What are archery bows made of?

Bows have been changing what they are made of over the years. If you want to know what they are made of, we need to be more accurate about which type of bow we’re talking about. Nowadays, people can make bows from almost anything, even those cheap plastic bows you used as kids are considered bows, in a way. The most common answer to this question is wood, we’ve all seen in movies from medieval times wooden bows and to a large extent, that’s true. But there are other materials used for recurve and compound bows and different types of wood used to make bows.

Now let’s check each of those kinds of bow and some of its basic components, along with some other facts that you might find interesting.

What are modern recurve bows made off?

Unlike old bows, modern bows are made from different parts.

Old wooden bows used to be a one piece bow, now they tend to be separated into limbs and riser.

Limbs are mostly made of fiberglass, carbon, and sometimes, wood.

On the other hand, the riser, the middle part of the recurve bow, is normally made from aluminum or carbon fiber. Now, a modern recurve bow is not only the limbs and raiser, it is made as several small parts that modern technology allows us to have.

Recurve bows usually have also a knocking point, adjustable sight, stabilizers like the long rod, arrow rest, plunger and clickers.

All these parts are a combination of metal and plastic, like on the stabilizers. Its pretty amazing how we became so dependable on many different parts to do archery, isn’t it?

Still, all those parts are now essential for the modern recurve bow.

Although you might think people don’t use wood, we have an archer in our team with a modern recurve bow, with all the parts I’ve just run-through, but wooden limbs.

They look pretty good and it’s a good recurve bow, in this case it wasn’t a really strong bow since it was used for the kids.

What were ancient bows made off?

That’s easy, they were made from wood and some used bone in some parts for additional strength.

Nevertheless, they were made from different type of trees and with different techniques.

For example, Asian cultures like the Chinese used bamboo for their bows. On the other hand, the famous English longbows were made from a tree called English Yew Tree. All these types of bows used animal hides and plant fibers to make the strings. Different kind of combinations of the above were used from region to region.

Whilst we’re talking about some famous bows from ancient history, since we checked the Asian and English style, now I want to run by you is probably one of the least recognised, but still deadly bow in history, the Parthian bow.

It was a small recurve composite bow made with wood and horn in laminated pieces until making a compact bow with an amazing strength. They were made in small sizes to allow archers to be mounted. Mounted archers were one of the Parthian army’s signature soldiers during war times, in fact, almost half the Parthian army were archers.

What are bowstrings made off?

Although the bowstring is not exactly the bow itself, it is a significant part of the bow, you can’t shoot without the string.

Nowadays they are pretty easy to get, there are several in Amazon and stores like Lancaster archery.

Today they are made of high tech synthetic materials that guarantee their performance. Modern bows shoot faster, are more accurate and durable than ancient materials. Although there are several stores with several types of synthetic material strings, there are also a lot of people that like to make their own custom able bowstrings. With all the materials available, people can actually make strings from almost anything, or add anything to a string they already bought.

As a matter of fact, some people in my club like to get different materials and make their own strings, you just need to know the basics about how to make it. Here is a video with all the basic steps if you want to make your own.

What were ancient bowstrings made of?

Ancient bowstrings vary depending on the bow, they depend on the bow length and strength to make sure it won’t break when shooting.

Most of them were made of sinew, plant fibers and animal hides. Like I said, they really depend on the bow, the materials available and what their cultural norm. Some people still make their own bows with these materials, raw materials as they found them in nature but with a little twist to make them work perfectly.

Don’t be scared about animal and plant fibers being on bows, it is not a strange art. In fact, the tool people use to play the violin, the violin bow, and its strings are made from animal fibers, horse hair tails to be precise. So we keep using animal fibers in modern times, it is all up to the craftsman making his bow, either for archery or the violin.

Do they still made wooden bows?

Hell yeah! They do make them and they are amazing.

I am trying to get my hands on a perfect replication of an old English recurve bow. The only thing is that I will need to be a lot stronger to use the one I am looking for.

Anyway, yes, there are several people making wooden bows. Some just in the way they did centuries ago, and some in a more industrial way.

You can find several of these bows on Amazon, or if you’re more picky like me, you can look for special stores online where they make each bow as if it was a craftsman’s masterpiece.

Traditional Wooden Longbow

53.5″ wooden bow and bowstring. Perfect for your latest 3D archery adventure or hunting trip!

Besides the bows that are fully made from wood, there are some modern recurve bows that use wood to make their limbs.

It is a nice piece of the bow, it looks amazing, and I think that the combination is still as powerful as most recurve bows. But that is something I can’t verify since there are strong wooden bows.

What kind of wood do they use?

It actually depends on the place and the craftsman. In historic crafting (fletching) it depended more on the territory where the bows where made. Nowadays, with globalization and commerce, people can use any type of wood they want.

 I’ll list here some of the most popular woods used:

1.            Osage Orange

2.            Bamboo

3.            Red Oak

4.            Hickory

5.            Birch

6.            Ipe

7.            Eastern Redcedar

8.            Plum

Like I said, it is up to the craftsman to choose the wood, complementary materials and the style of the bow to made.

Most of these types of wood can be bought online, and then craftsman sell those bows also online.

There are several wooden bows in pages like Amazon and others. You can even contact one of those craftsman and ask them to maple a bow from a specific kind of wood you want, although they could not be really happy with that since they get used to a specific type of wood which they normally use.

What was the best bow in ancient history?

Well, there are two types of bows that I consider the best in ancient history.

The first one is the English longbow.

Their strength and range allowed English archers to throw a wave of arrows to the enemy armies from a really long distance. They where a huge threat to the medieval world since they reduced the enemy numbers from great distances. For fans of these historical periods, you might have seen them in action while playing games like Age of Empires or Medieval Total War.

Here there’s a short video showing how they shoot the English longbow, you might find it is a style a little different from recurve archery.

The other bow which was consider one of the deadliest, so one of the best in ancient history, was the Parthian Compound bow.

We’ve talk about it before, but why was it the best? Well, the romans found a huge fight when trying to fight mounted men with arrows. Unlike the Longbow, Compound Parthian bows where not meant to shoot arrows from huge distances making it come as rain. They were created for a straight shot type of war. Get close to the enemy, shoot and head back while shooting a little more.

These bows were small and extremely powerful for straight shots. It was even able to go through some shields. That’s why the Parthians became a Roman soldier’s nightmare! I strongly recommend reading about Crassus disaster when he led several legions to conquer Parthia.

Which culture made the best bows in the past?

Several cultures made excellent bows. The Parthians which were later on inherited by the Huns. Many historians talk about the dangerous Syrian archers and their bows, as well as the Cretan archers. Most of them used different variations of the compound bow.

Later on, the English became one of the very best on the bow industry, only that they made bows that required a lot of strength and training to use. Not everyone had the physical capabilities to draw an English longbow. Not to mention that the longbow was not suitable for shooting whilst on a horse.

Those are the ancient cultures that used to make the greatest bows; nowadays, the best handcrafted bows can be found among different countries.

There are great craftsman in the US as well as England, France and other parts of Europe.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a different kind of experience, the bamboo Japanese Bow also looks amazing and comes from a long lasting tradition of archers. Here there’s a video of the Japanese bow in action.

Who invented the bow?

This is a pretty interesting story and about as ancient as it can be.

Historians place the oldest bow ever found from the Maglemosian culture; a nomadic tribe in Denmark territory.

This bow is nearly 10,000 years old. It is not a sophisticated bow, but one thing it deserves to say, is that it is still here. That means its materials were quality ones.

These bows where made mainly for hunting, as a nomadic tribe, they are used to move along with weather and animal hordes to hunt for food and fur. This type of bow has been named as The Holmegaard bow by the World Archery.

Since it wasn’t a well studied art, they made bows and arrows from whatever they find and worked. These were not anywhere near as powerful bows as the later designs by other cultures in the following years, probably because they were not meant to work just for hunting but for war.

There are other sources that speak about the first bows being from Africa. Most of the current civilizations around the world are believed to have migrated from there, so it actually makes sense to be the first place to have bows. The only thing is that there are no records of that, and the oldest one registered now is the one found on Denmark. Nevertheless, we don’t know what archaeologists might find later on.

How can I make my own bow?

This is a great and interesting topic, I actually want to make my own bow.

In order to make a bow, first you need to decide the type of bow, the design and the wood you want to use. Up there in the article, we talk about several woods used to make bows, choose your favourite and the one available in your country.

Then select the style of bow and look on YouTube for different craftsman doing their bows. There are several tutorials, look for as many as you can until you feel it is perfectly understood.

Once you know what to do and how to do it, go look for the right tools according to your tutorial, in my case it is simpler since my father already has many tools to work with wood as he is a craftsman.

Then look for string materials. I strongly recommend that you buy a string pre made by someone else and then you make sure the bow fits its length. I don’t feel quite comfortable making my own string but if you do, there are several tutorials on how to make one of your own.

Then, test your bow, it is that simple. Test, look for mistakes and get back to the workshop. Here is a video of a tutorial I like and that I hope I am able to replicate with my father one of these days.

Look for inspiration and start making your bow.

Last Thoughts

Throughout this article we’ve checked a lot about what bows are made of and what they where made of.

The idea is the same, but we’ve seen that technology has advanced through the years. Few people still use ancient style bows, but it is not impossible to get one or even make your own. We have also checked some cultures that made incredible bows but as war instruments and a little bit of the story behind the first bow ever made.

This has been an interesting article, and if you’re looking to make your own bow, I hope you find this knowledge useful and inspiring to choose materials, style and even replications from ancient cultures. Making a modern recurve bow in your garage is something really hard, but making an ancient one, is not.

We’ve seen generations do it before us. So now you know what an archery bow is made from, use it for your advantage, or just as a great story to tell the new ones in the sport.

Happy shooting everybody.