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Chapter IV
Making the Bow
Part 3 of 10

In the softest of hardwood used for the bow, the sapwood must be left on the outer side, and this is to become the back or flat side of the bow, for protection against breakage. In other woods, where the sapwood is not apparent, an expedient sometimes used is to supply a substitute backing, in the form of some real tough wood such as hickory. These are the bows that are backed, and this explains why there are such bows. The idea that a backed bow has some advantage in strength and cast that is not possessed by unbacked bows is erroneous.

We have been discussing the making of the bow as done by the professional bowyer; but it is well at this point to look at the subject from the viewpoint of the amateur, for just a moment. A great advantage to any maker in using lemonwood or one of the inferior woods represented as bow woods, among them ironwood, ash, elm and oak, is the fact that these woods can be obtained in ample length for making self bows; that is, bows made all in one piece. This saves time, and for the novice the somewhat difficult task of jointing the bow in the handle. As a general rule, yew and Osage orange have to be jointed, it being rather difficult to obtain these woods in sufficient length to make bows in one entire piece. Although, paradoxically, it is quite a common thing for a professional maker to deliberately cut yew staves of sufficient length for self bows in order to get a perfect match of wood for both limbs of the bow desired. Where the two limbs are taken from one stave in this manner, having grown side by side they make as near to a perfect match as it is possible to secure.

Though it may seem a discouraging delay of discussion of the actual process of making the bow, it is well to divert again to the subject of the grain of the wood. This because I have long known, from a heavy correspondence with archers, that there is general misunderstanding concerning grain. For example, books on archery inform the beginner in bow making or in selecting archery equipment, that the grain of the wood should run down the sides of the bow, not down the back or the belly. Also, that the grain of the arrow should be on the side that runs alongside the bow in shooting. With this information before him but no actual knowledge to work on, the amateur bow maker, evidently with thoughts of the handsome "graining" of quartered oak furniture, or the imitation cleverly painted on a door panel, proceeds to lay out his bow exactly wrong. What he thinks to be the grain is not the grain at all, but that feature of the wood which is known to skilled woodworkers, or anyhow to professional bowyers, as the rift, feather or chamfer. There doubtless are other terms used, according to locality; but in any case they refer to the flat of the grain.

To speak of the grain of a piece of wood is to refer to the surface appearance from an exact right-angle view of the run of the fibres. This will be readily understood when it is explained that the fibres naturally run vertically with the growth of the tree and the point of view is horizontal. For another explanation, in a log sawed lengthwise, through its center, the surface of the lengthwise cut will show the grain and when a horizontal cut is made the surface of that cut will show the annular or year rings by which we ascertain the age of a tree upon cutting it down. I believe the simplest explanation is to say the grain is the vertical of the annular rings seen at a right angle. (See diagram.)

fig. 5
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A. Chamber; feather; or rift.
B. Grain; or reed.
C. Annular rings.