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Hunter Diary 04 – Construction of Longbow

The Back and the Belly:

The longbows are the most simple bow types and have only few features. Since a English longbow is made from a single piece of wood (a single Bow Stave) for the back (The outside part when shooting) and the belly (The inner part when shooting) of the bow, the limbs are one of the most important parts of the bow. The limbs are relatively narrow so that they are circular or D-shaped in cross section. However, one disadvantage of the English longbow is that the shape of the limbs does not spread out stress within the wood, when draw back, as evenly as a Flatbow does.

There is an upper and a lower limb that are determined by the bow grip or the neutral axis which is easier to determine with modern longbows because they come in Right or Left hand. The traditional longbow was more or less ambidextrous. The limbs are more likely to be non-recurved and have string grooves at both extremities for modern longbows. Oldest longbows needed “horn nocks” installed to the extremities of the bow so you could attach the string.

The string:

Another important part of the longbow is the bow string. Back then, bow strings were made of hemp, flax or silk and attached by “horn nocks” which were installed at both extremities of the bow. Strings were more ‘strechy’ which was a necessary feature for wooden bows. The pressure on the limbs was less hard.

Today modern synthetic materials like dyneema fibers compose the strings. Those strings are generally called ‘Fastfilght’ because they increase the pressure and then the velocity of the arrow. But it still possible to keep it more traditional

With moderns bows, it is possible to customize your longbow string with accessories like silencers. Silencers are installed on the string to reduce the sound that the string is making. Some archers will install nocking points on the string to facilitate shots efficiency by keeping a better alignment when properly installed.

The Bow Grip:

Made of leather, rope or simply natural the bow grip constitutes the neutral axis of the bow. Back then, the hand was replacing the modern arrow shelf that some archers installed or created on their longbow. 

The Arrows:

Made of different types of wood, the average arrow was around 30 in. Arrows were coming in various length, fletching and arrow heads. 

The Bow itself: 

Of course the main feature of a longbow is its length. With an average of 1.98 meters (74-78 inches) of bow length the longbow varies considerably in draw weight.

The English longbow was a self-bow and mainly built over a stave of the yew timber. In other words, only one piece of wood was necessary to build one longbow.

The specifics of the Yew tree combine in one piece of wood the sapwood for tension and the heartwood for compression. This tree essence was almost extinct in Northern Europe in 16th century because of its demand for longbows. The heartwood resists compression and the outer sapwood performs better under expansion or tension. In other words, only specific and resilient timbers can make effective and durable wooden longbows.

The bow stave is cut from the center of the tree so that sapwood (most recent living part of the tree) becomes the back and forms about one third of the total thickness of the bow; the remaining two thirds is heartwood. Different combinations are possible but it’s not suggested to go over 50-50 in the distribution of sapwood versus heartwood. Heartwood should constitute the main part of a longbow. It is difficult to find the perfect balance in between the belly and the back because the raw material is a living material. Bow stave selection becomes then a really important asset to build efficient and durable longbows. 

It is possible to build a longbow with different essence of trees. This longbow would be called a laminated longbow. A laminated longbow or any laminated bows would need two or three different species of tree superimposed in a specific order to be as good as the yew tree. You will need to find a stave with a good withstanding compressive strength heartwood for the back of the bow and  a  different wood stave with better withstanding tension for the belly if you can’t find it in one self bow stave.

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