How to Make a Composite Longbow

Two Methods:The Basic BowThe Composite Bow

A composite bow, by definition, is a bow made of two or more materials. Typically the composite materials are used to make the bow stronger, although it can be purely ornamental. Exotic materials like horn can be used, but for beginners, wood, hide/skins, and sinew are probably the easiest. In this wikiHow we'll show you how to make a basic bow, and also continue the project towards a finished composite bow.

Method 1
The Basic Bow

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    Select your wood. Go to a hardware store or an archery store. Only cut live trees if you are sure it is a suitable wood, and are prepared to properly dry the wood. Just-cut, wet wood won't work well.
    • Look for a board that's 6 feet (1.8 m) long, 1"x2".
    • Oak and lemonwood are good woods for your first bows.Osage and yew make the best bows, but are difficult to work with.
    • Do not use pine, poplar, or other soft woods.
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    Check the grain. The board doesn't have to be straight, but you want the grain to run straight, both on the face and the sides. Ideally, the grain should run straight down the length of the board (not off the edges), so that the back of the board is a single layer of wood unbroken by any growth rings. A technique you can use to learn the direction of the grain is to run a pointy object down the length of the board. The pointy object should follow the grain and will tell you if it runs off the edges of the board. It's unlikely that you'll find such a board at lumberyard, so get a board with as few defects as possible.
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    Use a pencil to roughly draw the shape of the bow on the wood:
    • For a longbow, you want it long and narrow taper to the tip.
    • Follow the natural grain.
    • If there are knots in the wood, work around them, not through them.
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    Glue on your second piece of wood now, if you plan to use one. It will be far easier to shape the two together.
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    Rough out the shape of the bow with a saw. To save a lot of time, you can use a jigsaw to rough out the shape, or stick with a draw-knife, spokeshave, or coarse rasp.
    • Rough out only the sides.
    • Remember, don't cut anything off the back.
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    Create your tillering board.
    • Take a 2"x4" board 3 feet (0.9 m) long.
    • In one end, cut a 1" inch deep notch across the board (the short way).
    • On the side of the board from the notched end, use a tape measure and mark off every inch, starting from 10 inches (25.4 cm) all the way to the end.
    • Note that 20" is actually going to be 19" because you've carved a 1" notch.
    • Tie a string from one end of your stave to the other.
    • Stand the tillering board upright and rest the bow in the notch.
    • Push the string down. Since you haven't begun carving the belly yet, it won't bend more than a few inches.
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    Carve and shave the belly of the bow with your chosen tool.
    • Taper towards the tips of the stave.
    • Don't take too much wood off at once.
    • Every so often, go back to the tillering board and ensure that the limbs are both bending evenly.
    • You can use a belt sander here which will save a lot of time, but it can also lead to big mistakes happening rather quickly.
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    Make your nocks by cutting 1/8" slits angled down on both sides of the top and bottom of the bow.
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    String the bow (with the tillering string).
    • From one end, look down the length of the bow and ensure that the string runs through the center of the bow. If you carve one side too much, the bow can twist and pull the string off-center.
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    Check the weight of the bow now and then. If carve too much, there's no going back. You want to aim for a specific weight at a specific draw length, and stop when you get close.
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    Carve the string nocks. At each end of the stave, use a round file and file the nocks for the string. They don't need to be too deep, just enough for the bowstring to sit. They should be diagonal, high in the back, low towards the belly.

Method 2
The Composite Bow

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    Glue your backing material to the back of the bow with hide glue. Note that hide glue really stinks. Don't prepare the hide glue in your kitchen!
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    Wait for the glue to dry.
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    Put it on the tillering board. Go slow here, now is not the time to make a mistake. repeat the tillering process from above.
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    Check the shape and weight one more time.
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    Finish the bow.
    • Put your mark on the bow.
    • Mark the weight and draw length.
    • Give it a name, sign it, make it personal.
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    Finish the bow with a few coats of Tung Oil. Tung oil protects the bow from the elements without hiding or damaging the wood.


  • You can make a traditional bowstring from hemp or linen, but they are really easy to break, and breaking strings could damage the bow. Get some B50 to make your own bowstring.
  • Your arrows need to be matched to the weight of a bow. It's much easier to buy shafts and make your own arrows rather than trying to carve shafts yourself.
  • Remember, this is a work of art, work with the wood. You don't need use a protractor and compass to figure out the shape of the bow. As long as it's long and narrow and tapers at the end, it's a "long bow". What matters is how you carve the belly, so that it bends like a bow. Carve away wood where the bow is not bending, careful not to take away too much wood at once. Take your time.
  • If this is your first bow, try making a plain "self" bow, without any backing. If the bow comes out okay, you can always add a backing later. That way if your first few bows don't work out, you're not wasting the backing.
  • You can carve diagonal notches in the tillering board (start 1/2 way between the inch marks and cut diagonally towards the notched end). This will allow you to step back and see the entire bow.
  • Using power tools you can make a bow in a matter of hours, which will save you a lot of time over carving by hand. However it's easy to make a big mistake with a power tool and harder to learn what you are doing.
  • Don't bother with Osage or Yew. While they're ideal woods for a bow, you don't find them growing naturally in many places. The staves are expensive to purchase. And let's face it, the first few bows aren't going to be much to speak of, better not wasting the money on quality wood until you've got a few bows under your belt.
  • If you bought a 2"x1" board, you might want to glue a 2' piece of wood to the belly near the middle of the board if you want a higher draw weight.
  • By putting the tillering stick on your standard bathroom scale, and then pushing down on the string, you can measure the weight of your bow.
  • If you can find it, Ash is a great wood and is plentiful. If you see a tree down, ask the landowner if you can have a length. It should be at least 8 inches (20.3 cm) in diameter. A 6' length will produce 4 staves, or you can use a 3' piece and splice together 2 staves. The wood should be dried for several months, so if you're in a hurry, use boards from the store. Don't use green wood or chop down a live tree.
  • Oak is usually easy to find and is relatively cheap. It's an easy wood to work with and makes a decent bow, so it's a good wood to start with.


  • Don't draw the bow back beyond the draw length it was designed for, as this will damage the bow.
  • Don't dry fire (draw and let go of the string without an arrow) as this will damage the bow.
  • Hide glue smells BAD! Don't prepare hide glue in your house. If you've got neighbors living close, they may protest if you cook it up on the back porch.
  • To string the bow, use a bow stringer; your tillering string will work. Basically start bending the bow with the tillering string, then slide the bowstring up into place. Don't do the under the leg step over thing you learned in the scouts, this can bend the bow in the wrong direction and break it.
  • Don't aim a loaded bow at any person OR animal or into the vicinity of people, someone might get hurt. You can go to jail for hurting an animal, even just slightly. (animal abuse)
  • A bow is a weapon! It is not a toy and is not to be played with. Always use precaution when firing a bow.
  • You will be working with sharp objects, make sure you know how to use the tools!

Things You'll Need

  • Length of board from a lumberyard, this is your stave
  • a three foot length of 2x4. This is your tillering board
  • Knife, draw knife, spokeshave, rasp- people like to use different tools, I prefer a draw knife.
  • Jigsaw and belt sander will decrease the amount of time, but are unnecessary
  • Sandpaper of varying grit
  • material to make a bowstring
  • materials to make a matched set of arrows
  • Round file
  • Hide glue to bind the backing
  • Backing material such as snakeskin, rawhide, sinew, wood, horn (very difficult to work with)
  • Finish such as Tung Oil
  • Bathroom scale
  • Tape measure

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Categories: Archery