A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a shortbow I built and named Jumper. I hailed the all-forgiving Osage for allowing me to coax a bow from firewood. Today that stave’s forgiveness ran out and I learned a lesson about over-stressing wood.
Red marks indicate failure points on the back of the bow due to tension (left) and on the belly due to compression (right). The chrysals, or compression fractures, are directly opposite the limb from the splinter. Contrast is enhanced to the point of ugliness to show the chrysals.
I strung Jumper up cold and fired off a few arrows. There were no audible cracks, no strange feelings, and no other telltale sign of wood failure. It shot like it had hundreds of times before.
I recently bent reflex into an Osage stave and learned a few lessons. These may be obvious to the seasoned bowyer, but I want to share my growing pains in case the reader is interested in trying to bend wood with dry heat themselves. The lessons are stated in bullet points at the end of the post for those not interested in my rambling.
The Osage stave in question was roughed from a small diameter tree and has a slightly crowned back. It’s 52″ tip-to-tip and tapers to 1/2″ over the last 8″ of each limb. I most likely wouldn’t have reflexed it had it not demanded it. But after roughing it out I was left with one limb reflexed about 2″ and the other dead straight. I hadn’t had much luck reflexing bows before, but it was time to face the music: this bow would be reflexed, or it wouldn’t be a bow. After reviewing the Bending Wood chapter in The Traditional Bowyer’s Bible, Vol. 2, I cut a form out of a 2×8, fired up the heat gun (pun slightly intended, sorry), and set to work.
See a more recent update on this bow here.
It’s happened to any bowyer that splits their own staves. You start with a halved or quartered log and analyze the grain. You find a straight area that looks long enough to hold a bow. You position your splitting wedge or hatchet at the exact spot that you think will yield the cleanest stave. You swing back your hammer and plink! The log splits across the grain, running off the edge halfway down the log, while dirty words frolic around your mind.
But that doesn’t always spell disaster.
Catfish is an Osage selfbow. He originally pulled 43# at 27″, and was 67″ nock-to-nock. He was the first bow whose back I exposed from a stave. He taught me to pull the drawknife slowly or risk ruining the ring I’m chasing. He has proven himself as a successful bowfishing bow. He bears the burden of a beginner’s poor tiller like a champ. And he shines up well to boot.
But he’s also a bit of a butthead.
“What was that?”
“Aw…” I flexed my white oak board bow to quarter draw and inspected it. “It lifted a splinter, right under the backing.”
It was a beautiful fall day, and I was stump shooting with the first two bowyers I met since I had made my own board bow a few months before. We were in a creek bed shooting at an old can on the ground, and after my shot we all heard my bow crack.