Making an Ash Recurve Bow





Introduction: Making an Ash Recurve Bow

About: I like making things. If you want an instructable for something or need something invented send me a message and I'll try.

**Please note that this is an ongoing project. I'm publishing it so you can all watch as it develops. Feel free to comment with any suggestions, criticisms or advice you may have. I'd love to hear it.**

     In this instructable, I will be showing you how to make an ash recurve bow from tree to deadly weapon.
I know that there are a lot of other bow instructables on here, but many of them are bad (sorry but its true) or downright dangerous (I've seen some nasty results from shattering PVC). I'm going to show you how to make a good bow for hunting, target shooting or whatever.

Shown is another ash bow I made to give you an idea of what the finished piece will look like.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

You can make a bow with just a knife, but a few basic tools will make it much easier.

Regular belt knife
Ruler or tape measure
Half-round rasp and half-round doublecut file or 4-way shoe rasp
Scraper of some sort
Hatchet or axe

Some assorted sandpaper
A bowstave
2 m of cord with with at least 100 Kg breaking strain (3 mm braided nylon cord will work well.)
Pencil or other marking tool (sharpie not recommended)
Finish (wax, oil, et cereta)
Dye (optional)

* Note that power tools are not recommended because it is too easy to ruin a good stave.

Step 2: Finding a Stave

     First you need to find a tree. Look for a smaller tree 15 to 20 cm in diameter. Good choices are ash or oak. There are others but those two are the easiest for a beginner. Both are very common.
     Next you need to cut that tree down. That's whats the hatchet or axe is for. If you don't know how to cut a tree down, please get some help from someone who does. When the tree is felled you need to cut off a straight  section 1.6 to 2 meters long. and split it into quarters.
     The stave then needs to dry for about a month now. Debarking now will be easier than trying to debark later, but be careful not to damage the back or you'll have more work to do in the next step. To prevent cracks while drying, put some glue on the back and the ends. Regular Elmer's white school glue works fine.

My stave for this instructable is shown.

Step 3: The Back

     If your stave has a pristine back (any small blemishes can be sanded out) you can skip this step. If there are some bigger nicks or bug damage, like my stave has, you'll need to chase a ring.

     Chasing a ring is a technique used to lower the entire back of the stave to a single growth ring and remove any bad wood outside that ring. My stave is bug damaged all over the back so I will be removing the first four rings. For this step you can remove all four rings in one go, or you can remove three now and finish the last ring when the bow is being roughed out. Leaving a thin part of the ring over your final goal will help protect the back from bumps and scratches as well as giving you more time to practice before finishing the back. The number of rings you need to remove depends on the condition of your stave. If the stave is already in good condition, you may need to only remove one ring or just sand the back a little.

     The tools used for chasing a ring are a drawknife (used most often), scraper, regular knife, files/rasp for knots, sandpaper, and maybe a hatchet (not usually). The first step is to mark the target ring on the endgrain (BOTH ENDS!). Then you can start to remove the outermost ring. A good technique is to push the drawknife into the spongy earlywood between the first two rings and pry a section off. This is one reason oak or ash is preferred. Maple, for example, doesn't have obvious rings. This technique dulls the drawknife and you will have to resharpen it for later.
     Another option is to cut through the ring and remove it in slices. The drawknife will stay sharper, but this method takes more work. When you get close to the goal, use the scraper to remove that last thin layer, and finally, sand.

When the back is ready, you can go on to the next step, layout.

Step 4: Layout

     To layout your design (you do have one, right?) You want to start by finding the section of the stave you want to use. Your bow design may only be 67 inches, but your stave may be 82". Find a good, straight, 67 inch section and mark lines across the stave at both ends of that section. Always mark on the back because it won't get removed during shaping. Next, measure 1/4 inch outside of those lines and cut the ends off. You should now be left with a stave that is 1/2 inch longer than your design. The extra 1/2 inch will be removed later.
     Now you want to find the midpoint between the two endmarks and draw a line across the stave. This marks the center of the handle. Once the midpoint is found, you want to find the centerline. The centerline is the line that travels long ways down the back of the bow and will intersect both tips and the handle. To find this line, put one end of the string at each endmark where you want the nock to be and pull it tight (see pictures). Draw a line along the string. Finish the rest of the markings by measuring away from the centerline and midpoint.
     My stave has a nasty burl in the top limb so I will draw the limb curving to one side to avoid it. It's alright as long as both tips line up with each other and the handle.

Step 5: Roughing Out; Part 1: Width Profile

     In this step you remove all the wood outside of your drawings. It's easier to explain this step by seeing, so look at the pictures. Use a hatchet to start, drawknife next, then finish with the rasp and file. Remember to always pay attention to the grain so the bowstave doesn't split. 

Step 6: Roughing Out; Part 2: Thickness Profile

     Before you start this step, you should choose a target draw weight. My target is 30-40 lbs, a nice cross between power, light enough to shoot over and over without wearing me out). Following this design, anything between 25 lbs to 55 lbs is fine. Other designs can have higher or lower weights. If you want to use this bow for hunting, make sure the draw weight is high enough for the animal you plan to hunt.
     This step is simple, draw a line on the sides 1/2 inch or so from the back. Cut the belly down to the line except at the handle. The handle should be at full thickness yet and taper down to the limbs at both sides.

Step 7: Bending

It's finally time to bend the bow! You couldn't wait so you tried this already though, didn't you? :P  Don't worry, as long as you weren't really rough on it you didn't cause any damage. To begin, place the bottom tip of your bow against the inside of your foot with the bow's back against your foot/shoe and grab the handle with your hand on the same side as the foot you are using. Place your other hand against the back of the bow near the top. Now bend it slowly, not a lot but enough to where you can see the wood start to bend a bit. One limb is probably bending more than the other. Remove wood from the belly of that limb until it bends roughly the same as the other one. If one part of a limb bends more than the rest, remove wood from everyplace else. If the bow limbs twist when bent remove a little bit of wood from the side that twists toward where the shooter would be. Remove wood from the bow's belly (keeping the limbs bending evenly) until the bow bends about 15-20 cm with some effort.

Step 8: Tillering and Carving the Handle and Nocks

Step 9: More Information



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    i made a bow out of hazel once. i selected the thickest peice of hazel i could find- about 1 1/2" in diameter. when drawing the bow, i felt like it had so much potential, specificly, just by drawing it i could tell the bow had a metric-fuck-tonne of spring. i never found out for sure though because at full draw the upper limb snapped. either because of the wood or my lack of experiance... likly the latter, it broke, and so did my heart a little bit. i hope someday to find a peiceof hazzel big enough to work with. i honestly feal like that bow would have been amazing.

    How did you go from the triangular split log to the rectangular plank? Or is that just the angle/my dumb vision? Also, when you dry it, how do you apply the glue?

    Tnx for this I'll try if I can create Daedric bow with these helpful and easy steps.. Wish me luck..

    Thanks for this !
    A shame I didn't find it earlier, I cut myself a nice hazel sunday and immediately removed the bark and a couple rings with my (antique, might I add) drawknife... And didn't split it before I let it dry for the upcoming month.
    I hope you'll come check out comments soon so you can tell me if that will work anyway or if I should go get another tree (especially another species... I figured Hazel was good as it bends easily, but... yeah. Might very well be wrong) :P

    2 replies

    I've never seen hazel. As far as I know it doesn't grow around here. I have heard of it making good bows. Here's a relevant link if you're interested:

    Wow ! This man is really good ! Thanks for the post. Been roaming around on paleoplanet and the other forums you linked for the past couple days. I also acquired the Bowyer's Bible(s) and was horrified reading the "seasoning wood" chapter : I had left this trunk unbarked, missing one or 2 growth rings, in the steaming heat (about 100°F lately) and in the sun, without pluging the ends... Needless to say, when I got to the summer house today, it was cracked from top to bottom, it's now worthless. A true shame. But, we learn from our errors, don't we ? And I should be able to make myself a bow by end of september if I find "the" tree soon enough.
    Anyhow, thanks for the good advice, the links to these amazing websites (particularly like paleoplanet, it's a broader source of info, I guess), and for sparkling the interest in serious bowmaking. I had so far stopped to kid bowmaking 101, and I'm glad this came up !

    20 cm hazel? Wow, I just know these as some kind of bushlike trees here in Holland. The firewood thing kinda works, I think it's dried naturally. Only the pieces were a bit short, and anyway I liked to make a transportable, detachable bow, and also welding is a lot of fun. Here pictures of the result. For this oak bow I used a bucket with 15 kg of sand to measure the pull. Then plane with electric planer (tricky) till it got the right pull length. (take it apart of course to plane)


    Very nice bow design ! Good craftmanship right here. Not the kind I'd make because it's just not what I want, but good looking and clever !

    And yes, they mostly are bushes ; but they can grow as trees in the proper conditions ; plus, if you cut one of those trees, a good number of offspring will grow from the remaining roots, forming a bush in its stead ! Yielding edible goodies :) I may have exagerated a bit, it may be only 15cm, but as it's at my summer house and I haven't gotten back there since I cut it, I couldn't say for sure haha

    because quite different from bluestone52's, here my tool list:
    For the bow: circular saw table, electric planer, rotational sander, band sander. For the notches: chisels, files, jigsaw, battery drill (since oak is hard to glue I screwed them in). And for the steel:, tig welding machine, angle grinders.

    Maybe better to use a more stable and harder kind of wood. A hazel branch would have to be quite thick to give a strong heavy pull and shoot. I have some hazel hanging around and drying, but didn't make a bow out of it yet.
    According to what I gathered one uses a thicker branch, like 20 cm, of a slow growing wood, and then use the perfect part to make a bow.

    1 reply

    Thanks man. Also, does your firewood solution work ? Or is the wood too dry to shape properly ? I know that for wood lathing, the firewood quality has not endured the right drying process. To dry our latheable wood, we take off the bark then get it to the closest thing we can to an 8-sided section then let it dry in the lathe's shed for a couple months, hence my wonder.
    I'll try with the hazel, of which I got a nice 20cm, 3m long, fresh specimen, and I'll let you know. This particular tree I got has quite slim growth rings though, so maybe it'll be okay. Anyhow, first bow. There are got to be mistakes so I have an excuse to try again haha
    Another thing against hazel : it has quite a lot of branches, at least the ones I got in my forest, and the bark doesn't get off easily ^^

    Find a tree. Yes.
    And cut it.
    I guess this has to be done without getting arrested.
    I'm on it.
    Will let you know how progress is going.

    2 replies

    I found a source of wood (In this part of the world all trees got chopped in the 17th century to make ships to conquer the world, they never grew back)
    Anyway it is possible to buy firewood, even in 2 meter already split staves.
    Bring a chisel or planer to check the grain, otherwise it's impossible to see which kind of wood you have.


    Haha man I gather you're French ("euh" being typically French I guess)
    There are trees in forest, and since you're not cutting down a big tree, it's kinda okay. I mean, sure it won't be easy if you don't live next to a forest so you can grab a tree and quickly take it back home to safety but yeah. It works.

    Nice bow I'm going to try and make my own

    Hey just wanted to let you know, this isn't a recurve bow this is what would be classified as a long/short bow. a recurve has 2 bends so that it actually bends back on itself in kind of a zig zag

    1 reply

    Yes it is. At least it's supposed to be whenever I get around to finishing it. Progress on this has pretty much stopped since school took over my life.