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Home > Books > The Essentials of Archery > Making Yew and Osage Orange Bows
Making Yew and Osage Orange Bows

Yew and Osage Orange bowstaves differ materially from those of Lemonwood. They are cut directly from the log and have the bark, sapwood and heartwood intact when first cut. The bark is usually taken off the osage orange staves to help them season. The bark on yew is thin and after a year's drying can be taken off with a draw knife quite easily.

Both of these woods may be had in full length staves of from 5'0" to 6'0". They also come in billet form. Billets are two pieces cut preferably from the same wide short piece. Since these woods have small knots, pins and other minor defects, it is easier to get two clear pieces 3'6" long than it is to get a single long, sound clear stick.

If you intend to make your bow from billets, they must be joined to give you sufficient length. There are two methods of joining yew and osage billets. The simplest way is to join them in a seamless steel tube 1 1/8" in diameter. The ends of the billets are carefully rounded so they fit perfectly in the 4" tube. After they are in place, and the two billets lined up for straightness, two pins of metal are driven through tube and wood and riveted in place. Drill a hole 1" from the tube end right through and insert your pins-one in each billet end. Any nail 3/32" in diameter will do.


Plate 4. Making Yew and Osage Orange Bows

The other method of joining is by means of a bowyer's or double fishtail joint. See Plate 4. Square up one extremity of each billet so that you have ends 4¼" long, 1¾" from heartwood to sapwood, and 1¼" wide, as shown on Plate 4. Paste a piece of paper on the back of the sapwood side of the squared ends on which to pencil the outline of the joint to be made. First measure down 4¼" and draw a line. The joint you are going to cut is a dove-tailing of two ends. One end of your billet will have two points; the other three. The two pointed end goes into the three pointed end. To make the two prongs, divide the end of your billet into three equal parts; make pencil points at these divisions. Draw lines from these two points to the outside of the bottom of your first line across the back, which is 4¼" down the ends of the billets. Place a point in the center of this cross line, and draw two triangles as shown on Plate 4. With a band-saw or hack-saw cut out the center and side pieces as shown. This gives you the two pronged end. The receiving end is three pronged as shown. Divide the tip of the other billet in half, and the cross line in thirds. Draw in your lines as shown and saw out the wood where required. If you make the joint carefully, it should fit perfectly. No light should shine through. If it isn't a perfect fit, you may work it in with a file.

When the joints fit nicely, apply heavy, creamy waterproof glue liberally. Force the joint together and tightly bind the whole joint with rubber strips ½" wide cut from an inner tube. Leave about a quarter of an inch between the rubber strip wrappings so the air can get at the glue. After the joint is wrapped with rubber strips, line up your stave carefully. See that it is straight. A very slight tilt or reflex towards the back is permissible. You may shift the joint while the glue is wet and the rubber will hold the shift in place. Leave your work tightly wrapped for two days, remove the rubber and let the joint dry for a week.

When the joint is perfectly dry, it is a good idea to round it off to approximate handle shape and bind it tightly with thin linen fish line or linen twine. This is an insurance against accidents which might open up the sides of the double fishtailed joint. After your stave has reached this point you may proceed to make the bow the same as if it were a single stave.

The most important thing to remember in making both yew and osage bows is that the GRAIN MUST BE FOLLOWED. Place your stave in a vise, and with a draw knife take off the bark if it hasn't already been done. With osage, removing the bark is all that is necessary. Scrape the back clean and smooth with a Hook Scraper No. 25. With Yew it is necessary to reduce the white sapwood to 3/16" thick evenly along the back. Do this with a sharp draw knife and be sure to folllow the grain; dip when the grain dips, let it rise where it rises, don't try to flatten the back or you will cut across the grain and your bow will break. Your guide line is the separation point of the red heartwood and wbite sapwood. Next look along the stave from end to end. if it has a side warp or is not straight, take off wood from whichever side needs it.

Measure down 1" from the end of your joint or metal tube. Consider this point the true center of your bow. Measure from this point 3'0" in either direction and cut off any excess material. The joint or metal tube will now come under your handle and the arrow will leave the bow 1" or l¾" above the true center.

Plate 4 gives you various steps in the making of 6'0" Yew and Osage Orange bows, and the following tables of measurements give you actual figures on which you may lay out your stave. Base your back measurements from side to side of a true center line arrived at by means of a string and thumbtacks as described under the section, "Making a Lemonwood Long Bow".

Bear in mind that the figures were taken from finished bows, but that is no guarantee that if you follow them your bow will weigh the same. If you wish a 45 pound bow follow the measurements for the next higher weight given, and then you may scrape your bow down a bit if it results in too strong a bow. You can always take off wood, but you can't put it back on.

Following the grain on the backs of both yew and osage is very important. Be sure you do it, regardless of dips and rises. On the belly of yew bows, it is well to leave a little more wood where there is a pin or small knot. When the bow is finished, these look like small warts about a quarter of an inch in diameter. This is necessary to prevent crisals at these points.


Osage Orange and Yew Bow Weights

Since you have plenty of depth at the handle, you can make it 1¼" from back to belly and cut quite sharp dips just above and below the grip. This makes for softness in shooting. Be sure when your bow is tillered, as described in making Lemonwood Long Bows, you achieve a long graceful arc from the handle to the ends. See Plate 7.

When working on the belly side of your bow, the rough work may be done with a sharp draw knife. Some staves may be finished with a hand plane while others may have to be worked into shape with scraper and wood rasp. With some osage staves it may be necessary to practically fashion the entire belly with coarse and fine rasps.

The actual making, finishing and handling of the bow is similar to those of lemonwood. Naturally, it is impossible to foresee and advise against every possible contingency in bow making and it is expected that the craftsman will have sufficient intelligence to help him over rough spots.

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