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Thread: Alaska Native Bow Building Techniques

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2008

    Default Alaska Native Bow Building Techniques


    I am trying to gather any information on Traditional Alaska Native Bow Building techniques, materials, or processes.

    There are many great books and informational sites on bow building but my focus is on the techniques utilized by Alaska's Indigenous Peoples, especially the traditional techniques in building bows or other hunting weapons.

    I am Aleut from Southwestern Alaska.


  2. #2
    Member Rick P's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Palmer Alaska


    The Alaskan native bows I was able to find in my non professional studies were cable backed. A system of reinforcing sinew is used to provide strength and stability to sub standard bow woods. I suspect there were better designs in the interior and southwest of Alaska but most of the information I was able to find covered northern coastal natives.
    BHA Member
    Bowyer to the forces of light in the land of the midnight sun.
    The 3 fold way: Every step we take as we walk through life effects, our family, our comunity and ourselves. One should walk thoughtfuly.

  3. #3


    there is actually a great article series done a few years ago now by Jeff Collins. A school teacher who lives in North Pole on this very subject that was in Primitive archer Magazine. You can also look at some of the bow building books in 3 rivers mag, I believe their was something written up by Jimm Hamm? in the bowyers bible series. Been a while since I read it. Have a ton of books and mags though...just getting done moving in and getting my "collection" pulled out lol. I'll see if I can't find anymore on it for ya.

  4. #4


    I'm a sometimes-professional carver from the Southeast, and I briefly looked into traditional bows about a decade ago. Aside from examining specimines in museums for dimensions & such, I didn't learn much about their actual fabrication. There was no backing. Some bows had slight differences, and I think these may have been particular to family of origin. The arrows especially were personalized by family; legends based on battles sometimes mentioned how a soldier could tell which family shot him just by looking at the arrow. I even saw a thumper arrow with complicated shallow relief carving depicting an animal wrapped around the tip. I think some of this was meant to allow a person to return an arrow to its rightful owner if found, kind of like the way fishermen would personalize their buoys.

    Late period bows, say late nineteenth century, got more and more artistic to the point of being nonfunctional. Some were painted, some had shallow relief carving, some had abalone or opercula inlay. I saw one that was about 9 or 10' long with a pair of heads carved, one on each end, complete with inlaid hair. Bows became more symbolic as guns became more useful, much like wood armor.

    Supposedly, hunters would commonly hide a charm in the grip wrap. People believed in spirit helpers who would manifest themselves through animal crests, and these helpers would grant powers through their depictions.

    According to my mother, her dad mentioned legbows designed for war. The user would place the feet where the hand would normally go, and there were straps for the feet to keep the bow from jumping. The person would draw the bow with their whole body and aim while balancing on their butt, then fire a huge arrow at his target. I'm guessing they were made for sinking canoes from a distance.

    Grandfather also stopped making bows when his son "neglected to soak his bow for a day before using it". Apparently, natives would soak them in a container of water for 24 hours before taking them on a hunting trip. When his son didn't bother doing this, his bow broke, and grandfather didn't make a new one ever again.
    Tsimshian tribe, wolf clan, the house of Walsk.


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