Making an English Longbow

By Sam Harper

Preparing the hickory backing

Whenever I'm trying to do something new, I try to do it with wood I don't mind losing in case things don't work out. I happen to have a piece of hickory 1/8" thick, almost 2" wide, and about 5' long. The obvious problem here is that the hickory is too short. I need it to be at least 6' long.

One solution might be to rip it straight down the middle and splice the two pieces together. That would give me plenty of length. The problem is that it wouldn't give me enough width. The Osage I'm going to use is about an inch wide, which I think will be fine. But if I rip the hickory down the middle, the two slats will both be less than 1" wide because (1) the hickory is a little less than 2" wide already, and (2) I'll lose a little width to the kerf of the bandsaw.

What to do what to do.

Aha! I've got it!

Instead of ripping the hickory down the middle, I can rip it at an angle. I'll measure half an inch on both ends, draw a line connecting them, and cut along that line.

Then I can splice the thick ends together, creating one piece that's already tapered for glue-up.

Brilliant, I tell you! I'm such a genius!

Before I rip it, though, I want to grind it a little thinner than 1/8".

August 6, 2005

But before I grind it, I want to cut it to size--about half the length of the bow. Why grind 5 ft of hickory when I could grind 3 ft?

That's not to say I've decided on a 6 ft bow. I'd really like it to be 6.5 ft or so. I'm limited by the size of my hot box, because I'm using Smooth On epoxy. I suppose I could make a longer bow if I used Urac, because then I wouldn't need a hot box.

The inside length of my hot box is about 75". I can get 76" if I put the bow in diagonally. That's almost 6.5". If you think about it, though, the bow will be a little longer once I put the horn (or antler) tips on the bow.

But anyway, I'm going to cut the hickory down to 40" long, and then grind it, and then cut it.


Here's the 40" piece of hickory sitting on my handy dandy lam grinder I made out of a belt sander. Cambo, from the Leatherwall, taught me how to do this.

After grinding it down to somewhere less than 1/8" (I don't know how thin it is), I measured 1/2" on both ends.

I used a board for a straight edge, connected the dots, and cut along the line with my band saw. "They" say that when you mark a line and cut with a band saw, you should cut outside the line and then sand down to the line. But in my case, I'm using the wood equally on both sides of the line, so I just cut through the line as well as I could and then sanded to get the imperfections out. Here are the lams.

The backings will be joined at the handle, and I want them to sort of fit together, so I used my disk sander to grind them.

By holding them together like that, I don't have to measure angles or anything. It automatically grinds them both at the same angle. The only difficulty is that unless you hold it just right, you can get this problem.

Do you see the problem here? To fix this problem, I just grind, stick them together to check the fit, and then grind again.By the third try, they fit perfectly.

The whole reason I cut the lams 40", knowing the bow would only be about 75", is to give me some room for error. I could've messed up an end of the hickory while grinding. I could've messed up an end while sanding at the cut. I might've sat there grinding the joint all day, never being able to make it fit. Anything could've happened.

Once everything seemed to be as it should be, I cut the tips off such that when placed end to end, it all comes to about 75". That leaves them a little wider than 1/2" at the tips.

The next step is preparing the osage.

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