Making an English Longbow

By Sam Harper

August 17, 2005

Some post-tillering reflexions

Tillering is the most important part of making a bow, so I think some reflexion is in order. This was my first attempt at making an adult-sized bow that bends in the handle, and I learned something in the process. I learned that the final draw weight of the bow is predetermined by the initial thickness of the handle. The whole time I was tillering that bow, I was concerned about the handle. It felt weird to have it bending in my hand, and I was afraid it was going to break. I kept removing wood from the limbs to take some of the strain off the handle until the whole thing seemed to be well-tillered with the flex distributed evenly along the whole length of the bow. If my handle had been thicker, and therefore more stiff, I would not have had to take as much wood off the limbs in order to take the stress off the handle.

A bow is most likely to break during tillering, but once tillering is done, you aren't necessarily in the clear. It still needs to be shot several times, and that's what I'm going to do when I get off work in the morning. Okay, well, I shot it some last night in the apartment, but not from full draw. I'll let you know how it goes.


I shot the bow about thirty times this morning. It does have some hand shock, as I expected it would since it bends in the handle. It also seems a little slower than other bows I've shot. Other than that, I like it. I dare say it seemed as quiet if not more quiet than a bamboo bow, which surprised me. I was amazed at how accurately I can shoot with it. It did seem to shoot a little left of where I aimed, but it least it was consistent. I suppose with some arrows a little less stiff, I could shoot better with it. There's no arrow rest, and you can see the result.

The truth is, I'm really starting to like this bow. I think I'll take it to Scarborough Faire with me next year.

The next step is to put on the antler tips. It may be a while before I do that, because I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to attach them. I'm going to hit the pawn shops this morning and see if I can find a 1/2" flat bit. Maybe I'll get lucky and find a cheap bench grinder, too.

You know what I'd like to know? I'd like to know how the English did it in the medieval times. I've read several sources now, and it seems like everybody does it by grinding a flat bit into a V shape and then using it to drill a hole in the horn or antler. But I know good and well that the medieval English did not have power drills, flat boring bits, and bench grinders. How did they do it?

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