Last year I took a slight interest in archery and did some research on how to build a bow. I read a detailed build-along thread and decided it was definitely something I might like to do, but then summer ended and I forgot about it. This summer, however, I actually followed through and built myself a longbow. The two resources that helped me most were this forum thread (it's very detailed and even includes history!) and http://poorfolkbows.com/. Here are some details and photos of the process.
Given that this was my first bow, I wanted to keep things simple. I decided to make a 6' longbow from a 1x2x6 board. After looking through a bunch of boards at one store and then giving up and going to another store, I finally found a maple board with nice and straight grain.
Red oak was also an option, but the maple board was better so I went with it. As for the design of the bow, I did an 8" stiff handle, kept the bow full width until the last 12" of each limb and then tapered to 1/2" at the tips. The thickness was an even taper from full thickness at the handle to 3/8" at the tips. The width tapers were cut with a table saw (no jig just carefully fed through by hand), and the thickness tapers were done with an electric hand planer. Power tools generally aren't recommended for bow building, but in the roughing stages they are very useful, especially the planer. I had a very even and consistent starting point because of it.
After roughing out the profile I glued on a handle riser (I think that's the right term), and tip overlays. I used oak to provide some contrast.
I did some basic shaping and added grooves for the string, but left the majority of that for the end, since it doesn't affect tillering and there's no sense doing a bunch of work just to have the bow break later.
After this I added a backing. I used brown paper (it might actually be wrapping paper), which won't change the properties of the bow but should help prevent splinters from lifting. Check out my post on how to do a brown paper backing here: How to Paper Back a Bow
I also rounded the edges of the back to reduce the chance of breakage.
Making a String
Before I could go any further, I obviously needed a string! I made one out of B50 Dacron. I did an 8 strand string (2 bundles of 4) reverse twisted with a loop at one end and a bowyers knot on the other end. I made it extra long so I could use it for tillering and then adjust it to the right length to brace the bow. I followed the steps described on this forum (scroll down to find the post about strings).
I used a bunch of spring clamps to make things easier. I had a very strange method of working on the string which involved sticking a clamp holding the two bundles in my waistband while I twisted and reverse twisted the strands. I did this by a stairway and hung all of the excess over the end to keep it straight and untangled. It looked funny but it worked fairly well.
I didn't serve the string until I finished the bow, but I'll describe it here. I started by designing and 3D printing a serving tool. Then I used the method in this video to do the center serving and to reinforce the area where the strands end.
Here I have started the serving:
With the serving started, I used the serving tool to quickly and effectively serve the string.
Once the serving was the right length, I finished it using the method described in the video linked above.
Here I have added a serving overtop of the section of the string where the strands end, in order to hold down the loose ends.
Next I took on the most important step: tillering. Tillering is the part of the process where you make the bow bend to the correct length and weight. I decided to go for 35# at 28". However, as I went I tillered for 40# because I figured I might need room to correct issues (this turned out to be a good idea). Here are a few photos of the early tillering stages:
As I built this bow I was continually doing research. If you want to build a bow you should read as much as you can online. Anyways, something I came across was the tillering gizmo, which allows you to mark flat spots on the limbs. I whipped up a design and 3d printed myself one:
This tool is awesome and made the process way easier. It removes a lot of guesswork and eyeballing. Eventually I had enough bend to brace the bow. At this point I needed a stringer, which I built. Check out the tutorial for that here:
How to Build a Bow Stringer I started by bracing the bow low and worked up from there. Note that I never used a longer string than necessary. Even when long string tillering, I used a string that just barely fit on the bow. An extra long string will just make your tillering less representative of what will happen when you brace the bow. From here I kept tillering and increased brace height until I got to about 6". Then it was just a slow steady and careful process until I reached my desired draw weight and length. One significant problem I ran into was limb twist. One limb began aggressively turning at some point. I blame this on the wood's natural tendencies, but perhaps I accidentally left one side slightly thicker as I tillered. This is when I made my biggest mistake, I read about how to fix twist online and then tried to fix it by aggressively removing extra wood from one side of the limb. This didn't help at all and probably made things worse.
Yikes! I decided to stop, but I'd already gone pretty far. I spent the rest of the tillering process trying to correct this and just bring the limb back to even thickness side to side. This seemed to improve the twist, and then I just ignored it. The other limb twisted slightly in the opposite direction, so the string still lined up on the handle. I did the final tillering and leveling with sandpaper so that I wouldn't lose draw weight trying to smooth things out.
After I was satisfied with the draw weight, draw length, and the bend of the limbs, I shaped the handle and the bow tips. I narrowed the handle to 1" wide and shaped the fades to make them look nice.
For the tips i just rounded them in all directions.
I then finished with 180 and 320 grit sandpaper and applied many layers of danish oil. This brought out the colour of the paper and the oak and gave the bow a nice contrast.
Then I made a simple handle wrapvout of vinyl. I used a punch to make holes and laced it like a shoe. I will be using a floppy rest for the arrow shelf, but haven't installed it yet.
That's it, my first bow finished!
In the end the bow came out to about 35# at 28", which I think is a nice weight for a first bow. I didn't get a chance to shoot the bow until about a month after I finished building it, and by that point I'd actually built a second bow, so I tested the two of them at the same time. My second bow pulls about 40# at 28" and has much thinner tips. From my beginner archer's perspective, the second bow seemed nicer to shoot (less hand shock and a bit more power), but the first definitely wasn't bad. I probably put about 50 shots through each bow, and neither showed any sign of chrysals on the belly or any other issues; so far so good! Building bows has become a serious obsession for me and I find everything about it really fascinating. If you're looking for a fun new hobby, this is a good one!