The best timber for the bowyer is that of a tree of from 6 inches to 8 inches in diameter. This, by the way, is as true of Osage orange, ironwood or other native woods as it is of yew. In trees of larger growth the fibers are coarser. Young trees, like young people, are more supple than their elders.
Lemonwood is not a domestic growth. To the best of my knowledge, the best of it comes from Cuba and South Africa; the latter a source of many famous hardwoods long used by the bowyer. The real name of lemonwood is degame; although we commonly see both in the same list. Makers of fishing rods have long used it, especially for rods for salt-water fishing. They usually call these rods lancewood, but not always, and the wood easily leads all others for the purpose. As the tip section of many saltwater rods has to be 6 feet or more in length, the beginner at bow making should have no difficulty in procuring a suitable stave of lemon-wood—though he doubtless will have to buy it as degame. It will be well to pay any difference requested for a selected piece. If this is possible, the first choice will be determined by a deep, rich orange color and fairly pronounced heft. Light-weight staves of pale yellow are not quite so desirable.
The genuine lancewood, the old growth formerly so commonly in use in Great Britain, where I knew it so well, was a native of the Guianas. I say was because I cannot obtain it now at any cost. At the least, there must be a scarcity of it. But where a really good piece of it can be obtained, it will be found to make a fairly good bow. For target work, not quite up to yew or lemonwood of equal selection, being somewhat hard on the hand; but still a good weapon. For flight shooting, it will easily excel any yew or lemonwood bow ever produced. It has a cast that is almost perfection, as far as bows may be claimed to be perfect.
This good Guiana lancewood is often mistaken for lemonwood by its appearance. However, it is a buff color, not orange or yellow, and has a distinctive marking which is called shot. It has a similar appearance to maple or beech, with their many little ticks, but cannot be mistaken for either of these woods. It is very heavy; but this does not injure it for bow making, as a bow of this wood will require but about two-thirds the amount needed to make any other class of bow—except, of course, where using any of the real hardwoods.
Lancewood in general, however, is of so many varieties that it is never considered a safe wood for the bowyer to use. Even the most expert in the handling of it can be fooled at times, and have a lot of trouble for his efforts to produce a lancewood bow. The wood is plentiful, and can be had at very little cost from almost any dealer in fancy hardwoods. But in most cases it will be found to be of the black variety and as brittle as glass.
In England long before the coming of the automobile, carriages and the better grade of carts and one-horse wagons one and all had their shafts made of degame, or lancewood, one or the other. And the bowyer had no trouble in securing all the bow wood he wanted, at small cost, from the carriage makers. The shafts were cut from the whole log in the shape desired—and some of them were certainly shapely! So there was a deal of waste, and the cuttings were almost given away to the makers of bows and arrows. Many a splendid bow stave did not cost more than five cents!