Ontario Wood Profile: Red Hill Woods
Posted: January 24, 2019
See more of Dave’s work at Redhillwoods.com.
“If I’m lucky, I can get 40 bows out of a single tree. I love to get such unbelievable mileage out of a natural resource,” says Dave Borsellino, describing one of the many things he loves about bow making.
Dave is firm in his belief that nature, and by extension wood, is part of who we are. That conviction is perhaps why Dave loves being connected to the earth, so much so that he says it actually hurts to be out of nature. The owner of Red Hill Woods, Dave grew up in Hamilton near a ravine where he says he spent every spare moment. Today, he still calls Hamilton home and can look over his back porch to a tract of the King’s Forest any time he needs inspiration.
Red Hill Woods’ creations include canoe paddles and small furniture items, but Dave’s strongest passion resides with bow making. From start to finish, bow making connects Dave to nature and reminds him throughout of the beauty and versatility of forests.
Dave says, “Bow making means I might hike for four hours through a woodlot in search of the ideal tree.” Following the managed forest plan of the woodlot where he obtains his material, Dave fells the trees himself. When it comes to the trees he selects, Dave says, “That’s guided by the species and the way it’s grown. By looking at a tree, you can determine what the grain is doing under the bark and if there’s enough area to get a good few staves out of it.”
“When I make a bow, it’s a very specific thing,” Dave explains. “You have a style and a draw weight that a person wants; those are the first pieces of information that I need. Once I have that, it’s all up to the stave, which governs what the final bow looks like.”
Osage orange tends to work best for bows in Dave’s experience, but it adds an additional challenge to the process, because, “It grows in such a gnarly and irregular fashion, so you’re juxtaposed between this incredible but unruly material.” The patience and slowness that Dave has to exercise in choosing the right tree for his bows continues as he shapes the final product, but that slowness is why he enjoys the process so much.
Dave is of Métis descent and adheres to the philosophy of respecting the land by getting the maximum use out of a resource. Because it’s often difficult to find wood that’s cooperative and conducive to bow making, there are some schools of thought that suggest felling a tree if it can yield just one good bow, but Dave urges, “You want to honour the tree and allow it to live on and have a second life because they are our greatest natural resource.”
The opportunity to be an Ontario Wood partner has shown Dave just how wide ranging the audience for his work can be. While he’s done a series of cottage and outdoor oriented shows, and sold to the expected crowd of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, there are always surprises. “I’ve actually made quite a few bows for young people, including lots of young women,” Dave says. “I suspect that might be owed to the character Katniss from the Hunger Games series.”
Whatever the reason for their interest in his work, Dave finds, “A lot of people are drawn to wood and to wooden bows; people are very touched by it because wood is part of who we are.” Dave adds, “So much of what we make comes from the earth – but doesn’t look that way – so by the time that you’re done, there’s this disconnect.” For Dave, part of the artisan’s reward is restoring that connection through his work.
Whether your choice is made based on quality and price, whether it’s about supporting local producers and local communities, whether it’s about what’s best for the environment, or whether it’s simply because you love the natural beauty of wood products — Ontario Wood can meet your needs.