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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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
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 learning experience.
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 making.