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This last type I must confess to not having seen or heard of other than in R. P. Elmer's book in which he says: "I once saw and handled a powerful little steel bow about two feet long, in a collection of Indian relics. It was a double-barred bow, perhaps of quarter-inch steel rod turned on itself like a hairpin and bent in a circular loop in the middle of each limb." I have attempted to reconstruct this bow in my drawings, but have not drawn the handle which I feel it should have.

Not all steel bows are as short as this, those that I have been able to measure vary from 40 to 49 inches. The weight-in-hand varies too; some specimens are well under a pound in weight, while my own bow weighs 2 lb. 14 oz., the heaviest bow I have yet come across.

Dr. Elmer tested a bow of type three, pulling an estimated 60 lb. With different weights of arrow, the range varied from 96 to 137 yards. Mr. F. H. Lake of our Society has a bow of type three, which is slightly larger than the one used by Elmer; it has a draw-weight of 45 lb. and averages 150 yards. My own bow, from which the temper has gone, shoots no more than 30 feet; so that it is obvious that, while the armourers could temper steel, the power of the bow was a matter of hand, eye and "feel".

Indian steel bows of type three from the F. Lake collection

Their range was not great, and they probably never exceeded 200 yards at best. In their new state they no doubt fulfilled the requirements of combat archery, inasmuch as they would have penetrated light armour fixtures between 40 and 60 yards.

Sometimes one sees them with thin strips of steel rivetted to the back and belly of one or both limbs in an attempt to boost or bolster the bow's performance. With constant use and age they would need such an addition, and perhaps the armourers re-tempered them periodically.

4 Indian Steel Bows

Click for a larger image and a description.

The cross-section is ovoid and thin, possibly no more than 8 in. at its thickest part and often much thinner. Occasionally a rectangular limb is seen, and I was able to handle a bow of trapezoidal cross-section, which I would imagine to be rare. I do not think the limbs were shaped this way to give a better performance so much as to afford a better vehicle for decoration, the bevelled surfaces being covered in gold.

A feature sometimes seen on the back of the limbs are grooves or fullers. There are usually between two and four of them and they run from just below the nock to the grip. It has been suggested that they were put there to strengthen the bow. Could they also have stopped limbtwisting ?

Decoration was frequently of the highest order, gold and silver being used to damascene the entire bow. Sometimes only the edges of the bow-limbs were lacquered or engraved. Two bows in the Tsarkoe-Selo Collection in Russia had limbs inscribed with Hindustani verse, one of which read: "When Bahadur Shah applies an arrow to this bow on the field of battle, the firmament as a bow puts in its mouth the finger of astonishment with the arrow of the Milky Way". My own bow has Koft gari (silver inlay) work on the ears and grip, and steel bows in the Sandringham Collection are described as having a blued finish with a floral design damascened in gold. At the other end of the scale, bows are found that are devoid of decoration, from which we may assume that this bow was common to all ranks.

The strings used were the same as for the composite bow, thick and double-looped. Two unusual points about them, however, are the cross-gartering of contrasting coloured thread over the whole of the string, and the serving of some of the string loops with fine copper wire.

The Ganjetic plain area in northern India seems a likely place for their manufacture. It was here that resilient sword steel was commonly made. But the temper of the bows varied as did the quality of the sword steel, as has been mentioned in a previous paragraph.

In conclusion I would like to mention a bow that is similar in appearance to the steel bows and is derived from them. It is a hybrid: the grip and ears are of steel, while the limbs are of horn. It is northern Indian and is 38 in. long. It is problematical how durable this type of bow would be, but the bowyer has contrived to reduce stress at the rivetted points by encasing the horn in the cupped metal.

One point I have been unable to determine at the time of writing is whether or not the various shapes of this bow represent different schools of bowyery. If this were so, then there is still much to be written about this weapon.


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