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William E. (Bill) Sweetland

by Cliff Huntington

Bill Sweetland is best remembered for the research and development of a process resulting in his patented Forgewood compressed cedar shafts. Bill became interested in this idea while attending The University of California in Berkeley where he taught a men's archery class in addition to pursuing his studies in Forest Products. Bill noticed that when an arrow broke, more times than not, the break occurred just back of the point. Shafts footed with hardwood on the pile end worked well in strengthening this critical area, but they were expensive to produce. In his studies of Forest Products many new methods of improving wood were discovered, fueling his quest to create an improved arrow shaft. Later, in an American Bowman Review article published in June 1947, he would write,

"We see a great deal in Sunday supplements and various scientific magazines about new methods of improving wood, and every archer cocks an attentive ear when he hears about processes that bring out qualities not otherwise found in the normal materials of our forests. The archer's interest is most justified, for why should wood not be improved or altered in different ways to suit it to the requirements of the object into which it is made?"

He further wrote,

"Within certain limits wood can be altered to fit various requirements, and one of the most practical and useful products of wood which has been `transformed' is in the production of arrow shafts."

Bill ignored some of the basic myths of wood technology for archery, instead relying on his analytical and quantitative mind to create the Forgewood, possibly the finest wood arrow shaft ever manufactured.


Bill would have select, straight grained Port Orford cedar sawn into flat grained boards with the pile end thickened to three times the final doweled size. This thicken portion would taper out after about six inches into the remaining portion which was 1.5 to 2.0 times the diameter of the doweled shaft. With the use of a powerful hydraulic press and combining the proper amounts of heat, pressure and time, the board would be compressed to a uniform thickness. The compressed board would then be ripped into blanks and doweled. The result was a shaft of uniform thickness, with an extremely hard footing for about six inches with the remainder of the shaft compressed to a lessor degree. Bill's system was so flexible that the main part of the shaft could be varied in its compression from zero to the extreme density of the footing allowing for any type of shaft to be produced.


Were these compressed shafts an improvement over conventional shafts? Bill thought so and claimed that his Forgewood shafts had been shot repeatedly through fir and pine boards without a pile or head and sustained no damage. In one of his early ads he challenged, "Shoot them through the barn door! If any of them break in this `Barn Door Test' when shot with the bow they were intended for--tell us and we'll replace them two for one!" I don't know how many shafts he replaced, but he was still in business 20 years after that ad.
A little known facet of his business was compressing wood for use in bow making and several bowyers were the beneficiary, the most name worthy among them being one Chester Stevenson from Eugene, Oregon. Chester made several laminated bows utilizing both compressed yew and lemonwood. Bill's process could effectively reduce the lamination to 60% or so of its initial thickness, changing a given wood's density, color, hardness and size without any loss of its original characteristics.


Bill Sweetland was a man of vision, joining Hickman, Klopsteg, Nagler and others in bringing Science to Archery. We owe them all a great debt and if you run into Bill Sweetland at a shoot or gathering somewhere, thank him for his contribution, he's earned it.

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Bill Sweetland
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