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Bow Artisan

Photographer: Jeon Heon-Kyun


Kwon Yeong-Hak still crafts his bows in the traditional way. With his bow-making expertise he is carrying on a four generation family business. The bow master is one of a few artisans who still produce the Gakgung. His manufacturing season begins in October and ends in May.


A frame for reshaping, hand saws, ropes and several other wooden tools are used to make the bows. Unlike most modern bows that are made from wood and fiberglass, the Gakgung is all natural. Making a bow step by step takes about one year as it depends on temperature and climate.


Kwon Yeong-Hak uses three types of wood: mulberry, oak and bamboo. He also needs the horn of a water buffalo, bladder of a croaker and spinal sinews of cattle. For the traditional Korean bow, the core of the bow consists of several layers of wood and horn that have been laminated with natural fish air bladder glue. In the final stage, the bow master grafts the bow with the thin inner bark of a white cherry.


The Gakgung is a small but powerful, highly reflexed bow that can shoot an arrow up to 500 meters with an effective range of 350 meters. The traditional Korean bow was once a basic weapon and standard equipment for hunting and archery and is part of the country’s military history.


Since the Korean government imposed a ban on importing water buffalo horns the future of this cultural tradition is at risk.


Being asked about the cost of a bow, master Kwon replies: ‘The value of intangible cultural assets cannot be measured by money’.