Whitewoods: These woods can be made into a bow by using the layer of wood right unde the tree. These woods are candidates for quick curing. The rough Specific Gravity should give you an idea of the weight you can expect at 2".
Red oak .5
White oak .7
Hardrock maple .6
Vine maple .65
Hop Hornbeam .65
Crab apple* .65
Pasific yew** .65
*These are whitewood bows that have a tendency to check if debarked too soon. Shellac, glue, or thin paint can help if bark is removed anyway.
**This is a heartwood bow that can be treated like a whitewood stave and won't check.
*** This is a very elastic wood that, despite being very light, makes an excellent bow. It's weakness is in tension, so a sinew or rawhide backing can make it safe. A sinew backed juniper bow can be very fast, light in the hand, with little hand shock and easy to work.
Heartwoods: these woods have a thin layer of sapwood that is usually thinned or removed. They should be seasoned for several months before the bark and sapwood are removed, or sealed with shellac as soon as you get the bark and sapwood off (all at once, no time to dawdle). The ends should also be sealed before letting it sit, and right after splitting.
Osage orange .8
Black Locust .7
Now, just about any fruit, nut, or thorn bearing tree/shrub/bush will make a bow. The thinner a fresh stave is roughed into as a bow, the less chance for checking, but you can always experiment and find out.
As far as the hundreds of other woods that will also make an excellent bow, here's a simple way to check: go up to a tree. Give a small twiggy branch a pull. Let it go. If it slowly returns, don't bother trying to coax a bow. If it returns with a reasonable amount of quickness, you could make a decent bow from it. Now, it that little twig snaps back you can expect it to make a pretty good bow! Guava, privet, denser eucalyptus(sp?), hawthorn, dogwood, persimon(sp?), and any other number of dense woods make a good bow! If you can find the SG of a wood, let this serve as a good rule: anything over .5 is a candidate, and anything over .65 should serve to make a really good one! A more thorough guide to woods can be found in Traditional Bowyer's Bible vol. 4. If nothing else, you can make a small bow from a branch and try it out. Oh, and for the record, branch wood is a little denser, so even if you can't cut a big ol' tree, don't give up on a wood.
Cutting and Seasoning
Cutting bow wood can be as simple as taking a pruning saw and trimming down a sizable limb. Really all you need to know about cutting bow wood is that you should watch for knots, warts, or spirals in the bark. Also, avoid standing dead tress- rot and bugs are a no no for bows. The best time to cut wood is when you have the time. In the summer, white woods will allow you to literally peel the bark right off as the sap is up. No carving or thinning needed. Heartwoods are usually easier to deal with in the winter. Most of these woods have thorns are easier to get to. Likewise, the sap is lower in the winter and therefore you won't have as much trouble sealing the ends to prevent checking.
The biggest problems a bowyer might encounter when cutting wood are checking, warping, and bugs. Checking and warping can be avoided by reducing the bow to near bow dimensions as soon as the wood is cut, or very soon after. When reduced, there is no "inside wood", but rather it becoems mostly "surface wood". Therefore, the inside of the stave can't dry at a different rate than the outside. Warping can be avoided by cmapling the bow to a form, which can be as simple as a two by four. Bugs are usually an issue with heartwoods, since the wood must be first seasoned with the bark on. To avoid the little pests it's usually best to keep the staves inside and/ or spray them down with repellant.
Checking effects larger staves and heartwoods by splitting the ends of the staves making them harder to use. This is especially torublesome with heartwoods because, with the bark still on, the only place the moisture can escape is the inside of the split and the ends. To avoid checking you must seal the ends of the stave. Shellac, paint, even wood glue will all work. A little bit goes a long way to preventing issue. In the same way, if you cut the wood in the summer and remove the bark and or sapwood, you can seal the back of the bow in the same way to prevent checking, just as the bark does. This may seem pointless, but if you're interested in making a bow quickly it's alot easier to get the bow to final dimesnions this way. Reducing a bow to final dimensions can reduce drying time considerably, an mean the difference between having a bow for the up coming season or the up coming year.
White woods, unlike Osage and locust, do not contain the resins that make them less likely to rot. These woods need to be kept inside, out of the moisture, where it is dry and warm.
Drying, or curing, a stave is not just about cutting the wood and letting it sit. Some times a stave can sit for years and never become "dry enough." Wood dries because of heat, air movement, and relative humidity. In a hot, windy, dry area a stave will lose moisture very fast. At those times you must be cautious to avoid checking and warping. Other times, conditions will be wet, cold, and very still. Don't expect wood to be usable in these conditions. In a moderately dry climate with a full stave sitting in a temperate room in your house, you can expect the wood to dry in six months to a year. A roughed out bow in the same conditions will take about half of that. A roughed out bow put into a hot box, however, will be dry in half of THAT.
A simple hot box can be built by using 5/8" plywood to make a 1' x 1' x 6' box. On one side or the bottom is a row of three light fixtures wired parallel. If the bow is lined with insulation of some sort, three 60 watt bulbs will really cook a bow quickly, and three 40 Watt bulbs should be a safe and reliable set up. Uninsulated you should use either 60 or 100 Watt bulbs. Here there is no really big difference in my opinion between the two unless conditions outside the box are cold or wet. Remember that on woods like Osage, you may not want to go for "super dry" like you would with hickory. The wood can become too brittle to be properly worked, and result in a bow that is now not strong enough in tension to keep the bow together. Sinew backed bows do not need this sort of caution, as both wood and sinew are snappier when very dry. Even a low Watt hot box can cure a roughed out bow from sopping wet to ready for tillering in a month or two.
How can you tell when the wood is dry? That's a tough one. Moisture meters are expensive, and I've found they don't work well enough. You can weigh the wood, but that requires a very accurate scale. Personally, I've found that the easiest way is just to look at a roughed out bow and look for three signs:
1. Is the bow light in the hand? Selfbows are usually not very heavy, typically just a pound or two. A wet stave will have some heft and a dry stave will feel light as a feather by comparison.
2. How does the wood react to tools? Wet wood is usually very easy to cut through with edge tools, but does not respond well to rasps and files. Dry wood does react well to files and rasps, leaving a set of clean marks.
3. When first bending the bow, does is spring right back to shape? A wet bow will immediately start taking set after some initial bending because wet wood is so much weaker than dry. If the bow seems to have the first two traits but seems sluggish to return to shape, then it really isn't dry. Nothing but experience can help you become more fluent when using these tips, but a little practice and caution should leave you adept in a short time.