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Woods for bow making
Part 2 of 2

Osage Orange (Toxylon pomiferum).—This is another fine bow wood—heavy, coarse-grained, tough, and practically indestructible. It is locally known as "hedgewood" because of its rather widespread use in hedge rows on farms in the Middle West. The tree grows an unedible fruit, green in color, the size and shape of a large orange, and is generally found in the Mississippi Valley with a trend toward the Southwest. The Indians made bows and clubs of this wood, while the white man found it useful for fence posts, wheel-stock, and other purposes where toughness and durability were important. The tree may grow to more than 50 feet in height and the trunk is generally short; which makes it about as difficult to get a good bow stave from this wood as from yew. A friend of the writer determined to secure a good log of Osage orange from his father's farm in Kansas, where stood several thousand of these trees in hedge rows. He cruised all over the place and inspected virtually every tree to see if he could find any which showed promise of producing good bow staves, and he found but two which he thought were worth cutting. The better of these two is shown split in Figure 1. The bow in the hands of the man is of Osage Orange.

FIGURE 1. Osage Orange Log and Bow
FIGURE 1. Osage Orange Log and Bow

The color of the heartwood is a bright orange-yellow, which darkens on exposure, while the sapwood is pale yellow. In the dry state, the wood has a specific gravity of 0.77. It is tougher than hickory or oak and very resilient. In working up a stave into a bow, it presents similar problems to yew, with the addition that the tool has to work on a tougher wood.

Lemonwood or Degame (Calycophyllum candissimum DC).—This is not to be confused with the tree which produces lemons. The two are not related. The principal supply of this wood comes to the United States from Cuba. It is also found in southern Mexico, Central America, and along the northern coasts of South America. Lemonwood is tan in color, verging on brown. It is a heavy, hard, fine-grained, resilient wood of uniform texture, easily worked and, among other things, excellent for making canes and fishing rods. The specific gravity is 0.80. Though an imported wood, a lemonwood stave is readily obtainable at but a fraction of the cost of either yew or Osage orange, and will produce a fine bow. Figure 15, B, shows a lemonwood bow section. Many consider lemonwood superior to Osage orange for target shooting and little, if any, inferior to yew. It is a real bow wood. Because of its low cost and because it may be shaped with a tool so readily that it is a real pleasure to work it into a bow, a stave of this wood is recommended to the amateur bowyer for his first attempt; nor should its use be limited to this first effort, as it stands on its own merit and should not be considered merely a fair substitute for such a wood as yew. Bows of lemonwood have given good accounts of themselves in important tournaments.

Hickory (Hicoria).—Contrary to a common impression, this native wood, though valuable for many purposes, makes but an inferior bow. However, since a straight-grained piece is easy to obtain and at small cost, many cheap bows are made of it. While tough in tension, the fibers of hickory are easily crushed—or, at least, packed— in compression. For this reason, a bow of this wood has a marked tendency to follow the string. It is, however, a very convenient wood out of which to fashion one's first weapon, but it lacks cast; so the enthusiast will soon want a better bow. Its one great asset is durability—a hickory bow will last indefinitely, due to its toughness—and it has one very useful purpose in archery: it makes an excellent backing for bows made of woods which would otherwise tend to break when fully drawn.

Other Woods.—Not infrequently, mention is made of other native woods for bows. They include mulberry, red cedar, live oak, honey locust, elm, ironwood, ash, walnut, and others. Of these, mulberry and live oak may make fair bows, but none will satisfy those who want the best. Among the tropical woods which have some merit for bows, in addition to lemonwood, are lancewood, beefwood, bethabara or washiba, greenheart, and snake wood. They are heavy woods with considerable "spring" to them but, on the whole, they are not prized as highly in bow making as lemonwood.