The Exile Files

Raging Against the Outrageous. Laughter and Insanity Abound.

Making a Longbow

Posted by Exile on October 20, 2021

…isn’t easy,
It all started at the archery club. A friend turned up and gave me a limb that he had cut from a yew tree. “Here. Make a longbow.” I took the limb and looked at it for a while. “How?”, I asked.
”You’ll figure it out.”, he said, leaving me to it.
The limb was seven feet long, very knotty and not straight. I studied it for days. Having decided where the best option was for getting something out of it, I went to it with a hatchet and began roughing out the shape of a longbow. It was very tapered at the top, so that bit had to go. I was left with about six feet of wood decorated with knots and pits. I debarked the limb and carefully left the top layer of sapwood intact. This will be the back of the bow and it must be unbroken. The sapwood will tolerate the stretch and the heartwood will bear the compression in the belly of the bow. Which is why yew is the best wood for a bow.

Draw-Knife Roughing out is a big job but refining the bow takes a little more delicate working. I did this with a draw knife and a spokeshave. Traditional tools for the bowyer but somewhat untested by me, Also the traditional way to do this is on a shave horse. I don’t have one and I wasn’t going to build one, so I had to get creative with a wooden frame and my workshop vise. After a lot of shaving, studying and more shaving I finally had something resembling a bow. Knotty and not quite straight but a good facsimile, I decided it was time to start tillering.

Tillering is done on a tillering tree. I had to make one. It consists of a pole with a small platform on the top to ballance the bow on and a pulley system to hook to the bowstring. By pulling on the string from a distance one can see how the bow is bending. Start gently. Too much and you will break the bow. One is looking for weak spots as well as parts of the limbs that are not bending. Those unbending areas have to be reduced. Leave the weaker spots alone. Eventually the limbs will bend evenly and uniformly. Continue until the bow will bend to the draw length that one requires. I went to 28 inches.
Reducing the limbs was done with a spokeshave and a scraper. Use both sparingly and remove very little wood at a time. Spokeshave A long process, but necessary to get the bow working properly.

Finally I had a bow. Unfinished, but ready for the final dressing and fitting of nocks and grip and string. All these things have to be made, I got hold of some horn to make the nocks. I found some fine leather to fashion a grip and I had to shop for materials with whch to make a string. Dacron thread, a serving machine, serving thread and wax.

I started with the nocks. One takes the tip of a horn and bores a conical hole up the middle. Then one sharpens the tips of the limbs of the bow to fit snugly into said conical holes. This is best done with a rasp and a file. Again, it takes time and multiple test fittings. The nocks need a groove carved into them to accomodate the string, Use a rat tail file to do this. It makes the fingers ache but it does get the job done. The grooves in the top nock have to follow the line of the string that will be made once the string is on the bow. Not easy and requiring a good eye, I worked at it for a long time. The bottom nock is different. It requires a larger groove which covers the entire circumference of the nock. A bowyers knot gets tied into that groove. It has to be angled slightly  to take the string which will tighten all around the nock.
Satisfied that all was as good as it was ever going to be, I set the nocks in place and glued them with epoxy.
The leather grip was easy. Cut a square(ish) piece of leather and simply glue it to the bow. I used a spray on adhesive for this. It allowed me to strecth the leather to fit. Now for the really easy part. Get a cup of tea and wait for the glue to dry.

I’m still far from finished. I need to make a string and the bow needs to be properly finished and the nocks need refining, but I am waiting until I have tried the bow before I invest more time in it. I want to get the string on and test shoot with it. I have arrows, I have a target face and a range I can use.
Tomorrow will be a stringfellow day. I’ve never made a bowstring before. I have seen a few tutorials on Youtube….
It’s going to be another interesting day…

2 Responses to “Making a Longbow”

  1. Kypros. said

    Impressive work Keith, but wouldn’t the wood have to be treated chemically to make it stronger? Just a wild guess.

    • Exile said

      No, Kypros. Yew is the best for bows, needs no chemicals. But I will give it an oil finish, Yew is poisonous. Nothing eats it. Especially the bark and leaves. It’s a long grained wood. Needs no strengthening.

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