Primitive (but deadly) Archery -
Contrary to popular opinion, usable primitive bows
are not hard to make if you have patience, even for a novice. You
actually can make a usable bow with only a splitting wedge, a
hammer to drive it, a sharp machete, and a pocket knife (and some
knowledge about how wood bends). There are a number of additional
tools for the making of more advanced bows (draw knife, cabinet
scraper, tillering stick). You also need a cooperative tree or
dead limb, some string or cordage and a few hours. In my personal
opinion, the best tree for making a primitive bow is Osage Orange
(horse apple), also good are: Black Locust, Red Mulberry, White
Ash, and Hickory.
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article and GoKnapping shall not be liable for any injury,
loss or damage, direct or consequential, arising out of the use or
inability to use the information on this page.
A Basic Method For Making Self Bows
1) Find a nice, straight limb about 5 or 6 feet
long, preferably dead and standing of locust, mulberry or Osage.
If ash or hickory wood, cut green and dried indoors is best. Even
a dried 2" thick board will work if the grain is straight and
properly oriented in the board.
2) Split the stave after cutting it to length and
select a piece that does not twist for the bow. Avoid knots with
bad holes, splits or other obvious defects.
3) Cut out the outline of the bow along the grain
of the stave. Make the back of the bow (the side that faces the
target) from the first annual ring of heartwood, or from the
sapwood above it if the sap is thin.
4) Mark off the handle area, then carve away the
excess wood on the belly of the bow. The belly is the side that
faces the archer. Carve it away until you can bend the bow over
your chest just a little. Make sure that it bends evenly over the
limbs of the bow.
5) When it feels like you have a 75 pound bow
carved out, whittle any kind of notch in the ends and tie some
string on the bow to bend it slightly for the next step. The best
bowstring material is dacron, but twisted gut, rawhide, twisted
sinew or even nylon will do. "Tiller" the bow by scraping more
wood from the belly of the limbs. Hold the blade (drawknife or
spokeshave is best) at a right angle to the belly and shave or
scrape off ribbons of wood to weaken the working part of the limbs
in a slow and controlled manner. It helps to have a vise or a
helper to hold the bow at this point.
6) Occasionally pull on the string (gently at
first) to ensure that the scraping is weakening the limbs equally,
and stop when the poundage is about right. In the later stages a
tillering board or stick can be used to hold the bow drawn while
you continue to scrape. A bow gets stronger as it dries, so if you
go a little too far in weakening it might work out okay.
7) Wrap a handle on the mid section so that the
arrow does not slap it loudly. Cloth, leather or woven bark is
fine. Attach a final bow string that can consistently handle the
weight of the bow at full draw.
8) Check your tiller at full draw to make sure the
limbs bend evenly. What makes a bow work is thinning the stave
evenly along its length in order to share the burden of bending.
Even the best wood cannot take being mistreated by weakening one
spot too much. Take your time and be careful. A primitive bow
should not be drawn more than one half of its length.
quite possibly might break your first or second bow, but since it
takes relatively little time to make one it should all be a
We hope you were enjoyed the information in this
how-to article. For other lessons in primitive skill building and
traditional weaponry, please check out our GoKnapping
Kits product category. There you will find other all inclusive
lessons in skill sets like flint knapping, knife making, and arrow