Our ancestors would usually make a bow from whatever wood they had at hand. However, with time they started to recognize that certain types were superior to others. The good news is that no matter where you live, there is probably an excellent option available.
While there are literally hundreds of different options, I find that most info on the web gives info on exotic woods that the vast majority of people will never see in their lifetime. So, I tried to stick to types that most folks can actually get their hands on relatively easily.
1. Osage Orange
Osage orange makes for one of the most popular bows. What’s impressive about this wood is that it won’t rot if it’s buried. It makes for good tensile strength and good compression – this balances out very well. It’s also very similar to yew. If we put it in mathematical terms, it has an index of 9.06 – this makes it one of the best options if you want to make your own bow.
You can easily bend it into shape, as it’s going to bend like crazy when you apply heat on it. This makes it flexible, which is an essential factor when it comes to choosing your bow. This flexibility allows it to be molded any way you want. However, you need to be very careful when crafting your bow, as it can bend too much if you’re not careful, and you won’t be able to turn it back into the way it was.
What’s bad about this wood, though, is that it’s hard to find and it’s expensive. The natural range is located in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas (shown below). However, they have now been planted basically from coast to coast across the United States.
Maple is known as hardwood, meaning that it will hold firm against the draw. All hardwoods are known to store a lot of potential energy when drawn back and flexed, which essentially charges the arrow with more force before it’s shot.
It’s flexible enough to craft a recurve bow, and there are still many recurve bows made from maple, despite modern materials like fiberglass taking the stage. Many bow makers combine maple and fiberglass to reach optimal flexibility and strength.
This wood is a fan favorite because it’s very cheap and easy to find. It can also take more wood run than many other types of wood, and the strong tension it produces makes for a great bow.
It has excellent tensile strength, so you can make a thin bow that will be light. This also means that it’s difficult to break this bow, which is great if you plan to take it on trips with you.
What’s bad about it is the fact that it absorbs a lot of moisture. So much moisture that it doesn’t perform well in a damp environment. Using this bow in a humid or wet climate will completely ruin it and render it useless. It can also become sluggish after a while, as the wood sets.
Everyone has probably assumed that bamboo would make this list sooner or later. This wood is widely recommended by everyone, as it’s easy to get and it’s much cheaper than Osage orange wood or other expensive alternatives.
It definitely needs more work and will be more difficult to craft than Osage orange, but it’s so long-lasting that you won’t need to worry about longevity when you make this bow. Elasticity will be directly affected by heat, so you can make it as elastic as you need (similar to Osage orange).
The snap-back it produces is most definitely going to provide you with enough power to launch your arrow. Using bamboo for a bow is actually opening a small window into history, as many civilizations (primarily Asian civilizations) used it to create bows for ages.
5. Red Oak
You can purchase red oak at literally any hardware store. Its availability and price are what makes this wood an excellent option for creating a bow. It’s definitely cheaper than many other options.
However, you need to know that red oak is very porous, so you have to be careful when crafting and using it. To solve this problem, you’re going to have to take a better look at the rings. It’s best to go for a piece with thick late growth rings that are less bristle.
Boards of red oak are heavy, so you won’t need to back a board with thick boards. But you can back it if you want to, as any good bow needs backing. This wood is a bit heavier than the alternatives, so you should keep that in mind when you’re choosing.
Depending on where you live, birch can be something that you can access very easily.
It’s weaker than most whitewoods, and yellow birch is the strongest one out of all birch species.
7. Eastern Red Cedar
This isn’t actually cedar, despite being called that – it’s a species of juniper. You should avoid cedar if you can.
It’s very brittle and very light, which makes it ideal for creating a longbow. The tension it has is weak, but its compression is strong, which is excellent for making a longbow. Some bow makers recommend it for making the classic English longbow with a D-shaped cross-section.
This can be an exceptional piece if used correctly. It’s very elastic in comparison to its mass, and its weakness in tension makes it great for longbows. You have to apply a thin rawhide to make it as safe as any other wood. It’s challenging to find a piece without any knots, but make sure to grab one if you do. Knot-free wood is best found growing in a dense shelter or with one side hard against another tree.
In this case, plums aren’t for eating. Plums tend to have strong tension and compression, which makes it great for fashioning a bow.
Plum is a very desirable wood for crafting a bow, both for its utility and beauty. However, it’s challenging to dry without cracking and checking whether it’s dry.
Dogwood is more prevalent in Europe than in North America, but that doesn’t make it any less good. It’s just a little more accessible on the other side of the Atlantic.
This piece of wood has high compression, and that’s accompanied by density and strength. What’s important is to find a piece of wood that’s actually suitable for making a bow.
Avoid knots, if you can, as this can cause the bow to crack – knots don’t bend well. If you stress this bow too much, it will create knots even if it doesn’t have any, which will lead to the bow snapping.
Despite your instinct telling you to pronounce it “AIP,” it’s actually pronounced “EE-PAY.” This wood allows you to create thin and lighter limbs, which makes for a faster bow. What’s great is that you can back it with bamboo for ultimate effect.
It’s also very resistant to decay. That’s why construction companies use it to make decks. The only drawback to it is the fact that it can cause allergies.
Many bowmakers tend to ignore cherry, but in reality, it’s a great piece of wood for creating bows. It grows tall and straight, and it’s a bright wood that returns less sluggish than any other wood used for bow crafting. It is incredibly light and agile, which makes it almost too weak for a bow.
However, once you craft your piece from this wood, it’s incredibly fast. If you apply a good rawhide on this piece, you make it as safe as any unbacked wood. It’s also very durable – if you keep proper care of it, you’ll be able to use it just as well after a few years.
It doesn’t matter which specific species it is, all junipers make for great bows. The denser it is, the shorter the bow can be. Juniper is very well matched when it comes to this, as it is thicker, wider, and less stiff per mass in comparison with other species.
The biggest problem with creating a bow out of juniper is finding a piece that’s long enough and straight. However, you can use two short staves and splice them together at the grip. The Ishi people used mountain juniper for hunting before the ax arrived.
This wood is much more robust in tension than it is in compression. It would be best if you looked for a crowned-back design when choosing your piece. A flat-back design is fine, but if you manage to find a crowned-back design with a wide belly, you shouldn’t pass on it. There are many variations between trees, but this wood is susceptible to fretting.
If the bow isn’t tillered well, it will start to develop clusters or frets on a few small areas. This means that you’ve put those areas under great strain, but you haven’t fretted them well beforehand. This is sort of the way the bow communicates with you, telling you if you’ve made it correctly.
Many people don’t believe that you can fashion a bow from a palm tree, but it’s actually possible. It grows out of the earth like bamboo, and it’s also denser at the surface, just like bamboo. It’s less dense towards the center.
You can make a quality long and narrow bow with palm. These bows were originally found in areas with more humidity, and they were unusually long to prevent set. Palm can fit any design once it dries, though.
The wood is very stiff, and the Bari people of South America once used it. Your bow will gain a lot of weight in a calmer, less humid climate, so it will have to be retillered.
15. Scotch Broom
This is actually a yellow-flowering bush that grows alongside Californian roadways, and it’s watered by runoff water from crowned trees. At first look, this is a useless weed, but in reality, it’s an excellent piece for crafting bows.
It’s dense and tough. You can check it easily when it’s drying, so many bow makers recommend that you treat it like plum when you’re working with it.
The last entry on this list is the European or black walnut. It is often overlooked when it comes to choosing a piece for bows. However, it’s straightforward to work with, is elastic for its mass, and very similar to cherry in performance, but it’s safer in tension.
Bows have been around more than organized societies are. It finally allowed our ancestors to attack effectively from a distance. Before that, the only way for a hunter to kill prey was to get close. The atlatl and then the bow and arrow changed all that.
Many hunters and weapons enthusiasts enjoy shooting with a bow, and they’re interested in making their own bows. This can be a great hobby, and there are significant differences between a bow that you’ve made on your own and the one you can buy in the store. Even though synthetic modern bows might technically be superior – there’s just something satisfying about a wooden bow that you made on your own.
I hope you found this article helpful. For more, don’t miss 4 Ways To Make a Bow String in the Wild.
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