If you are thinking about building a recurve bow, you may be wondering what type of wood is best? This is something that I have researched recently, and I have found some interesting information.
Well, first off. I am not a bow maker! What you’ll find here is the information I found while researching the topic for myself. Maybe you’ll find it helpful, maybe not. Let’s get started.
What The Wood?
We are looking for wood that is bendable and at the same time won’t break so easily.
If you take a look at the famous English Longbows from the Middle ages, you will learn that
“the best bows were made of yew, cut with the heartwood on the inner side. This compressed when the bow was drawn, while the sapwood on the other side stretched. The combination provided immense power.”
Those bows were absolute monsters! They measured six to seven feet and had a draw weight of 150lbs and more! It took years to master those bows. The English archers were feared throughout Europe due to the devastating effects they had against their enemies.
In addition, the longbows could shoot arrows up to 250 yards away! That is impressive, right? Well, that is only possible because of the excellent characteristics of the wood used to build them.
Yew has a low density and high strength. So if we want to make our own recurve bows, we need to use wood with similar characteristics.
Elasticity & Strength
Wood that bends but does not break easily. A combination of several values:
- Elasticity – modulus of elasticity (MOE)
- Strength – modulus of rupture (MOR)
Feel free to check out The Wood Database – They did extensive calculations to find the best and worst woods for bow making.
8 Best Types of Wood for Making a Bow
We need solid but flexible woods to handle appropriate draw weights! Our ancestors had to use what was available. However, nowadays, we can choose the material we like the most or even design our own bow according to our needs. We also have access to many types of wood, which makes things much more manageable.
So let’s talk about the different kinds of woods you can use to create your own recurve bow (in no particular order).
Maple trees grow all over the northern hemisphere, and therefore maple is readily available. The main characteristic of maple is its hardness. Hard maple It is one of the hardest woods around. Maple is also very dense, heavy, straight-grained, and fine-textured. However, you can shape it and carve it into whatever you like.
Maple was traditionally used for making bows by people from the Ottoman Empire. Maple is affordable and ultra-durable.
Hickory trees are native to North America and Asia. Hickory wood is hard, stiff, dense, and shock-resistant. Hickory was used for bow making by Native Americans. The wood is easy to work with and is suitable for carving. You can shape hickory into any form you like.
Hickory is quite expensive, though. But if you don’t mind spending money on something you’ll never see again, then go ahead and buy some hickory.
Osage orange or Maclura pomifera originated from southern Oklahoma, western Arkansas, and areas of east Texas. It was used by the Native Americans to make excellent bows.
Osage orange is known for its durability, resistance to insects, rot, and decay. It is also resistant to termites. The wood is light, soft, and easy to cut. It doesn’t splinter easily and is exceptionally durable.
The downside is that osage orange is challenging to work with. If you plan on using this type of wood, you will need to invest a lot of time and effort into shaping it. Osage Oranges are sometimes referred to as Bois d’arc, which means “bow wood” in American French.
Yew or Taxus Baccata is an evergreen timber tree native to an area stretching from central Europe to the Caucasus. Native to America in the Pacific- or Western Yew. In the U.S., it’s primarily used for landscaping.
In Europe, yew was the preferred wood of the Welsh and English bowers. The famous English longbow was made of yew.
Yew is dense, hard, and strong. The wood is naturally resistant to fungi and insects. Yew wood is expensive due to its rarity.
A native of North America, the American Elm (Ulmus Americana), can be found from Texas to Florida, Maine to North Dakota, and seven provinces in Canada.
Despite being classified as a “soft hardwood,” elm is more difficult to split than other woods due to its cross-grain structure. Elm is great for beginners because it’s relatively inexpensive.
Bamboo is lightweight, flexible, rigid, high tensile. Originating in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, bamboo extends as far north as the southern United States.
Traditional Japanese bows, such as the Daikyu and Hankyu, were made by laminating bamboo, wood, and leather. Bamboo is easy to work on with standard woodworking tools. There are plenty of tutorials online that show you how to make a flat bow from bamboo.
Dogwood trees are native to the eastern parts of the United States. It has a high density and interlocking grain – making it one of the hardest domestic woods of the U.S.
Dogwood is relatively rare and, therefore, a little pricier than other woods. Dogwood is suitable for beginner archers and those who want to learn about woodworking.
Cherry trees are native to the Northern Hemisphere. Cherry trees have been cultivated since ancient times. They’re widely planted throughout the world today.
Cherry is relatively cheap and easy to work with. It’s not too heavy and does not warp. In addition to laminate bows (e.g., backed with Ash or Hickory), black cherry can also be made into fine selfbows. Because cherry is stronger in compression than tension, your bow would require a wide shape.
The list could go on and on. There are many kinds of wood that are suitable for bow making. I’ve listed some of the more favorites above. You could use almost any wood to make a bow. Here is a list of some of the bigger bow makers.
It is crucial to find boards with a very straight grain. Avoid knots and curves! Even if you managed to make a bow with knots and curves, the bow’s strength would be severely diminished.
Check out this tutorial from Michael Spink for a step-by-step guide to making a longbow.
What are the best woods for bow making? Basically, the answer depends on your personal preference. Theoretically, every wood can be used to build a bow. Some timbers were traditionally preferred over others. But there are plenty of different woods that you can use to make a bow. (read.. barebow archery equipment)
If you’re a beginner and want to start with something simple, choose from less expensive woods such as maple or elm. This will not only save you money but also give you a better learning experience. Make sure to avoid knots and curves when picking out the boards. Other than that, have fun!