Here is one of the many discriptions of longbow construction that I have come across.
Offered by Kerry.
Making an English Longbow
- degame - 6' x 1 1/8" x 1 1/8"
softwood - 4" x 1 1/8" x 1/2" to thicken the handle
hickory - 6' x 1 1/8" x 1/4"
horn for nocks
Car Inner tube
- Powdered resin glue (Cascamite)
- Dacron B50
You will also need to fashion a tiller to test the strength of the bow - for this you will need some stout wood, 6' x 3" x 2", a pulley and a hook - preferably a fishing scale that goes at least to the weight you want the bow to draw at. Fix a block of wood to the tiller at about eye level (this supports the bow handle) . Fix the pulley to the bottom of the tiller, and fix the scale to a string (about 15" long) that passes through the pulley. Mark the draw lengths on the tiller so that they can be seen from a distance (it's always best to be a little away from a bow that hasn't been proven when it's drawn). It's useful to attach this to a wall for stability.
Degame is the wood most often used for a first bow - yew and osage make better bows, but are more difficult to make properly. This should produce a working bow first time. Check the true of the degame stave - if it has a natural curve, try and make use of it. Face the inside of the curve away from you, offsetting the natural curve that the bow will assume as it is tillered. The wood should be well seasoned, or the bow will perform badly - the fibres may also lift on the outside of the bend, particularly on the hickory. Prepare one side of the hickory strip and the chosen side of the degame. They should be flat and even - but slightly roughened to take the glue. When planing the hickory, take care to keep the blade sharp, as hickory is stringy and does not plane easily. Do not use the white, ready to use wood glues, as they are too rubbery and may cause the joint to move, even when dry. A powdered resin glue is much better, as it sets very hard and is waterproof.
Now comes the car inner tube. Cut it into a bandage, about 10' long and 1 1/2" wide. Spread the glue evenly and generously along the degame face, then lay the hickory strip along it. Slide it around a little to work out any air pockets. Clamp one end of the rubber bandage to one end of the stave, then bind the rubber around the stave very firmly, with about an inch between turns. Clamp at the other end when you reach it. Put the stave in a warm dry place and leave it for about 48 hours. Be very careful when unwrapping the rubber bandage - the dried resin glue is very sharp. Leave the unwrapped stave for another 24 hours - don't be impatient! This will all look pretty dirty and messy, but a beautiful longbow can come out of it! Clean up the hickory face and one side of the degame, so that outlines of the bow can be drawn directly on the wood.
The first and most important step is to draw a perfectly straight centre line onto the hickory, running the length of the stave. All other measurements will be taken from this line so be sure and make it accurate. Mark the line either with a good straight-edge, or mark points along a string drawn tightly from end to end. Next draw a line across the stave at exactly half the overall length. Rule in two more lines, the first one inch above (A), the second 3 inches below (B). This will form the handle - notice that the grip is not central, but slightly low, so that the arrow will pass over the top of the hand, nearer the true centre of the bow. Continue to mark out the hickory face as follows:- mark two more lines, one 4 inches above A (C) the other 4 inches below B (D); then a line 6 inches from either end of the bow (E) and (F) (The entire length of the bow should be 72 inches)
| 6 F 23 D 4 B 3|1A 4 C 25 E 6 | __________________________________________________________________________ | | | | | | | | | --------------------------------------------------------------------------
The width of the bow should be 1 1/8" from D to C, tapering to 3/4" at F and E, and again to 1/2" at the ends. Now turn the bow on its side and mark out the thicknesses - 1/2" at each end, 1 1/8" at B and A. Mark two extra lines 2" away from B and A. The thickness at these points should be 1". This should produce a bow 6ft long, with a draw weight of approximately 55lbs at 28", although each stave will be different. If a different weighting is required, adjust the measurements in proportion. Making the bow 1 1/8" wide and 1" thick prevents the bow from twisting. If the bow was just 3/4" thick the bow would be less likely to break or twist, but the cast would be reduced.
Now cut the bow shape out of the lines drawn. This is easy to say but much harder to do. Saw the side profiles first (the ones drawn on the degame), leaving the front profile lines intact on the hickory face. Alternatively, you could plane the surplus away. You should end up with a square looking, tapered stick, that almost looks like a bow if you squint at it a little. At this point, glue a piece of softwood 4" x 1 1/8" x 1/2" to the *hickory* face, covering the 4 inch handle area. This will be shaped to thicken the grip making the bow more comfortable to hold. Since you now have to wait for the glue to dry, you can either take a rest, or make your tiller, if you haven't done so already. The tiller holds the bow while you bend and train the limbs - remember that a bow has a lot of weight in its early stages, so be sure that the tiller is strong - you don't want the supporting block to come off while you're pulling the bow.
The next stage in shaping the bow is to smooth the hickory backing. Round the edges to a gentle radius. The final thickness of the hickory should be about 1/4" at the centre line. File or cut a temporary nock about 3/8" from the end of each limb - these will be file away after the bow is completed, when the tips are shaped for the horn nocks. Make them just deep enough to hold the bowstring. Turn the stave over and radius the degame with a rasp, including the handle area. A good way to do this is to draw a central line down the stave and make sure it stays there while you shave the edges. The hard work is pretty much over at this stage. Find a good strong string with a breaking strain of over 100 lbs to use as the training bowstring. Fit the string to the bow, but don't attempt to brace it at this stage. Put the bow on the tiller, with the handle section directly on the support - you may want to cut a groove into the support to help the bow to sit straight. Hook the pulley rope onto the bowstring, take a few steps back and pull gently. Pull just far enough for the limb tips to flex about 6 inches, and for you to see the first gentle curve of the bow. Do this a dozen times or so, noting the flex in the bow as you do.
The bow should curve more at the ends than in the centre, but not too much. If it only bends at the ends, the bow will be very hard to draw, and will take a set badly. If it curves too much near the centre, it will have a poor cast and be uncomfortable in the hand. The idea is to eliminate any irregularities before they have time to take a permanent set in the limb. If an area is too stiff and rigid, remove a little wood to let it bend. If an area bends too much, remove wood from the extremes of the bend to even it out. Remember that the more wood you remove, the more you reduce the cast of the bow. The working section of the bow should be the areas between F and D, and C and E. Keep working the bow, scraping the wood away while keeping the shape good, until you can draw the bow back to about 28", still using the training bowstring.
Now its time to brace the bow to about 6 or 7 inches. With the bow braced, rest one end on the ground and look along the string to check for twist. The string should exactly dissect the limbs end to end, although a slight variation can work. If there is a tendency for the bow to twist in one direction, try clamping the bow tightly onto the tiller block and pulling the string in the opposite direction to the twist. If you have managed to keep the width a little greater than the thickness, all should be well. Now gently feel the strength of the bow by drawing it a few inches. Don't try to draw it to full length as it will probably break, because the wood is not trained to complete the bend. The saying is that a good longbow is nine tenths broken at full draw. The bow should never be drawn past the length you have tillered for, once completed.
Back to the tiller, using the braced bowstring, with more scraping away of the wood until the draw is near the target. When you reach a draw length of 24" or so, test the pull again. If the bow is going to break, it will during these last few inches, so take care. Flex the bow about 50 times for each inch you increase the draw at this stage - less will increase the risk of the bow breaking. You cannot over-train the bow. Keep doing this until the required draw length is reached. When you do reach the target draw length, hold the draw for a few seconds, then repeat several times. If you still have a bow at this point, and not firewood, you have a bow you can shoot.
Remove the string from the bow. The bow should have a slight natural curve, having 'followed the string' during training. This curve will be more pronounced immediately after shooting, but this will lessen as the bow 'rests'. It may damage the bow to try and straighten it. You will need to know the draw weight of the bow, so return it to the tiller, and test the draw weight with a fisherman's spring scale. If the bow is too heavy, shave a little more wood off, but be careful, as it will lose the weight quickly. If the bow is too light, it can be shortened to increase the weight, but this will increase its chances of breaking. Now you can actually shoot the bow. Fit a proper string, braced to about 6 or 7 inches and shoot a dozen or so arrows. Examine the bow, and if all is well and the bow feels good, shoot a few dozen more. Unless you have shot longbows before, the arrows will almost certainly fly left, and be very haphazard.
When you are confident that the bow is sound and no further adjustments need to be made to the shape or draw weight, you can finish the bow. The first stage is to make the horn nocks. They make no difference to the cast, but they do make the bow look better. Also, if the bow is to be used under British Longbow Society rules, horn nocks must be fitted. Almost any solid horn will do (cowhorn are the most widely available). It is easy to work, but has a powerful smell - not a job to tackle after a heavy meal, or in a room with little ventilation. First, drill a round tapering hole into the base of the horn - the easiest way to do this is to drill a 1/8" hole about 1 1/4" deep and then enlarge this out with a 1/2" drill ground down to the required taper. The hole should end up being 1 1/4" deep and 7/16" in diameter. Remember that horn is quite soft, so a hand brace is preferable to a power drill, which may tend to snatch, and lacks control. To complete the work on the horn, glue it to a separate piece of wood (with the same taper as the horn) with a water-soluble glue. When the horn is finished, a good soak in hot water should release the horn from the wood.
Apart from fulfilling the purpose of holding the bowstring in place, the horn can be as plain or fancy as you please - some examples seen are leaping salmon, horses heads and eagles, but remember that the more delicate the design, the more chance of damage during use. Gradually work the surface down using files, abrasive paper and polishing compound until all the scratches are removed. The final polish is achieved using metal polish, and this is best done on the bow, after fitting and cutting the string grooves. When the horns are completed, remove them from the sticks. Shape the bow ends to match the taper in the horn, and glue the horns on with Cascamite or some other strong glue. Make sure before the you do this that they fit the bow well and don't lean out of the line of the limb. This needs to be done well, as a badly fitted horn will spoil the look of the bow. When the glue is set, file the grooves that will hold the string. Clamp the bow so that about 6" protrudes and file away with a thin round rat-tailed file about 1/8" diameter with the groove being about a 60 degree angle at the sides, and not being above halfway up the taper of the limb inside the horn. If the groove is too high, the horn will break. Be careful not to cut right through the horn to the wood - while this is not a disaster, it will spoil the look of the bow.
Now it is time to put in an arrow plate. Mother of Pearl (cut from old buttons), horn, or contrasting hardwood is usual. This is more decorative than vital, and does add to the aesthetic appearance of the longbow. As you have already shot the bow, you will see where the arrows have rubbed on the wood just above the handle, so chisel out the desired shape and glue in your plate. When the glue is set, file and sand away the excess glue and waste. The plate only needs to be small, about 1" long, 1/4" wide and set into the wood about 1/16". The final finishing is to take some sandpaper of various grades, and work away at the bow, rubbing out all the scratches. Finish off with some steel wool to get that pearl-like bloom. You can also stain the wood if liked - make sure it is water-based, and only apply it to the degame. The reason for using water based products is to prevent the final coats of varnish from re-activating the dye and drawing it into the hickory, thus spoiling the effect.
Once the stain has dried, gently wipe with steel wool to remove any fibres the water has lifted up, then apply a thin coat of varnish. Lightly rub this down and apply a second and even a third coat if desired. Some people recommend a wax finish but this is not as durable as varnish. If any particulars are to be written on the bow - draw length and weight, makers identification etc. - do this with a fine pen in Indian ink before the final coat of varnish so that it is well sealed in. All that remains now is to polish the nocks with steel wool and then metal polish, and fit a grip of your choice. Upholstery braid, leather, and velvet ribbon on ladies bows are often used. It must feel comfortable to hold and not move in your hand, so be sure to glue it on securely with a waterproof glue. Your bow is now ready for use!