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How to build a primitive bow: Advanced Bow Building

What is it that attracts people to want to know how to make a bow and arrow? Is it a genetic skill that’s in our bone? Well, in this article you will learn the simplest way on how to prepare the stave using minimal tools. Whether you are learning how to make a bow for the first time, how to make one for survival, or just curious to know how a bow is made; this is the right guide for you. Check this out: How to build a primitive bow: Advanced Bow Building.

The main objective to teach you how to build a primitive bow from beginning to end, using saws, knives, hammers.

Gather a Bow Stave

Select Your Wood

One of the biggest myths in bow building is that you have to use Osage orange or yew in order to make an outstanding bow. Although these are great woods for bow building, they can be quite rare to find in your area or rather expensive. You can use literally any wood to make a bow.

Here is a list of good species of woods:

     o Osage Orange

     o Oak

     o Ash

     o Elm

     o Mulberry

     o Ironwood

     o Yew

     o Juniper

     o Hickory

     o Maple

     o Cascara

There are lots of other species of woods you can use, as these are just the best ones to start with. If you decide to go out looking for wood, always look for a tree or branch that is at least 4” in diameter. This will ensure that the back of your bow will be relatively flat.

In your first attempts of bow making, try practicing by making mini-bows about 12-18” long. You will get the basics of bow building down before making a fatal mistake using bigger wood.

Harvest the Wood

Once you decide which species of wood you will use, you will need to find a specimen to harvest. You goal is to find a straight tree or branch, with no twists and that is as tall as you are. Though shorter branches can work, using taller trees are best.

Prepare the Stave

Usually the traditional process is to immediately coat the ends of the stave with varnish or glue. As this will prevent it from drying too quickly, allowed the wood to settle without the ends cracking. It is recommended to let your stave set in a cool, dry spot for at least a year.

Now, in terms of survival, you might not have the luxury to do so.

Drying your Bow Stave

If you can’t wait a year, remember this: the thinner the wood, the faster it dies. This is a really simple way to do it. Once you gather your tree branch you need you coat the ends with glue. (Try to find very sticky/long-lasting glue for this).

Split the wood

Tools Needed: Metal Wedges, Sledge hammer, Machete, Hewing hatchet, or drawknife

To split your bow stave in half, use your wedges and sledge hammer. Make sure to aim for the middle top of the stave, and work your way down. Take advantage of any natural cracks. There will always be one. Also, make sure to follow the linear line on the wood. It doesn’t matter what wood it is, it should follow.

Narrow Your Stave

Tools Needed: Hewing Hatchet or Machete

To figure the draw link, put a measure right in the centre of the chest bone where the middle fingers touch naturally (average about 24 inches). On a rigid handle, you’ve got four inches in the centre, and two inches above as well as two inches below. Your goal is to remove wood on the sides of the bow until it is roughly about 2 inches. Simply lay the straight edge on the belly, (the flat newly exposed centre of the tree branch) and trace the edge on either side. Use your tools to remove all the extra material outside the lines. By using a straight edge you will ensure that your bow will be straight. This is especially important in the early stages of bow building.

Remove the Outer Bark

Tools Needed: Sharp Knife or Drawknife

The most critical part of building a primitive bow is getting the bark off without damaging the white wood, as that will be the back end of your bow. Only remove the outer and inner bark. Make sure to go slowly until you get a better feel for it.

Note: If you harvested your bow stave, the sap might be flowing so you might be able to simply peel off the outer bark.

Once the Bark is Removed

Now that you’ve established the bark, we will get the total link measure of the bow (the centre handle is the centre of bow), divide it by half and reduce thickness of your bow stave. The goal is to reduce the thickness of the bow so that it will dry quickly without checking and warping.

Get a Rough Layout

Mark the centre measurements as well as the largest width of the bow. The actual width of the will stay the same width down the length of the bow (6”), then take it down to half inch knobs. This will be where your hand transitions on the back of the bow. Then connect the measurements of the bow to layout your bow to what it will look like.

Find a Location with 70 Degrees, and 50% Humidity

Now that your bow is narrowed and thinned into your rough layout, you need to bring it into a location with about 70 degrees and 50% humidity, preferably your house. Or you can go to your local hardware store and buy a thermometer and humidity meter. The Humidity of about 50% will yield a bow that has around 8-10% moisture content, which is the ideal. You will know when it is done when you bow stops losing weight for a week straight.

Here's a video on how to make a survival bow with minimal supplies.


When your bow is at a stable weight, you will have a stave that is ready to start bending. The tillering stage begins the real art and fun in bow-making. You are now on your way to completing your Bow.

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