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Chapter II
Bow Woods
Part 4 of 6

For another thing—and this is an important factor in the cost—with yew the wood must be cut from the outside of the log in order to utilize the sapwood, without which yew bows will not stand. With lemonwood, the bow stave may be cut from any part of any billet or log with equal assurance and satisfaction— provided, of course, the wood is not wind twisted, a growth which appears at times and is to be carefully avoided. Wind twisted lemon-wood has all the appearance of a beautiful growth of figured birch, so much desired for making furniture. To the experienced bow maker, these handsome markings mean that the grain of the wood spirals around the tree in corkscrew fashion—if we know what that tool is today. Lancewood also is subject to this defect.

To refer back to the sapwood yew, I am reminded that some explanation is necessary. Invariably, when a beginner comes to my shop he marvels at this feature of yew, that it has a sort of rind next the bark. This growth is readily seen, being always of lighter color than the rest of the yew stave. It is comparatively thin, there never being sufficient thickness to make the bow entirely of it. It has more tensile strength than the rest of the wood, in this resembling the rind of bamboo, which is used exclusively for making split-bamboo fishing rods. Naturally, anyone can tell a yew bow, from the two shades of wood.

The sapwood always is made the back of the yew bow, which is the outside surface when the bow is bent, the belly being the surface toward the bowstring.

As we get our American yew from the woodsmen who cut it especially for bow making, the best comes in part-round slabs, in length 4 feet 6 inches to 5 feet. Once in a while we manage to get a 6-foot piece, but they are rare. Some of it comes square, but this usually is not so good. The part-round billets are a half or a third section of the butt log, split or sawed vertically, and relatively shallow, the core of the log having no value to us.

The short lengths are largely due to the fact that yew that is clear of knots and young enough for bow making is not to be had longer.

Bow wood
Click for a larger image

A shows billet ready for cutting down to bow form. 1 shows heart-wood, the source of power. 2 shows sap-wood, the bow's protection against breakage. 3 is the bark.
B is a cross-section (at about the handle) after cutting down, leaving sap-wood about ¼ inch thick at center, and heart-wood more or less thick according to power desired.