Bow Making for Beginners 0
Bow Making for Beginners

How to make a bow? Not a toy, not a stick that will break after a few “shots”, but a fully useful and efficient weapon capable of throwing arrows for significant distances?  I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been asking myself these questions since I was a kid. I was truly fascinated by archery and always wanted to study the craft of a bowyer. Now, after a few years of practice, still with a lot of work ahead, I can say this topic is not that simple as it may seem to be. In this article, I will share my thoughts and experience on the basics of bow making.


Let’s say we want to build the first bow. What should we start with? We're gonna need a proper material, tools to work on it, and knowledge of how to do it. Basing on my experience, we should start with getting the wood for the project. Depending on where we live, a different wood species will be accessible. For the first build, the kind of the wood is not that significant, as the most important is to gain experience and build a useful weapon, not the best performing one (it takes better wood but also more experience, and it’s far more challenging). From this video, you will learn more about the wood species suitable for bow making:

For bow making either boards, logs, branches and saplings can be used. Any of these can be picked as the material, depending on which one can be acquired easily. Working with unprocessed material (logs, branches) in most cases we work it down to the stave with a single intact growth ring on the back, whereas with boards usually we proceed slightly different – the growth rings are perpendicular to the back of the weapon. Having a specifically grained board, the one can also can work it down to the classic parallel (to the back) grained stave.

Ok, so having the wood, now is the time to season it properly (if you haven’t got already dried lumber – boards). After harvesting the wood, It should be split into staves (If possible – thick enough), then debarked and properly sealed. We’re sealing the ends and backs of staves with varnish, glue or paint to prevent cracking, which may occur in case of too quick drying. The sealant slows down this process and keeps the staves in better condition. Staves prepared in such a way, we should store in the dry place. The material should be far away from extremes in form of heat and humidity sources. The safest way to dry material is to do it slowly. Depending on conditions and the thickness of the stave, it should be dried from a month (when the stave is worked down to the bow blank) up to 2 years. The optimal moisture content of the wood is 9%. The easiest and cheapest way to define that the stave is ready to become a bow is to check its weight every day – when it stops losing weight, it’s ready to go.

Waiting for a wood to be dried, an aspiring bowyer should expand his knowledge. In these modern times, there are many sources that provide great info on each aspect of bow making. I especially value the Traditional Bowyer’s Bible series, which is probably the most complete source of bow making knowledge. Also, there are many YouTube videos showing and explaining the whole process step by step. Such a time spent on learning will pay off later, for sure. Let me emphasize here that studying sources alone won’t make a good bowyer – nothing can replace practice and the raw work with the wood.

Once the wood is dried, it’s the time for further work. There are many designs that the bowyer can go for, nevertheless some are more requiring than others. The safest option that can be picked, is to make a bow flat and wide-limbed, with a stiff handle and to build the whole thing as long as possible. It’s perhaps not the easiest design to execute in terms of the amount of the work required, but for sure it’s the one providing the highest chance for success. Long, wide and flat limbs can handle more stress, therefore more mistakes can be committed by the bowyer without serious negative consequences. Not always the material will let us apply such a design, then we have to adapt it to the particular piece of wood, trying to use its full potential.

There are a few aspects of the bow making process, that in my opinion deserve more time and attention than others. Perhaps the most important one is tillering - it’s a step that turns a piece of wood into the bow. Tillering we make the stave bend, examining the profile and removing the material from the spots (mainly from the belly, never from the back) on the limb that are not bending, or bending not enough (stiff spots). The goal is to get a balanced bend, adapted to the particular design. On this stage of the bow making process depends, if we’re going to end up with a useful weapon, or a piece of firewood. The key is to work slowly and precisely. Tillering tree is a simple and extremely useful device at this point, as it allows the bowyer to see and examine the bend from the distance.

To process the piece of wood into a bow, the bowyer needs certain tools. But don’t be afraid, you don’t need much to make a bow. A good knife can be enough to build a functional weapon. Of course, there are tools that make certain stages of the process easier. Here are some useful ones:

  • Axe – splitting, roughing, harvesting
  • Drawknife – debarking, roughing, tillering
  • Scrapers – tillering, final touches
  • Spokeshave – roughing, tillering
  • Files, rasps – carving string grooves, tillering, final touches


This article is only a tip of the iceberg, but I’m convinced it will be helpful for aspiring bowyers. I have also created an e-book for beginners focused on the basics, you can get it here:


Thank you for reading!

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