The medieval longbow, perhaps more famously known as the English or Welsh longbow, was first used in the Norman English invasion of Wales during the 12th century. The Welsh were using them and the English were so impressed that they adopted the weapon and conscripted Welsh archers. With a range of 180 to 270 yards and boasting accuracy as far as 80, the weapon could pierce plate armour with ease. The bow itself, traditionally of yew, was 4 to 6 feet long with a bowstring of woven linen or hemp. The distinction between medieval and English is a matter of dimensions and tension. The medieval bow bends throughout its entire length and its thickness is between 33 and 75 per cent of its width, whereas the English Longbow must be 62.5 per cent of its width and is widest at the handle. Longbows are characterised by a curved or D-shaped cross section on the inside of the bow.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
Things you need
- 6.5-foot-by-1-inch-by-2-inch board of oak, lemonwood, hickory, Osage or yew, with a straight grain for stave, as knot-free as possible.
- 3-foot-by-2-inch-by-4-inch board for a tillering board (cheaper wood is fine)
- Jigsaw, draw knife, spokeshave or coarse rasp
- Belt sander (optional)
- Bow string of hemp, linen, gut, sinew or a synthetic material like Dacron
- Tung oil to seal the wood
- Wood glue
Draw the outline onto the board, tapering gently to a point. Work around any knots.
Rough out the outline of the bow with a jigsaw. You could also use a draw knife, a spokeshave or a coarse rasp. Use a belt sander only if you are confident. Don't remove any wood from the back.
Cut a 1-inch-deep notch across one end of the 3-foot board. This is your tillering board.
Clamp the tillering board upright in a convenient location so you can use it throughout your project.
Shape the inside so it looks like a D in cross section, removing the wood gradually and equally from both limbs away from the middle. It's important to keep the bow balanced and it's difficult to correct big errors, so work slowly and carefully.
Cut shallow, temporary notches on each end of the bow and tie the bow string around each end. The string should be taut. Balance the bow across the tillering board and push down on the bow string, causing the bow to bend. Ensure that the bow is bending equally on both ends, and remove wood from the belly in areas where compression is inhibited.
Bend the bow into a D shape as you round out the inside edge. Steam or soak the wood to soften it as you work. It will take time to bend the bow to the required shape. The bow string on the finished bow should pull back as far as the archer's ear.
Cut permanent notches with a rasp or file in both ends of the bow where you will tie the bow string. These should be about 1/8-inch deep, high to the back and low to the belly. String the bow so it is taut when the bow is at rest.
Coat the wood with wax, oil or resin. Let it dry thoroughly.
Wrap the handle with any functional or decorative material you wish, but make sure it is durable as well. Glue it securely.
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