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Home > Magazine > Bow > Snaky Bows & Freehand Pipes

Snaky Bows & Freehand Pipes
March 29, 2007

They go together.

They both have natural, flowing shapes, that go where the wood wants to go.

Many crafted wood items, including pipes and bows, are cut to symmetric shapes. Boats, skis and gunstocks are.

But here are two instances where the wood takes over.

If one appreciated the one I bet they'd appreciate the other.

Snaky bows are most commonly made of osage orange wood. This is the most famous bow wood of the USA region, preferred for over 1000 years. Bois d'Arc is what it was called by the early French. It's fence-post wood. Strong, resists rot. It's bright yellow when freshly cut then ages fairly quickly to gold then deep orange. It has a lovely grain and is a joy to see in a bow. It's also often not straight, to be sweet about it. To craft a selfbow---that is, a bow made of one piece of wood---one cuts a stave from a tree (board about 4"x2"x6') which follows the grain. Then one crafts out a bow which also follows the grain. This grain quite often will lead one in twisty directions. The resulting bow might even include a knothole which is sometimes punched out. The wood is so strong that a hole through a limb is acceptable. Snaky bows are also called "character" bows. If well-made they shoot just fine!

I know far less about pipes, having just started puffing last year. But it seems like there are lathe-turned pipes and there are "freehand" pipes---carved by hand to whatever shape one wishes, often following the wood grain. Pipes are often made of briar---the twisty old root bulb of a long-lived Mediterranean-region shrub. The Danish seem to be among the most famous for their freehand pipes.

I've only seen one freehand pipe being puffed. It was when we were in NYC last winter. We were walking by the outdoor skating rink next to the public library. An older gent sitting at a rinkside table suddenly caught my eye. He had a nice fedora on and was puffing a pipe that had a wood grain streaked like golden flames and flaring a bit at the top, like a tulip---dang, I thought, a freehand pipe!

[UPDATE! 4/21/07 -- I bought an estate freehand pipe on eBay a couple weeks ago. It sure is a lovely thing. It's twice as big as my other 2 pipes. Oddly, it loves to smoke aromatic tobaccos. While my other main pipe prefers naturals or strong English styles. Apparently this happens with pipes. I had a few samples of aromatics that I hadn't been puffing at all because they were no good out of my Dunhill. So the freehand gave them back to me! Thanks! It holds twice as much weed, so it's kinda like starting a leaf-pile fire when I spark it up, but it's way nice. See photo below...]

[UPDATE 3/09 -- I attended my first Pipe Club get-together and found out that my Dunhill probably isn't. Oh well, it still puffs nice! Makes me wonder how anything could be better! And that my freehand might've been made by one-time CHP-X owner, Chuck Hollyday, the first US freehand pipemaker, who lived in Traverse City! Cool! Here's a couple sites with info:,]

Anyway, check it out. Here are some pics and links to more info about both bows and pipes.


The traditional archery community has rich presence online...

*Primitive Archer: index.php/topic,1929.msg24101.html

*The Traditional Archery Gang:;f=40

Here's a link to one of the most amazing stories I've ever seen posted to a forum of any kind. This guy reports on and gives photos of his whole process of making his own complete archery kit from materials near his house (flint arrows, reed quiver, the works), then of taking his kit out and hunting a buck deer, arrowing it, tracking it and bringing it home. We even follow the trail in pics and get looks at it bedded down in the distance. Amazing! ...;f=40;t=000067;p=1


*Photos of osage bows:

Freehand Pipes! --- This is the web-page for the helpful Usenet group alt.smokers.pipes. --- Boswell is famous for affordable custom pipes.

From the "Paleo Planet" forum homepage---backed bows and stone tools

A snaky osage.

Knot in Osage bow, shown in discussion at

Free spirits in wood...

A Boswell freehand pipe.

Another Boswell freehand pipe.

My new pipe! It's a CHP-X, made by a fellow who is no longer with us.

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