Secrets to Building Self Bows

Building self bows is not a complicated activity. Find yourself a piece of osage, hickory, oak, yew or elm around 7 feet long. Strip the bark off and work it down to a round stave, tapering from the centre to each tip with a rectangular section in the middle.

if you’ve ever stripped down a single sapling and tied a string to each end, you’re just about there!

self bow, also referred to as a simple bow, is made from a single piece of wood, sometimes additional adornments such as horn nocks and extended handles are added, but generally they are not.

Some non-purists will include a bow made from 2 pieces of wood spliced together at the handle, as a self bow.

A practical self bow can be fashioned from various materials available in most locations around the globe.

The earliest bows were self bows, that is bows not strongly recurved. The oldest self bows that have been found in Europe are featured in the Guimet Museum and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

It’s considered that bows discovered at Holmgård on Zealand in Denmark were the oldest self bows in Europe. These bows were constructed from elm and have been dated to c.7000BCE during the Mesolithic period which followed the glacial period. In Denmark, this period ran from c.12500 to 3900 BCE.

Average length for a self bow is around 60 inches and the length should really not exceed 70 inches. Their draw length would range from 40 pounds to around 55 pounds.

Wood Self Bows

Common types of timber generally found around the globe can mostly be used for making a top quality self bow, apart from those that absorb excessive moisture. 

The timber also needs to be long grain that is, the grain needs to run parallel to the long edge of the piece of wood that you have chosen for your bow.

Timbers that a more dense generally store energy more efficiently and can be crafted into narrow bows with far less effort.

Using prime quality yew results in the production of self bows which are very narrow, much like the traditional European longbow.

Hickory was favoured by the Eastern Woodlands tribes of North America and osage orange by the tribes in the Midwestern United States.

West coast Native Americans favored American Pacific yew, and the rainforest tribes of Brazil used palm wood plus others. In North America and Europe everyday timber like maple, ash, elm, and oak was used to craft efficient flat bows, these options were way easier to get in comparison to the preferred yew.

“For a self bow, it’s best if the fibres on the back are continuous”

You can achieve through using the external surface of the tree, under the bark, as the back of the bow. As is the case with the majority of white woods.

Another option is the painfully slow procedure of removing the outer growth rings, or by creating and/or following a cut or ‘cracked’ surface that has a continuous grain.

Timbers that are more dense can store energy as it is bends and very narrow arrows can be made from timber that is more dense.

The same design created from timbers that are not as dense results in the bow experiencing exaggerated set-string follow or at worst, breaking. 

That said, the same effective bows can be crafted from timber that is not as dense by increasing the width at the centre. 

The mass of similar bows is quite similar regardless of the wood density and (around) an equal amount of mass of wood is needed regardless of the timber density.

The total length of bending wood needs to be approximately 2.3 times the draw length. Narrower bows, (aka longbows) can bend in the handle. Wider bows (aka flatbows) need to be narrow in the handle if they’re to be efficient, but the handle cannot bend so it needs to be thicker therefore the bow will generally be longer.

Self Bow String Follow

A self bow string follow is the bow wanting to bend toward the belly or string side of the bow. This may result following a new bow being strung and then some shooting done. A bow could also have a “memory” of where the natural bend of the bow was in the stave from the get go.

It’s not all bad though.

Despite what some archers think, string follow will have absolutely no effect whatsoever on the life of a bow. It will last just as long as any other bow that does not suffer from this affiliction.

In fact, a bow with a minor case of string follow will more than likely be around longer than a more highly-stressed reflexed bow.

Also, it could very well be a lot more stable and much sweeter to shoot. In any event it will always do the job that you purchased it to do.

The downside is, you’ll be paying the price of reduced cast, poundage, and speed. 

The primary reason for string follow is not allowing the wood to dry enough prior to bending the bow. Hickory is a wood that is very much prone to this.

String follow and Hickory’s pension for retaining moisture is the reason that Hickory from the very humid southeast is not a recommended wood to use for making a bow.

However the same wood from drier parts of the country may be OK if it’s sealed correctly however, it would still not be a recommendation

Even after it’s finished off and correctly sealed, it will continue to absorb moisture and have a negative affect on your bow.

String follow can also be a problem with uneven tillering. Heat treating the belly of a bow will go along way to preventing string follow.

Composite Bow vs Self Bow

The key advantage that a composite bow has over a self bow, which is crafted from a single piece of wood, is composite bow’s winning combination of small size and high power. This makes them more desirable than self bows in situations where the archer is on the move such as riding a horse or shooting from a chariot.

It does take a higher level of skill and an extended period of time to make a composite, from maybe a couple of days to many months.

Well crafted composite bows with higher draw-weight result in increased arrow velocity from a relatively shorter bow. 

Something you may not be aware of is the glue that binds this bow together actually absorbs moisture and water will dissolve if soaked and the bow may literally fall apart.

The wood of a self bow needs to be way less sensitive to moisture.

The greater density and weight of horn and sinew which are versus wood will generally  eliminate the benefits of composite construction. For the most part, including non-mounted archery, a self bow can function as well as, if not better than, a composite bow.

Generally speaking, initial arrow velocity generally does not vary all that much between bows.

Traditional Self Bows

Traditional self bows are also often referred to as a longbow and you can make either one with just a single piece of wood. The most popular woods for self bows include osage, hickory, oak, yew and elm.

Learning how to make a self bow is not difficult as it’s an extremely basic  piece of equipment. Some folks use a piece of green wood and let it dry for a year or more before they string it; others use seasoned wood and get a self bow ready in a lot less time (often a few weeks or months).

A self bow will probably be somewhat short in draw length and will only bend about 20 to 30 pounds at the most. But with modern materials, you can add a different riser (handle) to the top of the limb that will enable you to draw it further. 

A hand-made riser can be made from steel pipe, aluminum tubing or even wood, some make composite risers using metal, wood and fiberglass.

The most efficient style of self bow seems to be a rectangular cross section along its length with a regular taper towards the tips. The bow does not have a handle so you can shoot it either way.

If you look closely at your bow you will see that one limb has a more discernible curve than and that line becomes the upper limb.

The weight of an average waxed and polished self bow is around1.5lbs or 660gms and a draw weight of 70lb at 28 inches or 32kg at 71.1 cm.

Longbow vs Self Bow

The self bow is also known as the longbow and the longbow is also known as the European style recurve bow. While there are some clear differences between them, and some confusion, the self bow vs longbow debate goes on.

These two bows have much in common, both are very simple in construction and made from a single piece of wood, traditionally yew, ash and elm are widely used.

But there are differences.

A self-bow is cheap and effective, made from a single piece of wood that doesn’t require much preparation apart from drying out. It’s more frequently found in primitive cultures as it requires less skill to construct. 

The longbow is more suited to civilised societies and requires a much greater degree of knowledge to build and maintain, making them more valuable than self bows.

A traditional self bow is a real bow with its own natural stave that is made of wood. The wood is generally a single piece of wood or could be a composite made of several layers. 

The stave can be shaped or laminated depending on the desired results of the craftsperson or manufacturer. 

A self bow is made out of a single piece of wood, whereas a longbow has a riser block.

The modern version of these bows can shoot just as well as any other type of bow with some models having more than enough power to kill an animal from over 200 yards away.