Bow Woods and Bow Staves
LEMONWOOD (Calycophyllum candidissimum), the degame of the wood importers, is a native of Cuba. It is hard, heavy, tough and springy. It comes in small logs or spars and is straight enough to be sawn into bowstaves. It is the most satisfactory and reasonably priced wood of which to make a bow. It grows in the mountains, and most of it is carted by oxen to a port for shipment by steamer. The bark is a reddish brown, rather stringy and somewhat resembles red cedar bark. It has nothing to do with lemons; the name refers to its color. It varies from a light yellow to a light brown and is often mottled. We have found that the spars yielding the very best bowstaves have a distinct apple green streak just under the bark. Lemonwood is a true bow wood, and for an all-around bow, as good as any that comes. The fact that the highest score ever made in tournament for the American Round was made with a lemonwood bow speaks well for its qualities.
OSAGE ORANGE (Maclura or Toylon) belongs to the mulberry family (Moraceae), and is one of our finest native bow woods. It seems to grow throughout the whole of the United States, and is known in many sections as the Mock Orange. Years ago this tree was planted extensively for hedges. The best of it comes from our Middle West. It is a very hard wood, ranging in color from a very pale yellow to chocolate brown. Sometimes it comes in a light yellow prettily mottled with dark brown spots. Since the wood takes an exceptionally fine polish, such a piece results in a bow of unusual beauty.
Osage Orange bowstaves, unlike Lemonwood, come directly from the log section, with the bark, heartwood and sapwood intact. Before the staves are stored away for seasoning, the bark is removed and the staves given a coat of shellac. This permits them to dry out slowly and prevents warping and checking.
As an all-around bow wood, Osage Orange ranks high. Good staves yield hard shooting, tough, sturdy bows that will stand lots of abuse. This wood possesses none of the temperamental aspects of yew, and for a bow that is equally good in the heat or cold, one good for target work, hunting or roving, Osage Orange is the wood.
Osage Orange Staves may be worked up into Standard Long Bows, the shorter, semi-Indian type flat bows, and the Flat Reflexed Bows. All are good; the maker's personal preference alone being the guide.
YEW (Taxus) is a soft wood. Compared to Lemonwood and Osage Orange, which are hardwoods, it is light in weight. The heartwood of yew is reddish, and ranges in color from light to nut brown. Our American supply comes from Oregon, Washington and California. The yew staves are split or sawn directly from the trunk and come with the bark, sapwood and heartwood intact. After the staves season, the bark, which is quite thin, readily chips off.
During the past couple of years advocates of various inethods of seasoning have pushed their pet claims—some are for kiln drying, some want to place the staves in running water or streams until the sap and resin is washed out. These methods may have merit, but why go to all that fuss when you can pile it up in a nice dry attic and leave it alone for a year or two. Turn it over once or twice for luck if you wish.
Generally, the ner or more grain lines to the inch, the better the wood is. Yet I have seen a yew bow with six grain lines to the inch that shot better and harder than any close grained stock. After making a thousand yew bows in my shop, the writer is of the opinion that the excellence of each bow depends on the individual stave and the care with which it has been handled by the bowyer.
Yew may lose weight and cast in hot weather, it picks up in cold; in freezing weather it may break in your hand, it develops crisals (a peculiar crack that works at right angles to the grain of the wood) which occurs with Osage or Lemonwood only in rare instances, and may prove cussed beyond belief in more ways than one. Yet we are frank to confess that a fine yew bow is a joy to shoot and something to cherish.
Perfect six foot staves of Yew are rare. Most staves will have small pins, the grain is sure to dip at some spot and little knots may appear. Since it is easier to secure this wood in lengths of 3'6", two such pieces are joined to make one six foot piece.
Ash, hickory, black walnut, sassafras, ironwood, mulberry, apple and many other native woods have been made into bows. These woods are not true bow woods, but have been used only because nothing better was at hand. They produce bows that shoot fairly well in the beginning, but they soon lose cast and become flabby and weak. When they dry out thoroughly they become brittle and break.
This is true of the average run of these woods, but sometimes a bow of northern ash or hickory yields a fair weapon. There is a tree called hop hornbeam, with a white, very tough wood resembling hickory. This makes a fair bow.