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A bowyer is someone who makes bows. Bows are used for hunting and for archery. The development of gunpowder and muskets slowly led to the replacement of bows as weapons of war which decreased the importance of bowyers.
Historically, a huge variety of bows have been produced for food gathering, warfare, and recreation. Who created these bows depended mainly on the type of bow being produced, but also on the quantity required. The skills required tend to divide traditional bowyers into two groups:
Makers of self bows
In clans or social groups that used wooden self bows (bows made entirely from one piece of wood) bows would sometimes be crafted by the individual user; however, even with fairly simple bow designs it was often easier to rely upon a few skilled bowyers within the group. By working in groups more could be accomplished. In medieval England, for example, professional bowyers produced thousands of bows required for that country’s military. These bowyers could reportedly make an English longbow in as little as two hours. Wooden selfbows normally take from 5–15 hours of work depending on the skill of the bowyer and the challenges set by the piece of wood. Modern amateurs find it satisfying to make functional self bows with beginner's skills and few tools.
Makers of composite bows
Cultures that used composite bows (bows made of several materials, classically horn, wood, and sinew) had to rely on skilled craftsmen. Composite bows could be made relatively short, heavily recurved, and highly effective but the constituent materials had to be put under enormous stress and the bow’s limbs needed to be perfectly aligned. These demands required experienced bowyers who were willing to spend a great deal of time crafting their weapons. Cultures such as the Mongols made effective military use of powerful composite bows for millennia; the limited records indicate that only a minority of men in these cultures ever made bows.
Bowyers in the United States
In the United States, many bowyers were inspired by Ishi, the last member of the Yahi, who lived most of his life outside modern culture. Ishi first contacted US citizens in 1911. His friend Saxton Pope learned some of his skills and spread them to bowyers including Howard Hill, Ben Pearson and Fred Bear. Following the publication of The Traditional Bowyer's Bibles in the 1990s, there has been a resurgence of traditional bow making in the United States and other English-speaking countries.
Sources and recommended reading
- (1992) The Traditional Bowyer's Bible Volume 1. The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-58574-085-3
- (1992) The Traditional Bowyer's Bible Volume 2. The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-58574-086-1
- (1994) The Traditional Bowyer's Bible Volume 3. The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-58574-087-X
- (2008) The Traditional Bowyer's Bible Volume 4. The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-59921-453-9