Sunday, 4 November 2012

Variability of Yew

I've been rather busy this weekend, I had a visit from the chap for whom I'm making the shorter longbow. It's good to meet as we could discus nocks and other detail I could see him shoot and we gave the various bows an outing, it reminded me he's left handed too.
Next morning I was off on a long drive to collect a Yew log which I'd spotted back in April on a Hampshire estate, I'd got in touch with the head forester at the time and he located the tree and cut the limb for me at a very reasonable price considering the work involved in getting it out.
You can see the branch in the middle of the tree sticking up almost vertical. You can see it's a bit of a way off the ground, and having felt the weight of it I now realise how foolish I was thinking I could have managed to cut it myself.

I met up with him and we had a good chat about the forest, Dutch Elm and Ash die-back disease etc. He was really interesting to talk to and he said he'd keep an eye out for similar pieces of Yew for me, if they do any work on Yew trees.
The Yew log looks superb, but the heartwood sapwood boundary is rather indistinct and there isn't as much heartwood as I'd hoped. (See the end of the log in the pic of it on the bandsaw). There is still two bows in it, but I'd been greedily hoping that maybe I'd get 3 or 4 ( I hadn't realised it was so oval in cross section)

When I got home I went to a local churchyard where the vicar and church warden had agreed I could cut a skinny Yew branch.
By contrast, I can touch my finger tip to my thumb round the middle of this branch but it is nearly all heartwood!
The vicar was there working in the vicarage garden and as we were chatting I spotted a second similar branch in the adjacent tree, he said I may as well have that too. I could scarcely believe it, this one was even better, the heart wood was dark blood red and there was just a thin line of sapwood around it.
I put a hefty donation into the church funds and wondered if maybe I should invite the vicar on all my Yew hunting expeditions.
The skinny branches probably won't make a classic longbow, but will certainly make a primitive or maybe a branch style longbow. There is an Eastern European guy on Primitive Archer goes by the user name 'Druid' makes superb high draw weight longbows from branches, often full of knots, but real works of art, they tend to be flat bellied and semicircular back.
I just found his website, it's in Croatian but the pics on the home page are great and will cycle through.

Note the different bark on the logs, I don't know what the significance is as both Yews were really old, not just landscape yew.
I've got the big log cut up already, it was getting near the limits of my bandsaw and was a bit of a struggle. First I took a slice of sapwood off each side (they may come in handy for backing bows) that made it a bit lighter and also easier to mark up and run through the saw for the main cut.
It was then cut down the middle to give two substantial staves.
After wrestling with logs all day, I slept like one.
This morning I'll paint the ends with PVA and store them on my shelves for a year.
I'll be able to get back to the longbows now and hopefully get a picture of them beginning to flex on the tiller on Monday.
While I was down south, I met up with my brother who opined on the Yew log and gave me a laminated stave from a boat builder friend of his who also made some bows, he's now is in his 70s and felt he'd never get round to finishing it. It's Lemonwood backed with Hickory, two woods I haven't used so it will be interesting to finish it off. John the boat builder had also passed on some archery books.

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