How to Make a Bow and Arrow Part 1

I remember the first time I tried to make a bow and arrow. There was a wind storm and lots of branches were down from the large black oak trees in my backyard. I picked up a stick and ran to get some string from the house. Then I looked for a shorter, straight branch.

I took the “arrow” and placed it on my bow. As the wood flexed it built up force. 3, 2, 1, twang. It worked! The arrow flew almost 15 feet. That was incredible! I went to try it again. The second attempt was equally exciting, but in a different way. SNAP! All that hard work for nothing. Did I mention I was 9 years old?

Since those early days of breaking bows as a kid I’ve spent a little (actually a lot) more time gathering branches, tree limbs, and trees to make a bow and arrow. In some ways, making a wooden bow is easy. You gather a piece of wood from a flexible, dense tree and remove a little wood from the thick end, attach a string, and you are done.

But bowmaking can also be really complicated. What’s the difference between reflex and a recurve? What about the best dimensions for the species of wood you are using? Do you have to use yew or osage orange? Isn’t it expensive to do all of this?

It can be, but I will show you the simplest way to make a bow and arrow with the least amount of cost and tools. You can always do more than this, but sometimes it’s nice to start simple. Right?

There are dozens of books out there on this subject. Some of them are excellent, others are amazing for helping cure insomnia. My goal with these articles is to break this process down to the bare essentials.

Here’s an overview of the process:

  1. Gathering a bow stave
  2. Drying your bow stave
  3. Roughing out your bow
  4. Laying out your bow
  5. Making a bow string
  6. Tillering
  7. Finishing
  8. Harvesting and Making Arrows

Gathering a bow stave

Tools needed: hand saw
The biggest myth in bow-building is this: you have to use osage orange or yew (English or Pacific). While these do indeed make outstanding bows, they are rare and expensive (yew) or just aren’t found in your area.

When you realize that literally any wood will make a bow, it frees up the possibilities. Now when I say any tree will make a bow, that doesn’t mean you can make a bow out of any tree species on your first go. There are lots of good woods that will give you a better chance at “success”.

Here are some species to explore:

  • Maple
  • Black locust
  • Oak
  • Ash
  • Elm
  • Mulberry
  • Cascara
  • Ironwood
How to make a bow and arrow - Oak tree

The mighty oak tree

There are lots of other trees just begging to be used, but these are good ones to start with. Once you identify a tree or two go for a walk in a forest. Make sure you have rights to be there. Logging on private property is not good for your bow making karma.

Look for a tree or branch that is at least 4” in diameter. This will ensure that the back of your bow is relatively flat (more on that later). Personally, I try to never actually kill a tree. I am always looking for “V-trees” that have a fork in their growth habit. Then I take the smaller of the two splits. That way I don’t kill the tree. You can also harvest from species that have many stems growing in a cluster. English yew grows in this pattern.

In your first few attempts I recommend practicing by making mini-bows – roughly 12-18″ long. You’ll learn a lot, and if you make fatal mistakes it will not be as big a deal.

Gather the straightest, tallest, knot free section possible. This can be easy or it can be really tricky. It’s ideal to gather a bow stave as tall as you are PLUS one foot. This will allow for a little extra wiggle room if your stave warps or cracks when it dries.

When you get home, coat the ends with glue or paint. Most of the drying takes place on the ends of the branch. Think of wood as hundreds of straws compressed together. The water flows out of the ends, but not as much along the length of the straw.

How to make a bow and arrow - Bow Stave

Bow stave with ends glued

At this point you can leave it in a cool, dry place for about a week. Wood loses lots of moisture at this stage and is susceptible to forming small (or sometimes BIG cracks). This is called checking. It is caused by wood drying at unequal rates. Wood on the outside is exposed to heat and ventilation, causing it to shrink. Wood on the inside doesn’t budge. Voila! Your wood starts to crack.

Sometimes checking is not a big deal, other times it will turn your bow stave into kindling. Some woods really want to check (osage orange, locust, and ocean spray among others), while others are not likely to crack.

Drying your Bow Stave

The second biggest myth in making a wood bow is that it takes at least a year to dry wood.

You can certainly harvest a piece of wood and leave it in your garage for 1, 2, or even 3 years. That is no guarantee that it will be totally dry. If it is a huge log left in a humid environment, it could still be way too wet to make a great wood bow. I’ve actually dried wood in less than a month. You can do it in less time, but I live in a humid, temperate rainforest.

There are two goals with drying wood: 1) You want it to be about 8-10% moisture content (I’ll explain a super simple way to measure this) and 2) You want it to survive the quick-dry method (you don’t want warping or cracks to appear in your wood).

So how do you do it?

Well, it’s actually really simple. The thinner the wood, the faster it dries. Makes sense, right? Once you gather your tree branch you need to coat the ends with glue (Elmers works fine) and then you need to rough it out so it is a lot thinner.

Spitting and Roughing out your Bow Stave

Tools needed: metal wedges, sledge hammer, hewing hatchet, machete, or drawknife
Okay. We now have a bow stave that has been sitting in a cool, dry place for a week. Split your bow stave in half. Get out your wedges and sledge hammer (and some ear protection). I’ve found that if you start your split in the middle of the stave that it will come out better than if you start at one end. Work your way until it is split in half.

Splitting by hand will allow the natural grain of the wood to be apparent. If the wood looks like it is spiraling, then it might be toast. About 45 degrees of twist over 6 feet of length can be tricky to deal with. It’s still possible to make a bow, but it’s going to push your skills. For this first bow you want to go easy on yourself.

How to make a bow and arrow - Roughed out Bows

Roughed out bow staves – Pacific yew and vine maple

Once it is split, it is time to narrow your stave until it starts to look like a bow. I like to use a hewing hatchet (a hatchet that is flat on one face), but a machete can also work. Your goal here is to remove wood on the sides of the bow until it is roughly 2 inches wide. One of my favorite ways to do this is by using a 72 inch straight edge. They are typically 2 inches wide. Simply lay the straight edge on the belly (the flat, newly exposed center of the tree) and trace the edge on either side. Use your tool to remove all the extra material outside the lines. Using a straight edge ensures that your bow is straight, which is important in the early stages of making a wooden bow.

Now it’s time to remove the outer bark. The outer bark is an excellent waterproof layer. When we’re trying to dry wood, it is not very useful to us. Do this with a sharp knife or a drawknife. ONLY remove the outer and inner bark. Go slowly until you get a good feel for it. Note: If you harvested your bow stave in the spring or summer and the sap is flowing, you might be able to simply peel off the outer bark. Give it a test and it will save you some work.

Once the bark is removed, it is time for the last step before your wood is ready to fully season: reducing the thickness of your bow stave. This is best done with an axe, machete, or a drawknife. The goal is to reduce the bow’s thickness so that will dry quickly without checking and warping. For most woods, 3/4 inch is a good thickness to shoot for. The only place to leave thicker is the center ten inches of your bow. This will be where your handle lies and can be 1 1/2 inches thick.

Now that you have narrowed and thinned your bow, it is time to bring it into a location with about 70 degrees and 50% humidity. Hmmm. Where could that be? Your house! If you want to be scientific about the process, go to your local hardware store and buy a thermometer and humidity meter (hygrometer) for $12. Humidity of about 50% will yield a bow that has about 8-10% moisture content. Perfect.

How do you know when it’s done? If you have a scale that can weigh up to 5 pounds then you are in luck. Weigh your bow every couple days. When it stops losing weight for a week straight, you are ready to move on to the next step. Nice job for making it this far!

Bow on scale

Weighing the Bow – note measurements on the right

You now have a piece of wood that is ready to start bending. Part 2 of How to Make a Bow and Arrow will dive into Laying Out Your Bow, Tillering, and Finishing.

Ready for Part 2? Click here.

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have questions or comments!

UPDATE: I’m in the beginning stages of creating a video course on bowmaking. Interested in more info about bowmaking?

Bowmaking-button-big

  • http://non Dion

    Hi Dan
    Please would let me know when you are going to post “How to Make a Bow and Arrow Part 3″ because my son has a school project that involves making a bow and arrow.

    If you have already posted Part 3, I can’t find it so please send me the web address.

    Many thanks
    Dion

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hi Dion,

      It’s all ready now. Thanks for your interest!

  • Mara

    Hi Dan,i’m Mara. I live in Fiji and would like to know which wood is best for making Bows and arrows.i made a bow once n didnt uuse any of the tools u mentioned above to make except a knife! After a few months,when i tried to use the bow again,it broke. how can i make it unbreakable? and what string do u think i should use? oh n any hints on making arrows?

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hi Mara,

      That is really impressive that you were able to make a bow with just a knife! Did you harvest it green?

      One way I like to test bow woods is to harvest a small branch and bring it inside to dry. It only needs to be 12-18″ long (.5m). After a few weeks, make a “miniature bow”. Follow all the same tips that I give in these articles. You can test several different woods at a time and see which one works the best. You will save a lot of time and energy. As for arrows, gather pinky sized branches that extend the whole length of your arm. Try to gather dense woods that are relatively straight. If you have bamboo or “reed”, you can use those as well. You will need to add a foreshaft of another denser wood, with an arrowhead.

      If you have bamboo, you can give that a try. I have used bamboo as a backing for other woods, but not as a self bow (bow with no backing). You could also try mangrove root. The best way to figure it out is to give different woods a try. Most woods will make a bow, but some are more friendly than others. Err on the wider and longer side. Let us know what works!

  • Brigetta

    Hey,
    Me and my friends play Hunger Games, and I’m looking to build a bow that has enough power to hit someone, but not hurt them. We are tough kids who will fine fine. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrJjiEOJH5Y&list=PLJ0KffQNvV6m1_EQSYGi2HjMR20LTrDPT&index=1 )
    Any Suggestions? Any other weapons i can use? By the way the rule is three hits = death (elimination).

    Thank you.

    • Dan Corcoran

      Cool video, Brigetta. I would guess a 30 lb. bow (15kg) would be sufficient to have some power, but not too much. Obviously the arrows need to be super padded. My brother runs a camp for teens that uses bows with padded arrows – Twineagles.org. I believe they duct tape the ends of the arrows until there is a thick wad for protection. You could also add some leather or cotton cloth inside the duct tape. The trick is to make sure your arrow isn’t too lopsided. If your arrow only travels 20 feet, then lighten the tips a little bit. Experiment with different amounts of padding and see what shoots the best. Have fun and be safe!

    • evan farrell

      We did the same but with five lives . I live in Ireland and our areana had a lot more trees in it.We also had a cap of 3 people per alliance

  • Liz Crain

    Loved it, clear and concise to follow and I am totally inspired now to walk into the wood to locate my stave. Thanks Dan!

    • Dan Corcoran

      Thanks Liz! Good luck with the selection process. It’s always worth taking extra time to find a straight limb. Cut it a little long and coat the ends as soon as possible.

  • Jay

    Hey Dan, can I remove the outer & inneer bark FIRST and then wait to dry, so the drying process will happen a lot quicker?

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hey Jay,

      You can remove the bark before the drying process, but it’s a little riskier. On some woods, like ocean spray, the wood will crack badly if you remove the bark. It also depends on the environment you place the bow to dry. Sealing the ends of the bow will help prevent cracking. At certain times of the year (like late Spring), you can actually peel the bark off the wood like a sticker. It comes off perfectly with little effort. The other trick to quick-drying wood is to rough out the bow to the floor tillering stage while it is still green. Leave it full width, though, or it will probably twist. You can always experiment with smaller branches before testing out a full-size bow stave. Good luck!

  • Jay

    If I do not remove the bark and leave it inside my house to dry, about how long until I can start splitting and roughing? I have already applied glue on the ends

    • Dan Corcoran

      I try to split and rough my bows as soon as possible. The thickness will have more of an impact on drying than whether the bark is on or not. If it’s a “white wood”: maple, elm, oak, ash, and others, then you can remove the bark and not worry too much that it will crack. Also, the bow typically loses at least 50% of it’s moisture in the first 2 weeks. Once it loses that much moisture, it is not as prone to cracking. What species is it?

  • Jay

    I’m not sure what species it is, I just walked in my backyard and cut a nice straight thick branch.I live in north texas, if that helps. When it comes to splitting, would just a knife do? I’m not sure on what the “Roughing” part is.

    • Dan Corcoran

      An average fixed-blade knife can work on a smaller branch (under 2″). A sturdy machete or hatchet can also work. “Roughing” means taking the stave from a branch to a thinner and narrower “bow blank”. Just give it a go and if you mess it up, try again.

  • Heather

    Thanks for the awesome step by step guide. I’ve been using this along with the Traditional Bowyers Bible. This has been super helpful. I made my last bow with a machete, but it ended up drying too quickly and cracking. I have a beautiful piece of elm that I am letting sit in a warm dry place (with glue on the ends!) and this time I have a draw knife. I was wondering if you had any more information, or knew where to get it, about splitting the bow and about following the grain of wood. I’m really nervous about this. This bow was from a favorite elm of mine, that unfortunately fell- I want to make something special out of it. (I’m in Vermont by the way if you need regional info).

    Thank you so much!

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hi Heather,

      Wood loses moisture very quickly after it is cut. It is safest to keep wood in a cool dry place for the first week or so. It is recommended to hand split a bow stave, so that the natural grain of the wood is revealed. Some wood is twisted, some is straight-grained. Twisted wood can be used to make a bow, but really twisted wood is best used for something other than a bow.

      To split a bow stave you’ll need a couple metal wedges and a sledge hammer. If there is one side of the bow that looks like it would be the best for the back of the bow, arrange the wedges accordingly. Then pray that it is not twisty. If you practice on another piece, it will give you some practice. I’ve learned that it is tricky to predict how a stave will split. The only way to know is to try it. I am familiar with elm as a bow wood, but I have never split it myself.

      Depending on how quick you want to use it, you can thin it even further. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  • Dane

    I have an approximately 5′ length of well cured, solid wood. However, it gets fairly thin at both ends (3/4″) and is about 1 1/4″ in the middle. It is a smoothed/ rounded dowel that I would like to turn into a bow stave. Is there any way to accomplish this? Thank you very much, your page(s) have been very informative.

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hi Dane,

      A 5′ cured piece of wood is a good start. 3/4″ is fine for the tips, but 1 1/4″ is pretty narrow at the handle. If it is a very dense wood like osage orange or yew, then you might get away with making a bow that is that narrow. Also, the back of the bow typically follows one summer growth ring. If it’s truly a dowel then it likely cuts through the growth rings – making it less likely to survive the stresses of tension and compression. That said, if you are okay with taking a risk on the piece of wood breaking, then give it a try. You might need to make a lighter bow – say 35# at your draw length. Good luck!

  • Jonathan

    Hi Dan
    I have a Mulberry tree in my garden but it’s branches aren’t very big so I was wandering if a plain tree would also work?

    Thanks Jonathan

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hi Jonathan,

      Mulberry will make an excellent bow. You can make a decent weight bow out of branches as small as 1″. It would be nice if it was a little larger, but it could be great to practice your bow making skills on. I am not familiar with white stinkwood. I looked it up, though, and see it is related to hackberry which makes good bows. Best way to see if they’ll make a bow is to give it a try! Remember, you want a dense, flexible wood. Cut a small branch, bring it indoors to dry, and then do some bending tests with it. Is it hard to break? That’s a good sign. Let us know what you find out.

  • Jonathan

    I’ve just been outside again and was wandering if a White Stink wood would
    work.

  • Gordon

    Thank you very much . I like bow but i don have money to buy one . But now i can make one . Thank you very much .

    • Dan Corcoran

      You are welcome Gordon! I’m stoked you are putting it to use. Let me know if you have questions as you get going.

  • Zach

    Great article! I’m gonna try making this. Wish me luck!

    • Dan Corcoran

      Good luck Zach! Let me know if you have questions.

  • Ray

    Hi. I have a friend that let me cut some of his trees. He had some hickory and cherry trees that I got some wood from. Are either of those woods dense enough in your opinion for a good bow? I did get some ironwood but I’m not sure they are big enough for a bow (diameter).

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hickory and ironwood are excellent. Cherry is not a wood that I would start with. It is very sensitive to imperfections during the tillering process.

      • ray

        I have several walnut trees on my property, how would that wood do for a bow?

        • Dan Corcoran

          Hi Ray, walnut does make a good bow. It’s a very dense wood. You can use the sapwood, heartwood, or a combination of the two. It is safer to back the bow (this is true for all bows), but is not essential. If you have several trees then it’s worth learning how to make a bow from it! Cut some (one?) straight tree, split it down, and coat it with glue or paint. In the meantime, you could purchase a board or a stave that is already seasoned. That way you can practice while your stave is drying. Good luck!

          • Ray

            One last question…for now. I am 6’5 1/2″ and I am wondering if there is a certain length that I should make my stave. I have a couple of long logs and I want to make sure I make the bow long enough for me.

          • Dan Corcoran

            Hey Ray,

            The general rule of thumb is that a bow can bend half of it’s length. For a 72″ bow, that’s 36″. This correlates to your draw length. The best thing to do is measure your draw length and then do the math on how long your bow should be. Make sense?

  • Tony Burnett

    Dude!! if your in the woods and in a survival situation you wont have access to string or a scale i suggest looking up how the indians made bows in early america

    • Dan Corcoran

      This is an article on bowmaking with modern materials. Survival bows are a different subject.

  • Fletcher

    Hi Dan I want to play the hunger games with some mates but whenever I buy one they always break and they don’t go far. So I though that I might make some out of trees is there a way to make one out of oaks.

    • Dan Corcoran

      Yes, oak makes a fine bow. It is a little on the brittle side and it takes relatively long to season, but give it a try!

  • Alvin

    Nice tips! I will try to make one but I am with not much supplies and my tool is a penknife, that’s all. Is it possible to make a bow with a penknife?

    • Dan Corcoran

      Anything is possible, Alvin. You can make a bow using stone tools. That said, I would recommend making a small investment in some basic tools for first-time bowyers. It’s a fair amount of work using the ideal tools, let alone a small knife.

  • Ally

    Where are you supposed to find a saw or machete if ur out in the wild??? Also if ur making this at home isn’t there a simpler way to do it???

    • Dan Corcoran

      1) This isn’t an article on a survival bow. It’s “How to make a bow and arrow”.
      2) Yes, there is a simpler way. Thanks for asking.

  • panagiotis

    i really like ur article.What is ur opinion about olive tree ,almond tree and pine tree,orange tree and lemon tree?They are the only trees in my area.Are they too hard for a beginner bow maker?I am so sorry for my bad english.

    • Dan Corcoran

      I don’t have experience with those woods. But I know that fruit/nut trees are typically very dense woods. The trick is that they are often short and have stubby branches. Out of all the trees you listed, my guess is that almond or olive would be the one to start with. Skip the pine. Find the straightest piece of wood out of those trees, ideally 4″ in diameter or greater. Cut it, seal the ends with glue, split it in half (or quarters), and put it in a dry, cool location. If it doesn’t show any signs of cracking in two weeks, bring it to a warmer location. Weigh the bow. At the point where it stops losing weight for a week, it’s ready to work on!

      • panagiotis

        Hi again.it was very dificult to find a straight wood but I founded and cut a wood that was like the letter y.So I cuted the small part and now the straight wood is left.is that a problem?Then I painted the 3 places I cutted but I see that there is.a small circle in the middle of the cutted area that the paint doesnt dry.schould I put also glue?thank you very much for ur time

  • Cole Daugherty

    Hi Dan I was wondering if i could do this with a 2X4? Mainly because i cant seem to split the staves properly and i just end up ruining the stave.

    • Dan Corcoran

      You can make a bow out of anything. Just make it wide enough and long enough. That said, if your going to make a “board bow”, it’s worth it to purchase a denser wood than your typical fir/pine 2×4. Red oak is the most common wood that you’ll find at box stores like Home Depot. If you have a lumber yard (So and So Hardwoods), then get some 5/4 hickory. Select the straightest grain possible. This is what I do for beginner classes on bowmaking.

  • mihir

    hello dan,i was wondering what type of wood to use because i live in india and i dont know much about which tree to to cut.

    • Dan Corcoran

      Look for dense wood that is straight. Try the hardwoods of your area first. Fruit and nut trees are a good place to start. Try to make a mini-bow first and that will tell you if it’s a suitable bow. Good luck!

      • Isschade

        Try Mango wood. The mangos in India grow as huge as our Oaks. AND it’s a fruit. :)

  • luke

    hey my name is luke and im wondering
    what is the best length for my bow and any more details on how to make the actual bow, also i live in britain in wolverhampton so any tip on materials and what bow string i could use thank you

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hi Luke,

      All of the answers to your questions are in the 4-part guide. Keep reading the other articles and let me know if you have questions.

  • Alvin

    Oh yeah. Good luck for me trying to make a bow with a penknife.

  • evan farrell

    I have a peice of wood in a nice recurve shape that i have strung. I dont know what tree it came from but it works great.

    • Dan Corcoran

      As long as it works, Evan!

  • konnor

    i live in Oregon which tree would make the best?

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hey Konnor,

      Pacific Yew, Oregon white oak, cascara, vine maple, Oregon ash, and Pacific dogwood are all good bow woods in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Pedro Marques

    Hey Dan!! I from Portugal!! And I really want make a bow, but what kind if wood, i should use? Thanks for the instructions!! Wait an anwers

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hi Pedro!

      After doing a little research, here are some possibilities for you:

      Ash (Fraxinus)
      Locust (Robinia pseudo acacia)
      Elm (Ulmus)
      Yew (Taxus)
      Mulberry (Morus)
      Hazel (Corylus)

      I don’t know exactly what grows in your area, but hopefully a few of those are nearby. Good luck!

  • Eyal

    Hey dan i live in israel and ive read your guide and i have a7sm wide eucalyptus log and i want to know if that wood is hard enough to be a strong bow

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hi Eyal,

      Eucalyptus is definitely hard enough; it’s one of the hardest woods out there. The trick is finding a log that is straight and not twisted. In my research, there are over 600 species. Some have reported success, others are dense, but very brittle. My advice would be to make a “mini-bow” before spending a lot of time on it. Let us know how it goes!

      • Eyal Dray

        Thank you very much will lt you know how its going. Me and some kids here decided we gonna some good bows to go and shoot them/mabe even hunt with them but first we need some good bows and we have alot of eucalyptus trees here so we trying it for now but as you said its hard to find a straight log. Do you know any good wood that i can find in the area?

        • Dan Corcoran

          After doing a search of trees in Israel, here are some options: oak, mulberry, juniper, and hawthorn could all work. Test out the woods by making “mini-bows” that are 1-2 feet long.

        • http://www.survivalmastery.com/ Dan Corcoran

          Eyal,

          After doing a search of trees in Israel, here are some options: oak, mulberry, juniper, and hawthorn could all work. Test out the woods by making “mini-bows” that are 1-2 feet long.

          • Eyal Dray

            Thanks for the help but these tree are realy hard to find in my erea we useing now a Cupressus tree they are realy east to find here and its realy easy to get a straight branch at any lenght so im hopeing this will be good enough for useing and practice till we get some of the woods you mentiond

  • http://Survivalmastery.com Tyler

    Hey I was wondering if u could sell one of ur bows

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hey Tyler,

      Thanks for asking. Use the contact box in the upper right corner of the site and we can discuss some possibilities.

  • Phil

    Hello Dan,
    First off great article, this will be my home page whilst I master this great art.
    I found myself a lovely piece of ash in my local forest today, she measures aprox 4.5′ tall and the best part of 4″ diameter. I realise this might be a little small for my 6’3″ frame but i only really intend this one to be a practice bow.
    What I would like to ask you is this; you recommend using glue on the ends of your branch, would anything else suffice? Like paint or varnish?
    Also the branch I found has lost all it’s bark and is soaking wet after being left outside for what I can only estimate to be a year or so. The branch is not rotten and has a good ‘knock’ to it if you understand what I mean. Will this alter the method used in drying or shall I follow your guide to the letter?
    Thanks
    Phil

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hi Phil,

      Yes, 50″ or so will be too small for a tall individual such as yourself. But as you mentioned it could be a good practice bow. You could also splice two limbs together, but this is a more advanced effort (you’ll often see “billets” that are intended for this purpose when the stave or log is not long enough).

      My bigger concern is that it is dead-standing. In my wet area, it takes a few years for the bark to fall off. The best thing to do is cut it at the base and see how solid the wood actually is. Look for rot and any sign of burrowing insects.

      The glue is irrelevant if the tree is dead. Its purpose is to slow the rate which moisture is lost. If it’s already dead, then it’s gone through a seasoning cycle already. Ash is a great bow wood, but it’s best to cut a live tree/branch and season it in a controlled environment.

      That said, give it a try and see what happens. Just have fun with this first bow with limited expectations. It’s more fun that way. Let us know how it goes!

    • http://www.survivalmastery.com/ Dan Corcoran

      Hi Phil,

      Yes, 50″ or so will be too small for a tall individual such as yourself. But as you mentioned it could be a good practice bow. You could also splice two limbs together, but this is a more advanced effort (you’ll often see “billets” that are intended for this purpose when the stave or log is not long enough).

      My bigger concern is that it is dead-standing. In my wet area, it takes a few years for the bark to fall off. The best thing to do is cut it at the base and see how solid the wood actually is. Look for rot and any sign of burrowing insects.

      The glue is irrelevant if the tree is dead. Its purpose is to slow the rate which moisture is lost. If it’s already dead, then it’s gone through a seasoning cycle already. Ash is a great bow wood, but it’s best to cut a live tree/branch and season it in a controlled environment.

      That said, give it a try and see what happens. Just have fun with this first bow with limited expectations. It’s more fun that way. Let us know how it goes!

  • Trey Brown

    Hey dan, out of curiosity: let’s say worse case scenario, you’re stranded and only have a knife or machete. Is there a way to create this type of bow as a weapon? You would have to substitute glue with something like clay, you can’t control the humidity, and there is limited recourses. Is this design even plausible for some one in an emergency situation?

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hi Trey,

      The short answer is yes. You can make a “survival bow” or a “quickie bow”. The bowmaking process is the same, besides the seasoning part. You can cut a green branch (from a dense, flexible wood) and start the tillering process. I will choose a much smaller branch than I would for a long term bow. One inch is a good diameter to start with. Then tiller the thick end to match the thin end. P-cord could work as a bowstring and you can just eyeball the tiller. I’ve made 35-pound survival bows in less than an hour. This is worthy of a full article, but that’s the basic process.

    • http://www.survivalmastery.com/ Dan Corcoran

      Hi Trey,

      The short answer is yes. You can make a “survival bow” or a “quickie bow”. The bowmaking process is the same, besides the seasoning part. You can cut a green branch (from a dense, flexible wood) and start the tillering process. I will choose a much smaller branch than I would for a long term bow. One inch is a good diameter to start with. Then tiller the thick end to match the thin end. P-cord could work as a bowstring and you can just eyeball the tiller. I’ve made 35-pound survival bows in less than an hour. This is worthy of a full article, but that’s the basic process.

  • Ruth

    Hey Dan,
    What a great thing you have done here! May your fan club increase!
    A question. How about hazelnut wood? Will that work? About 2 meters high?
    Thanks.
    Ruth

    • Dan Corcoran

      Thanks Ruth!

      Yes, hazelnut will work. It’s hard to find large diameter trunks/branches, but you can still build solid bows from it. I’d recommend making your bow about 1 3/4″ (4.5cm) wide. Two meters will be plenty long for a 50lb. bow. Good luck!

    • http://www.survivalmastery.com/ Dan Corcoran

      Thanks Ruth!

      Yes, hazelnut will work. It’s hard to find large diameter trunks/branches, but you can still build solid bows from it. I’d recommend making your bow about 1 3/4″ (4.5cm) wide. Two meters will be plenty long for a 50lb. bow. Good luck!

  • danny

    when I have to split the bow stave is there another tool I can use. I don’t have a metal wedge or a sledge hammer.

    • Dan Corcoran

      You can make wedges out of dense woods. If you have any scraps of wood you can taper them to the shape of a wedge. For the sledge hammer, substitute with a hammer or a large stick. It won’t work as well, but it can get the job done on smaller pieces of wood.

    • http://www.survivalmastery.com/ Dan Corcoran

      You can make wedges out of dense woods. If you have any scraps of wood you can taper them to the shape of a wedge. For the sledge hammer, substitute with a hammer or a large stick. It won’t work as well, but it can get the job done on smaller pieces of wood.

  • Julian Varela

    Hey dan im from mexico,what kind of wood can i use?is it fine a pecan tree wood?

    • Dan Corcoran

      Hi Julian,

      Yes, pecan wood will work. In general, fruit and nut trees are very dense. The challenge is finding trees that are straight enough and tall enough. That said, you don’t need as large a bow stave to make a serviceable bow. There should be lots of other woods in your area as well. Do some experiments with mini-bows. Good luck!

    • http://www.survivalmastery.com/ Dan Corcoran

      Hi Julian,

      Yes, pecan wood will work. In general, fruit and nut trees are very dense. The challenge is finding trees that are straight enough and tall enough. That said, you don’t need as large a bow stave to make a serviceable bow. There should be lots of other woods in your area as well. Do some experiments with mini-bows. Good luck!

  • geckomage

    you think this’ll make a nice bow? i was thinking of using the part up in the top right corner where all the rings are super close together. would that be better or the reverse corner? btw, for a size comparison i wear a size 12 extra wide shoe.

    • http://www.survivalmastery.com/ Dan Corcoran

      I think that will make a beautiful bow (or many bows). The only downside is that the growth rings are pretty tight – a good thing for yew, but for osage it’s not as advantageous. The best osage has big latewood (the dark wood in between the whitish lines. The top center is your best bet when you remove the bark and sapwood. Shoot for that first big growth ring.

      If you haven’t already, seal the ends with glue. If you want it to season more quickly, then split it and/or rough it to be roughly 2″ wide and 1″ thick (1.5″ at the handle). Cedar and pine are going to be “soft”, so you would need to make them at least 2.5″ wide or very light. I’d recommend red oak or hickory if you can find them. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  • Sheila Robbe

    In the North Country, Michigan, this winter we had a doozy of an ice storm that took down a lot of limbs. It is spring now, the snow and ice are mostly gone, would one of the downed limbs that fits the criteria work to make a bow?

    • http://www.survivalmastery.com/ Dan Corcoran

      Hi Sheila. A fallen limb could certainly work. The trick to seasoning wood is removing from the elements as soon as possible – to avoid decay and insects from claiming a new home. They would at least be good for the earlier stages of experimentation. The other challenge will be identifying the different species. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it is a good thing to know if you want to make another bow from the same wood. Grab some branches, cut clean ends with a saw, seal them with glue, and bring them in a garage to cure.

  • Matthew

    When you narrow and thin your bow, is that from the rounded side?

    • http://www.survivalmastery.com/ Dan Corcoran

      If by the rounded side, you mean the outside of the tree? No, that is the back of the bow. Remove the bark , sand it down, and then protect the back. narrow the bow on the sides and thin it from the belly (or the center of the tree). Make sense?

  • Bob Jones

    hey could you make a bow such as this from a plank or such?
    something like timber or lumber knot free and hard wood of course but is it possible? or better to do this with a fresh cut branch?

    thanks

  • Bob Jones

    also is it possible to reinforce the back of a bow?
    with say a fiberglass rod? a pal of mine did this and its seems ok but i dont know i have heard of this but i am not sure and dont want to ruin an otherwise perfect bow

  • Nunya

    Thanks for your tutorial. I welcome your advice… It is spring here in NC and I have a young 4-5″ thick Black Walnut tree that I will be cutting down fresh. I am hoping to get as strong, powerful and dependable bow out of it as I can that I can hunt deer with. Do you think that’s possible?
    What length, thickness, etc should I go for? Any other comments and details or advice you can offer?
    I am 5’10″ and for the past few years I’ve been shooting a compound set at 18.5″ draw at 62# and am an avid woodworker.

    Thank you so much.

    John

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