How to Make a Short Bow

Updated April 17, 2017

The short bow is a weapon that dates back to Medieval times and was usually constructed from elm, ash or hazel wood. Short bows were used in battle and traditionally used broadband arrows or bodkin arrows (for piercing armour) as ammunition. The materials required to make a short bow are readily available and the construction process itself is fairly straightforward.

Select the wood. Visit a wooded area or forest to find a piece of wood appropriate for a short bow. Elm and ash were favoured in Medieval times, but almost any sturdy wood will do. Select a piece measuring around 3 feet. If you can find a sturdy bigger piece, that will do fine as it can always be shortened later. Ensure the stick's diameter is at least 1/2-inch thick.

Cut the branch back to a length of 3 feet if you have chosen a longer piece. File the length, tip and base of the stick with a thick-gritted sandpaper. This will ensure you don't cut yourself on splinters.

Position the stick on the ground and apply pressure to see which way the stick bends. You will need to know this so the hemp or bow cord can be attached to the right area of the bow.

Measure the halfway point of the bow using a measuring tape. Place your hand in the middle area and mark the area your hand covers using a carpenter's pencil.

Scrape away the bark of the branch outside the pencilled grip area using a utility knife. Scrape more toward the tip and the base of the bow with the bark gradually getting thicker toward the grip area. This should create a faint, arched shape to the bow. The thinner areas of wood at the base and peak of the bow will then bend back when the hemmedi is pulled to take aim.

Cut a length of hemp to fit to the short bow. The hemp should be around 3 inches shorter than the length of the bow stick. This will give it the required friction so it can be pulled and tensed in preparation for firing.

Make two notches with the utility knife 1 inch away from the top area and on either side of the short bow. Repeat this action for bottom area of the bow. Make sure the notches are fairly deep so the hemp can rest securely in them.

Fit the hemp string. Make a simple loop knot at both ends of the length of hemp. Hook each loop around the bottom and top area of the bow where you made the notches. Your short bow is now ready for action.


Avoid choosing a stick or branch with knotted areas or smaller branches coming out of it. These can be cut away during the construction process but the more filing and severing you do, the weaker the bow becomes.

Things You'll Need

  • 3-foot long branch
  • Measuring tape
  • Thick-gritted sandpaper
  • Carpenter's pencil
  • Utility knife
  • Hemp
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About the Author

Wilkie Collins started writing professionally in 2007. She has submitted work for organizations including Venue, an arts-and-culture website for Bristol and Bath (U.K.), and "Sound and Vision," a technology magazine. Collins holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and media studies from the University of Bristol.