COUNTRY PURSUITS

Steve Ralphs, Bowyer, Norfolk

For me the best part of the working week is when I walk into my garden and fire an arrow from one of my longbows that is nearing completion. A really good specimen will land an arrow in the clump of trees 45 yards away.

If the bow is made from yew this will be a rather fraught experience. We bowyers refer to failures - we never have breaks. It is often said that yew will fail at the first firing or last a lifetime.

From a dull piece of wood a good bowyer can produce a relatively good bow. But it is possible to produce a bad bow from an excellent piece of wood. The skill of the bowyer is to find the best timber and then produce the best possible bow from it. If it was a case of finding yew all the time I think I'd be a nervous wreck by now. A good English yew bow will take me over a week to make, and the timber it is made from will have had to be seasoned for at least five years. Even then there is more chance that it will fail at the first attempt than with a cheaper, laminated bow.

I prefer to use wood from the bole - the trunk - because that is the best way of producing staves of the right length and with the correct sap/heartwood proportions to ensure the bow is both strong and springy. If the bole is not clean of branches the timber is likely to contain pin holes, knots, sap rot, heart shake, cracks and splits. A piece of English yew that looks promising on the outside ends up as a pile of rubbish once I have cut into it and cleft some of the timber.

When I hear that a local yew tree is to be felled I rush out to see it. My mouth waters if it is dead straight like a telegraph pole, but I know from bitter experience that basically all English yew is a lottery. The best yew comes from the USA and Canada, where it grows at a higher altitude, which seems to make all the difference to quality.

I prefer to use a laminated bow, as they are more reliable. My laminated bows are made from a mixture of South American boxwood and hickory, for large archery specialists in this country, Germany, Holland and Sweden, as well as for the film industry.

Most days I can be found in my workshop at home. I try to vary the day as I find it hard to perform one function all day. However on Fridays I like to saw the basic staves of the next week's batch and to do most of the gluing of the two parts that make up the basic bow.

The least pleasant task is making the horn nocks - the traditional hook arrangement at the ends of the bow to which the string is attached. Grinding up animal horn, which I buy in from abattoirs, is a nasty, smelly business.

Finishing is also rather laborious - I use a great deal of steel wool and fine abrasive paper before either French polishing or varnishing. The result is hopefully a commendable piece of craftsmanship.

If I were to go for the highest performance bow I could find I would choose an Olympic standard carbon fibre model designed by computer and made in the USA or Japan. But using a bow like that is shooting, not archery.

Steve Ralphs was talking to Clive Fewins

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test