For many, traditional archery is a passion. For others it’s just plain fun! Either way, making a longbow is something that nearly anyone can do, even without an extensive shop or lots of woodworking experience. This story will provide you with an overview of how to make a longbow.
Part of the key to longbow success is starting with a kit. The kit from Boise Bows and Arrows use yellow heart for the belly wood and riser, and bamboo (yes, bamboo) for the backing. The kits include a stave, bow string and complete instructions.
After filing the edges of the stave to remove bandsaw marks I file a chamfer onto the bamboo, just enough (1/8″ to relieve the sharp edge. This is a very important step. If you don’t do this fibers in the bamboo may blow out the first time you bend the stave.
Shaping the stave is next. I use a spoke shave. This is an exercise in finesse. You don’t want to take too much wood off, or you’ll lower the draw weight of the longbow.
I’m working my way down to two lines. One is centered on the belly wood (the side that will face the archer), the other is 1/8″ down from the face of the belly wood. I create four of these facets on the stave. (It’s not a “bow” until it shoots an arrow.) The spoke shave works great but you could also use a rasp. Surface finish isn’t critical at this point.
Shaping results in a ridge on the belly wood side of the longbow.
With basic shaping done I floor tiller the stave. I’m checking for uniform curvature from top to bottom, and also determining which part of the stave will be the upper limb. Floor tillering shows me where I need to remove more material from the belly wood.
In order for this stave to tiller correctly I need to remove a little material from what will be the upper limb. I’m now using the spoke shave horizontally and taking the high point off the ridge on the belly wood. Light, even passes and frequent checks with floor tillering are critical. I know you want to get a string on the stave, but it’s a big mistake to ask too much of the stave too quickly. You’ve got to teach the wood to bend. It takes patience and a gradual approach.
Once the bow floor tillers correctly I can file the nocks for the string. A 3/16″ chainsaw file makes short work of this. I can (finally) string the bow and exercise it. That means gentle pulls, not coming to full draw. At this point I measure, at uniform points, from the string to the bow. I want the upper and lower limb measurements to be within 3/4″ or less of each other. If they are not it’s back to the spoke shave or rasp to take off a little more material.
The pay off.
Once everything looks good and the bow has been gently exercised I can come to full draw and shoot a few arrows.
I’ll take that as a first round at 25 yards!
Finishing doesn’t happen until the longbow is tillered and shooting well. I like to use aniline dyes, which I can blend into a variety of colors and patterns. A top coat seals the aniline dye in, and the bow is ready to use.
These longbows are capable of producing a draw weight suitable for hunting or being pared down to a lighter draw weight suitable for young shooters.
Tom Turgeon, Master Bowyer, owns and operates Boise Bows and Arrows and Turgeon Tools.
For more information about longbow kits visit www.boisebowsandarrows.com
or call (208) 484-2320.
Photos By Author
All Woodworking Articles, Woodworking Projects