English Longbow

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Introduction: English Longbow

About: I enjoy building and inventing; I love creating new things and improving on old ideas. I am a student at BYU and am studying under a Mechanical Engineering Major. I enjoy camping, hiking, and backpacking.

It was about time I tackled the project of a period-type English Longbow, and with much inspiration and guidance from alanesq's website (http://www.alanesq.com/bsb.htm), I was able to complete a simplified version of the English longbow. 

The final product is about 6' 4" with a low draw weight of about 25 lbs at 24 inches, perfect for simple target shooting. As you can see, I wasn't going for a battle ready, armor-piercing warbow or anything. It looks nice, took about 5 hours to make, and was under 10$. This is the perfect bow for a nice weekend project.

**DISCLAIMER** This bow is, in fact, a weapon! I take no responsibility for how and in what fashion these instructions are used. A bow is dangerous; don't shoot arrows at anything you don't mind hurting or destroying.

For a video of the bow in action, check the link on the last step!

Step 1: Materials

This is a VERY cheap project...if you already have the necessary tools, that is. Most, if not all, of the tools and materials can be found at a Home Depot or other similar store. 

Tools:
  Angle Grinder (with sanding attachment)
  Sand Paper
  Hand File(s)
  Clamps (optional)
  Wood glue 

Materials:
  6-7 Feet of 2"x1" Red Oak
  6-7 Feet of 2"x1/4" Pine***
  Twine (for the string)

***I made the assumption, not very educatedly, that a pine "belly" on the bow would handle the compression much better than the red oak, seeing as pine is much less dense than red oak. Well in my haste, I got cedar instead of pine, which resulted in a very useless "belly" that did not handle compression very well. In my last couple of steps I included a picture of the...consequences...of a cedar "belly".

Step 2: Gluing and Initial Cutting

The first step is to glue the Pine to the Red Oak. The pine was a little rough so I sanded it a little just to make sure that it would glue well. After that, lather on the wood glue and clamp it all together. I didn't have any clamps, so I used Gorilla Tape to keep the two pieces together while the glue dried.

Once it is all dried, cut it to size; I cut mine to 6 feet 4 inches, but anything around 6 foot is realistic for a longbow. 

Step 3: Marking and Grinding the Sides

On your stave, mark out (on the red oak side) the general shape of your bow. My finished bow was about 3/4" wide at the tips and 1 1/2 inch wide at the handle. Once you have marked out the shape, use the angle grinder to grind down to those lines. A bandsaw or tablesaw could be used for this step, however, I do not own nor have access to either one. The angle grinder is incredibly fast at grinding away wood, so it wasn't much of a problem.

Step 4: Tillering

By far the most important step, this will take up the most time and concentration. Using the angle grinder, and sandpaper when necessary, grind down the limbs until they flex evenly. The best way to test this to string the bow and watch it curve by pulling on the string. Be patient during this process, and take you time to make sure it turns out right. 

A couple things you need to avoid:

     Hinges: when you grind too much in one area, the bow will bend more at that spot than on the rest of the limb. In order to fix this, ground above and below this "hinge" to alleviate the curvature.

     The thin pine "belly" will grind much faster than the Red Oak. Make sure you take away just a little bit at a time. 

      Keep your grinding straight and flat; if you grind the limbs at an angle, the bow will torque when you pull the string back.

Some Specs on my bow:
    Handle: Red Oak 3/4" thick, Pine 1/4" thick
    Tips: Red Oak 3/8" thick, Pine 1/8" thick

Step 5: Adding the Nocks

About an inch or two away from the tips of each limb, use the hand files to make the nocks for the string. As shown in the pictures, these should be angled toward the "belly" of the bow (the side that faces you when you shoot it). 

Step 6: The String

I know there are plenty of ways to make much stronger and much more historically accurate bowstrings, but I went for the cheap and fast option. My bowstring is quite literally just three strands of twine braided together. While this makes the string a bit on the thick side, I find it still work well on regular arrow nocks. 

My string, both loops included, came to a length of 71 1/2 inches. The two loops on the ends slide into the nocks created in the previous step. 

Step 7: Congratulations

String it up and you're ready to shoot! I feel safe pulling back to 24 inches but I have recently gotten back to 28 without any difficulties....except for the strange ripples in the cedar (see picture for clarity). Apparently the cedar I accidentally used is not capable of taking the compression on the "belly" of the bow. So, lesson learned: make sure you get pine, not cedar, for your "belly" :)

A video of the bow in action:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Az3Q5sS86U

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    54 Comments

    Props for making the attempt to make a bow, but you seem to have mixed some things up.

    The belly is the part of the bow that rests against your palm. A good longbow is traditionally carved from a single piece of yew. The bow is carved in such a way that the heartwood forms the belly of the bow, and the HARDER wood thus resists the compression and adds a vicious snap to the bow while the sapwood forms the arms and the back of the bow, providing the main launching force. Once again, YOU DO NOT WANT A SOFT WOOD FOR THE BELLY OF THE BOW. But other than that, well done.

    3 replies

    Partly true. The english longbow was actually traditionally made of ash. Perhaps a noble's nicest hunting bow was made of yew, but yew trees were fairly scarce, and still are today. All the rest of the info was spot on, however. I have a yew stave and am doing as much research as i can before I carve it into a bow. (it is wood meant to be a bow, it just never got made into one. Lucky me!)

    The English grew Yew trees specifically for long bows. They were not scarce in England during that period, not by a long shot (lol). Just like later the whole of England had English Oaks growing everywhere for building Royal Navy vessels. To this day it is illegal to fell an English Oak for they still belong to the state. It is still law for every Englishman to do Longbow practice each Sunday, even though people don't bother, the law has not been amended since that period.

    yup, your'e right, my bad. besides that, yew has a nasty tendency to twist as it grows, resulting in an unusable twisted grain.

    I wondered who the hell would make a period English Longbow out of wood other than Yew or Ash and now I have found my answer. If the arrow cannot go through plate armour at 250 yards, it is not a period English Longbow.

    I use angle grinders to make my bows as well. They hog off wood very fast!

    I use angle grinders to make my bows as well. They hog off wood very fast!

    SO nice to see someone making wooden bows with an angle grinder! It makes ring chasing so much faster! Keep up the great work!

    no it removes way to much wood to quickly. use a rasp and go slow. 1 extra rasping and your bows tiller can be destroyed or the draw weight can be reduced drastically.

    The back of the bow is under tension, so unbroken wood fibers running the length of the bow are important for strength. Removing material from the belly, under compression, seems safer to me.

    do you know how you could increase the poundage up as high as you want?

    Yew is one of the best woods to use.

    I made a bow like this, but not near as big. I used a bamboo tomato stake and twine. Shoots good. Now I just need actual arrows.

    Don't use pine. Very soft wood.Hickory and bamboo are your best choice

    Use hickory for the bow

    Actually u can use aromatic cedar which is actually a juniper for the belly

    Also you shouldn't use soft woods when making a bow

    Yes that would work very well just cut the hickory very then.