The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
Home > Books > Bows and Arrows > Bow Woods
Chapter II
Bow Woods
Part 1 of 6

FIRST of all, let me point out that the opinions expressed in this book are often given without any references being made to contrary opinions which others have written or may hold. Therefore, as what I say on bow woods sometimes does not square with accepted opinion, the reader is warned to draw his own conclusion. Let him weigh any such seeming dis-crepancies in his own mind. Then if he is still reluctant to accept my word, perhaps he may be interested enough nevertheless to reserve his decision until able to prove to his satisfaction which is right, hearsay opinion or the old bow maker.

So now as to bow woods. To begin with, it would be a sacrilege, almost, not to say that yew is the king of all bow woods. Certainly there is no equal for real Spanish or Italian yew, the former easily taking first place, with the Italian wood close behind. The reasons are simple. They are the least liable to be affected by change in temperature, they always keep their shape, and there is no other known bow wood that can equal them in cast. However, sad to relate, they cannot be obtained— today they are worth their weight in gold. Neither Spain nor Italy will allow the little yew still growing within its borders to be cut down and exported.

Many will think next of English yew, for it certainly has a great reputation; a reputation founded, however, upon misconception and ignorance. So many writers tell about the famed English yew bow, that the average archer forms the conclusion that the greatest prize an archer can possess is a bow from that particular growth. The English archers made the yew bow famous, there is no. doubt of that; but even as does the English bowyer today, they sought elsewhere for their yew. Just stop and consider the entire length and breadth of Great Britain—and that, of course, gives the English additional territory to come and go on; consider also the length of time it takes to grow a yew tree of fair size; finally, think of the multitude of English archers that came and went throughout the long period of archery's rise and decline in the "Tight Little Isle." Common sense must indicate that there is something wrong with the expression "English yew." The English archers did use yew bows, but few made from native growth, the large bulk being made from yew imported from Spain and Italy and quite a lot from the south of France. There is yew in abundance in Great Britain today, but the growth is coarse and mostly un-suited for bow making; so as of yore the English maker seeks elsewhere for his yew. For aught I know, he may even use some American yew—which supposedly when shaped in England becomes English yew! And at that, doubtless better yew than most of that ever grown in England.

American yew grown in the western mountains is the nearest approach to good or fairly good yew. In appearance it looks somewhat like that grown in the Caucasus Mountains, but in fact is somewhat superior, and can be distinguished by its richer color, the Caucasian yew being rather paler and lighter in weight.

Lately I have been experimenting with American yew. I am still uncertain whether the drawbacks that appear—principally the following of the string, or taking a set in the drawing direction—is due to the wood itself or to lack of experience on the part of those handling it. To make sure, the wood must be dried under my own observation. What I have on hand at present is being put through the right process of treatment, and only time can tell what the result will be. This treatment, I may add, is in direct opposition to that so often suggested to save time: washing the wood in running water.