Self bow

A self bow is a bow made from a single piece of wood. Extra material such as horn nocks on the ends, or built-up handles, would normally be accepted as part of a self bow. Some modern authorities would also accept a bow spliced together in the handle from two pieces of wood.


In many parts of the world including much of Africa, the Americas, northern Europe, and Southern Asia, the great majority of traditional bows are self bows.

Selecting wood

The majority of timbers can be made into good-quality self bows, if the pieces are long enough (approximately the height of the archer), and the grain is sufficiently straight. Denser timbers normally store energy better and can be made into narrower bows with less effort - good-quality yew allows particularly narrow self bows, the longbow of European peoples. The Eastern Woodlands tribes of North America used black locust, tribes in parts of the Southwestern United States osage orange, Brazilian rainforest tribes palm wood, and many others. In Europe and North America, commoner woods will make excellent flatbows, and are far easier to obtain.

Establishing the back

The fibres on the back must be, so far as possible, continuous. In a self bow this may be achieved by using the outer, under-bark surface of the tree as the back of the bow (convenient with most white woods), by the painstaking process of removing outer growth rings (often used with yew and osage orange), or by making or following a cut or split surface which happens to have continuous grain (a usual approach if starting with commercially-sawn wood).

How wide

The density of timber correlates well with its ability to store energy as it is bent. Denser timbers can make narrower bows. The same design for less dense timbers will result in the bow taking excessive set/string follow, or even breaking. However, equally effective bows may be made from less dense timber by making them wider near the centre. The mass of equivalent bows will be closely similar whatever the density of wood; approximately the same mass of wood is required whether the timber is dense or light.

How long

The overall length of bending wood must be about 2.3 times the draw length. Narrow bows (="longbows") can bend in the handle. Wider bows (="flatbows") must be narrow in the handle if they are to be practical, but the handle must be made thicker so as not to bend, and the complete bow will therefore tend to be longer.

Bow shape

Self bows may be of any side-view profile; moderate recurving can often be achieved with heat and force.

See also

Bow construction techniques

Bow form


  • The Traditional Bowyer's Bible Volume 1. The Lyons Press 1992. ISBN 1-58574-085-3
  • The Traditional Bowyer's Bible Volume 2. The Lyons Press 1992. ISBN 1-58574-086-1
  • The Traditional Bowyer's Bible Volume 3. The Lyons Press 1994. ISBN 1-58574-087-X
  • The Traditional Bowyer's Bible Volume 4. The Lyons Press 2008. ISBN 1-59921-453-9 ISBN-13: 978-1599214535

External links

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