Author Topic: Working with Ashe Juniper  (Read 5692 times)

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Offline jackcrafty

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Working with Ashe Juniper
« on: February 15, 2008, 11:47:26 am »
There are a few good threads already posted for juniper.....but I will attempt to post something original on the subject.  My experience with juniper has been with Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei) that is common here in central Texas.

Ashe juniper doesn't like to grow straight. Finding a clear, straight piece is very hard unless you stumble upon a juniper "forest".  The more mature trees will yield the best staves, in my opinion. The bark on these mature tress will peel off easier too.

Ashe juniper has clearly defined sapwood and heartwood.  The sapwood thickness varies greatly but is thickest on the compression side of a limb/trunk and on vertical limbs/trunks.  (I have only worked with sapwood...so that will be my focus in this discussion).

I like to use the thickest piece of sapwood that I can find, peel the bark off immediately after cutting, split, and reduce the stave to near-finished dimensions as soon as possible.  Ashe juniper checks badly on the end grain so I seal ALL end grain no matter what size I'm dealing with.  I use a hand axe to rough out the stave and a rasp to clean up.  This is the easy part....ashe juniper splits easily and responds extremely well to hand tools.

Now comes the hard part....the shaping.  If you have a straight juniper stave and want a straight bow, you can skip this part.

Heat bending applied to green or dry ashe juniper works equally well (and equally bad).  What I mean is the wood has "memory" and will want to revert back to it's original shape over time but it responds very well to heat and bends fairly easily.  I've made several ashe juniper bows and ALL of them need re-shaping after sitting for a while.  Some of my bows have better memories than others....but all are a pain in the butt.  Also, the thicker the bent area, the better the memory.  After the first shaping, I let the stave dry for a least a month indoors.  You can wait longer if you wish.....the longer the better.  You can also tie it to a form....but I have not tried this so I don't know how well it works.  I believe Ishi used a form for his juniper bows...so it's probably a good idea.

OK, once you have a dry stave and begin to tiller, the ashe juniper will begin to show its best attributes....incredible flexibility and strength (for its mass).  I should mention at this point that I have not sinewed any of my ashe juniper bows.....for two reasons:  One, I never cut through the growth rings on the back of the bow and, two, the wood bends so well that I feel it would be overkill at this point.  In the future, I plan to make bows stronger than 40# and shorter than 48".  These will probably need to be backed but, for now, unbacked ashe juniper does very well with my standard 40# @ 22'' draw,  48" bow design.

Jim Hamm mentions that he likes to apply sinew BEFORE tillering.  If you want to be extra safe, or if you've cut through the growth rings, then this is a good idea.

Tiller the bow like any other, except keep in mind that juniper is a softwood.  Your finished bow will be a lot thicker than hardwood bows of the same strength.  I've made ashe juniper bows with both wide and narrow limbs with good results.  The wider-limbed bows are faster, but they "vibrate" more when shot.

The nocks I use are wrapped, not cut (I've had a couple of cut nocks explode on me).  I wrap sinew or thread (set in glue) around the end to create a shoulder for the string.  I also wrap the tips to create a "stop" or "bulb" to prevent the string from suddenly sliding off the end of the bow......one of the hazards of short bows.

The only other advice I can give here is to "overbuild" the bow when you start.  Ashe juniper becomes stronger as it dries....but not much.  When I first started using ashe juniper, all my bows ended up being in the 20-30# range when I was trying for 40-50#'s!  Maybe it's because I had just finished a period if time when I was making ipe bows.....I don't know.  In any case, once you find a good piece of ashe juniper, BE VERY CAREFUL. You don't want to waste it!  The finished bow will be well worth the effort.

« Last Edit: February 20, 2008, 04:01:38 pm by jackcrafty »
Any critter tastes good with enough butter on it. :::.

Patrick Blank
Midland, Texas
AllergicHobbit (youtube)

Where's the Rock?  Public Waterways, Road Cuts, Landscape Supply, Knap-Ins.
How Do I Cook It?  Light Colors:  200deg for 24hrs, 400deg for 4hrs, Cool for 12hrs.

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Offline jackcrafty

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Re: Working with Ashe Juniper
« Reply #1 on: February 15, 2008, 02:12:22 pm »
A few more things about Ashe Juniper:

- I always use green wood for bows. Ashe juniper that is "dead and standing" is almost never good for bows.  The dead sapwood is usually too brittle (for some reason).  The heartwood doesn't seem to have this problem, though.  Ashe juniper is resistant to decay (and is used for fence posts) but the locals feel that ashe juniper is inferior to cedar in this regard.
- If you soak the small branches in water, they will bend extremely well and are excellent for basketry.
- Ashe juniper smoke has a very pleasant odor.  I've heard that it causes allergic reactions in people but I have not seen this first hand.
- Although the bark is stringy, it does NOT make good cordage.  As the bark dries out, it becomes very weak.
- The pitch is extremely sticky but difficult to collect in large quantities.  It is stickier than pine sap (in my experience).
- Hand shock is a problem with ashe juniper.  Hmmmm....maybe that's not a good term......it's more of a "vibration" than a "shock".  Maybe it's because I like using stretchy, sinew strings...I dunno.  ;D
« Last Edit: February 20, 2008, 04:04:01 pm by jackcrafty »
Any critter tastes good with enough butter on it. :::.

Patrick Blank
Midland, Texas
AllergicHobbit (youtube)

Where's the Rock?  Public Waterways, Road Cuts, Landscape Supply, Knap-Ins.
How Do I Cook It?  Light Colors:  200deg for 24hrs, 400deg for 4hrs, Cool for 12hrs.

PN500445

Offline donnieonetrack

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Re: Working with Ashe Juniper
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2008, 09:46:00 pm »
Patrick thanks for the tips.

I have a question about shooting with short draws.

If you have a 22" draw length what length of arrows do you use?

Do you "hold" at 22" or do you let go as soon as you reach full draw?

How much do your arrows weigh?

I've been playing with 21-25" draws lately and seem to be hitting really good if I keep my shots less than 20 yards.  beyond 20 yards the arrows seem to drop too fast.  I'm shooting 29" cane arrows with 145grain points, total weight is around 550grains.  My main bow is 50# at 25".

Also, I sent you a PM.

Thanks,

Donnie
Donnie Wilkerson
Gainesville, Florida

Offline jackcrafty

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Re: Working with Ashe Juniper
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2008, 11:48:22 am »
For my 22" draw bows, I use a 26" long arrow with a 4", wooden, pointed, 3-sided tip.  I draw until I feel the back of the wooden tip touch my bow hand, then immediately release.

Most of my arrows are made from birch dowel, barrelled, and weigh around 290 grains.  The fletching length is 8" long and cropped to about 1/8" in front and 5/16" at the nock end.  So far, I have not made any hunting arrows for my short bows.

I get good results out to about 20 yards as well (my target is about 6" in diameter).  The arrows have a flat trajectory out to about 15 yards.  After that, wind affects the arrows as well as the "dropping".

A short draw bow will not store as much energy as a full length draw bow of the same poundage.  For example, my best 20" draw, 45#, 48" bow shoots a 500 grain arrow at about 105 fps.  If I recurve the tips...I could possibly get 110 fps.  A 45# straight bow with a 28" draw would shoot the same 500 grain arrow at about 135 fps (as I recall (?) from TTB).  This means that you will see relatively poor arrow performance from a short draw bow when compared to a longer-draw bow.

So be happy...it's not you.  It's the bow.

(But I still like the little buggers)   ;D
« Last Edit: February 24, 2008, 05:06:47 am by jackcrafty »
Any critter tastes good with enough butter on it. :::.

Patrick Blank
Midland, Texas
AllergicHobbit (youtube)

Where's the Rock?  Public Waterways, Road Cuts, Landscape Supply, Knap-Ins.
How Do I Cook It?  Light Colors:  200deg for 24hrs, 400deg for 4hrs, Cool for 12hrs.

PN500445

Offline jackcrafty

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Re: Working with Ashe Juniper
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2008, 12:17:42 pm »
A few more things about Ashe Juniper:

- There are two different types of knots on the surface of the wood..."ins" and "outs".  The "ins" are depressions that form around dead branches....and are not covered over as quickly as in other trees.  The "outs" are live branches.  When drying the stave, cracks will appear at the upper and lower edges of the "ins".  This can be avoided by cutting the stave down to near-bow dimensions while the wood is still green.

- The back of an ashe juniper bow can contain "in" knots but should not contain "out" knots (unless they are very small).

- The bark is peeled and scraped off easier when the wood is green.  If allowed to dry, one method of getting the bark off is to bend the wood....the bark "breaks" off the surface and 95% of it can be peeled off. The remainder will have to be carefully scraped or sanded off.

- There is always at least some twist in each piece of wood.  About 85% of the ashe juniper I've seen is not suitable for staves...or at least not for LONG staves.  (Maybe that's why so may NA bows made from junper are so short?)  Anyway, the best way to tell where the twist is going is to watch how the bark peels off.  Splitting the wood will also reveal the twist, but the edges of the split wood will often splinter heavily and sometimes ruin the stave.  The method I use to get the most from each stave is to watch how the bark peels off, make some sort of mark on the stave, and cut or CAREFULLY split the wood along this mark.

- One way to avoid most "twisty" ashe juniper is to make bows from small diameter limbs.  The problem with this is that there is usually a lot of small branches on these limbs....and too many knots will make the wood unusable.  In my opinion, it takes much longer to find a good, small diameter limb than a good mature limb.  A "skinny" limb will make a fine bow, however, and the time involved in making the bow will be less.....so I guess everything evens out in the end.


« Last Edit: February 24, 2008, 05:09:21 am by jackcrafty »
Any critter tastes good with enough butter on it. :::.

Patrick Blank
Midland, Texas
AllergicHobbit (youtube)

Where's the Rock?  Public Waterways, Road Cuts, Landscape Supply, Knap-Ins.
How Do I Cook It?  Light Colors:  200deg for 24hrs, 400deg for 4hrs, Cool for 12hrs.

PN500445