How to Make a Longbow

making a longbowLearning how to make a longbow can be tricky, here you’ll learn what wood to use, how to cut it to size, how to strip it back, shaving the belly to enhance your bow’s curve, how to string your new bow and how to store it.

It isn’t as simple as picking a lump of wood and tying a length of string to it.

However, if you’re a half-decent DIY person with some basic practical skills, it shouldn’t be out of your scope and, just imagine the buzz and satisfaction you will get when it’s completed.

Look what I made Mum!

This will not be a quick project but it will be worthwhile. Time and patience is what’s required to find suitable wood, shape your bow, string it and finish it off so that it will stand the test of time and, if you look after it, serve you well for decades.

Beg, Borrow or Steal Some Hardwood for Your Bow

This ‘piece of wood’ will eventually be your bow and should be strong but flexible and not ‘bendy’ and it needs to free any knots.

Preferably, it needs to be between 5 foot to 6 foot (or 1.5 m to 1.8 m) in length and around 1.5 inches to 2 inches (or 3.8 cm to 5 cm) diameter.

You can usually pickup a suitable piece of hardwood from a lumber yard or a home handyman outlet or, for the more adventurous, create  a more primitive longbow from the branch of a tree. 

Branches that have been laying on the ground for a period of time will be just as suitable, if not more suitable, than branches that have been recently cut.

Keep a lookout for a branch on the ground that has dried out a little but hasn’t yet turned brittle.

The most suitable wood for bows are Yew, Hickory or Ash however, any type of hardwood such as Maple or Oak will suffice.

Stay clear of any softwoods such as Pine and Cedar, they are simply not up to the task.

Remove All the Bark From Your Prized Piece of Hardwood

Remove all bark from your piece of hardwood with a suitable tool. A knife that you would use for carving wood is ideal or pretty much any knife that’s sharp.

Take care when doing this and don’t exert too much pressure on the knife as you don’t want to cut into the wood under the bark.

You don’t actually need to remove the bark however it makes it so much easier to see how the wood looks and bends and ultimately, your bow will look way better when it’s all finished.

Working the Stave

Your ‘piece of wood’ is actually referred to as the Stave, working the stave when it’s vertical will allow you to see its natural curve. With your stave held in the vertical stance and loosely held at the top with the bottom sitting up against your foot, press the middle of your stave (lightly) outwards and it will turn ending up with its natural curve pointing outwards from you.

The belly of your bow is the part that’s closer to your body when your bow is drawn, the opposite side is referred to as the back. The above activity will help you identify these differences.

It is a possibility that you may accidentally score or cut the inside of the stave however be vary careful not to do the same on the outside. It must totally free of cuts of any kind as your bow’s structural strength will be compromised.

Marking the Position of Your Hand

Determine where the centre of your stave is the best way you can, now measure 3 inches (or 7.5 cm) in either direction from the center point. Indicate these positions using a felt marker or make a shallow cut with a sharp instrument.

This middle piece is called the handhold, it’s the place where the bow is held when you’re drawing it. It’s important that the the position where your hand goes is not damaged, cut or scored in any way so the bow’s strength is retained.

Inspecting the Curve

Repeat Step 3 but this time apply a little extra force so the stave bends more, the middle needs to be pushing outwards by a minimum of  3 to 4 inches (or 7.5 cm to 10 cm).

Check the curve carefully to ensure there are no areas where it’s not bending effortlessly.

Shaving the Belly to Finetune The Curve

 Utilizing your sharp instrument, cut a couple of layers of bark and wood from where the wood isn’t bending correctly. By doing this the flexibility of these areas will improve. Continue with this activity, testing while you go, until the bow flexes in an orderly shape, both sides of where your hand holds the bow.

Never shave from the back fo your bow, shave it only from the belly or inside. The tips and handhold need to stay somewhat straight in relation to the whole of your bow.

Depending on your stave’s thickness, the extent of your carving could vary quite a lot.

How to String a Longbow

Cut notches on each bow tip to accommodate the string. These notches will be on the inside and the outside of the bow tip and their job is to keep the bow string in right place.

Cut the notches on the outside of the curve to a maximum depth of 0.25 inch (or 6 mm), and the inside notches to a maximum depth of 0.5 inch (or 13mm).
The notches should be approximately 0.5 to 1 inch (or 13mm to 25mm) away from the very end of your bow.

Fasten Your Bow String Around the Notches

The length of your bowstring needs to be around 8 inches (20 cm) less than the length of your stave.

Fix one end in the notches at the bottom of your stave and create a slipknot on the other end. Bend your bow so you’re able to push the slipknot over the top and into the notches.

When done, a space of around 5 inches to 6 inches (our 13 cm to 15 cm) needs to exist between the bowstring and where you hold your bow.

Should this space be either wider or narrower than it should be, you’ll need to fashion another string. Either buy yourself a bowstring or you can use string or cord material that is strong, will withstand the rigor and doesn’t stretch very much when being drawn

You can try nylon paracord or, if you’re feeling really creative, one crafted from woven plant fibers although we wouldn’t recommend the latter option. At this point resist the temptation to pull the string back! Your bow is not ready for this step yet.

Hang Your Bow on The Horizontal

Hang your bow on the horizontal so it’s above you. Utilising the middle handhold, hang your bow above your head where you can touch it and with the string hanging straight down.

A hook in the ceiling would be an ideal place to hang it or around a rafter in your in the shed or a garage. If you’re in the great outdoors a cord thrown over a branch would be ideal to string it up.

Pull Down on the Bowstring and Fine-tune the Bend

Pull the string down about 3 to 4 inches (7.6 cm to 10.2 cm) and look at the curve of the bow. Visually identify spots that aren’t bending freely, release the string, and use your knife to shave away wood from the inside of the bow in these areas.

Pull the string again and repeat the process until the bow curves evenly.

Don’t stop yet, though!

Pull the string down 5 to 6 inches (13 cm to 15 cm) and shave wood from the bow as needed. Repeat the process at 7 to 8 inches (18 cm to 20 cm) and 9 to 10 inches (23 cm to 25 cm) as well.

Finishing Off Your Bow

Applying a coat of a protective oil on a regular basis will stop your bow from drying out.

The best oils for this job are Linseed oil and tung oil. Using a paint brush with natural bristles spread an even covering of your oil then clean off the excessive oil with a cloth. Allow the oil to penetrate into the wood for about a day, two days if possible.

From a safety aspect give the cloth a wash with warm soapy water and hang it out to dry so the flammability is greatly reduced.

Although the application of oil is an optional step it’s highly recommended, it will help to maintain your bow in much better condition and have a longer life.

Give That Bad Boy a Light Sanding and More Oil

After the initial coat of oil has totally soaked into the wood, give your entire bow a light sanding with fine sandpaper ie, 360 grit or higher.

If you’re wanting to give your bow a another coat of oil, and it’s highly recommended that you do, wipe your bow off with a rag after sanding and apply the next coat by following the same steps that you followed for the first coat.

Here’s the Best Part… Road Testing Your New Bow

Your longbow is now ready to use so nock an arrow, get yourself into a comfortable firing position, draw back the bowstring, focus on the target… and let it fly!

If you’re in a total DIYer mood why not consider having a go at making your own arrows.

IMPORTANT: Never, ever dry fire your bow that is, never fire it without nocking an arrow, it could literally destroy it.

How to Store a Longbow

Through dedication, focus and plain hard work you have created your very own longbow… who would have thought?


But wait, have you considered how you’re going to store it when you’re not using it?

Storing a bow in the correct manner storage will keep your bow shooting like it’s brand new. Storing also keeps it out of harm’s way by preventing it from being exposed to the risk of damage.

Here are some suggestions to think about.

When your bow is stored in your home keep it in an area or room that’s climate-controlled, where the temperature remains correct and constant.

Also, keep your bow away from damp areas like sheds for instance, if your bow absorbs any humidity the limbs may warp as a result. High humidity can also result in any metal parts on your bow rusting.

Don’t store your bow by resting it on one limb when the limb is supporting 100% of the weight of the bow. Long-term storage in this manner can result in the limbs twisting.

That said, leaning it against the wall or in the corner for a short time will do no harm. The best home storage option that I would recommend is a bow-rack or a purpose made bow case. For keeping your bow on display a bow-rack is the obvious choice whereas if you’re travelling, a bow case would be a much better option for you.