The best wood for making a longbow depends on how someone is going to use the age-old weapon. The skills of the person making the bow also figure into what kind of wood to use. The traditional bow is made from a single piece of flexible wood, also called a "self bow." There are several types of wood that fit within the definition of flexible and can be used to make longbows of varying quality. Among these types are yew, ash, bamboo and elm. Each type of wood has strengths and weaknesses.
The most popular type of wood for making a longbow is yew. A perfect piece of yew is referred to as "unblemished" and is both flexible and strong. A bow made from the outer section of the tree is called "sapwood," which is flexible, and the inner section of the tree is called "heartwood," which is very strong. A longbow made out of yew should be from a cut that exhibits both traits. The classic British longbow, known for its accuracy, was made out of yew. In fact, this wood was so popular in the making of longbows that yew almost went extinct in England, and became highly prized.
The wood from an ash tree can also be used to make longbows. Mostly, this wood is used to make "flat bows" but can be used to make longbows as well. The ash is not as flexible as yew, and may start to bend after repeated use. But the wood is tough and is usually cheaper and more widely available than yew. It is unlikely that an ash longbow could outshoot a yew longbow. Ash wood is also considered to have a good finish that can bring out the colour and look of the wood, which allows the longbow to continue looking new.
Laminated longbows are traditionally made out of two types of wood, in an effort to combine the tensile qualities and strengths of both. It's also a way to avoid the problems of quality in trying to get one piece of solid wood. Bamboo is commonly used in laminated bows for its flexibility, and can be combined with yew or hickory to give the bow greater versatility and strength. The Japanese prize bamboo for its flexibility and easy availability, allowing warriors to easily make or obtain bows. Other types of wood in laminated bows are lemonwood and hickory. Hickory is used for its strength, but benefits from being combined with the more flexible bamboo.