Handcraft Archery: Choosing the Best Wood Stave for an Archery Bow

When making your own bow, the most important first step is choosing the wood. If you choose the right wood, only your own skill level will hold you back; choose the wrong wood, however, and no matter how great your skill, the bow will break.

This article is going to assume that you’re using store bought lumber which is, obviously, precut into boards. If you are using tree limbs and saplings, however, this article will still work for you – simply cut the end of the limb flat and split the wood so you can get a good look at the grain.

The important piece of wood – that is, what is relevant to archery – is the grain. Just like a martial artist would not attempt to break a board against the grain, you do not want to put press in the same direction as the grain – it will break easily under the pressure.

The ideal wood stave would have grain that runs perfectly straight from top to bottom – it wouldn’t wiggle or stagger, and it wouldn’t run off at the edges. The wood would be independent of knots, which are weak spots in the wood, and it would be perfectly straight. Unfortunately, this is very rarely the case. What is the best comprise, the middle ground between perfection and failure?

Grain

Look for grain that is straight as possible. Ideally, you don’t want run off at the edges. Look at the side of the wood – does the grain run out before it reaches the bottom, or does it go straight down?

If the grain is slanted at all, get a different board. If it is straight from the front, but bleeds off after a certain distance, there’s a good chance the board will work. If, albeit rarely, the grain runs the entire length of the bow, then you have found a very good grain pattern.

Unfortunately, grain is not everything, and that brings us to the next issue.

Knots

Knots are essentially buttons of death. They will make weak limbs, and the only time they are acceptable is when they are located in the handle. A knot is the limb will not only make breaks and cracks a real reality, but could also make tillering very difficult, and could cause a hinge in other areas.

Don’t choose wood with knots. No matter how great the grain, avoid the wood with knots.

Warping

Warping is defined as both bends and twists. Bends maybe okay if they are small – simply tiller one side of the bow in more than the other, and in the end, the bow will be straight. Twisting, however, is rarely fixable, and makes the bow making process virtually impossible – the bow won’t be able to bend properly, the ends won’t match, and it will likely break after a couple shots – assuming it even makes it that far.

If you are absolutely in love with a piece of wood, and it has a slight bend, then you can try correcting it by steaming the wood and then tightly tying it down to a straight board. The twist will have to be very minor, however.

Cracks

Finally, there are cracks. Cracks are merely breaks in progress. A crack is a fault, and pressure will only increase that fault. You can’t save a board from a crack. You could try to fill it in, but in the end, the crack will only get worse. Don’t bother with any boards that have cracks.

Save it

When you do find that perfect board, do everything you can to keep it perfect. If it is still wet, strap it tightly to a straight board and allow it to dry there – this will prevent twisting.

Seal the ends of the board with glue to prevent cracks from happening.

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