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
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.