Cracks in Osage

Cracks or checks in Osage????
The page is dedicated to the discussion of drying checks (tiny cracks) in Osage. While drying checks do occur in other wood species, Osage Orange is likely the most prone to developing checks. What does this mean??? In most cases, it means nothing at all. Osage is often regarded as the best bow wood available, and for good reason. Nothing can ever be perfect without some sort of fault, right? Osage is no different. Should this dissuade you from purchasing or making an Osage bow?? Absolutely not. Most drying checks in Osage are perfectly safe and will have no bearing on the longevity, performance, or reliability of the bow. What we are going to do here is discuss the differences and causes of checks, and is it something to be worried about or not. The first thing I will mention is that at least 60 percent of all Osage I have ever worked has had drying checks somewhere. Some of my personal best bows have been riddled with drying checks and are still shooting great today which is testament that they are no danger to a bow in MOST circumstances. I as a bowyer do my very best to build a bow to eliminate any drying checks, but occasionally one slips though and isn’t even noticed until the bow’s finish is applied. That is just the nature of a primitive bow. Just like knots, wiggles, and twist; an occasional drying check is something that should just be accepted as a possibility when purchasing a primitive bow, whether from me or anyone for that matter. Just rest assured that the bow is most certainly warrantied, and also have confidence in knowing that I have never had a bow warrantied because of a drying check failure! That is not to say that every bow will have a drying check, either. I’d put a rough estimate at 1 in 5 of my bows might have 1 check on it somewhere. While they are of no concern, should a customer be unhappy with the check, I have no problem replacing it with a bow that does not have a check. The only down side to this is the customer having to wait until a new bow can be made. I always disclose any found check to the customer before shipping so they are no surprised or panicked by it. No sense in wasting shipping and I am not in the business of trying to deceive anyone as my reputation is of utmost importance!
What causes drying checks-  Simply put, it is a result from drying just as the name implies. When wood dries too quickly, it has a tendency to check. That is why we strip the sapwood off every stave and immediately coat the back and ends with wax to keep it from checking. Nearly all of my bows are check free on the backs, but the stave can’t be fully coated to prevent cracks or the stave will stay wet too long and develop a fungus and ruin the wood. The belly side of the stave must be un-sealed. This is typically where the checks will occur. The belly checks can run up into the stave and occasional make their way up into the wood that will be included in the finished bow. For aesthetic reasons, I try to eliminate these as well, but if I threw out every stave that had one little drying check, I’d have to throw out over 50% of staves! Often times it is only in the thicker parts of the bow that a check might occur, like on a deep handle. Great bows are often made that include a drying check.
Another occurrence of checks can happen in the building process. There are things that I do to enhance the bow’s performance. Heat treating bellies and bending recurves into the tips. The steaming and cooling of reflexed grips and tips can often times cause a few little checks to open up. These are of no worry at all and ironically occur when trying to enhance the bow’s performance. These tiny checks do not effect the bow’s performance in the least, they are merely slight cosmetic disturbances, usually hidden unless in good sunlight.
So if you find yourself looking at a hairline check that runs WITH the grain, it is no cause for alarm. In the rare case that it should expand with time, then please contact me, but other than that, don’t let it bother you. As I have stated before, some of my personal best hunting bows have many many checks; so many checks that I refused to sell the bow so I’ve kept it myself. They are still shooting strong to this day! While I do try to spot and disclose any checks, they are tough to see at times and I might not always spot them.