Components of a Bow

Components of a modern day bowA bow consists of two elastic limb ends, traditionally made from wood, connected by a string.  By pulling the string backwards, the archer exerts compressive force on the string facing section, or back.  The stored energy is later released putting an arrow into flight.

The curved limbs may have a single curve, such as a longbow, or ends that bend back upon themselves as in a recurve bow.

Bowstrings can be made from sinew, animal intestines, plant fibers such as linen or hemp, or modern polymer cordage.

Making a Bow

Bow and arrowsYou can construct a suitable short-term bow fairly easily. When it loses its spring or breaks, you can simply replace it.

ArrowsSelect a hardwood stick about 1 meter (3 feet) long that is free of knots or limbs. Dead, dry wood (but not gray and cracking) is preferable to green wood. Good bow wood includes lemon tree, oak, hickory, yew, or teak.  Juniper and mulberry work well too as they are flexible.  If you must use green wood, pine wood is a good option.  Green wood can be soaked in hot water to soften it.  After bending, smoke it over a fire to dry it and set its shape.

Carefully scrape the large end down until it has the same pull as the small end. Careful examination will show the natural curve of the stick. The bow should be thicker, and hence stronger, in the center.  When completed, the bow should have a thick center flanked by two thinner, and more flexible, end segments that are roughly the same thickness and length as each other.

Always scrape from the side that faces you, the inside curve or belly of the bow.  Otherwise the bow will break the first time you pull it. To increase the pull, lash a second bow to the first, front to front, forming an “X” when viewed from the side. You can also wrap wet leather around the center to further strengthen the bow. Ancient Chinese bow makers also glued layers of animal bone and animal tendons/ligaments to add strength.

Shaping the box

Cut notches about 1-2 inches from each end.  The notches should be the shape of a half moon on the outside of the bow’s curve.  Attach the tips of the bows with cordage and only use a bowstring on one bow.

Notched string ends on the bow shaft

You can also carve a small notch in the center of the bow giving an area to set the arrow into.  This will help keep the arrow from wobbling while aiming.

Making Arrows

Select arrows from the straightest dry sticks available. Light woods such as wood, bamboo, goldenrod, mullen, or reed work well.  The arrows should be about half as long as the bow.

Components of an arrow

Scrape each shaft smooth all around. You will probably have to straighten the shaft. You can bend an arrow straight by heating the shaft over hot coals. Do not allow the shaft to scorch or burn. Hold the shaft straight until it cools.

You must notch the ends of the arrows for the bowstring. Cut or file the notch; do not split it.

Fletching (adding feathers to the notched end of an arrow) improves the arrow’s flight characteristics. Fletching is recommended but not necessary on a field-expedient arrow.  Feathers work well.  You can glue the feathers to the base of the arrow shaft or split the back of the arrow, slide the feather in, and lash with thin thread.


Check here for more details on arrow-making in the wild.

Making Arrow Points

Arrow headsTo make an arrow point, use the same procedures for making a stone knife blade. Chert, flint, and shell-type stones are best for arrow points. You can fashion bone like stone—by flaking. You can make arrowheads from bone, glass, metal, or pieces of rock. You can also sharpen and fire-harden the end of the shaft. To fire-harden wood, hold it over hot coals or plunge it deep under the coals in the ashes, being careful not to burn or scorch the wood. The purpose of fire hardening is to harden the wood by drying the moisture out of it.

Using a Bow and Arrow

While it may be relatively simple to make a bow and arrow, it is not easy to use one. You must practice using it a long time to be reasonably sure that you will hit your target. Also, a field-expedient bow will not last very long before you have to make a new one. For the time and effort involved, you may well decide to use another type of field-expedient weapon.

How to hold the arrow

To shoot a bow and arrow, first point the arrow towards the ground and place the shaft of the arrow on the arrow rest (the notch that you carved in the middle of the bow).  Slip the arrow end onto the bow string.  Use three fingers to hold the arrow on the string.  Typically the index finger is held above the arrow and the middle and ring fingers held below the arrow.  Raise your arm.  Hold the bow arm outwards toward the target.  The inner elbow should be parallel to the ground and the bow should always stay vertical.  Draw the string towards your face, typically towards your chin or corner of the mouth (be consistent in how you draw the bow).  Release the arrow by relaxing the fingers of your string hand.

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