Drying and Seasoning Basics

Bow woods fall into 2 general categories as to how they are treated. Black locust, osage, mulberry, etc are considered heartwoods. Their best part is the inner heartwood and not the outer sapwood which must be removed immediately or eventually. The bowyer cuts and splits the wood into 4 inch sections (or so). He than has 2 possible routes either of which is ok. He can remove ALL of the lighter sapwood and shellac or polyurethane the back and ends. Later the bowyer may go down to the ring he wants for the back but all the sapwood must be removed. He can also leave the bark on and go down to a ring later on when the wood is dry in about 1 year. In either case the ends should be sealed. The belly is not sealed in any way.On black locust I've always just left the bark on and chased a ring later when the wood was dry. This emoval of wood I do witha draw knife and sandpaper.

For all the other woods (whitewoods)--ash, hickory, maple, elm, oak, hop hornbeam, etc., you may seal the ends and remove the bark asap. You don't have to seal the backs. About 1 year for drying. You can tell when the wood is dry when it stops losing weight. I really never force dry wood.

With all woods you may, including the heartwoods, remove the bark and get the wood to near bow dimensions and force dry it in a hot car or attic or stove pipe dryer. For the heartwoods you would go to the ring you want for the back and seal the back, reduce the wood to near bow dimensions and let it dry. Hard to say but I bet a month would do it. Shorter probably if you put it in the attic, a stove pipe drier or a hot car. Wet wood does not spring back to shape when wet. Also monitor the actual physical weight of the stave and when it stops losing weight it is ok and dry enough to work. For a white woods stave get it to near bow dimensions. Let it dry on its own or in the attic or car --same with the heartwoods. A stovepipe dryer is merely a length of stove pipe with a light bulb on the bottom to provide heat. I suspend the stave 1 foot above the bulg. Be sure to rotate the upper and lower limbs of the stave when dryinfg it. Also be sure that the stave is suspended securely above the stave or it may burn if it gets too close. I suspend it with sash cord from the first floor joists in my cellar.

If you have a moisture meter-8-10% is a good percentage for knowing the wood is dry enough to work. I have one and use it throught the bow making process from floor tillering to final tiller; if I think the wood might be wet or if the meter confirms my suspicions I let it dry before continuing. 6-10 inches is good but even 2-3 inch saplings can make bows. For the saplings make them 2 inches longer when laying out the bow to compensate for the crown or rounded back.

Copyright 2000 George C Tsoukalas

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