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How to build a hand crafted bow

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How to build a hand crafted bow
November 24, 2018 Books No comments

The way many begin hunting is usually with a gun, but for those of you who wish to use a bow, you are at the right place as we go on to explaining how to make a hunting bow. Whilst the majority of hunter discover the enjoyment of hunting and enhance their skills, they usually look for a variety of ways to recall the early excitement. Bow hunting is a brilliant way to challenge yourself, as this is experience is really different to hunting with a gun.

Many hunters rapidly find their thrill especially when they go through the experience of being so close to their prey using a weapon that is silent. Whether hunting is your true passion or just something you prefer for those boring days, you must be familiar with building your very own equipment.

Importance of creating your own hunting bow

As you may know hunting is one of the most popular activities for people of all ages, races, and backgrounds. If you want to know how to hunt, you first of all must be familiar with the tools for the trade. The most popular tools used for hunting are a bow and an arrow. You may have come in touch with such equipment in general and sporting stores, which may seem a little expensive.

Alternatively, even if you do not visit such stores, you may be stranded on a desert or merely in your back garden with the passion of creating your very own hunting bow and arrow. The good news is you can do this with a relatively small amount of bucks and some spare time on your hands.

Making a hunting bow

Making your very own hunting bow is a lot less difficult than what you may expect. There is no need for you to be an expert or a master with DIY in order to create a functional hunting bow you can use for recreation and hunting purposes.

When starting, you need to consider the different types of wood, which are:

All of these woods are perfect to use for a hunting bow and you need to ensure the one you choose, measures roughly a yard in length. This must be free of any coils or knots. A recommending tip is to make sure the wood is dry, but not so much that it reaches cracking point once bent. An important tool you will need for the entire process is a knife, which is sharp. Be sure to sharpen that pocket knife before commencing the project.

The first step to make a hunting bow is to begin with the natural curve of the wood. All piece of wood have this, but it may be easier to spot on some than on others. This is the most important bit as you don’t want to be carving it on the wrong side. If you do this, the bow will snap within the first use.

Once you have distinguished the curve, you need to carve the wood into a shape similar to a boomerang. The middle should be fairly larger than the ends of the stick. E.g.) it the middle’s thickness is one inches, then both of the ends need to be close to ¾ of an inch. In order to assure the duration of your bow, it is best to wrap a tight strip of wet leather around the centre and let this dry in natural form. Due to this, the bow will receive its additional sturdiness and will also push arrows at a superior speed.

Once the shape has been carved, you need to tie the string. There are a variety of strings you can use for this purpose, such as:

  • Hemp
  • Fish line
  • Linen
  • Nylon
  • Dacron
  • Kevlar

Once you have selected the string you wish to use, it is required you wax this in order to promote durability and to provide protection against natural wear and tear. You then need to carve a cut towards the ends of the bow and ring the string around both ends. Your string needs to have a taut appearance, and not one that appear loose and floppy.

The hunting arrow

That’s it, or is it? Well it is called a hunting bow, so what happened to the boy? Our hunters bow is nothing without arrows, which is why you need to make the arrows that will fit inside the bow. These shouldn’t be too long as they will break. The arrows can be long sticks as it is both of the ends, which causes them to fly.

One of the ends needs to be facing out, which will be fitted with a steel arrowhead. In order for your arrows to have an optimal flying experience, you can always attach a couple of feathers towards the end that is closer to you.

Still, if you decide to go pro and want to try arrows specially created for hunters by specialists, take a look at our article on the best arrows for hunting.

Creating a hunting bow in your backyard

If you wish to make your hunting bow in your backyard, all you need is the following:

  • Machete
  • Hand axe
  • Draw knife
  • Rat tail file
  • Wood rasp
  • Tape measure
  • Carpenters pencil
  • Straight edge
  • Bow string

If you have the tools listed above you can begin the method of building a bow. The list above is a bare bones list and if you have additional power tools you feel comfortable using, then you can do this by all means.

Listed below are the steps of making a hunting bow in the comfort of your back garden:

  • First of all, you need to select a tree. The majority of woods will work, but those with a slippery bark hickory works the best for a fantastic first time bow. The tree you select must be four inches in diameter straight with a couple of knots. You can then cut the tree down and cut the straight section six feet long. You must let this season for about six months.
  • After six months have passed, you can then peel off the bark using a draw knife. You need to choose the side that is the straightest and cleanest to lay your bow out on, using the pencil. The layout should be similar to the following: 4” handle section in the centre and 68” long. For the hickory, you must leave the limb wide or make this one and ¾” wide.
  • The machete and hatchet should be used to cut away wood that is not needed. The wood rasp may also be used for adding fineness for your work. Once the profile is cut-out, you then have to thin the limbs down. These need to be marked out so they are ½” thick than their complete length. The handle section must be left 2” thick. Again, the axe, machete, and wood rasp must be used to shape the limbs.
  • After the rough shaping is done you need to place one bow limb towards the floor and press against the handle. You need to look accurately to see whether the limb bends consistently. This process should be repeated with the opposite limb.
  • Finally, when both limbs are equally bending, you can use the rat file in order to cut the notches towards the tips in both limbs. This is the nock. You should attach the string to both nocks and look at this from the side. The limbs need to bend in an even manner towards a near semi-circle. If this is not what you see, then you need to scrape the wood from the harder limb. You should continue to do this until the limbs bend in an even manner looking like a semi-circle when threaded.

How to make an arrow for a hunting bow

Now that you have made your hunting bow, it is time to move on to the arrow, as a bow is incomplete without an arrow! Making wooden arrows with a traditional-style is an effective and easy procedure. Before modern arrows came into practice, accurate arrows were made using readily available materials.

Once upon a time, famous characters like Robin Hood were even found creating their own arrows from natural materials found in the growing forest. You can make wooden arrows by following the simple steps below with the need of using only basic tools, patience, and a little time, which will lead to an amazing tremor of homemade arrows.

The things you will need for this are:

  • String
  • 30” tall straight wood sprigs
  • Knife
  • Feathers

Firstly, you need to choose and cut a young sprig without any knots or branches with a straight section of roughly 30”. Then you need to use the knife in order to create a point on the end of the arrow shaft. After that you need to notch the other end of the arrow shaft using a knife; allowing the arrow to come into contact with the bowstring. And lastly, you need to cut three bird feathers down the center following the spike. The three half feathers need to be attached to the arrow shaft near the end that is notched. These need to be spaced evenly around the arrow with the string.

Making feathers for the hunting arrow

Making arrows for the hunting bow is an important factor to consider as these help the arrow stay in the right direction and move with extreme speed in the direction you shoot. Feathers are used on the base of an arrow in order to make is spin during flight; making it more accurate. If you are able to use bird feathers or have extra feathers, then you can use these. Alternatively, if you do not have these, then you can use heavy paper (card) for this. You may also use plastic as an alternative to paper – card.

You need to take the material you are using and cut triangles out of it. The triangle should feature legs about one and a ¼” by one three fourths inches (the legs refer to the triangle, those that aren’t opposite the right triangle). You need to glue these triangles to the base of the arrow, taking the second longest side near the base roughly an inch away from the bottom.

The triangles must be spaced out evenly around the border of the arrow. You then need to cut a little nick into the center of the base of the bow where the string sits into. Without this nick, it would be difficult to shoot the arrow.

Follow this simple procedure and there is no reason to why you cannot become an expert with creating the hunting bow.

Still, now that you’ve become an expert in building a bow, you may need some tips to help you hunting with the tool you created. If so, we have a great set of tips and tricks for bow hunting that you should know.

The bottom line

Now that you know how to create your very own hunting bow, it is time to get started. You surely need to get that practice in and get out there in order to experience everything for real. So, if you’re not familiar with the practice, take a look at our tutorial on how to shoot a bow and arrow and learn it step-by-step.

Have a brilliant hunting experience and encourage your family and friends – who also love the sport, to do the same!

Every hunter needs to make their own tackle because if he is unable to make or repair it, he will be unable to shoot for long. Even though target arrows, bows, and feathers can be brought in sporting stores, a true hunter must know how to make their very own bow and arrow. The truth behind manufacturing your very own bow and arrow is the fact that you appreciate them more this way.

However, it does take many attempts before creating the perfect bow and arrow, but you must know that practice makes perfect. A beginner may find his first couple of bows will be failures, but it won’t be long until he is shooting them! You only realize the true dedication and passion behind hunting once you put in that time and effort to creating that bow and arrow. If it’s made by you, you will also respect it more, not forgetting to mention feel like a true professional at the same time.

by Eric Meier

Disclaimer: I am neither a bowyer/archer nor a materials scientist/engineer. The data and ideas presented in this article are by no means meant to be considered authoritative or precisely correlated to real-world situations. The purpose of the article is simply to foster imagination and exploration in the area of bow woods and what does/does not constitute a good bow wood.

Archery bows present a somewhat unique challenge in finding the right requirements for the best wood. In the simplest and crudest terms possible, the wood should be able to bend, but not break. With all of the data available on the Wood Database, there’s no single measurement that directly indicates a wood’s ability to bend easily without breaking. Instead, it is primarily a combination of two values: the wood’s modulus of elasticity (also known as MOE), and the modulus of rupture (also known as MOR).

Again, dealing in the simplest terms:

  1. The modulus of elasticity (MOE) measures how easily a wood will bend, (the higher the number, the more stubborn and stiff it will be).
  2. The modulus of rupture (MOR) measures how easily the wood will break, (the higher the numer, the harder it is to break or rupture).

In terms of looking at the raw mechanical data of woods, the best bow woods tend to be those that have a low MOE and a high MOR. (Stated another way, the best bow woods tend to be those that will bend easily, and not break.) It’s of little advantage if a given wood scores well in one area, and poorly in another (i.e., a very low MOE or a very high MOR). What is most important, regardless of how low the MOE may be, or how high the MOR may be, is the ratio of the MOE to the MOR; it must be easy to bend AND hard to break.

Given the rationale and requirements, an equation can be formed to roughly assess a wood’s suitability for bow use: (MOR/MOE) * 1000. (The added factor of 1000 is simply to bring the number to a more manageable size and avoid dealing with tiny .00xx decimal values.) For lack of a better term, this ratio will simply be referred to as the wood’s “Bow Index.”

Analyzing all the woods in the Wood Database for their Bow Index, the following results are obtained:

A single, plain stick with a string tied to it will make a bow of sorts, but it may be likely to bend too much in the middle and be inefficient. An efficient bow carved.

How To Make A Longbow Step By Step Guide

The hunting longbow was the most advanced and innovative invention of its day.

Equally silent, stealthy, simple and utterly lethal.

Whoever created the bow and arrow, surely had no idea how they were carving out the future of humanity.

This clever tool became the standard for long-range hunting and combat for thousands of years.

And it is still to this day and is still widely used.

So whether you plan to learn how to make longbow for survival purposes or just because it’s badass, it’s worth the time and effort to learn.

Just follow this detailed guide on how to make a longbow and soon you’ll be notching and drawing one made with your own hands.

Longbow Article Table of Contents

To give you an idea of what we are going to cover in detail in this article here is the table of contents of what we are going to cover.

  • Key Bow Making Terms
  • Materials and Tools You Will Need
  • Getting Started
    • Picking the Right Type of Wood
    • Choosing the Right Tree
    • Chunking off Staves
  • Shaving the Stave
  • Drying and Shaping the Stave
  • The Art of Tillering
  • Finishing
  • The Final Word

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Key Longbow Making Terms

  • Bow’s Back: The side of the bow that faces the target.
  • Bow’s Belly: The side of the bow facing the sting.
  • Set: Bend in limbs when a bow is unstrung and relaxed.
  • Limbs: The parts of the bow on either side of the handle
  • Tiller: The shape of the limbs as they bend.
  • Tillering: Shaping the bow to have the desired curvature when drawn back.

The Right Tools Are Essential For This DIY Project

What You Need To Make A Longbow

Making a bow is no simple endeavor. Some of these resources are optional, of course.

Hunter-gatherers and Ute tribesmen did not have fancy drawknives, shellac or fletching jigs, yet they built wonderfully functional longbows.

But the fewer tools you choose to use, the harder and more painstaking this project becomes.

Some of these resources are necessary – those with marked with *s. Make sure you have what you need before getting started.

  • Time * – Do not kid yourself. This project isn’t the kind of project you are going to be able to knock out some lazy afternoon after a long day at the office. It’s a time-consuming, highly involved undertaking. Make sure you have the time to invest. Otherwise, your bow will be half-assed and likely useless.
  • Wood and materials
    • Tree Trunk/Pole * – This can be ordered at a lumber or hardware store, collected in the woods, or bought online. There are some places where one can acquire this essential piece. Choosing the right type of wood to use can be difficult, but we’ll get to that later.
    • A 2X4 – The wooden block should measure about 40” in length (no shorter than 30” ).
    • 2 to 4, 40 Watt Light Bulbs
    • Several Pieces of Plywood
    • Parachute Chord – Eventually, you’ll string your bow with this, but not for archery purposes.
    • Bowstring * – B-50 bowstring material (or your preference).
    • Shellac *
    • Gorilla Glue (or another type of wood glue).
    • Finish – Choose the color yourself.
    • Satin, and clear polyurethane.
  • Tools (one can build a bow with nothing more than a hatchet, but it is significantly easier to use specific tools):
    • Hatchet *
    • Drawknife* – This is probably the most important tool you will use while building your bow, so don’t skimp on this. You can buy a decent one for $45, and the middle-shelf draw knives will be even cheaper.
    • Rasps * (hoof/farriers, Nichelson #49 & 5#50)
    • Cabinet Scraper * – You may not HAVE to use this, but it could come in useful.
    • Pocketknife – hopefully you already own one of these tools. If you don’t: get out there and buy one! Pocket knives are unbelievably versatile tools.
    • Sandpaper * – 80-, 150-, and 220-grit.
    • File * – Chainsaw files will work best because of their small, detailed function.
    • Vice – Most woodworking projects require that you use a vice at some point or another. These are available at several retailers; you should have no problem finding one of these.
    • Sledgehammer *
    • Wedges *

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Getting Started: Making Your Longbow

The more effort you put into the design and construction of your bow the better the outcome. Patience and meticulousness will help to improve the results of your labors exponentially. Toys are easy to build, but useful survival tools are often difficult.

Wood longbows are traditionally fashioned from of the core of trees.

It takes a lot of attention to detail and patience to shave away one growth layer at a time, but it is how you create a flexible and functional bow shaft.

There are several steps involved in making a longbow, so prepare yourself:

Picking the Right Type of Wood

Opinions differ on what is the best wood to make a bow. There is a degree of personal preference involved in selecting the right wood for you.

It depends upon your skills as a carpenter, experience with the tools, or size, strength, skill as an archer, body type. Here is a list of different types of wood that are up for the job:

  • Yew – Very popular for centuries throughout Europe, this lightweight wood is good for simple, short-lived bows with a light draw weight. Yew is the only non-hardwood that is suitable for creating bows, and it is one of the best! Yew is good for beginners because it usually has fewer knots.
  • Elm – Creates short, stout bows with thick limbs. Similar to Yew, the bows Elm yields are short-lived and have a lighter draw weight than other woods.
  • White Ash – Yields shorter, stouter bows that are less climate-sensitive and last a little longer. Has a moderate draw-weight, but is prone to compression cracks on the belly of the bow.
  • Hickory
  • Oak (White Oak/Red Oak)
  • Maple
  • Elm (American Elm/ Red Elm)

Image Source

It All Starts With Selecting The Right Tree

Picking the Right Tree

This step is just as important as selecting the right wood. If you choose a short, stumpy, knotted section of some timberline defect, the results will be disastrous.

Here are some criteria to follow when selecting the right tree:

  • 6-8 feet of straight trunk section.
  • The tree’s bark runs vertically without “spiraling”.
  • As few knots, limbs, bumps or swales as possible (ideally none).

As soon as you cut the tree and remove your desired section, it is best to coat the wood with shellac or wax to prevent any cracking and to avoid rot when brought inside.

Splitting off Staves

Apparently, you cannot just stain and string an 8-inch diameter log and call it a longbow.

The wood must be divided into staves first, and an 8” diameter will roughly produce six bow staves (so don’t worry if you mess up on the first one… or two).

If you have a circular saw and something similar you can kerf the log to ensure it splits along exactly the right lines.

With the wedges and hammer split the log lengthwise until you have some staves that are larger than the intended, finished length – roughly 2-3” in diameter.

Once again, as soon as you have these staves split, shellac them to prevent cracking.

Shaving The Staves

The first part of shaving your staves is to note the growth rings: summer growth rings are fatter and more distinct, and winter growth rings are small denser laminations.

You will want to select a summer growth ring for the belly of the bow.

Secure your stave in the vice and begin to draw off layers. Shave away wood until you have reached the winter growth ring just above the summer ring you have selected for the belly.

Pare away this final growth ring with the cabinet scraper, following the growth ring from one end of the stave to the other.

The more precise you are with this step, the better off you will be down the line, so take care to shave, draw, and pare as carefully as possible.

Once finished, shellac the stave to prepare it and protect it from cracking during the next step.

Drying And Shaping The Stave

Pare the stave with a hatchet and drawknife so that it is only slightly larger than the intended product. Shellac the back.

You can build your drying box out of a few pieces of plywood and a couple of 40-watt light bulbs.

A drying box is a relatively easy device to build, and it is pretty cheap for what a difference it makes.

Drying on a shelf in the garage will do, but you probably will not be able to get the wood as close to the desired moisture content.

Now comes the tough part: testing your patience.

The stave should dry for 3-4 weeks at the minimum, and some bow makers even suggest you let the wood dry for an entire year.

Regardless of how long you let the bow sit, when you pull it out, it should be around 15% moisture content (8% is ideal). Moisture measuring devices can be purchased at almost any hardware store.

When the time has finally come to move on with the project, extract your stave from wherever it was drying and very carefully draw the outline of your finished bow onto the stave with a marker.

On Native American bows, the center 8” is narrower than both the limbs for the handle, and the belly tapers off at the end of the limbs. Mark the shape you want to cut out.

Using the drawknife, reduce the stave to your drawn outline and refine the form with a pocketknife to get the final details.

Lightly sand the edges and tips and smooth out the front and back surfaces. Finally, using a chainsaw file, create two deep 45-degree notches on either end of the bow for the string.

The Art Of Tillering

That’s right. It is an ART.

And it is perhaps one of the most important steps in this project. When you look at an unstrung longbow, it is not straight like your staves.

It is curved slightly. Tillering is the method by which you achieve that curve.

Start by removing wood from the belly with a file and cabinet scraper until the libs are thin enough to start bending.

Floor Tillering – Holding one tip in hand, and resting the other on the floor securely against your foot. At first bend, the bow gently to test the flexibility.

Begin to shave off small amounts of wood between each bending session, creating more and more arc. But be VERY CAREFUL not to crack the stave – otherwise, start starting over.

As you do this, keep a wary eye open for any flat spots or points of resistance and shave them away.

The amount of wood you shave off should get increasingly smaller as you get closer to a finished product. Inspect regularly along the process for any cracks or imperfections – if anything but small cracks on the back develops you will have to start from scratch.

Once the bow is bent enough to string, bust out that hemp or parachute cord and tie off.

There should be about seven inches between the bow’s belly and the string on a properly strung bow.

Tiller Tree – This is why you need a 2×4. Stand the block up on one end and use a file or saw to create angled notches every inch or half-inch along the long side. Here is an image of a tiller tree.

Fasten the tiller tree upright against a wall and place the belly of your strung bow on the top.

Carefully start to draw the string and rest it in the tiller tree’s notches to gradually increase the draw of your bow. Leave the string on each level for a few minutes so the wood can adjust.

A typical draw length is about 28-inches, so when your bowstring hits the 28-inch mark on the tiller tree, you should be good to go. Once again, shave away any flat or compromised points of weakness as you do this.

The end goal of tillering is to create a perfectly even bend in both limbs. Once this has been achieved, take the bow and draw it in front of the mirror. Do this repeatedly until you identify which of the two limbs is the stiffer one. The stiffer one should become the bottom of your longbow.

Use your file to create a small indentation on the handle for the arrow (right or left depending on which hand you shoot with).

Finishing Your New Longbow

Sand the entire bow with 80-, 150-, and 220-grit sandpaper and shellac one more time for good measure.

At this point, you can decide if you want to finish your bow or not.

It is a personal choice, but remember, the darker the color of your weapon, the harder it will be to spot in the brush or woods.

Seal with three coats of clear gloss polyurethane and one final coat of satin polyurethane.

Wrap your handle in nylon cord, hemp cord, or leather chord using the “whipping” technique. Apply a light coat of clear glue (like Tightbond III) and let it dry.

Finally, you can string your bow with an actual bowstring, and you are ready to get out there. You have a completed, one-of-a-kind handmade hunting longbow – enjoy!


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The Final Word

There is nothing quite as satisfying as hunting live game with a longbow you made with your own bare hands. It is a very human experience. But more importantly, it’s a survival skill once mastered, can never be taken away from you.

Even if you are not into hunting, using a handmade custom bow to practice archery is ideal for survival.

It is the original long-range weapon and a tool that helped our species proliferate from a few small bands of wandering tribes into the great and comprehensive society we live in today.

It may also be a weapon that keeps your family safe if society collapses back into ancient times.

Will Brendza

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How To Craft Your Own Longbow & Arrows

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I'm an ardent primitive hunter. That is, I pursue game as the American Indians did: I pick up an animal's trail, identifying species, size, and (sometimes) sex . . . stalk the prey to within pulse-quickening distance . . . and bring it down with a well-placed arrow.

Now bow hunting is a challenge in itself, but the experience can be further enhanced by making a bow and arrow, using—as far as possible—the same materials, tools, and techniques that have been employed by bowyers for millennia. Of course, any number of excellent bows are available on the market today, but it's my opinion that no factory-made item can match the look and feel of a handcrafted bow.

I've fashioned many different types of bows, each designed to fit a special hunting need: short, highly reflexed, sinew-backed weapons like those developed by the American Plains Indians . . . long, recurved wooden bows in the style of those used by Eastern Woodlands Indians . . . English longbows . . . and models that borrow features from several other types.

As a professional tracker, stalker, and close-range hunter (I teach these skills for a living), I prefer a bow that's recurved like an Eastern Woodlands model but shorter, with sinew backing—for strength and longevity—and a twisted-sinew bowstring. Shorter bows are easier to handle when I'm stalking through heavy brush and making close shots with a minimum of elbowroom. For rainy-day hunting, however, I'm frequently forced to use a longer recurved bow that's fitted with a plant-fiber bowstring, which resists moisture-induced stretching. For bow fishing, on the other hand, I prefer a longish self—or straight—bow.

Of course, most folks can't afford the luxury of owning three different bows . . . unless they make the weapons. So I'm going to tell you how to construct your own archery tackle, using (for the most part) the techniques of the American Indians . . . with frequent hints on how to speed up the process when you're in a hurry. Keep in mind that we're not going to be covering the making and use of survival bows, which are a different breed. Those weapons can be cobbled together quickly and easily from whatever materials may come to hand, and they're suited only to very close-range shooting. Rather, this discussion will concern the crafting of precision weapons: high-quality bows that take a while to produce, but that will reward your patience and effort with years of reliable accuracy.

Some of the techniques may sound a bit difficult, but don't let the fear of making an error keep you from trying your hand at them. The raw materials needed are inexpensive or free, and experience is a great teacher . . . so read on, jump right in, and make a few beginner's mistakes, if need be. Keep at it, and you'll become proficient in the bowyer's ancient art. I'm certain you'll be glad you did.

The Language of Archery

Like many specialized fields of human interest, archery and bow making have their own jargon . . . but by reviewing the terms below you'll soon be able to "talk archery" with the best of them! 

Back: The side of a bow that faces forward, or away from the archer. 

Belly: The inside of a bow . . . the side facing the archer. 

Brace: To string a bow. 

Braced height: The distance between the string and handle of a braced, or strung, bow. 

Bowyer: The little old bow maker. 

Draw: The distance, measured in inches, that an archer pulls the bowstring. As a verb, the act of pulling a bow back. 

Ears: The forward-curving tips of a recurved bow. 



Fletching: Feathers that have been split in half and attached to the back portion of an arrow to give it stability in flight. 

Limbs: The body of the bow exclusive of the handle. 

Longbow: A straight wooden bow approximately six feet long, with no reflex or recurve, popularized in England during the Middle Ages. 

Nock: The notch in the back of an arrow that receives the bowstring. Also, the notches on a bow's tips that hold the bowstring in place. As a verb, nock means placing an arrow on the string. 

Recurved bow (or "recurve"): A bow having the ends of its limbs bent forward. 

Reflex: A bend at the midpoint, or handle, of a bow that causes the limbs to bow slightly forward when unstrung. 

Self bow: A plain wooden bow, with no reflex, recurve, or sinew backing. A longbow is a long self bow. 

Shaft: The body of an arrow, minus fletching and point. 

Stave: A piece of wood from which a bow is made. 

Weight: The strength, measured in pounds, required to pull a bow to full draw. (Full draw is generally considered to be 28".) 

Bowyer's Essentials

To craft bows of high quality, all you need is a small workspace, a few common hand tools, four inexpensive C-clamps, and a woodstove or other source of heat. Nature will provide the rest of your tools and—if you keep your weapon strictly primitive—all of your materials.

In some parts of the country, the traditional woods for bow making are hickory, honey locust, mountain mahogany, and juniper. The best bow woods are Osage orange (bois d'arc), yew, and ash. For the long recurved bow and the longbow, I prefer white ash, which makes a good beginner's wood for any style of bow because of its "forgiving" qualities. Generally, though, Native Americans used whatever materials were readily available, and you can do the same. If none of the wood varieties I've mentioned grow in your area, you can even order a straight-grained plank of appropriate size through a specialty hardwood dealer (but be certain that the wood hasn't been kiln dried).

If you want to harvest your own wood, look for a small tree that's about 2" to 3" in diameter, free of knots and blemishes, and straight. About 5 1/2 feet should be a good length for any design except the longbow, which will need about a foot more. You can also use a smaller sapling for a bow stave: Search out one that's a little more than an inch through the center and meets the aforementioned requirements. The best time to cut such wood is in February, when the sap is down. Remember that the wood is a gift from the tree and the Creator and should be taken with respect.

I season my staves by storing them in the shed until spring, then bring them indoors until the wood has aged for a full year. The wood needs to be kept in a cool, dry place during the seasoning process to prevent warping. If the thought of having to wait a year before starting to work on a bow stretches your patience, just buy an air-dried stave from your hardwood dealer and get right down to business.

Once the wood has seasoned, it's time to remove the bark. Instead of carving away the skin, scrape it off by holding a sharp knife at a 90° angle to the wood . . . so the blade won't slip and nick the stave. If you use a sapling, carefully split the skinned pole down its full length. If you're cautious, you can sometimes split two usable bow staves from a single sapling, but I don't trust my splitting all that much and would rather carve with a drawknife until the desired thickness is reached. Bows made from saplings will have a semicircular cross section.

If you use a larger tree for a stave, split it carefully in half, then—perhaps—in half again. (Some of the instructors at my wilderness-skills school can get four usable staves from a 3"-diameter tree!) Bows made from a small tree will usually have a slightly curved, rectangular cross section.

After you've made your initial splits or have shaped the stave with a drawknife, all subsequent scraping will have to be done with scrapers, abraders (rasps or files), and sanders . . . since too much whittling will "thin out" and weaken the wood's grain.

Bow Making 

With the stave aged, peeled, split, and rough shaped, you're ready to get on with the real work of making a bow. At this point, it's a good idea to "ask" the wood what type of bow it wants to become rather than trying to make it what you think it should be. In other words, take into account the wood's quality, grain, and growth patterns in deciding how to shape the tool that it will become.

Generally speaking, wide and thin is the best shape for softwood bows. The extra width is necessary to help prevent cracking. Softwoods tend to splinter more readily than do the less brittle hardwoods, so hardwood bows can be made a little thicker and not quite so wide.

When I produce my bows, I never rely on tape measures or calipers. I've learned to rely on what feels good for me and for the wood. Thus, the dimensions given in this article are by no means law . . . they're only averages to help you in making your first bow. After you've shaped one or two, you'll be able to use touch, sight, and your own inner feelings to make a bow that's as personal as your fingerprints.

The initial steps in making a bow are the same, no matter what design you've chosen for the finished product. First, cut the stave to the length you want your bow to be when completed (here, I'll be discussing one that's 5 feet long). Now, find the longitudinal center point and measure out about 3" in both directions (this 6" area will become the grip, or handle). The next job is to taper and thin the limbs. Starting from the outside of the grip area, and using a rasp or coarse-toothed file, begin thinning and tapering . . . from a thickness of about 5/8" at the handle, down to 3/8" at the tips (you want to achieve a smooth, even taper). The width should slope from 2 1/2" or so near the handle to about 1/2" at the tips. As you work on this phase of the project, be sure to keep the back and sides of the bow as flat (as opposed to rounded-off) as possible . . . and also take care not to overdo the thinning.

Now, work on sculpting the handle to a size and shape that pleases your grip. Thin the handle area in width and thickness until it fits your hand comfortably, and then put the finishing touches on the overall shaping of your bow with a finer file, such as a mill file. And, while you have that mill file in hand, go ahead and cut string notches in the end of each limb . . . deep enough to hold the bowstring in place but not deep enough to weaken the limb tips.

With that done, it's time to test the bow to see if the limbs pull evenly. Tie a strong cord from tip to tip—as if it were a bowstring—then place your bare foot on the handle and pull upwards on the center of the cord until the limbs begin to bend. Be careful not to pull the ends up very far at this stage, since excessive flexing might cause splitting if the limbs aren't even. If you find that one limb pulls easier than the other, carefully abrade away the belly of the stronger side, using a mill file, until the limbs pull evenly. (The evening process is known to bowyers as "tillering".) While performing this test, you'll also get some idea of the draw weight your bow will have when finished. Though you can increase the stiffness of a too-flexible weapon by applying sinew backing, being able to predict its draw weight in advance requires long experience and liberal doses of luck.

Traditional Finish

Native American bowyers finished their weapons with rendered bear or deer fat, applied warm. Deer brains were sometimes used instead of, or together with, the fat. The Indian bow maker would then set or hang his handiwork near the lodge fire to warm the fat and speed its absorption into the wood. My personal preference is to mix rendered deer fat and brains, apply the mixture warm, then set the bow high above my woodstove so the rising warmth can drive in the oils. (If you prefer to avoid working with these natural products, almost any good wood finish can be used, including varnish, linseed or cedar oil . . . and even lard.)

Once this chore is finished, the longbow is ready to shoot. Go easy at first, giving your new hunting tool a chance to break in. Sometimes, though, no matter what you do in an effort to prevent it, a new bow will snap. This is probably due to a flaw in the wood rather than something you did wrong, but in either case there's nothing to do except try again, using your newly gained experience to ease and improve the next effort.

We'll discuss the details of sinew backing a little later on, but it should be briefly mentioned at this point that sinew will keep a new bow from breaking, improve its snap and cast, and add pulling pounds to the limbs. I therefore suggest that all your bows be sinew-backed, even though the technique was not traditionally used on longbows.

Recurved Bow

To enhance your hunting weapon's speed, power, and beauty, you may want to add recurve to the limbs. For a recurved bow, follow the instructions for the self bow and longbow but stop short of applying the brains and fat. What you're going to do now is to bend the last 6" or so of the limbs forward.

Set a large pot of water (a big coffeepot is perfect) on the stove to boil. When it's bubbling, dip one end of the bow into the water, up to about 9", and let it "cook" for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. While the bow-end is in its hot bath, cut out a recurve form—as shown in an accompanying photo—from a piece of scrap 2 X 4 lumber (you'll need one for each limb). The exact curve of the form is up to you, as long as it is not beyond the bending capabilities of your stave.

When the first bow-end has finished boiling, place it over the convex side of the form and secure it with two C-clamps. The best approach here is to fasten the tip of the limb in place first, then—using the bow as a lever—slowly bend the limb back over the form and clamp it down securely. (To keep the limbs from getting dented, use small blocks of soft wood between the clamps and the bow.) At this point—with the first end of the bow locked over the bending form—start cooking the other tip . . . then repeat the clamping process. Now, give the bow a full day of rest in a warm, dry place.

The next step is to remove the clamps and fine-tune your newly recurved bow. Tuning is accomplished by removing a little of the belly wood at the point just before the recurve begins. I usually take off 1/16" to 1/8" of belly wood, starting at the base of the recurve and working back about 6" toward the handle. I find that after I've done this fine-tuning, the bow has a faster action and reduced kick, or jolt. (Some bowyers say that this final shaving keeps the recurve's "ears" from snapping off, too.) Once your bow is tuned, you can either sinew-back it or finish it up as you would a longbow.

And if you want to give your hunting tool even more zip and zing, you can add a reflex to the bow by bending the back slightly forward. Just heat the handle area over a steaming kettle of water for a couple of hours, then lay the bow—its back facing down—over a small log, and stand barefooted on the limbs until the wood has cooled (it doesn't take all that long). This will produce a forward curve, or reflex, adding even more punch to the weapon. (Reflexing is especially important for extremely short bows similar to the stubby "horse bows" that the Plains Indians used so effectively against the tough-hided buffalo.)

Sinew-Backing Basics 

The two ingredients necessary to sinew-back a bow are sinew from the leg and back tendons of animals, and hide glue (made from hide shavings and hooves).

I prefer to use the leg sinew of deer and elk . . . though horse, buffalo, cow, goat, and moose sinew work just as well. If you're not a hunter—and don't know one—arrange to buy tendons from the local slaughterhouse. Usually, the people there will just give them to you (and probably decide that you're a bit strange).

After cutting the tendons from the legs and back of an animal, prepare the sinew by removing the clear sheath that holds the tendons together. Then place the exposed bundles well above a heat source to dry. When they're no longer moist, pound the tendons on a board, using a wooden mallet or a smooth rock as a hammer to separate the bundles of tissue into individual threads.

To prepare hide glue, put hooves, hide scrapings, and dewclaws into a pot with just enough water to cover them, and boil the "stew" for several hours. (To get a finer consistency, you may want to skim off the scum that bubbles up to the top of the boiling pot.) You'll end up with a thick, glompy mass of glue that's perfect for the job of welding sinew strips to wood. (An alternative to homebrewing is commercial hide glue, available at many hobby shops in both liquid and powder form. But the store-bought stuff lacks the authenticity—and rousing aroma—of the homemade material. You can forget about epoxy and other chemical binders: They definitely won't work.)

When you get ready to use the glue, keep the container warmed in a water bath atop the stove (120°F or thereabouts is perfect), since at room temperature the adhesive gets gummy and sets up too fast, especially if your workroom is cool to begin with.

Prepare your bow to receive the glue and sinew by roughing up the back with a hard, abrasive rock. Make sure the wood is cleaned of any greasy fingermarks or dirt, then paint the bow's back with hide glue that's been thinned in a ratio of about two parts glue to one part warm (preferably distilled) water. Next, wet the sinew strips and place them—a few strands at a time—into the hide glue to soak for a few minutes.

Squeegee off excess glue as you remove each piece of sinew from the glue pot, and—starting at the longitudinal center of the bow and working out toward the tips (or the other way around, if you prefer)—apply strips of glue-soaked sinew, laying them parallel to the limbs and as straight as possible. Cover the entire back of the bow with the sinew, and try to make a smooth job of it, staggering the ends of the strands to avoid making seams. Apply sinew all the way to the tips of the limbs, then fold about 2" over to the belly side to strengthen the tips. Once the back is sinew-covered, let it dry awhile . . . then apply two or three more coats of sinew and glue. When you're finished, let the bow rest for at least a couple of weeks.

After the sinew has cured, shoot your weapon a few times at half draw to see if it needs any more fine-tuning. If you find that you need to even up the pull of the limbs again, simply tiller the sinew just as you did with the belly wood earlier. (Sinew works well under a mill file.) Finally, finish your bow with a mush of rendered fat and deer brains, as described for the longbow. This time, however, don't place the bow near heat.

As time goes by, you'll find that the sinew continues to pull against the bow's belly, producing a forward curving, or reflex . . . but don't be alarmed, since more reflex will only strengthen the weapon. After a year or two, the sinew will have pulled all it's going to, and your bow will have assumed its permanent shape and shooting characteristics . . . and will last a lot of years if properly cared for.

Bowstring

Reverse-wrapped sinew is the traditional fair-weather bowstring. And for wet-weather shooting, the fibers of plants such as velvetleaf, hemp, dogbane, and nettle work admirably. By reverse-wrapping a string to more than twice the length of the bow, then folding the cordage in half and reverse-wrapping it again, you'll produce a strong and durable bowstring with a loop at one end. The other tip end can simply be tied to the bottom limb. (For a photo-illustrated guide to reverse-wrapping, see my article Making Natural Cordage.) And, of course, those of you who are in a hurry can just trot down to the local sporting goods dealer and purchase a ready-made bowstring of the appropriate length.

To determine the correct bracing height for your bow (and—in turn—the correct length for your string), place one fist on the inside of the grip and extend your thumb as if you were trying to flag a ride . . . the attached string should just touch the tip of your outstretched digit.

Hand-Crafted Bow 

Before Europeans entered the picture with their advanced technology and metal tools, Native American bowyers painstakingly fashioned finely crafted bows with stone and bone implements. The process took a lot longer, but Stone Age humans weren't as frantic about the passage of an hour as today's ulcer-ridden people tend to be. And those earlier products were often every bit as beautiful and serviceable as fine machine-laminated bows.

Archery has had a long history not only in the Americas but in virtually every corner of the globe except Australia. The ancient Turkish horn-and-sinew composite bows—to cite one shining example—were quite probably the most effective primitive weapons the world has ever known. Bows are silent, pinpoint-accurate in practiced hands, designed to test the hunter to the extremes of his or her skill . . . and they offer the game animal a sporting chance. [EDITORS NOTE: As you know, there's a great responsibility placed upon the hunter who uses primitive weapons . . . to develop his or her accuracy to the maximum and to avoid taking any shots that might result in losing a wounded animal.]

In addition to saving the hundreds of dollars that it would cost to equip yourself with a top-quality modern compound bow and fiberglass or aluminum arrows, hunting with a piece of wood that's taken on a beautiful shape under your own hands can help you achieve harmony with nature and the past, a harmony which has all but disappeared from our over-mechanized, depersonalized world.

Arrow Making: Straight and Fast 

To complete your primitive-archery outfit, you'll want a supply of arrows to go with your custom-made bow . . . projectiles that are every bit as functional and beautiful as their launcher. Cherry, serviceberry (Juneberry), ash, dogwood, cedar, bush blueberry, and even cane and reed are good woods to use for arrow shafts. Cut sections about three feet long from saplings with base diameters of 1/2" or so, and take the time to search out knot free shafts. Collect your arrow wood during the winter, when the sap is down. After bundling the shafts together into tight packages tied every few inches with cord, let them season as you did your bow stave. 

When the shafts have aged for a full year, remove the bark, again by scraping instead of carving (because they are so much thinner than bow staves, even greater care is necessary when shaping arrow shafts). If you're shooting a five-foot-long bow, measure your arrows from the tip of your extended middle finger to the pit of your arm . . . about 30" for an average adult male. For a shorter bow, your arrows will be only about 23" to 25" long. (The extremely short bows used by Plains Indians were designed for easy shooting from horseback and were rarely pulled to full draw. If you want to be able to shoot a long arrow at full draw, you'll need a bow that's at least 48" long, preferably longer. Otherwise—even if the bow is well made and doesn't break—your fingers will suffer string pinch due to the acute angle formed when a short bow is overdrawn.) 

Using coarse grained sandpaper, smooth the arrow shafts down to a diameter of about 5/16". Then switch to a fine-grit paper or emery cloth for finishing. Once the shafts are smooth, rub them with rendered fat and warm them near the fire to induce absorption of the oils. (Of course, you could also simply buy 5/16" hardwood dowels.) 

Crooked arrows can be straightened by heating them, bending the kinks out with your fingers or your teeth, and holding the shafts straight until they cool. Sometimes it's necessary to use an arrow straightener, or wrench, to unbend stubborn spots on an arrow. To make this tool, drill a shaft-sized hole through a piece of antler or bone. Then stick a heated shaft through the hole and use the wrench as a lever to bend out the kinks. 

Next comes the fletching. I find that a 6" long fletching, trimmed to a height of about 1/2", provides good aerodynamics and closely resembles the traditional Indian style. Turkey tail feathers are the best, but the tail plumage of almost any large or medium-sized bird will do in a pinch. (Just be sure not to use feathers from any of the many protected species of birds or you'll be letting yourself in for a federal-type felony!) 

You'll need three fletches for each arrow. Start by cutting longitudinally along the median line of each feather's quill, splitting the feather into two equal halves. After carving away the pith and excess quill, trim the feathers to the proper height, and check to see that they're all of a uniform size and shape. 

To fasten the fletches to the arrow's shaft, hold the backs of the feathers in place at the nock end of the shaft, and bind the fronts of the feathers to the arrow with a wrapping of moist sinew. (Some bowyers temporarily anchor the fletches to the shaft with pine pitch or diluted hide glue, thereby freeing both hands for the wrapping chores.) Apply the sinew by first separating it into threads, just as you did for the bow backing, then wetting it with saliva and wrapping it on evenly. The saliva-and-sinew mixture forms its own glue and doesn't have to be tied. After the front wrappings have dried, repeat the process at the back of the fletchings, wrapping up to the base of the nock. The dried sinew is almost transparent, lies close to the shaft, and tightens up even more as it ages. 

To cut the bowstring notches in the backs of the arrows, abrade a U-shaped slot with a small rat-tail file (or saw carefully with a hacksaw) down to just above the top sinew wrap behind the fletching. The nock will then be supported by the sinew wrap, preventing the shock from the bowstring from splitting the shaft. Be sure to position your string notches so that when the arrow is shot, two feathers will pass across the bow evenly, with the third—or "cock"—fletching protruding at a 90° angle away from the bow. 

The size of the arrowheads and the notches that will hold the heads onto the fronts of the shafts will be determined by the animals you plan to hunt, your personal preference, and your state's laws. In my state, as in most, it's illegal to hunt big game with anything other than a wide steel broadhead. Steel heads can be cut from any source of thin sheet steel, using a jigsaw or tin snips, then filed and honed razor-sharp. (The Plains Indians actually got much of their arrowhead metal from the iron rims of wagon wheels.) Take care to make the proper base shape—or notch—on the backs of the heads so they'll fit snugly into the arrow-shaft notches and provide a good anchor for sinew wrapping. 

Bone arrowheads can be almost as sharp and deadly as steel broadheads. Just use the cannon bone from the lower leg of a deer; split the bone in half, file to shape, and sharpen. 

Then too, stone points can be chipped from flint, chert, jasper, quartz, obsidian, and even glass. Flint-knapping is a complex topic and would require an article of its own for even a cursory treatment, but tests have shown that well-made stone heads can achieve even greater penetration than steel. 

OK . . . you've formed your arrowheads—steel, stone, or bone—and cut the slots they'll fit into on the arrow shafts. Now it's time to bind the points to the shafts: Just slip the heads down into their notches and apply a good wrapping of spittle-moistened sinew, as you did with the fletchings. 

Once the heads have dried in place, your arrows are ready to shoot. 

For hunting, it's best to leave the shafts more or less natural or to crest them with subdued colors. But for target practice, you might apply decorative stripes to your arrows . . . an artistic touch that will also help you follow those erratic shots that will inevitably send an arrow slithering beneath a cover of grass and leaves.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Native American Archery by Reginald and Gladys Laubin is the ultimate authority on this subject. Clothbound and in large format, the book is worth every penny for the serious archer, bowyer, or historian.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Tom Brown Jr., is the "real item". He's billed as "today's most respected outdoorsman", is the author of the At Home in the Wilderness series, heads one of the country's largest wilderness survival schools, and has written four books: The Tracker, The Search, Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival, and Tom Brown's Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking. The last two titles will probably be of interest to those of you who enjoyed the philosophies presented in Brown's bow-building article. 

Wilderness Survival is the first in a four-book series that Tom hopes will provide a complete library of information to help folks enjoy, preserve, and fare well in nature. Its information has been gathered not through armchair research, but through long years of personal experience. Nature Observation and Tracking highlights and expands its title subjects from their briefer coverage in Wilderness Survival and includes many field exercises to involve the reader thoroughly. 

If you'd like to read a magazine for the traditional bare-bow archer, investigate The Traditional Archery Digest.

Custom Hand Made Self-Bows and Arrows. Over 30 years of making Bows. Made from: Osage, Mulberry, Ash, Yew, and other woods. Historical Educational .

How To Make A Hunting Bow: Complete DIY Guide

*3-Day Workshop
*You will leave with a fully hunt-able handmade bow!
*Hand-crafted advanced bow making,
*Expert Instructors – minimum 10 years of experience

Come build your very own self bow. In three days you will personally turn a bark covered log into a shooting bow. During this class you will learn material selection and harvesting, take your stave to a growth ring, read the character of the grain, lay out the bow design, and tiller it perfectly.

*3-Day Workshop: $650
*w/ Express Pass: $630

This class is offered on our private property in the Santa Cruz mountains and will run 3 full days. The price has been discounted down from $750 to $650 to make it more accessible to interested parties, but for this reason food and camping are not included (Food is BYO – camping is available on site for $20/night). Please note: there is a $150 material fee included in your class fee to purchase your bow stave and other materials for string, handles, and finishing work; thus the class fee is $500, plus $150 for materials.

Taught by Adventure Out owner Cliff Hodges, with occasional visits from guest instructors, this class will explore each step of bow making so that you go home not only with a shooting, hunt-worthy bow, but the skills and know-how to build your own bows start-to-finish. All materials including bow stave are included in your class fee. All major group/shared tools are provided, some small and inexpensive hand tools (sandpaper, files, etc) will be required for you to bring.

Dates Offered:
May 31-June 2, 2019 – SOLD OUT
November 1-3, 2019 – SOLD OUT
May 22-24, 2020
Oct 30 – Nov 1, 2020
*Private classes available on request

Minimum Number Needed For Class: 4 People
Maximum Class Size: 9 Maximum

Prerequisites/Requirements:
-Ages: 16 & up

Directions? Details?
Clinics are held on our private teaching property in the Santa Cruz Mountains – 10 minutes from downtown Santa Cruz. Exact directions, maps, recommended packing lists, and other details will all be provided upon booking.

Your clinic includes:
3 days of expert instruction. Bow stave and materials (over $150 value). All major tools (a few small/disposable items will be required for you to bring such as sandpaper – full material list will be provided upon registration, but the items you need to bring will cost at most $15).

Your packing list:
We provide all the equipment for your bow making workshop! Just come prepared with clothing to spend a weekend in the outdoors, lunch, snacks, & water, and a notebook & pen to takes notes.

how to build a hand crafted bow

WATCH THE VIDEO ON THEME: How To Build A Longbow

*3-Day Workshop *You will leave with a fully hunt-able handmade bow! *Hand- crafted advanced bow making, *Expert Instructors – minimum 10 years of.

how to build a hand crafted bow
Written by Akinokora
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