February 1972

Let’s Make The English Longbow ~By Pierre St. Arnaud
Don’t Pine For Yew; Lemonwood And A Colorful Vocabulary Are Just As Effective

YOU ARCHERS WHO are romantics at heart can have
both the traditional longbow and the pleasure of making
this graceful weapon.
The early longbow did not have dips from the grip to the
base limb, so the bow played in hand. lt bent in the middle.
suffered loss of cast and was not entirely pleasant to shoot.
The dips, an innovation attributed to one Buchanan. an
English bowyer, made the long bow a more efficient
weapon. They are utilized to this day in the modern
composite bows.

With no apology to the purist, our longbow will have
dips. Those of you who wish can make the early English
longbow by omitting the dips. To do so, simply taper in
straight lines from the four-inch grip section to the tip
dimensions as given in the diagram and proceed to tiller and
balance the bow according to the methods described.
The wood most popularly associated with the longbow is
yew. Good air-seasoned yew is not so readily come by as it
once was. Years ago, during the ’40s and ’50s, l had ready
access to all the yew l could use. With the advent of fiber-
glass and plastics in bowyery, I began to notice a paucity of
yew suppliers.

To make a yew bow requires considerable experience
and special treatment and technique. The sapwood must be
left intact to variable thicknesses in relation to the bow’s
erratic run of grain; pin knots and clusters must be swelled
or dutchmanned, but these are only a few of the considerations.

To make a good yew bow the bowyer must have, besides
adequate experience, an equally adequate vocabulary of
colorful words to help him over the rough spots. This magazine
will permit me to help you with the former in a future
article, but you’ll have to develop the latter yourself. lf you
must tackle yew in your first attempt at bowyery, yew
staves and billets can still be obtained from Earl L. Ullrich,
Box 862, Roseburg, Oregon.

We will use lemonwood (dagame) in making this bow.
Dagame is native to Cuba, Central and South America, and
Southern Mexico. This wood was also used by English
bowyers. It has a specific gravity of 0.80 and hefts at forty-
nine pounds per cubic foot. It has a light tan color, usually,
and has nothing to do with lemons. Lemonwood bow staves
can be obtained from the following sources: Craftsman
Wood Service Company, Department A-30, 2729 South
Mary, Chicago, Illinois 60608; Constantine, 2051-C East-
chester Road, Bronx, New York 10461.

Order a longbow stave six feet by one and one-eighth
inches. Now, unless you intend to go into mass production,
you will need only the few easily obtained and inexpensive
tools and materials I will describe: a block plane, preferably
low angle; a ten·inch or twelve-inch half-round cabinet file;
a six-inch rat tail file; a three by five-inch square cabinet
scraper; garnet paper, medium and fine; and a fifty-pound
spring scale.

Examine your stave. A perfectly straight stave is virtually
nonexistent, but this can be a blessing in disguise. Choose
for the back the concave side of the stave. This imparts a
natural reflex to your bow which improves its cast and
helps retard excessive set or string follow to which most
self—wooden bows are prone. Having established the back,
set your plane to a fine cut and plane the back smooth.
When this is done, sand the back using medium garnet
wrapped around a small, flat wooden block. No further
work will be done to the back until the final finishing stage.
To lay out your stave, draw a pencil line around the
middle, measuring from end to end. Draw a line one and a
half-inch above and another two and a half inches below
this middle line. This four-inch section is the grip and is
situated to permit the arrow to leave the bow one and a
half-inch above center for reasons of dynamic balance.
Measure outward four inches both ways from the grip section
and again scribe lines completely around the stave.

These areas encompass the dips and locate the base limbs.
You now have marks twelve inches apart, and it is at
these points that your actual side tapers begin. Measuring
from the edges of the stave at these twelve-inch lines,
establish a dot dead center on each line. Remember, all
these lines and dots are being done on the back of the stave.
Take a length of thread about a foot and a half longer than
the stave and attach weights to each end.

Lay your stave across your work bench, so the tips are
unrestricted. Lay the thread lengthwise along the stave, so
the weights hang free. Move the thread back and forth at
the ends of the stave until it bisects exactly the dots you
marked at the base limbs. Make dots under the thread a few
inches apart along each limb and at the tips. With a straight
edge, connect these dots from tip to tip. You’ve established
your datum line.

At one—inch from the ends draw lines across the stave.
Place dots a quarter-inch on each side of the datum line at
these points and you have established the half—inch nock
widths. Using the straight edge, scribe lines from the full
width at the base limbs to the half-inch width at the nocks.

Plane to the lines being careful not to remove the lines.
Be sure to leave the sides square (90 degrees.) to the back
as you plane. You are now ready to lay out the dips and
belly taper. Place the stave on its side. Refer to the working
drawing. At base limb, point A, place a dot seven—eighth of
an inch from the back. Half-way to the nock place another
dot 2l/32-inch from the back. Place another dot 7/16-inch
from the back at the nock. Connect these dots.

Go back to the base limb, point A. From the dot free
hand the dip to the top of the grip, D. The bottom of the
dip should be a gradual curve and become more pronounced
as it approaches the top of the grip. All of these
measurements and lines must be duplicated on the other
side of the stave. Plane and file down to the lines, and your
stave is now a roughed-out bow.

Refer to the cross section E in the diagram. Plane the
corners of the grip off until you have four corners. Plane
and file the dips and limbs into the same cross section.
Repeat this procedure until you have an eight-cornered
cross section. Your bow has now very nearly approximated
the cross sections shown as A and B. You will no longer
need the plane. Scrape and file the whole bow into the
round as in cross sections A and B.

Refer to the nock details and file the nocks using the rattail file.
Start at the sides and go into the wood about
one-eighth—inch. Diminish this cut into the belly as you
slant at the angle shown. Make a tiller as shown in the
drawing. The notch at the end should be wide and deep
enough to accept the bow grip. The string notches should
have the side edge sanded round so as not to cut the string
when tillering.

You will need two bowstrings, one strong string for tillering
and one for shooting. Both strings should be of a
length that when the bow is braced (strung) the string will
measure about eight inches from the back of the grip. With
the lower loop attached to the bottom nock the top loop
on the unbraced bow will be about four inches below the
top nock.

Place one tip of the unstrung bow on the floor. Grasp
the bow by the grip in your right hand with theleft hand
holding the uppermost limb. Exert pressure against the
lower tip causing the lower limb to bend a little. Examine
the curve the limb assumes while feeling the amount of
resistance to bending. Mark the obvious stiff spots with
pencil on the belly. Repeat this procedure with the other
limb. Scrape down the stiff spots and test again.

If both limbs bend evenly, one compared to the other,
brace the bow with your tillering string. Lay the·braced
bow on its back on your work bench and step back several
paces to examine the limb curvatures. Each limb should
begin a gradual curve from the base limb and curve evenly
to the tip and both limbs should balance one against the

When this stage is reached satisfactorily you are ready to
begin the actual tillering and balancing. Carefully pull the
string to a twelve-inch draw several times to break it in to
the new stresses. Place the bow grip into the tiller notch
and pull the string into the twelve-inch notch on the tiller.

Place the bow on its back on the bench with the tiller
uppermost. Examine the curvature and mark the stiff spots.
Remove the tiller and unbrace the bow. Scrape the stiff
spots down. Remember to maintain the rounded cross section
while reducing the bow. Again draw the bow several
times to twelve inches and replace in the tiller to the
twelve-inch notch.

If the bow bends evenly, remove from the tiller and
draw several times to a fourteen-inch draw. Repeat the fore-
going operations until you have tillered to full draw. A
word of caution: Once you have tillered to about twenty-
four inches, do not leave the bow in the tiller for more than
a few seconds each time. A wood bow because of its cellular
structure tires as it approaches maximum stress and can
fracture if left too long in the tiller while still in a condition
of imbalance.

When you have tillered to full draw you are ready to
check your bow to the bowstring. At the base limb of the
upper limb check the distance from the back of the bow to
the string. Repeat with the lower limb. If the bow is properly
tillered the distance to the string at the top limb should
exceed by one-eighth-inch to three-sixteenth-inch the dis-
tance at the lower limb. If there is a discrepancy, this can
be cured with further tillering.

The bow is now ready for weighing. Attach a large steel
screw hook to a stud in the garage. The hook should be
about six feet from the floor. Hang the spring scale on the
hook. Now bore a hole in the end of a yard stick and hang
the stick on the scale hook. Hook the bowstring at the
nocking point to the spring hook and, using both hands on
the bow grip, draw the bow to its twenty-eight·inch draw
and read the scale. lf the bow is too heavy, reduce by
tillering to the desired weight. This bow can be scaled or
proportioned down to shorter draws and lighter weights. To
do so, simply shorten the dips and working limbs and start
with a thinner and narrower base limb.

With the tillering completed you are ready to finish your
bow. Cut a flat piece of wood four inches by one and
one-eighth inches by three-eighths inches and glue this directly
back of the grip. When dry, shape into round for a
comfortable grip and smooth the ends into the bow proper,
File off the sharp edges from the back and starting with
medium and finishing with fine garnet paper, prepare the
bow for varnishing. Always sand with the grain, i.e., length-

After fine sanding there should be no tool~ or work
marks on the bow. Now, using a slightly wet cloth or
sponge rub just enough water on the bow to raise the grain.
When the wood is just damp enough to change color you
have it just right. Dry quickly by passing before a small
electric heater or over a stove burner. Do not subject the
bow to too much heat or you will check it. Steel wool the
raised whiskers off with 2/0 wool. If you do not whisker
the bow now. the grain will raise when you apply the
varnish and result in a poor finish.

Mix by volume one part quick dry spar varnish and one
part turpentine. Mix only enough for the sealer or first
coat. Brush this thinned coat into the bow and after twenty
minutes wipe with a clean dry cloth, every vestige of surface
varnish from the bow. Allow to dry for at least
twenty-four hours. Scuff the bow lightly with fine garnet to
give tooth to the finish coat. Apply the finish coat of
varnish full strength. Allow the coat to dry for a least
twenty-four hours.

The grip can be wrapped with leather layed in glue. An
attractive and rugged grip can be laid by whipping or
serving (just as you do with a bowstring) the grip with
heavy colored fish cord. The finished serving can then be
saturated with shellac. After the varnish has cured for a
week, apply a coat of good furniture wax and buff your
bow. <—<<
l. During the making of the bow and after it is finished, do
not expose it to direct heat. Heat causes hardwoods to
2. Never overdraw your bow or let anyone snap the string
without an arrow in the bow to absorb the recovery
· shock.
3. Always unbrace your bow before putting it away.
4. Almost all wood bows take a set, a permanent bend in
the direction of draw. Having taken a set the bow will
stabilize. Do not attempt to straighten it by forcing the
limbs to bend backward.

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