INTERVIEW: Russell Barton bowyer behind the Mirkwood Bow Replica
Russell Barton loves making Bows. Recently Russell expanded that love of making bows, along side his love of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and began crafting the Mirkwood Bow through StickStone.com, replicating the design and shape of the bow Legolas carried in the first portion of the Fellowship of the Ring. Fans across the globe have ordered and are enjoying this beautifuly crafted piece, and now Russell was kind enough to take the time to talk with us a bit about just what goes into making the Mirkwood Bow.
Flinch: Tell us a bit about StickStone.com.
Russell: Well… Sticks & Stones is the result of my love for archery, and the making of primitive and traditional archery tackle. I started making bows about 7 years ago out of a desire to shoot a primitive style, and first focused on Native American replicas. My first goal was to make something that worked! Later, after becoming more accomplished at it, I began focusing on why the Native Americans had such diverse styles of bows and arrows, and what made them the best suited for the region. After making many historically accurate, and museum quality replicas of Native American Bows, I decided to go a little deeper into other regions of the world, and do some experimenting with design and performance. I have found many of the things that work, as well as the things that don’t, and as a result I try to offer my customers the best bow I can make regardless of the style or demmands that will be put on it.
F: How did it come about that you began crafting and selling replica’s of Legolas’ Mirkwood Bow?
Russell: At first… I really didn’t want to even mess around with it… I was already busy with making other hunting and Native American designs, plus selling bow making supplies to others that were in the same field of interest. After a good deal of pestering, and because of my own interests in Tolien’s works, I finally agreed to make a few for some of the folks that wanted a “working” replica of the bow. The response to what they had in their hands was positive enough, that I guess they started posting my name on several of the LOTR related message boards around the world… Then the bomb dropped so to speak, and I have been scrambling ever since to keep the orders flowing.
F: You make bows that are built to fire an arrow, not just for display, have you considered a display line or will you continue to craft fully functional bows for your customers?
Russell: The neat thing about it is… I know how to make a functional bow, and it takes probably just as long to make a “wall hanger” as it does to make a fully functional bow. Besides, a Mirkwood replica that works is what people want, and that is what makes me different from a company that punches out merchandise by the thousands in third world countries where they are accustomed to exploiting cheap labor.
No… I don’t think I will ever want to compromise my trade and my reputation with something less than my best.
F: Have you found it difficult to craft the Mirkwood Bow, knowing the expectations of Legolas fans who have a vision in their head of what this bow should be?
Russell: Yes… to say the least. I make these bow to the customers specific draw weight and draw length, and I have gone through several designs and experimentations on making a functional, safe, and good performing bow, while still trying to keep it as accurate as possible to the “look” of the original in the movie.
I will possibly still work on some modifications to the bow, but as for now, I have made them to function the best that they possibly can, considering that they are of a cross section that is not really suppose to work well.
I have not gone to the full lengths of making the gold work completely identical for a couple of reasons… the first is that I don’t want to infringe too much on trademark rights. If I were to do this, the cost of licensing and back end royalties would be astronomical, and thus… the cost of the bow would be out of reach for most that want it. The second reason is that I am an individual and an artist… so, the interpretations are as unique as the Tolkien novels themselves.
F: How have those who now own the Mirkwood Bow reacted to it’s detail compared to the real thing?
Russell: I do recieve a few emails that have demmands without understanding the function… By this I mean things like “could you make the tips more curved?” or, “The gold work is not “exactly” the same…” But for the most part, if someone places an order, and then recieves the bow, they seem to forget all about the fact that it is not exactly the same in art work. Usually they respond with comments like… “WOW! I love it! This thing is much better than I even imagined…. and it shoots so fast too! ” and, “Your artwork is so beautiful… I bet it really takes a lot of time to do all of that by hand…”
Yes, it does take time… Thus, an explaination of the cost.
F: What materials have you utilized in production on the Mirkwood Bow? Anything that wouldn’t normally be used in bow making?
Russell: The Mirlwood bow is made of hickory, and backed with bamboo…
Both are common to bow making for thousands of years… so the combination is relevant to the historical fantasy of “Middle Earth”.
The reason for hickory and bamboo is that it is best suited for the “almost round” design of the Mirkwood bow, and will make a durable bow that takes the extreme demmands of stress on that particular design.
The Ranger bow is made of laminated baboo and bamboo backing… a process that has also been around for thousands of years, especially in the Orient. The benefits to this is a light weight bow that is easy to shoot and handle, which I am sure would be of great benefit to a warrior that had to move quickly and tirelessly through a long hard battle.
F: What is the process behind crafting the details and shape of the Mirkwood Bow?
Russell: Well first… the wood has to be selected, which can be an obstacle in itself. A good piece of wood that is suitable for making a bow is not always readily avalable, and when you do find a decent source, you still have to sort through it making tedious selctions of the appropriate grain structure so that when the bow is finished, it will last and function well without the danger of exploding on you at full draw.
The next steps are appropriate combinations of steam bending, glue forming and reflexing of the bow, and application of the bamboo backing, which protects the back from too much stress, and adds speed and performance to the bow.
After the glues have cured… it is taken out of the forms where it has been held to exacting shape by clamps until the glues have cured, and is shaped by hand rasps, scrapers, and files to get the general shape.
The next step is the tillering… By tillering, I mean the process of making the bow bend evenly. The funny thing about wood is that it really does not want to bend, so you have to take it to the point of almost breaking, and in studying the shape of the bows limbs, you can see where the stress may be too much in one area, and you relieve it.
It is truly an eye and hand coordination that shapes a bow to the place where it is reliable for the shooter.
Then on to the final sanding, smoothing, and finishing of the bow… after the bow is smooth enough for a finsh, the color is applied and allowed curing time. Then the artwork, and finally the finish that protects it all.
F: How does your Mirkwood Bow measure up as a fully functioning primitive bow?
Russell: That’s the amazing part…. Usually there is some kind of sacrifice that is made in creating a replica of sorts. But, the Mirkwood bow seems to perform with the best expectations of a primitive or traditional all wood bow. Just as an example… the average that most bowyers expect from their hand made bows is 100 + draw weight… By this I mean that the average all wood bow should shoot a total of feet per second that is equal to 100 + the draw weight of the bow. To figure this out for example… a 45 pound bow +100 as a denominator, should produce a bow that shoots 145 feet per second with a moderately heavy hunting or war arrow. In my own chronograph testing of a 45 pound Mirkwood bow, it produced 167 feet per second with a moderately heavy arrow…. So, I guess it is really above average for the expectations of an all wood bow.
F: How have the fans reacted to the opportunity to own such a delicate and elegant piece of Middle-earth?
Russell: Very excited to say the least! Yes, I do get some letters that are of a critical nature, but not from those that have actually accquired one of the Mirkwood bows…. For the most part though, the LOTR fans are very appreciative of the fact that there is actually someone that is making a functioning replica that won’t just serve the purpose of taking up wall space. Plus… I get to see many new and wonderful young people take a great interest in primitive archery by way of their interest in LOTR that otherwise would probably never have the opportunity to be introduced to archery at it’s best!
F: Have you put any thought into developing the Galadhrim bow given to Legolas in Loth Lorien?
Russell: Yes… I have had so many requests for this bow that I can no longer ignore the plea… I really had no desire to get into such an intricate design at first, but I feel that if it can be done, I can certainly accomplish it. It may not be for some time though, as I will be holding to the same standards of not releasing anything but the best bow I can produce, and make it safe and durable. As, I said before to many others… I not only want a bow to bend and look good, I want it to be the exception in performance! I am currently working on the design in physical theory… then it will be several experiments with form and function before I actually get to the beautiful designs that it displays. I am sure that this will be a challenge in itself, because this bow design by all rights should not work! When it is ready… the Lothlorien bow will be available at: www.armsofvalor.com who also at this time have the exclusive for the Mirkwood and Ranger bows as well. I have in the past taken orders personally as well, but due to the time constraints of handling orders, I have made the decision that it would allow me more time to get orders accomplished more quickly if there was someone that could handle the ordering and inquiries about the bow.
F: Does StickStone.com intend to produce other Lord of the Rings replica bows?
Russelll: Yes… but for now, the popularity seems to be with what the main characters have used. It is hard to justify a bow that the “now dead” villians used wouldn’t you say? If his bow was so great… and he was very proficient at using it, he probably would not be dead eh? One bow design that I think would be very nice to do in time would be that of the wood Elves, which was also portrayed by the warrior Elves at the battle of Helm’s Deep. This will depend on the feedback I recieve from the fans…
F: What has been the most rewarding element in producing the Mirkwood Bow?
Russell: I would say that it has to be the reactions of the fans who have ordered the bow… The response to opening the box when they receive it, and shooting it for the first time… I know that this has to be an exciting experience, to feel and be a part of what they admire so much about the story. Also…. I would say that it is very fulfilling to me to have people all around the world that are enjoying my works of art! My hopes are that one day there could be a big LOTR fair, where all of the Mirkwood bow owners can get together and have a blast doing some re-enactments! Only problem is…. everyone will want to be Legolas! 🙂
F: LOL! I’m sure our readers are rushing to their check books to own such a pivotal piece of Legolas’ arsenal. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Russell, good luck with your future designs at StickStone.com
Posted in Old Special Reports on January 11, 2003 by Flinch
Russell: Thank you!