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Wood for Archery

Part 2 of 6


The essential requirement of wood when fashioned into a bow is that it possess the ability to be repeatedly bent in shooting an arrow and to return to its original shape after each shot. Bows vary greatly in strength, stiffness, size, and type. The term "weight" as applied to a bow does not mean the degree of heaviness as determined by a pair of scales but the force required to draw back the bowstring the length of a standard 28-inch arrow. For example, a bow "weighing" 46 pounds is one that will require a pull of 46 pounds to draw its string 28 inches from the back of the grip or handle.

Bows are made in various ways. Some consist of a single piece of wood (self bow). Others consist of two pieces either glued together at the handle in a fishtail joint (grafted bow) or held together by means of a metal ferrule which permits the bow to be taken apart when not in use (jointed bow).

Both single-piece bows and those made of two pieces glued together at the handle sometimes have a backing of wood, rawhide, or animal sinew glued along their entire length. Such bows are called "backed bows." Another type has three laminations, usually sinew for the back, wood for the core, and horn for the belly (the rounded side of the bow that is toward the bowstring).

The consensus of opinion among archers and makers of high-grade bows is that yew, the same wood that was employed for the famous English longbows of medieval times, is the most satisfactory wood for the purpose. Four species of yew are indigenous to North America. Only one of these, namely, Pacific yew ( Taxus brevifolia), usually called simply "yew," is suitable for making bows. The others are shrubs or very small trees and are not suited to bow construction.

Pacific yew is found in the mountain forests of the Pacific Coast. Its range extends from southern Alaska through British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon into California and eastward from Washington and Oregon through the Rocky Mountains into Montana. It grows best in cool, moist situations where there is an abundance of both atmospheric and soil moisture.

As a forest tree yew is of minor importance on account of its rarity and small size, mature trees being usually 6 to 12 inches in diameter and from 20 to 30 feet high. Specimens 18 to 20 inches in diameter and 60 to 75 feet in height have been recorded but are extremely rare. Growth in both height and diameter is very slow. Trees 6 inches in diameter are from 75 to 90 years old, while those from 12 to 20 inches in diameter are from 140 to 245 years of age. Except in the large trees, an open conical crown extends nearly to the ground. The limbs are small and extend at right angles from the trunk until near their tips, which generally droop markedly as do the slender branchlets, giving somewhat the effect of a weeping willow. This drooping habit is strongly marked in trees growing partly or wholly in the open, where the leafy branchlets are very much more numerous and dense than in deep shade. The bark is conspicuously thin, rarely over one-fourth inch thick, and composed of thin, papery, purple, easily detached scales, beneath which the newer bark is a clear rose or purple-red.