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35428Re: [SCA-Archery] Composite v self bows

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  • Arion the Wanderer
    Apr 23, 2014
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      The weather element is a good point and an important factor certainly. A wet composite bow can turn into a pool noodle. Wet bow strings also suck on any historical bow.

      The Scythians had composite bows and kept them in covered cases against rain. Large parts of China, Korea and Japan are damp/humid. They all had/have composite bows. A good bit of why they used composite bows was likely cultural heritage. I suspect they they kept the bows in warm dry places when not in use. The Turks had special warming boxes for composite bows.


      From: "John Rossignol" <giguette@...>
      To: SCA-Archery@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 3:44:14 PM
      Subject: Re: [SCA-Archery] Composite v self bows


      All true.  But climate was another important factor:  dry regions made composite bows practical, because their glue stayed dry; humid regions generally made them unreliable or even worthless.  Most areas of Northern and Western Europe have maritime or humid continental climates, which means rain during the warmer months (the campaigning season), and usually rain or snow during the colder months.  The "composite bow" regions are mostly desert, semi-desert, or monsoonal (markedly wet/dry, with campaigning done during the dry season).

      The superior qualities of composite bows require (generally) three materials with different flexion properties to be firmly bound together with flexible glue:  i.e. the glue used must be able to flex as the bow is drawn and released, but at the same time not allow the surfaces of the different materials to slide against one another.  Various glues were available in SCA Period to do this, but they all suffered from the flaw of softening when they got damp.  A composite bow with softened glue will not only not shoot worth a d**n, but trying to use it in that condition will soon make it come apart.

      Period bowyers and archers tried to keep composite bows dry with various combinations of varnish, wax, waterproof limb covers, bow sacks and cases, etc., but (although I can't provide citations off the top of my head) moisture seems to have remained an occasional and/or seasonal problem in all but the driest climates.  I can remember reading detailed instructions about ways for the archer to protect the bow from moisture, and for drying the glue if it became softened.  Drying might take several days.

      A self bow, on the other hand, is not very susceptible to moisture, or even full immersion.  And while under ideal conditions a composite bow is more mechanically efficient for flinging arrows than even a classic D-shaped "longbow", those "ideal conditions" may be sorely lacking when one is fighting in, say, northern France following several days of rain.  A "pretty good" bow that works when you need it is far better than a "really superior" bow which is unfortunately out of action.

      It is also true, however, that medieval Europeans made glued composite crossbow prods before good steel became cheap enough for that.  I don't know how they kept the glue on those from softening.


      On 4/23/2014 1:36 PM, Arion the Wanderer wrote:
      <<The composite recurve has been around almost forever.  Egypt had them, the chinese had them even the Romans had them.
      It is generally in Western & northern Europe that the self-bow is used.

      Self bows go back to the Neolithic.
      <<Was it because the self "long"bow was so easy and cheap to build that no one went to the effort of making composite bows?>>
      Probably not

      <<Is it because those nations that made composite bows had no decent wood for self-bows?>>
      Lack of wood and construction of composite bows does correlate  in some places. It may have been the initial driving factor. However, Composite bows and common in China and other places where lack of good  wood isn't a factor.
      <<Is there any real advantage for the one over the other than it's freakishly difficult to use a Longbow from a running horse?>>

      Long bows are indeed difficult to shoot from a horse. However, not all composite bows are short. Some of the Chinese bows are as long as longbows.

      There really isn't a simple answer to your question. Bows were developed to meet specific needs of specific cultures. Lack of wood probably played into the initial development of composite bows. Once the advantages of these bows was realized, they expanded to fill bow needs for certain cultures. Time to make the bow is also a factor. A longbow can be knocked out of seasoned wood in a couple of hours by a good bowyer.  A composite bows takes a year to make.

      Archos Arion the Wanderer

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