The Queue: John Hermanson

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.

The Queue: John Hermanson

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.
John Hermanson playing a guitar.

John Hermanson. Photo by John Wiltse.

Limber Bows inventor John Hermanson moves through the world by design.
For John Hermanson, necessity was the mother of invention. In 2017, while hiking a perilously steep ridge in the North Cascade Mountains in Washington, the Bozeman, Montana–based musician found a semicircular, flexible stick that he used to loft himself gently downhill to safety. The experience was so powerful for Hermanson that when he was back home he resolved to find a similar commercial product. When he couldn’t, he set about making his own, researching wood varieties and their unique properties. Today Limber Bows, his spin on hiking poles, are individually handcrafted on a backyard bower’s bench with four layers of wood, two layers of fiberglass, and one layer of carbon fiber. Each set is numbered and built to the buyer’s measurements. After a smashing debut at the 2023 Outdoor Retailer trade show, Hermanson also has plans to mass-produce them with a manufacturing partner. Frank Bures wrote about Hermanson and his Limber Bows—and three other crafters of innovative outdoors gear—in “Adventure Craft” in the Summer 2023 issue of American Craft. | @limberbows

John sitting at a bowyer's bench outdoors.

John Hermanson at his bowyer’s bench, 2023. Photo by Isak Hermanson.

An up close image of a limber bow made of carbon fiber, fiberglass, and wood.

A Limber Bow is made of carbon fiber, fiberglass, and wood. Photo by Neal Reiter.

How do you describe your work or practice in 50 words or less?
I try to divide my time equally between the workshop and the woods. I honor play time as much as work time—I recognize that most of my breakthrough ideas come while using the bows in the field. I experiment in the shop with different materials, lamination widths, feet attachments for different conditions, handle wraps, and so on, and then I go out and see how it works.

Tell us about your favorite handcrafted outdoor gear.
After many years trying to find the best high-tech outdoor clothing system, I’ve learned to love wool. My wife knitted me a wool sweater for Christmas (complete with a Limber Bows logo!) that is always with me in the woods. On colder days, I pull my Boreal Mountain anorak over the top. Made in Canada of thick felted wool, it’s my wicking layer, insulation, and shell. I pretty much live in it all winter.

In your travels and adventures, where do you look for craft and the handmade?
I travel in a 1970 Volkswagen bus, so I’m often inspired by the many ways people have built out their vans and campers for life on the road. I’m drawn to simple, practical design ideas for luggage racks, roof tents, sun shades, solar power battery systems, and so on.

You’re also a musician with the folk duo Storyhill, and presumably a music fan. Do you listen to music while you work? What have you been listening to?
Before I started working on Limber Bows, I was making music all day and night, so I wasn’t listening to music very often in my downtime. I listen to music playlists in the workshop now and am grateful my appreciation has returned. Lately I’ve been loving the band Big Thief. There are so many different ways to hear their songs and so many levels to them

What are your favorite tools in your tool kit, and how do you use them?
I bought a bowyer’s bench on eBay that holds the bows securely for shaping with drawknives. This has proven to be a faster and more enjoyable way to finish the bows than using power tools.

Detail image of the layers of a limber bow.

This detail shot of a Limber Bow shows layers of fiberglass, carbon fiber, hickory, padauk, walnut, and ipe. Photo by Neal Reiter.

Which craft artists, exhibitions, or projects do you think the world should know about, and why?
I’m a big fan of Chad Elliott. He’s in equal parts singer-songwriter, poet, painter, and sculptor. I love his work and I love the way he makes it work. Chad just opened a new studio in Jefferson, Iowa. The first weekend of August brings SLAM Festival (August 5–6) and Sweet Pea Festival (August 4–6) to my hometown of Bozeman, Montana. Both festivals gather together an impressive variety of craft and music.

A musician onstage playing a guitar into a microphone.

Big Thief playing at Haldern Pop, a German music festival, in 2018. Photo by Martin Schumann, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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