What's the best wood for bowmaking? 1
What's the best wood for bowmaking?

Wood species suitable for bow making.

A good bowyer can craft a bow out of any kind of wood. Nevertheless some species are just having bigger potential than the others. Those with especially suitable properties we call bow woods. In today’s article we we’ll take a closer look at a few of them. Basing on my experience I will discuss bow wood species so far being my favourites. I’ll also share my thoughts and tips about working with them.

 

 

 

 

The best wood for bows?

So here are the factors I’m gonna be taking into account making this list:

  • bowmaking characteristics (strength in tension and compression, density, durability etc.)
  • wood avaibility / price
  • wood appearance

I have to emphasise here, that one’s favorite bow woods might be highly dependant on bowyers residence. Living in Poland I’m working with European species. If you don’t have an access to those from my list – don’t worry, you’ll probably can get other great wood out there.

  1. Yew (Taxus baccata) – legendary evergreen bow wood. It was so desired that in some places yew trees have almost extinct. Grows as a small tree or in a shrubby form. It develops wonderfully colored, great dealing with compression heartwood and tension resistant sapwood. This combination makes yew wood natural laminate and precious material for a bowyer. Great for all kinds of bows: longbows, flatbows, recurves, warbows. It’s often knotty and full of character what can be challenging for a craftsman. Yew wood is protected in some places and therefore expensive to buy.

 

  1. Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) – large tree with almost white colored and stunningly ringed wood. Tends to have compression issues therefore long and wide bows are recommended to be made from ash. Likes to be heat treated and when tillered well makes fast sweet weapon. Takes some set, wood is nicely grained and straight. Watch out for especially thin rings – bows made from them often explode. This species suffers from fungies and diseases in latest years.

 

  1. Red oak (Quercus rubra) – another large growing tree. Develops great reddish looking and nicely grained wood. Very easy can be bent with heat or steam. Tends to take some set but makes sweet shooting smooth bows. Red oak heartwood is used for bowmaking. Remove sapwood to prevent appearing drying cracks that can ruin whole stave.

 

 

  1. Black locust (Robinia pseudoaccacia) – gorgeous gold colored wood. Often developing snaky and crooked grain. Black locust is small growing tree with thorns. Tends to have compression issues like ash. Likes to be heavily heat treated. Heartwood is used for bowmaking. It can be easily bent with heat. Long and flat bows are recommended for black locust.

 

 

  1. Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) – suitable for both flat and even lighter rounded belly bows. White colored with not very distinctive grain. Well tillered takes little set. Maple is medium and large growing tree. The wood is not very spectacular but bows made from it are effective and durable.

 

  1. Hazel (Corylus avellana) – great wood for beginners. Hazel is common and grows in a shrubby form. Visually similar to ash. Makes sweet flatbows and likes to be heat treated. Easy to work with. Deals not very well with high poundages and D belly crossection – prone to compression fractures.

 

  1. Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) – another legendary bow wood. Very tough to get and expensive here in Europe. Wonderfully gold colored wood. Often with snaky and curvy character. Great for all kind of bows, also more powerful ones. It can be easily bent with heat and steam. Heartwood used for bowmaking, sapwood is recommended to be removed.

 

These are a few of the bow woods I’ve worked with that in my opinion deserve attention. It’s also worth to mention that almost all of the fruit woods are suitable for a bowmaking. Also I have to emphasize here that the particular trees and staves within the species differs from each other and can have a bit different characteristics.

Working with different wood species was always the greatest fun for me. Discovering their properties is just fascinating. As a forester I feel a connection with nature and wood as a part of it being an art piece in every inch for me. I’m just honored to be a traditional woodworker and the bowyer. I’m happy share my passion and experience with all of you. All the best!

 

 

Post comments (1)

21 January 2022

Nice to hear another forester caught in the bowyers trap. Working in the woods you are in touch with all kinds of trees and are free to experiment.I am lucky to have a good amount of yew to use so tend to use it quite a lot.I also like to try any wood that looks interesting.There are so many species to try to bet a bow out of!

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