ?
Urushi comes from the sap that is collected from the lacquar tree which is native to China, Japan, Korea and some other Asian counties. The vicous milky sap is collected during the summer month by making cuts into the tree, much like we collect Maple sap, only the urushi season is longer. This sap provides the raw urushi which has been used for thousands of years, from simple coating of household objects to elaborated artwork, lacquerware and on weaponry such as bows and arrows. That’s where my bows come into the picture.
The technique of how to apply the urushi and how to get different results is a lifetime study by itself and anyone in China or Japan will readily attest to that. However the end results can be very satisfying. The beauty of urushi is that once it is properly applied and cured it creates a complete seal and is inpenetrable to humidity, yet it can breathe.
That’s the reason I first started experimenting with urushi on the horn composite bows in the mid-1990s. Because they are made using sinew, it has always been a question of how to protect them from humidity. When sinew is affected by humidity the performance of the bow will change and that can destabilize the bow. That’s why usushi is an ideal substance to use because of its sealant and stablizing properties. Much lacquarware has been recoverd from old shipwrecks off the ocean floor and literally the lacquer is still as good as new new once it is cleaned. In fact the wood or other material can be complete disintegrated due to a minor hole in the lacquer, but the lacquer itself will be still be in good condition.
However, raw urushi is a difficult substance to work with and many people are allergic to the raw substance. For some people, the reactions can be very severe. Once the usushi is cured, it is safe and anyone, even the most senstive people can use the finished product without any concern. Perhaps this is why the use of urushi is almost an unknown technique in the West.
||I use urushi on my bows in 2 different ways. The first is by applying several coats of urushi directly onto the skinned bamboo. This application gives a beautiful aged look to the bamboo while protecting it from moisture and the effect of other elements. The other method is much more elaborated. Here the whole bow has to be wrapped with a fine absorbent silk or cotton thread, and then the urushi is applied. Many applications are necessary in order to get that smooth skin-like result. Between each of these coats I have to sand with water stone and cold water. A coat like this will take up to 60 hours or more to accomplish.
The result will be a bow that looks like it has a natural skin. This type of finish is found on old Samurai bows. One can imagine the environment they had to go through--rain or shine–and that in the very high humidity of Japan. This finish will last for many generations.
Bhutanese arrows: A finished arrow is available from Bhutan. These arrows are of good quality bamboo shafts; they come with a self nock and are 4 fletched. They are ideal for long distance shooting. The tiny feathers are attached with natural hide-glue. The nocks are reinforced with colourful silk thread.
Japanese bamboo shafts: This is a superior quality shaft They are 31 inches long and matched for weight. The shaft is very durable. They are available with horn or bone or bamboo self nock. Bronze target tip or bone and horn tip are also available.
For hunting an aluminum insert is glued in and any commercial 2-blade or 3- blade broad head can be glued on. Historical military arrow heads are sometimes available.
Yas: These are arrows for Kyudo students. They are made from Japanese bamboo. Fletchings come in turkey or goose or peacock feathers. The arrows are finished with silk bindings and horn nock.
Yadake, a high quality bamboo for arrows, is grown
domestically by me in Georgia, U.S. Slowly my
harvest is increasing and soon I will have an ample
supply for every sort of archer.
Right now I have arrow shafts for regular archers and
also extra long bamboo shafts for Kyudo
practitioners. Likewise I have shafting for horseback
archers, for Yabusame and Kasagake students.
Yas for Yabusame and Kasagake
High quality arrows finished with Urushi are available either with a standard practise point or with a forged militairy style armour-piercing point. The shafts are either self-nocked or fitted with a bone or a horn nock. All nocks and feathers are wrapped with silk. (If you have any preverence for colour, please specify).
Also where possible repairs on your bamboo arrows can be done.
THE JAPANESE BOW or YUMI
I am a maker of the Japanese bows . My bows appeared in Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai, filmed in 2003.
Yumis can be made for the serious Kyudo practitioner or the student of other forms of Japanese archery.
I also make bows for collecters of Historic Arms and Armour.
These are composite bows made from horn and wood and sinew. They bows take time to make. They
always did and always will, as there is no subsitute for a time-honored and well-crafted bow.
My standard style horn bow is the double-curve type the was found in India during the Moghul period.
However I make many other styles of horn bows including Chinese, Mongolian, Turkish, and others. In
my view, however, the Korean and the Moghul style horn bows are some of the best thought-out bows
people have come up with. These are highly sophisticated pieces of work.
Horn bow production takes from 1 to 3 years. Sometimes I have some horn bows in stock. Each year I
set up a round of 6 bows, so I always have some in production.
All information proved in this website is © 2005 YUMI
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