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Chapter II
Bow Woods
Part 2 of 6

Every expert bowyer knows from experience that the principal life of a bow wood, namely the resinous substance found in all sap, is cleaned out along with whatever it may be desired to remove by washing, and so the wood is ruined as a real bow wood. Proper storage, time and careful watching—these constitute the proper treatment for the removal of all moisture. The resin is left to harden in the wood and give life when at last it is needed. But I am of the opinion that the time required in this country is not that which is accepted as right in Great Britain. The difference in the climates of the two countries must be considered. I believe that the seven years required to season a piece of yew in Great Britain is much more than is necessary where I live, in the State of New Jersey. Here, four years should be ample, provided the wood is kept free from dampness.

Just here perhaps I may be permitted to point out a policy in the treatment of bow woods. We all are familiar with the old rule, which originated goodness knows where, that the wood should be kept on its end or hung up by one end, to prevent it from taking a set. It must be obvious to any thinker that any billet of wood that will take a set from lying on its side—a set simply from its own weight-will be of little use for a bow.

Another such theory, very widely believed in but having no sound basis or justification, is that bow wood is best cut in the winter when the sap is in the ground. Just what is meant by the sap I am at a loss to understand; perhaps someone experienced with the sugar maple could explain. But at any rate, a wood-worker learns to know sap of a different kind than that which goes down into the roots, supposedly, in the winter. Take a piece of timber cut in midwinter and another piece cut in midsummer; place an end of each in a hot fire, and watch the other ends. In a few minutes you will see the real sap begin to exude from the ends that are not burnt—and as much will come from the stick cut in the winter as from that cut in the summer.

To my way of thinking, the best that can be said of this popular notion is that it makes good advertising material. John Buchanan cut his great stock in the middle of the summer, and I have yet to learn of finer bows than his ever having been produced. I myself have cut yew in both seasons of the year, with as good results in the one case as in the other

Of course, wood-cutting in the winter months as a general practice is very simply explained. First of all, the wood-cutters are very largely tillers of the soil, and in the wintertime can do no work in the fields. For another thing, where logging is concerned, wherever there is snow it is easier to get the logs out on the snow; furthermore, where streams are used to float the logs millward, utilizing the spring freshets is an important consideration. I do not here imply wood for bows; still, others try to use wood so obtained.

The bow makers of the past cut their yew wood in the same manner as they would have cut any other kind of timber. In early times, quite naturally they used to split the logs into billets, just as the American pioneers split logs into rails for fences. I dare say this is the real foundation for another groundless supposition, which is that yew should be split. Although we are told this, no one tells us why. I have no knowledge of any of the old bow makers of comparatively recent times splitting their yew logs, although much has been written about this being done. From the time they could get saws to do the work, these were used. Even when the billet is split out of the log, the best maker can do no more than follow the grain. A good sawyer can rip a yew log in a little time and make a cleaner job of it, with less waste, than any axman with his ax, wedges and maul. And if the billet turns out to be a cross-grained one it will be cross-grained whether sawed or split.