Turkish Archery Equipments

Turkish Archery Equipments: Bows

Turke bowes two hadde he.
That oon of hem was of a tree
That bereth a fruyt of savour wikke;
Ful croked was that foule stikke,
And knotty here and there also,
And blak as bery, or any slo.
That other bowe was of a plante
Without wem, I dar war ante*

(*The Romaunt of the Rose, Fragment A, 923-930)

Lorris and Chaucer wish to describe a very strong bow. The Turkish bow was certainly very powerful, but it was not made of wood; instead, it was a reflexed bow, skillfully fashioned of layers of horn, wood, and sinew. The result was a very far-shooting weapon, even surpassing the famed English longbow which Chaucer probably had in mind, although no bowyer would choose a stave "full croked... and knotty here and there also."


The Composite Bow

The composite bow, as used by the Islamic horse-archers, represents one of the most efficient forms of this weapon ever devised and its construction is worthy of detailed consideration. The most important source of information is Mustafa Kani, Telhis-i Resail er-Rumat, Istanbul, A.D. 1847, with Joachim Hein's dissertation on this work in Der Islam, xiv (1925), pp. 289-360, on which P. E. Klopsteg based his translation and commentary in Turkish Archery and the Composite Bow, which appeared as a private edition in 1934 with a revision and reprint in 1947. This work is mainly concerned with the flight bow of the Ottoman Turks, which is a specialised form of this weapon devised for sporting purposes. Flight shooting was a favorite pastime among most archers in the Middle East, and its sole object is to achieve maximum distance without regard to accuracy. The techniques involved require special skill, and exponents of this art among the Turks, where it reached its highest perfection, could send their light and delicate little arrows over 600 yards. However, neither the bows nor the arrows used with them were suitable for war, though this method of shooting has an obvious application in the long-range barrage against a massed target up to a limiting range of about 400 yards.

Valuable contributions have also been made by Henry Balfour and Commander H. S. Hamlin, Jr. Their published works give a very complete picture of the internal structure of the Eastern bows. During recent years painstaking and careful dissection of a number of Oriental composite bows have been made by Edward McEwen to determine the exact details of their construction, followed by the making of replicas, using the original materials, to prove the accuracy of his observations. Discussions with him have added considerably to our knowledge of the finer points in the art of the craftsmen who made these weapons.

With reference to fig. 1 the construction of a typical bow was as follows. The craftsman started with a wood core, the main requirement of which was that it should absorb glue well. Varieties of maple, cornus, mulberry and similar types are among the better woods for this purpose, and dissected bows often show different woods were used for different sections of the core. This is usually in five sections, two siyahs, two dustars and the grip. The siyahs provide the relatively thick and un- bending ends to the bow, whose purpose will be discussed below, while the dustars are thin and flexible, as all the bending when the bow is drawn takes place in this section.

The parts were then glued together with fishtail splices about 32 inches in length. In this way the actual handle, or grip, of the bow is about 5 inches long, but about 12 inches with its splices at either end. The form of the wood core determines the final shape of the bow and the curve of the siyah in relation to the dustar. In the case of Persian and Turkish bows-using this latter adjective in its wider sense-the siyab is smoothly curved over its length through about 60o, while the Indo-Persian ones have a more sharply curved knee near the base of the siyah where it joins the dustar giving a curve in the siyah through about 90g or, in the case of the so-called 'crab' bow from India of as much as 120o (see Plate III). To achieve this amount of curve the siyah is made in two parts spliced together as otherwise weakness would result due to there being no continuous run in the grain of the wood. Craftsmen appear to have preferred splicing to increasing the curve of the wood by heat or of going to the trouble to find a natural growth of approximately the right shape.

The siyah at this stage was made longer than the final form, as shown in the top left-hand drawing, to allow a temporary nock to be cut on the 'wrong' side and, as will be explained, this was used to control the shape of the bow during manufacture. The siyah, though carved from a single piece of wood, is in two sections. There is the end which is usually oval or triangular in section and is 2 to 3 inches in length and then the ridged part which in section is like a triangle with two concave sides that extend to the point of the splice (see fig. 2).

In designing any good bow there are two important features that must be avoided. One is that there must be no bend in the grip when the bow is drawn. If there is, the bow kicks in the hand when it is shot, it is unpleasant to use and it is almost certain to be inaccurate. The second is related to the pull on the string, which the archer calls the weight of the bow. This, naturally, increases as the string is drawn further and further back, but if the weight increases rapidly towards the end of the draw it will again result in inaccurate shooting as a fractional variation in draw length will have a more marked effect on the range attained by the arrow than if the weight increases slowly at the end. In this way a rapid build-up in the weight at the end of the draw magnifies any error made by the archer, while a slow build-up tends to eliminate it (see fig. 3).

With the Oriental composite bow the design of the handle eliminates bending in the centre when the bow is drawn and the rigid siyahs, acting as levers during the latter half of the draw, effectively reduce the rate of increase of the weight at this stage. These factors will be con- sidered in further detail below.

The next stage in the construction of the bow was to attach two strips of horn to the belly, which is the side facing the archer as he shoots. That of long-horned cattle was most commonly used and the strips taper from the grip to the end of the splice where the siyah is fitted to the dustar. At the centre of the limb they vary in thickness from about 1/8th to 1/4 inch. Both the inside of the horn and the wood core of the dustar, which is not usually flat, but slightly curved from side to side, were scored along their length to increase the surface area exposed to the glue and thus give better adhesion. The horn was lightly bound to the core to avoid exuding too much of the glue and then left for, perhaps, two months to allow the glue to set. At this stage the bow was a flat 'U' in shape and it was held in this form by a cord tied between the tips of the two siyahs. The curve of the bow was reflex, that is to say the opposite way to which it would be bent for stringing, and the cord that controlled the amount of bend was firmly seated in the temporary nocks cut in the 'wrong' side of the tips.

With existing Persian bows the horn on each limb is not a single piece but a number of strips glued together and held in position with a binding of fine sinew 1). This practice seems to have been peculiar to the Persians and arose from the design of the limbs which were usually much wider than those of any of the other Middle Eastern bows. Because of this feature a single piece of horn could not be obtained that was flat enough and wide enough to fit the belly. It is of interest to note that a similar width is favoured in modern bow design as this helps to avoid any lateral twisting in the limb as the bow is drawn.

This glueing process took place in the winter, when the cooler and more humid conditions slowed the setting .rate of the glue 2). A slow setting rate gives superior adhesion.

When the glue had set, the next stage was to apply sinew to the back of the bow, which is the side away from the archer as he shoots. Leg tendon of cattle or deer answers well. Payne-Gallwey 3) and F. E. Brown') both speak of neck sinew being used, but from practical trials this has proved useless. First, it will not beat out into fine fibres and secondly it is too elastic to provide the desired tension when the bow is drawn. It is sometimes found, cut into thin strips, as additional packing in the region of the siyah, but this would appear to be its only real use in the construction of the bow. After the leg sinew has been cleaned and dried it can be beaten out into fine fibres, and it is in this form that it is impregnated with glue and fastened to the back of the bow.

Glue-soaked sinew cannot be effectively applied in cold weather as it is then difficult to handle and the result will be a poor bow. It is by far the most important component in the composite bow, and even if inferior wood and horn are used such defects in materials can, to a large extent, be eliminated by the correct application of sinew. This process was normally carried out on a warm spring day and the sinew could be laid on in one, two or even three layers. Two layers were used in making the flight bows of the Ottoman Turks and in this case the reflex in the bow was slightly increased when the first layer was applied. It is not known if the same practice was followed by craftsmen from other regions. When the final layer was applied the bow was reflexed into a complete oval and a cord was led around the temporary nocks cut into the extended siyahs and down to the grip to hold it in this position until the glue had set (see fig. 1, bottom left-hand drawing). The object of this method of construction was to get the maximum tension into the sinew when the bow was later strung and drawn, as high efficiency can only be achieved if the various components are adequately stressed when the bow is shot.

However carefully the two horn strips are butted against each other when applied to the wood core, a gap almost invariably appears between them when the bow is fully reflexed. If this gap is not plugged unfair shearing strains will be thrown on to the bond between the wood core and the horn when the bow is shot, the slight reflex in the handle and the rigidity of the grip will be lost. This is the reason for the ibranjaq (Turkish: chelik) found at the centre of the grip and fitted between the two horn strips. All existing bows that have been examined have this fitting made from bone or ivory, though in earlier days a suitable hardwood seems to have been employed 1). Elmer suggested that it was a form of shock absorber 2), but he lacked practical experience in their construction.

When the glue had set after about another two months or so, the bow had to be adjusted so that both limbs curved equally and correctly when it was drawn. The excess was cut off the siyahs and the nocks for the bowstring cut into the back. With Turkish and Persian bows a saw cut was made 2 to 3 inches in length and a slim wedge of horn inserted to reinforce and strengthen the tips of the bow. This feature is absent in bows from India and no mention of it has been found in any of the Arabic manuscripts that have been examined, though this does not preclude the fitting as none of the works go into the finer details of construction. On the side of each nock toward the grip, after the tips of the siyahs had been fully shaped, a sinew binding was applied to avoid any risk of the wood splitting under the impact of the bowstring when the bow was shot. Where the horn insert was used it also held this firmly in place.

To string a fully reflexed bow is not an easy task. After removing any surplus or exuded glue as well as any obvious irregularities with a file, the bow would have been thoroughly warmed to make it more supple. The craftsman, probably with an assistant, would then have carefully flexed both limbs together until a string could be slipped into the nocks. The shape of the two limbs could then be studied and, after removing the string, any section of the limb not curving enough would be filed away until the right shape was achieved. This process, known as tillering, calls for much care and patience if a first class weapon is to be produced. Having achieved the right shape when the bow was strung, the bow then needed to be partly drawn and studied again to see that the two limbs were still correctly balanced and, if they were not, the file once more had to be applied. This process continued until the bow could be brought to full draw with both limbs achieving as perfect a curve as lay within the skill of the maker to produce. If the two limbs do not recoil exactly together when a bow is shot, inaccuracy is the only result and good shooting characteristics can only be achieved by the slow and careful process described.

Finally, the sinew was covered with thin diagonal strips of bark or thin leather and varnished to make it waterproof. The reason for the diagonal strips of bark is that this material has virtually no stretch. If they were placed along the length of the limb they would break as soon as the bow was drawn. The horn might also be covered as is invariably the case with existing Persian and Indian bows. Mamluk, Ottoman flight, Mongolian and Sino-Tatar bows, among others, left the horn exposed. The covering was then decorated and many of the designs that can still be seen show a high standard of skill and artistry. Sir John Chardin, writing of his third visit to Persia, from which he returned in 1677, says: "The Persian Bows are the most valued of all the East: The Matter whereof they are made is Wood and Horn laid over one another, and covered with Sinews, and over that the skin of a tree very sleek and smooth; they paint them afterwards, and Varnish them so admirably well, that one may see one's self in those Bows, and the colour of them is as bright as possible".




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