Bow and Arrow

I made a bow and arrows in the wild using only natural materials and primitive tools I’d made previously from scratch (as usual). The tools used were a celt stone hatchet, a stone chisel, various stone blades and fire sticks.

The stave began as a small tree (probably northern olive) about 5 cm (2 inches) in diameter which I cut to a length of 1.25 m (50 inches) using a celt hatchet. I don’t know the name of the timber but it’s very common here and is the same type I use for axe handles. I then split the stave in two using a stone chisel and mallet. Selecting one stave, I began shaping the bow. The stave twisted slightly along its length so using the chisel I split off wood at the ends of the stave but on opposite sides. This then gave a straight, flat stave. From this point I began narrowing the width and to a lesser extent the depth of the bow limbs so they tapered towards the tips of the bow limbs. This was done using the chisel, a large chopping stone and smaller scraping stones only removing wood from the belly and side of the bow. Importantly, the back of the bow was not cut at all as this would cause it to break under stress. The bark was even left on to help protect the back of the bow from accidental cuts and scrapes. At the middle of the bow I narrowed the width of the bow slightly to form a handle about 12.5 cm long. Importantly, I did not narrow the depth of the bow as this would weaken it. This narrow handle section is not essential but makes the bow easier to grip and puts the arrow closer to the center of the bow. Simple string nocks were then carved into the sides of the tips of the bow. I cut and split the wood in one afternoon, and did the rest the next day (in other words it only took about a day to make).

I made the string for the bow using the bark from a fast growing tree that grows in disturbed rain-forest clearings. The tree is a pioneer species that grows quickly with weak timber but strong bark fiber. Note in the video that the tree I took already has a new shoot and so will grow another branch from the stump. The bark was stripped and shredded. The next day I twisted the thin strips of fiber into cordage. To make cordage, two strands of fiber are individually twisted in (say) a clockwise direction but are then twisted together in an anti-clockwise direction. This way the individual strands want to unravel in one direction but can’t because they are twisted together in the opposite direction.

Next I strung up the bow. Note in the video that limb on the right side of the screen bends more than the left limb. To fix this, I left the bow strung up and scraped wood off the belly of the limb that bent the least, a process called tillering. This caused the limb to bend more so that it roughly mirrored the other limb. More tillering was done to make the limbs bend evenly along their length. If a limb bends unevenly in one spot a hinge can develop and puts uneven amounts of stress on the limb possibly causing it to break. The result of my efforts was a reasonably symmetrical bow without any obvious hinging.

For the arrows I used small saplings between 6 and 8 mm in diameter and cut to a length of 60 cm. The bark was scraped off because it would otherwise come off with use in an irregular manner causing an uneven shape effecting its flight. A notch was carved in the back of each arrow with a stone blade deep enough to accept the bow string. If the notches are not deep enough the arrow can come off the string while releasing causing a misfire. The tip of the arrow was charred in a fire and sharpened against a rock. The fire hardens the wood and makes it easier to sharpen as charred wood scrapes off with ease. The fletching was made from the feathers of a bush turkey picked up from the ground (no turkeys were harmed in the making of this video). One feather fletched one arrow each. The feather was split in half and cut into three lengths. Each fletch had the front and back reduced to its spine to be tied onto the shaft. Tree resin was used to hold the fletching one and thin pieces of bark fibre were used to lash the fletching down. Finally, the fletching was neatly trimmed using a hot coal from the fire, melting the feather to shape rather than cutting it. Each arrow took about 1 hour to make not including the time spent looking for shafts. A quiver to hold the arrows was also made from bark.

It’s noteworthy that all the shooting in this video was done less than a week after cutting the wood meaning the bow was still green. Ideally the wood should be left to season or dry out before use. I cleared a shooting range in a clearing with a bank behind it to catch stray arrows. The target was a partially rotten log so that the arrows wouldn’t get damaged too much. The shooting was done at a distance of 10 m. At this range accuracy was a bit more than 50% with reasonable force behind the shots. Accuracy would probably improve with practice and consistently made arrows. The arrows embedded themselves strongly into the wood and were difficult to remove. The string was fairly durable. I made two strings for the bow. During my practice I had the string break only 3 times while firing the arrows 200 or 300 times.

I don’t know the draw weight of this bow but it’s probably at least 15 kg (35 pounds) if not greater (I made a similar, smaller bow at home and hung a 15 kg weight that drew 33 cm). The short size of the bow (1.25m) made it easy to construct and easy to find a straight piece of wood. The string is short and also easy to make with less places to break. The 60 cm (2 foot) long arrows are short like the bow, making it easy to find straight shafts. The method of splitting the stave saved effort in removing wood as opposed to carving a bow from a log. The cross section of the bow limbs are rectangular and are less likely to break than a round cross section. The stress on the back of the bow is spread wider with a rectangular cross section than a round one. Short bows tend to shoot with high velocity too.

Hunting is heavily restricted here in Australia to conserve our native fauna. I have not hunted any animals and made the bow simply as an exercise in primitive technology. However I’ll attempt to address the question of the effectiveness as a hunting weapon. In the video I got footage of a scrub turkey standing about 5 m away. At this range most people could most certainly hit a target of that size with minimal practice. The arrow would certainly pierce it and it would provide a good meal and lots feathers for fletching new arrows, justifying the effort used to make a bow. For larger game such as pigs it could work probably at a range of 10 m provided aim was perfect and the arrows were very sharp. This weapon is definitely more accurate than a sling for a beginner and would probably be more reliable though it takes more time to make.