IN the previous chapter I mentioned some common domestic woods properly supposed suitable for bow making. It is far from pleasant to be compelled to dispel a popular illusion of long standing, of the worth of such woods. I know from much experience how good people, especially boys, are disappointed to learn that such an idol among the woods as hickory is has really no value as a bow wood.
In addition to the yew of the West Coast and Osage orange, live oak and ironwood are the only other domestic bow woods that can be properly classed as such. The latter, though abundant, has the drawback of being very hard to work. Further, it has little in the way of cast to recommend it, as compared with the bow woods previously discussed. It will, however, make a fairly good bow, provided the shape is made rather flat and shallow. A wide bow of ironwood with little depth may with perfect safety be made much shorter than common. These, by the way, are the best woods for the Boy Scout to use in his bow making. But he must make sure his stave is not cut from a log that has been floated down some stream to the mill, for that will have washed the sap out of it. This also applies to other common woods purveyed by the lumber yards.
Ash is much praised by some manufacturers of archery goods. It will shoot—in a soft and unsatisfactory manner—as long as it remains green as will various oaks, elms and others. But just as soon as any of these, including ash, is dried out, in nearly every case it will break. They are not bow woods.
Hickory might well be claimed to be the best of the common woods for simple bow making. It is easily the toughest, and even when dried out it will stand a lot of hard use. But unfortunately, cast is not in the wood; hickory is not a spring wood. And again I repeat that cast is the first essential for a good bow.
Many of the modern writers have named long lists of bow woods from which the boy archer may take his choice. Besides those just mentioned, these include cedar, beech, hickory, locust and others. The only reason I can ascribe for such long lists is that probably these writers expect that the Boy Scouts among their readers may be either impelled or called upon to go out in the woods and chop down their own trees from which to make their bows. Thus perhaps they consider a number of different trees to choose among may be handy for the Scouts. I need hardly point out that the idea of cutting down trees is already entirely too prevalent for the good of the country's forests. Trees of suitable size for yielding bow staves should not be cut for that purpose alone; except yew or Osage orange, and they only by competent woodsmen, able to select the right ones. As for boys cutting these latter two, they still would have to wait four years for the wood to dry properly, when they would be boys no longer.