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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I will confess to being as interested in the aesthetics of equipment as its functionality. This is kind of a "book by its cover" thing, but I am an unabashed lover of pretty gear.
When we select woods for traditional Okinawan weapons, hardness, weight and flexibility are all factors in selection. Aesthetics has to come dead last because you don't want a weapon that is too rigid, or it might break. Long weapons, like the bo, require some flexibility.
So this all got me wondering, is there a need for such qualities in a riser. Does it need to have give or have a certain "softness" for shock absorption? Or can we just go with whatever gives us the weight and look we want?
I know Sid and you other bow builders out there will have ready answers for me. Could I, for example, build a riser out of purple heart and osage orange, or zebra wood and jatoba?
 

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Throw enough carbon at it and any hardwood will probably do!

That said I hasve no idea why certain woods aren't more popular. Specifically Ipe which has much better mechanical properties then the woods commonly used for risers. It's nice and dark with an even darker grain, plus it's pretty darn cheap.

-Grant
 
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Throw enough carbon at it and any hardwood will probably do!

That said I hasve no idea why certain woods aren't more popular. Specifically Ipe which has much better mechanical properties then the woods commonly used for risers. It's nice and dark with an even darker grain, plus it's pretty darn cheap.

-Grant
your right on the button there Grant. Enough carbon and most timbers will work.

as for timber choice.
The things that need to be considerd.
how easy is it to glue. (Oils in the wood)
How tough is it on your tools.
How stable is it. Some bows travel alot. And timbers can shrink.
how available is it. Ie can you buy it in a constant basis.
how much of it is likely scrap (quality of the timbers)

Is it a timber your suppliers stock.
is it mega harmfull.
Does it cut nicely.
will it chip or break...
what colour does it end up in 5 years time. Macasser ebony starts off with some colour in it then ends up all the same shade of black. Imo.

lots of things...
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks Sid. I would assume availability is a big factor for you. There are some woods we use, like purple heart, that is readily available, beautiful, ages well, tough as nails, but it does have the tendency to change radically coming from moist to our dry climate. Quite often, the grain opens and you have to sock the oil to it. But jatoba, for example, is hard and stable and tends not to change much with the climate. As you know, it is very popular for flooring. Just wondering what the options are. My students have ordered a whole whack of different woods over the past few years, just so we can see how they react and wear. BC cherry, curly maple, osage orange and ipe are proving to be both beautiful and stable; good weapons quality stuff. But, as you point out, their ability to play well with others and to take glue are important. I am curious about what bow makers have tried, what worked and what failed. You have your favourites and there must be a reason for that.
 

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Rob
I know what you mean about the aesthetics of the bow.
I have 2 English longbows made from Snakewood. They're a pig to make, oily as heck to glue and if not tillered to perfection shock you like an athetoid chiropractor .... but boy oh boy do they look good
 
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ipe is a very difficult wood to work with. it will dull any cutting tool, the chalklike yellow flecks can be a problem, and it is oily and hard to glue with confidence. it is also mildly toxic and an allergen. Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Ipe has been reported to cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation, as well as other effects such as headaches, asthma-like symptoms, and/or disturbance of vision.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
So which, in your opinion, is the nicest combination of looks, utility and workability in a riser wood?
Have any of you tried Osage orange, yellow heart, zebra wood, canary wood, etc.?
 

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osage is okay if you can find it kiln dried to your local needs, but it oxidizes and ends up pretty blah even under some finishes. maybe someone knows how to stop that? yellowheart is a pretty god wood, glues well etc., but is not particularly attractive for the most part. zebrawood is an archery staple and can be very attractive paired with other dark woods.
this is from the WOOD DATABASE. google that and you will be able to look at and read about almost every commercial wood, both soft and hard.

canary wood

"Color/Appearance: Heartwood color can vary a fair amount, from a pale yellow-orange to a darker reddish brown, usually with darker streaks throughout. Pale yellow sapwood is sharply demarcated from heartwood. Color tends to darken and homogenize with age: see the article Preventing Color Changes in Exotic Woods for more information.

Grain/Texture: Grain is typically straight, but can be irregular or wild on some pieces. Uniform fine to medium texture with good natural luster.

Endgrain: Diffuse-porous; large pores in no specific arrangement, few; solitary and radial multiples of 2-3; mineral/gum deposits occasionally present; growth rings indistinct; rays not visible without lens; parenchyma varies depending on species: can be vasicentric, aliform, and confluent.

Rot Resistance: Rated as very durable in regard to decay resistance, as well as being resistant to termite and marine borer attack.

Workability: Easy to work with both hand and machine tools, though some tearout can occur during planing on pieces with wild or irregular grain. Turns, glues and finishes well."
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks Larry. So, as with many things, I guess you would want to go pick out specific pieces of wood from the supplier if possible. Zebrawood is one of mu favourites. Too light for most weapons but I think it might be dramatic in a riser paired with something dark.
Pondscum, our weapons maker doesn't even wear a dust mask and we are thinking of crowdsourcing to build him and industrial quality filtration and exhaust system for his shop so he doesn't die on us. He has developed a wicked wheeze. But, being an old fart, he won't listen to advice.
 

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I'm not a bowyer but I do have a weakness for pretty wood. Keep that in mind, my opinions here are based only on looks (my opinion) and the weight they add to a riser (I like a relatively heavy bow)...;)

One of the most popular is cocobolo, not only for the beauty it often shows but also because it's a very dense wood and adds some weight to a riser. Cocobolo looks great combined with ebony and a lighter wood for the limbs like myrtle or figured maple. Cocobolo also looks great with bocote or zebra wood. I believe cocobolo is a wood where a worker is advised to wear a dust mask when sanding.

My favorite is snakewood, but I think it's tough to work with. I have a couple of Norm Johnson's Snakebit recurves and after talking to him I developed a little more understanding of why the wood is so expensive. He buys it by the log and cuts until he finds the distinctive barring and grain that snakewood is known for, but he added that there is always a lot of waste. Snakewood is even denser than cocobolo and even in my one-piece bow makes a nice solid feeling riser. Once you get some good solid stock though, in my opinion there is nothing more beautiful than snakewood. Snakewood has a three dimensional quality that is really beautiful.

A prospective buyer of exotics also needs to remember that they darken with age. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, you loose a little contrast in the wood grain but often pick up a richness that is lacking right after finishing. Both of my Snakebits and also my cocobolo bows look a little less dramatic than when I got them but in some ways I think they look better; more rich and luxurious, less flashy.

Talking to a couple bowyers it seems like the prettiest wood is often the most difficult to work with. Bocote is a beautiful wood, as is zebra wood. Koa can be fabulous but is not a very dense wood. Macassar ebony can be fabulous if you find the right piece, both beautiful and heavy. If you wan to look at wood combinations, the Blacktail and Schafer Silvertip websites are good places to browse.

My cocobolo Silvertip with koa accents and limbs:



This is my TD Snakebit right after I got it. The snakewood has darkened a bit and taken on more of a deep glowing quality:

 

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ipe is a very difficult wood to work with. it will dull any cutting tool, the chalklike yellow flecks can be a problem, and it is oily and hard to glue with confidence. it is also mildly toxic and an allergen. Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Ipe has been reported to cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation, as well as other effects such as headaches, asthma-like symptoms, and/or disturbance of vision.
I don't think there are any tropical woods that I would work with in an industrial setting without excellent ventillation and protective equipment.

That said I've made quite a few bows with Ipe and it really isn't that much worse then other woods. I'd say it probably would machine really nicely in a CNC set-up due to the tightness of the grain. It's mechanical properties are amazing.

I've elected to have the riser for a longbow built of Ipe rather than going with phenolic simply because it's both a lot cheaper (like 15% of the cost) but also quite a bit stiffer then anything other than G10 which would be insanely expensive as a riser material.

-Grant
 
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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Cocobolo is one of my favourite woods for short weapons because of its grain, colour and weight but mostly for that soft density it has. I have tried one bow with a cocobolo riser and it had a lovely feel and heft to it. Two woodworkers I talked to said it is getting increasingly difficult to acquire now though. Maybe we will be looking at bamboo laminates in the future if the tropical hardwoods continue to disappear at this rate.
 
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