Woods Used to Make English Longbows

Updated February 21, 2017

The original English longbow was an adopted and modified weapon design taken from the Welsh. After battling the Welsh in the early 12th century, the English realised the battlefield advantage that a skilled longbow archer possessed and quickly incorporated the longbow to formal military arms by 1252 according to Several woods were used to make the longbow based on availability, and some woods were preferred.


Yew was the preferred wood used to make a longbow. This is due to its extremely flexible sapwood and extremely strong and durable heartwood. The perfect English longbow was made from cuts of wood that had both outer sapwood and inner heartwood incorporated. Timber cutters and bowmakers had to work with precision in both selecting the appropriate tree, and cutting and seasoning the wood. Because of the fact that wars persisted throughout the Middle Ages, yew tree groves started dwindling because they were the preferred wood to use for longbows.

Yew trees have been the preferred wood to use for weapons and fencing for many years. The oldest wooden weapon artefact in the world is a spear found in Essex that is estimated to be 200,000 years old, and in a few cases yew wood has been reported to outlast iron fencing built at the same time, according to the Woodland Trust's British Trees website.

Elm and Wych Elm

Wych elm or elm were also widely used in the construction of longbows. These trees were available all across Britain and Ireland and used for numerous wooden projects, specifically for boat construction because of their resistance to water. The Wych elm is very hard, though not as flexible as yew, but could be made into a longbow by a skilled bowmaker when yew availability diminished. The effective distance a yew longbow could reach was approximately 400 yards, whereas 250 yards was the effective range for a bow made from elm or Wych elm.


Ash was generally used to construct the "flatbow" and most arrow shafts, but as with elm and Wych elm, ash was also used to make longbows when yew became scarce. This wood is hard much like elm, minus its high water resistant attributes, and not nearly as flexible. The downfall of an ash longbow was that with repeated use, the bow would twist and warp and eventually lose the little flexibility it once had before curing completely.

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