Ravenbeak Self Yew English Longbow 65# @ 29" by Jamie MacDonald
Reviewed by Steve
Home > Bow Reviews > Ravenbeak Self Yew English Longbow 65# @ 29" by Jamie MacDonald
Inevitably, like a siren call, the lure of the English Longbow is for me impossible to resist. Over the years I have probably owned over 100 Longbows and quite likely shot many times that number, in all those years I have owned just one self Yew bow. I would think that every single ELB archer will at some point have dreamed of owning the definitive article, a true single stave bow made from the fabled Yew. When I heard that an experienced, if ( as yet ) little known bowyer was crafting bows from just $650 Canadian - I had to have one . There is an old saying that "all that glitters is not gold" it must also be remembered that just sometimes that glittering is in fact Gold and at $650 I just struck the mother load. Archery nirvana is indeed a Yew Selfbow.
Generally there are several impediments to achieving this state of archery happiness. Firstly you need to find someone with the skill to work the wood, making a self bow is not that same as slapping several laminates of differing woods together and chipping, scraping and shaving away the bits you don't want to leave a bow that can be relatively simply tillered to the desired shape. A self bow stave has grown exactly as you find it, there will be perhaps small twists in the grain, pins, knots and whorls of wood and quite likely stronger and weaker areas, it is unlikely that the stave will be uniform all the way through, along and down.
Which brings us to the second issue, that skill and time required to make a real bow has to be paid for, in this case a bowyer prepared to spend the time and effort on a self bow is never going to see a fair return on his work and time.... it takes so long to firstly read the wood and then work it that if a fair rate were charged then few could afford one, given all that I can say for certain that Jamies' bows are incredible value at this price.
Finally you will need to find a stave of wood suitable for such a product. Many folks will tell you that all Yew is good yew regardless of where it is grown. To an extent that is true, Yew being amongst the hardest of the soft woods has an incredibly low modulus of elasticity, this means it is very flexible yet has incredible strength, it offers heart wood that is the very best wood under compression, Yew sap wood is the very best wood under tension - a natural spring. However there is Yew and there is Yew.... wood grown at low altitude and warmer temperatures grows quicker, so the growth rings are further apart, that grown at altitude where temperatures are generally colder will have a greater concentration of growth rings and therefore more " core" strength.
In a slight departure from my normal review/articles which will generally try to give a physical description and a real world shooting impression, for this bow and more especially for this wood I want to include something else... I didn't actually want to use this next descriptive word " Spiritual" as we are after all not dealing in ethereal concepts but in the actual physical properties of a bow... but.... who hasn't experienced the magical excitement as the arrow leaves the bow and flies by our hand to the spot we pre determined, perhaps in fact that is the momentary feeling that draws us in and to which we become addicted ( much more so that the simple number achieved after shooting a requisite number of arrows at a scoring target ) and perhaps that is why Longbow archers always seem to have more fun and joy in their archery. Now combine that with a tree wood that has always been revered where ever it grows - we have the magical properties of the wood and the intangible metaphysical associations of archery - I don't mean magical in the fruitloop kind of way either...
Our ancestors soon discovered that Yew trees live a very long time, often over 1000 years, in fact it has the ability to regrow a trunk inside its' often hollow trunk and some trees may be as much as 4000 years old, the wood itself is rot resistant. All parts of the tree ( bar the flesh of the seeds) is poisonous, so it is also known as "the Death Tree". The Celts held the Yew in high regard and their Druid priests used Yew for their wands in preference to other woods. In Canada the Yew is known as "the Chief of the forest" by native tribes. Yew was used by these tribes as a cancer medication - the constant use of fires in daily life meant cancers were common - recently the drug Taxol was created from the inner bark of the Yew tree and is used as a cancer treatment for lung cancer amongst others. Before I get carried away with regard to the Yew and its symbolism or its place in religion and in myth, I actually want to get back to the bow itself..... Its the combination of all of these things that make a Yew self bow special...
I am happy to inform you that all 3 of the major issues regarding owning a Yew self longbow have been addressed... I found the guy that has the skill... I found the guy that has access to superior quality high altitude Yew and I found the guy that has the willingness to invest himself in making self bows... incredibly all three are in fact the same guy... Jamie MacDonald who operates as Ravenbeak....
More importantly than all the above though, is that he possesses the passion... and its passion that is required to create individual stunning bows that are more than just the components and more than just the finished article - more than "just" a bow. Oh.... in case you missed it... He will make you a selfbow from $650 Canadian - at this point the smart archers will already be on the phone.............
This bow is 65# at 29". Its name is Brevi - Jamie names all his creations...Brevi measures 70" nock groove to nock groove and is the most beautiful bow I have ever seen. It certainly bears closer examination. The stave has one small inconsequential pin 3/4 the way up the top limb, this small blemish in fact highlights the rest of the bows pristine and pure nature, the grain is true and straight, the pale creamy sap wood offsets the honey coloured heartwood, being a self bow the back of the bow isn't flat and the contours slip left and right along its length with some small undulations - this is where the bowyers affinity with the wood is shown, the bow must bend evenly and smoothly and importantly in one plane... it must not twist but should stay even. This one has a draw like warm toffee - smooth, even, but with an undercurrent of power. There are no harsh spots in the draw, the power comes steadily and inevitably. At full draw the bow is straining and you can feel the willingness to speed an arrow on its way in the wood. I was expecting a little handshock, Yew is famed for its smooth shooting, what I actually experienced was the first ever ELB that has no shock - no ELB I have ever shot comes close - it really is like shooting a reflex/deflex hybrid - I have recurves that have more handshock.
Believe me its a hell of a thrill to be able to shoot a stickbow almost as well as your hi tech Carbon limbed superbow, as with all bows the trick to successful archery is in its consistency - the bowyer needs to know exactly how far he can push the performance and still maintain not just the bows integrity but its consistent return from full draw - with the right tapered arrow the bow sends them exactly where you look every time..... I have always maintained that learning archery with an ELB is akin to learning to drive in Rome... if you can, then you will be able to drive anywhere - some of the best archers I know learned to shoot on an ELB - that's because Longbows are hard to shoot well- at least every other bow I have come across required good form, a strong left arm to resist the shock and the determination to take the time to learn to shoot one - this bow is different, it's sublimely sweet to draw and shoots as a willing partner, it would be impossible not to feel that this is so much more than a tool to hurl arrows - wood bows to an extent always have a personality and this one is like working with a living creature.
I have a friend who only shoots recurve and only then the smoothest, he can't bear wood bows or flat bows and doesn't get why folk would shoot a bow that bucks in the hand... it took me a while to make him try this bow, in fact just before he did so another pal gave him his new ELB to shoot.. in truth is its a nice bow, quick with low levels of handshock... he took one arrow and with a face like he had just eaten a lemon handed it straight back saying " you can keep it" - he took hold of this bow and shot an arrow, the surprise on his face was wonderful and he deigned to shoot all 6 of his arrows...."so why is this bow so smooth to shoot?" - the answer of course is in the tiller, the shaping and the fine attention to how the wood behaves.... the answer is in the bowyers hands.
Jamie is a special kind of bowyer, he works only with Yew.... he works only with Self bows - take a peek at his website Ravenbeakand you will feel the passion oozing from the pages - don't assume that like quite a lot of bow builders he is just playing at this... Jamie eats, sleeps and drinks selfbows, he tells me he has a special relationship with the wood - normally I would smile indulgently.... but the truth is that he is a true artisan - only someone who really loved what he does could pay such attention ..... take a look at the photo of the handle area...I don't know if you will be able to see it but there is a swell in the wood on back of the bow it slightly falls away to the right so my finger tips rest perfectly on the bow - the effect is to create a bulge for a handle that not only feels perfect but my hand stays in contact with the wood... to put a wrap of leather on a bow like this would be sacrilege ! it's detail you see....
Before Jamie started making Yew bows some 8 years ago he was a wood carver so his connection with wood is long-standing and he brings his carving artistry to the task of creating performance bows- you will see on the website that he makes all kinds of selfbows, from paddlebows to recurve bows, from longbows to flatbows - each one an individual unique piece of art that performs at the highest level - Jamies' intense enthusiasm is so strong that it isn't enough to be making bows of the highest calibre - he has the generosity of spirit to want to share all that expertise and knowledge so he runs courses where you can build your own self bow under his professional tutelage. If you can make it then I suspect you will be in for an experience that a traditional archer would find unmissable.
The nocks are polished horn with a stringing groove both top and bottom - in fact the bow was supplied with a stringer... a stringer made as an extra long string - with string material...the horn was collected by Jamie himself from farms in Alberta.....again detail. The nocks are simple small and rounded - there are no carved albatrosses or unicorns, just a simple elegant solution that complements the wood. The supplied string was Dacron and I changed it to a Dynaflight string... however Jamie tells me all bows over 60# will be supplied with a fastflight or similar string.
The proportions of sapwood to heartwood are right.. so often I will see a bow with more than 50% sapwood... this bow was made to be a bow and perform as a bow- the fact it looks so stunning is again down to detail and care.
The finish is often where a bow will fall down... the finish here is exquisite its 9 coats of tung oil finish which I think is a polymerised tung oil containing linseed alkyd resin and tung oil alkyd resin - its as smooth and beautiful as a smile.
The arrow pass is made from powdered Lapis stone inlaid... detail.
As if all of the making isn't enough Jamie harvests all his own wood and seasons it at his home until its right... detail detail detail...
Where is the chrono info you ask... this bow is very fast.. it would be, as Yew makes a tremendously fast bow, but this bow can't and must not be judged purely on speed regardless of how fast it is- a wood bow, especially a self bow has to work in so many ways: cast, speed and performance, smoothness, shootabilty, consistency and yes..for a self bow aesthetics are important - the reason I am so excited is that this bow nails all of those criteria.
If you are like me then you will still want to know what sort of speed you might expect.. of course I couldn't resist putting it through the chrono...
As usual I shot 12 shots off fingers with a "normal" arrow - Pine and pretty heavy at 520grns with 3 x 5" helical fletches - top 2 and bottom 2 results discarded and the rest averaged.. the bow is weighed at 29" - my draw was 28" so I was holding just 62# rather than the 65# - You could shoot a lighter arrow of say 470 grains I expect without troubling the bow if you really wanted to up the speed... but a heavy arrow shoots superbly from this bow.
520gn 8.4gn/# 174 fps at 28"
One of the most fun things about ordering a custom wood selfbow is that I was able to be part of the whole process, albeit vicariously, I get to choose the stave and Jamie kept me regularly updated with progress, including photos, after explaining what I wanted from the bow Jamie was able to offer insights and advice as to how he would be able to achieve those aims for me... altogether a tremendous experience that ends with a bow I had dreamed about for a long time..If I have any advice to offer a prospective purchaser it is this... there may not be a waiting list right now but I GUARANTEE there will be soon as word of a bowyer that makes only self Yew bows spreads. Every archer deserves one very special bow, something unique and beautiful - and when you decide to purchase one you need to know that your bowyer cares as much as you do... Jamie is your man - keep an eye out for the next review of one of Jamies bows as we have a flatbow coming...
Features & Design
A bowyer will have already identified how the stave will work and look before work even starts - an exceptional bowyer will be able to actually talk to you first and then go find the stave to make your bow come to life - my bow exsisted only in my head until I found Jamie.
Fast...Smooth...Consistent...all the superlatives, add in beauty and we are talking dream bow
Value for Money
People pay fortunes for all manner of things recently my wife chose a new bathroom - as far as I was concerned the old bathroom was absolutely fine..for the price of the new bathroom I could have had several dozen Yew selfbows... any one of which would have been - in the grand scheme of things "cheap".. not only can I shoot this bow and shoot it well.. I can sit and touch it, I can look at it and marvel at its beaty... you can't put a price on that- mind you if I did have to put a price on it th
There are many bows... but a self Yew is something special, each will be unique. To own one is a very special feeling, it makes me happy even just to look at it - for me life is too short to not indulge myself with something special every now and then and I keep saying it but I can't see these being just £400 for long...