A bow is a weapon that projects arrows powered by its elasticity and a 50 pound bow can shoot an arrow up to 1 mile or more!
A longbow is a type of bow that is tall--roughly equal to the height of the person who uses it; this will allow its user a fairly long draw, at least to the jaw. A longbow is not significantly recurved. Its limbs are relatively narrow so that they are circular or D-shaped in cross section. Flatbows can be just as long; the difference is that, in cross-section, a flatbow has limbs that are approximately rectangular.
Longbows have been made from many different woods by many cultures; in Europe they date from the Paleolithic, and since the Bronze Age were made mainly from yew. The historical longbow was a self bow made of wood, but modern longbows may also be made from modern materials or by gluing different timbers together.
Organizations which run archery competitions have set out formal definitions for the various classes; many definitions of the longbow would exclude some medieval examples, materials, and techniques of use. According to the British Longbow Society, the English longbow is made so that its thickness is at least ⅝ (62.5%) of its width, as in Victorian longbows, and is widest at the handle. This differs from the Medieval longbow, which had a thickness between 33% and 75% of the width. Also, the Victorian longbow does not bend throughout the entire length, as does the medieval longbow. Longbows have been used for hunting and warfare, by many cultures around the world, a famous example being the English longbow, during the Middle Ages.
In the British Isles the weapon was first recorded as being used by the Welsh in AD 633, when Offrid, the son of Edwin, king of Northumbria, was killed by an arrow shot from a Welsh longbow during a battle between the Welsh and the Mercians—more than five centuries before any record of its military use in England. Despite this, the weapon is more commonly known as the "English longbow" than the "Welsh longbow".
In the Middle Ages the English and Welsh were famous for their very powerful Welsh longbows, used to great effect in the civil wars of the period and against the French in the Hundred Years' War (with notable success at the battles of Crécy (1346), Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415).
The first book in English about longbow archery was Toxophilus by Roger Ascham, first published in London in 1545 and dedicated to King Henry VIII.
The average length of arrowshafts recovered from the 1545 sinking of the Mary Rose is 75 cm/30 in.
Although firearms supplanted bows in warfare, wooden or fibreglass laminated longbows continue to be used by traditional archers and some tribal societies for recreation and hunting. A longbow has practical advantages compared to a modern recurve or compound bow; it is usually lighter, quicker to prepare for shooting, and shoots more quietly. However, other things being equal, the modern bow will shoot a faster arrow more accurately than the longbow.
A claymore and a longbow were the weapons carried by Lt. Col. Jack Churchill DSO, MC & BAR during World War II.
Because the longbow can be made from a single piece of wood, it can be crafted relatively easily and quickly. Amateur bowyers today can make a longbow in about ten to twenty hours, while highly skilled bowyers, such as those who produced medieval English longbows, can make wooden longbows in just a few hours.
One of the simpler longbow designs is known as the self bow, by definition made from a single piece of wood. Traditional English longbows are self bows made from yew wood. The bowstave is cut from the radius of the tree so that the sapwood (on the outside of the tree) becomes the back two thirds and the belly; the remaining one third is heartwood. Yew sapwood is good only in tension, while the heartwood is good in compression. However, compromises must be made when making a yew longbow, as it is difficult to find perfect unblemished yew. The demand for yew bowstaves was such that by the late 16th century mature yew trees were almost extinct in northern Europe. In other desirable woods such as Osage orange and mulberry the sapwood is almost useless and is normally removed entirely.
Longbows, because of their narrow limbs and rounded cross-section (which does not spread out stress within the wood as evenly as a flatbow’s rectangular cross section), need to be less powerful, longer or of more elastic wood than an equivalent flatbow. In Europe the last approach was used, with yew being the wood of choice, because of its high compressive strength, light weight and elasticity. Yew is the only widespread European timber that will make good self longbows, and has been the main wood used in European bows since Neolithic times. More common and cheaper hard woods, including elm, oak, hickory, ash, hazel and maple, are good for flatbows. A narrow longbow with high draw-weight can be made from these woods, but it is likely to take a permanent bend (known as "set" or "following the string") and would probably be outshot by an equivalent made of yew.
Wooden laminated longbows can be made by gluing together two or more different pieces of wood. Usually this is done to take advantage of the inherent properties of different woods: some woods can better withstand compression while others are better at withstanding tension. Examples include hickory and lemonwood, or bamboo and yew longbows: hickory or bamboo is used on the back of the bow (the part facing away from the archer when shooting) and so is in tension, while the belly (the part facing the archer when shooting) is made of lemonwood or yew and undergoes compression (see bending for a further explanation of stresses in a bending beam). Traditionally made Japanese yumi are also laminated longbows, made from strips of wood: the core of the bow is bamboo, the back and belly are bamboo or hardwood, and hardwood strips are laminated to the bow's sides to prevent twisting. Ready-made laminated longbows are available for purchase.
Any wooden bow must have gentle treatment and be protected from excessive damp or dryness. Wooden bows may shoot as well as fiberglass, but they are more easily dented or broken by abuse. Bows made of modern materials can be left strung for longer than wood bows, which may take a large amount of set if not unstrung immediately after use.
The longbow and its historical significance, arising from its effective use by the English and Welsh during the Hundred Years' War, have created a lasting legacy for the longbow, which has given its name to modern military equipment, including:
A bow string joins the two ends of the bow stave and launches the arrow. Desirable properties include light weight, strength, resistance to abrasion, and resistance to water. Mass has most effect at the center of the string; one gram of extra mass in the middle of the string slows the arrow about as much as 3.5 grams at the ends.
Most bow strings may be described as either simple, reverse-twisted, or looped.
Simple strings may be made of any fiber, twisted into a single cord. Such strings have been used in many parts of the world and are still effective and fairly quick to make. However, they tend to be weaker for their weight, and they may also come apart if not kept constantly under tension. They are normally secured to the bow by a knot at each end.
Reverse-twisted strings are traditional in Europe and North America for most natural materials. Linen and hemp fiber have been widely used. The form is also used for modern materials. A reverse-twisted string is made of separate bundles, each bundle individually twisted in one direction; the entire group of bundles is then twisted in the other direction. The result tends to be stronger for its weight than a simple or looped string, and holds together better than a simple string. Unlike some looped strings, the full thickness of the string passes around the nocks on the ends of the bow, where wear is usually greatest. Additional threads may also be laid in at the nocking points for the bow stave and for the arrow, which are sites of likely wear. The string may be secured to the bow by a knot at each end, usually a timber hitch, also known as the bowyer's knot.
The traditional "Flemish" string has a laid-in loop at one end, which is easier than most knots to fit over the nock of the bow when stringing and unstringing. It is more trouble to make; the short length, towards one end, that will form the loop is reverse-twisted first. The ends of each bundle are then laid into the main length of the bundles, which are reverse-twisted in turn. The Japanese bow string is made by reverse-twisting in different directions in the core and outer layers of the string. See Kyūdō.
Looped strings are made of one or more continuous loops of material. Modern strings are often made as a single continuous loop: this is then served to give the final form. Disadvantages include the lesser amount of fiber at the ends, where wear is most likely; this may be overcome by serving the string.
In many parts of Asia, traditional strings have a single loop in the center, with the ends made of separate lengths tied on using a special knot. This design allows extra fiber to be used at the ends, where weight is less important and wear more likely.
Traditional materials include linen, hemp, other vegetable fibers, sinew, silk, and rawhide. Almost any fiber may be used in emergency. Natural fibers would be very unusual on a modern recurve bow or compound bow, but are still effective and still used on traditional wooden or composite bows. Sinew and hide strings may be seriously affected by water.
Widely-used modern materials are stronger for their weight than any natural material, and most are unaffected by water. They include:
Dacron B50 - (strength per strand = 22.5 kg., stretch = 2.6%), a polyester material. Because of its durability and stretch, Dacron is commonly used on beginners' equipment, wooden bows, and older bows. The relatively high stretch causes less shock to the bow, which is an important consideration for wooden-handled recurves. Dacron strings are easy to maintain and can last several years.
Kevlar 7-11 - (strength per strand = 31.8 kg., stretch = 0.8%), also known as Aramid, is a polymer material with a higher density and smaller diameter than Dacron, which results in a faster arrow speed (approximately 2 metres per second faster). There are two problems with this material.][ First, its limited stretch causes increased stress in the bow limbs. Secondly, a Kevlar bowstring may only last 1000 shots before breaking as it tends to fatigue due to bending at the nocking point. Failure tends to be sudden rather than gradual.
Fastflight - (strength per strand = 45.5 kg., stretch = 1.0%), introduced in the 1990s, is a high modulus polyethylene material, also known as Spectra, which results in a "plastic" look and feel.][ It is very slippery, so the servings have to be wrapped very tightly to prevent sliding. Special serving material has been developed to help overcome this problem. Fastflight has largely displaced liquid crystal polymers like Kevlar for bowstrings as it is more durable and fails more gradually.][
In 2006, all US-based Spectra production facilities were requisitioned by the US Government, since Spectra is also used in body armor.][ Production of Spectra-based Fastflight has thus ceased, but the manufacturer (Brownell) has launched several alternatives, such as the Dyneema-based Fastflight Plus.
Fastflight S4 - (strength per strand = 73 kg., stretch = less than 1.0%) is made from a composite of 50% Fastflight and 50% Vectran making the strands thicker.][ Therefore approximately half the number of strands are required as for a Fastflight string. Vectran is a liquid crystal polymer similar to Kevlar. Mixing it with Fastflight avoids many of the durability problems associated with liquid crystal polymers.
Dyneema is a high modulus polyethylene material.][ It has very similar characteristics to Fastflight, though with a little more stretch. For this reason, many recurve shooters prefer Dyneema and find it more "forgiving" than Fastflight.
Serving a bow string refers to the use of an additional thread, commonly wrapped round the main string at the nocking points where abrasion is most likely, and also used on looped strings to keep the two sides of the loop together.
A composite bow is a bow made from horn, wood, and sinew laminated together. The horn is on the belly, facing the archer, and sinew on the back of a wooden core. When the bow is drawn, the sinew (stretched on the outside) and horn (compressed on the inside) store more energy than wood for the same length of bow. The strength can be made similar to that of all-wood "self" bows, with similar draw-length and therefore a similar amount of energy delivered to the arrow from a much shorter bow. However, a composite bow requires more different materials than a self bow, its construction takes much more time, and the finished bow is more sensitive to moisture.
Composite bows have been known from archaeology and art since the second millennium BCE, but their history is not well recorded as they were developed by cultures without a written tradition. They originated among Asiatic pastoralists who used them as daily necessities, classically for mounted archery although they can also be used on foot. Such bows spread among the military (and hunters) of civilizations that came into contact with nomad tribes; composite bows have been used across Asia from Korea to the Atlantic coasts of Europe and North Africa, and southwards in the Arabian peninsula and in India.
The details of manufacture varied between the various cultures that used them. Initially the tips of the limbs were made to bend when the bow was drawn. Later, the tips were stiffened with bone or antler laths; post-classical bows usually have stiff tips, siyahs, made as an integral part of the wooden core of the bow.
Like other bows, they lost importance with the introduction and increasing accuracy of guns. In some areas composite bows were still used and were further developed for leisure purposes. Later Turkish bows are specialized for flight archery (shooting for distance). Composite bows are still made and used in Korea and in China, and the tradition has been revived elsewhere.. Modern replicas are available, often made of fiberglass.
The wooden core gives the bow its shape and dimensional stability. It is often made of multiple pieces, joined with animal glue in V-splices, so the wood must accept glue well. Pieced construction allows the sharp bends that many designs require, and the use of woods with different mechanical properties for the bending and nonbending sections. The wood of the bending part of the limb ("dustar") must endure intense shearing stress, and denser woods such as hard maples are normally used in Turkish bows. Bamboo, and wood of the mulberry family, are traditional in China. Some composite bows have nonbending tips ("siyahs"), which need to be stiff and light; they may be made of woods such as Sitka spruce.
A thin layer of horn is glued on to what will be the belly of the bow, the side facing the archer. Water buffalo horn is very suitable, as is horn of several antelopes such as gemsbok, oryx, ibex, and that of Hungarian grey cattle. Goat and sheep horn can also be used. Most forms of cow horn are not suitable, as they soon delaminate with use. The horn can store more energy than wood in compression.
The sinew, soaked in animal glue, is then laid in layers on the back of the bow; the strands of sinew are oriented along the length of the bow. The sinew is normally obtained from the lower legs and back of wild deer or domestic ungulates. Traditionally, ox tendons are considered inferior to wild-game sinews since they have a higher fat content, leading to spoilage. Sinew will extend farther than wood, again allowing more energy storage.
Hide glue or gelatin made from fish gas bladders is used to attach layers of sinew to the back of the bow, and to attach the horn belly to the wooden core.
Stiffening laths, if used, are attached. Both horn and laths may be bound and glued with further lengths of sinew. After months of drying the bow is ready for use. Further finishing may include thin leather or waterproof bark, to protect the bow from moisture, and recent Turkish bows were often highly decorated with colourful paints and gold leaf.
Strings and arrows are essential parts of the weapon system, but no type of either is specifically associated with composite bows throughout their history.
The main advantage of composite bows over self bows (made from a single piece of wood) is their combination of smaller size with high power. They are therefore more convenient than self bows when the archer is mobile, as from horseback, or from a chariot. Almost all composite bows are also recurve bows as the shape curves away from the archer; this design gives higher draw-weight in the early stages of the archer's draw, storing somewhat more total energy for a given final draw-weight. It would be possible to make a wooden bow that has the same shape, length and draw-weight as a traditional composite bow, but it could not store the energy, and would break before full draw.
For most practical non-mounted archery purposes, composite construction offers no advantage; "the initial velocity is about the same for all types of bow... within certain limits, the design parameters... appear to be less important than is often claimed." However, they are superior for horsemen and in the specialized art of flight archery: "A combination of many technical factors made the composite flight bow better for flight shooting." The higher arrow velocity is only for well-designed composite bows of high draw-weight. At the weights more usual for modern amateurs, the greater density of horn and sinew compared to wood usually cancels any advantage.
Constructing composite bows requires much more time and a greater variety of materials than self bows, and the animal glue used can lose strength in humid conditions and be quickly ruined by submersion. An authority suggests that crafting a composite bow may take a week's work, excluding drying time (months) and gathering materials, while a self bow can be made in a day and dried in a week. Peoples living in humid or rainy regions historically have favoured self-bows, while those living in dry or arid regions have favoured composite bows.
Medieval Europeans favoured self bows as hand bows, but they made composite prods for crossbows. The prods were usually well protected from rain and humidity which are prevalent in much of Europe.
Bows of any kind seldom survive in the archaeological record. Composite bows may have been invented first by the nomads of the Asiatic steppe, who may have based it on earlier Northern Asian laminated bows. However, archaeological investigation of the Asiatic steppe is still limited and patchy; literary records of any kind are late and scanty and seldom mention details of bows. There are arrowheads from the earliest chariot burials at Krivoye Lake, part of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture about 2100–1700 BCE, but the bow that shot them has not survived. The Andronovo Culture, descendant of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture, was the first to extend from the Ural Mountains to Tian Shan, and its successor cultures gave rise to the Indo-Aryan migration.
Composite bows were soon adopted and adapted by civilizations who came into contact with nomads, such as the Chinese, Assyrian, and Egyptian. Several composite bows were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, who died in 1324 BCE. Composite bows (and chariots) are known in China from at least the Shang Dynasty (1700–1100 BCE). By the 4th century BCE, chariotry had ceased to have military importance, replaced by cavalry everywhere (except in Britannia where charioteers are not recorded as using bows).
The mounted archer became the archetypal warrior of the steppes and the composite bow was his archetypal weapon, used to protect the herds, in steppe warfare, and in incursions (notably those of the Huns, Magyars, Mongols, and Turks) into settled lands. Classic tactics for horse-mounted archers included skirmishing; they would approach, shoot, and retreat before any effective response could be made. The term Parthian shot refers to the widespread horse-archer tactic of shooting backwards over the rear of their horses as they retreated. Parthians inflicted heavy defeats on Romans, the first being the Battle of Carrhae. However, horse archers did not make an army invincible; Han General Ban Chao led successful military expeditions in the late 1st century CE that conquered as far as central Asia, and Alexander the Great defeated a horse archer army on his first contact with them. Well-led Roman armies defeated Parthian armies on several occasions and twice took the Parthian capital.
The infantry archers of classical Greece and the Roman Empire used composite bows. The military of the Han Dynasty (220 BCE–206 CE) utilized composite crossbows, often in infantry square formations, in their many engagements against the Xiongnu. The Battle of Lepanto (1571) was the last major use of composite archery by the Ottoman Empire.
The details of bow construction changed somewhat with time. It is not clear that the various developments of the composite bow led to measurable improvements; "the development of archery equipment may not be a process involving progressive improvements in performance. Rather, each design type represents one solution to the problem of creating a mobile weapon system capable of hurling lightweight projectiles."
Variants of the Scythian bow were the dominant form in Asia until approximately the first century BCE. These were short weapons - one was 119 cm long when strung, with arrows perhaps 50–60 cm long - with flexible, "working" tips; the wooden core was continuous from the centre to the tip.
From about the 4th century BCE, the use of stiffened ends on composite bows became widespread. The stiffened end of the bow is a "siyah" (Arabic), "szarv" (Hungarian), "sarvi" (Finnish; both 'sarvi' and 'szarv' mean 'horn') or "kasan" (Turkish); the bending section is a "dustar" (Arabic), "lapa" (Finnish) or "sal" (Turkish). For centuries, the stiffening was accomplished by attaching laths of bone or antler to the sides of the bow at its ends. The bone or antler strips are more likely to survive burial than the rest of the bow. The first bone strips suitable for this purpose come from "graves of the fourth or third centuries" BCE. These stiffeners are found associated with nomads of the time. Maenchen-Helfen states that they are not found in Achaemenid Persia, nor in early Imperial Rome, nor in Han China. However Coulston attributes Roman stiffeners to about or before 9 CE. He identifies a Steppe Tradition of Scythian bows with working tips, which lasted, in Europe, until the arrival of the Huns, and a Near East or Levantine tradition with siyahs, possibly introduced by the Parni as siyahs are found in Sassanid but not Achaemenid contexts. Siyahs have also been described from the Arabian peninsula. Composite bows were adopted by the Roman Empire and were made even in the cold and damp of Britannia. They were the normal weapon of later Roman archers, both infantry and cavalry units (although Vegetius recommends training recruits "arcubus ligneis", with wooden bows).
A new bow type, in which bone reinforcements cover the handle of the bow as well as the tips, may have developed in Central Asia during the 3rd to 2nd century BCE, with earliest finds from the area of Lake Baikal. Fittings from this type of bow appear right across Asia from Korea to the Crimea. Such bows with reinforcement of both grip and siyahs have been called “Hun,” “Hunnic” or “Hsiung-nu” composite bow. Huns did use such bows, but so did many other peoples; Rausing termed this type the 'Qum-Darya Bow' from the Han Chinese type-site at the frontier post of Loulan, at the mouth of the Qum Darya river, dated by analogy between c. 1st century BCE and the 3rd century CE.
With the arrival of the Huns, this tradition of bows with stiffened grips arrived in Europe. "Alanic graves in the Volga region dating to the 3rd to 4th century CE signal the adoption of the Qum-Darya type by Sarmatian peoples from Hunnic groups advancing from the East. In general, Hunnic/Qum-Darya bows had two pairs of ear laths identical in every respect to those found on Roman limes sites. The ear laths show only a greater proportion of longer laths (like those of Roman examples from Bar Hill and London). More distinctively, the grip of the bow was stiffened by three laths. On the sides were glued a pair of trapezoidal laths with their longest edges towards the back. On the belly was glued a third lath, varying in shape but often narrow with parallel sides and splayed ends. Therefore, each bow possessed seven grip and ear laths, compared with none on the Scythian and Sarmatian bows and four (ear) laths on the Yrzi bow."
Such bows were often asymmetric, with lower limbs shorter than the upper.
The Huns and their successors greatly impressed their neighbours with their archery. Germanic tribes transmitted their respect orally for a millennium; in the Scandinavian Hervarar saga, the Geatish king Gizur taunts the Huns and says, "Eigi gera Húnar oss felmtraða né hornbogar yðrir." (We fear neither the Huns nor their hornbows.) The Romans, as described in the Strategikon, Procopius's histories, and other works, changed the entire emphasis of their army, from heavy infantry to cavalry, many of them armed with bows. Maurikios's Strategikon describes the Byzantine cavalry as bow-armed cursores and lance-armed defensores.
The Qum-Darya bow was superseded in the modern area of Hungary by an 'Avar' type, with more and differently-shaped laths. The grip laths stayed essentially the same except that a fourth piece was sometimes glued to the back of the handle enclosing it with bone on all four faces. The belly lath was often parallel-sided with splayed ends. The siyah laths became much wider in profile above the nock and less rounded, giving a bulbous aspect. The nock was often further away from the upper end of the siyah than on Qum-Darya type examples. Additional laths were usually added to the belly and back of the siyah thus enclosing both ends of the stave on four faces. This made a total of up to 12 laths on an asymmetrical bow with stiff, set back handle. Examples measured in situ suggest bow lengths of 120–140 cm. When unstrung the siyahs reversed sharply forward at an angle of 50-60 degrees.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, armies of the Byzantine Empire maintained their tradition of horse archery for centuries. Byzantium finally fell to the Turks before the decline of military archery in favour of guns. Turkish armies included archers until about 1591 (they played a major role in the Battle of Lepanto (1571), and flight archery remained a popular sport in Istanbul until the early 19th century. Most surviving documentation of the use and construction of composite bows comes from China and the Middle East; until reforms early in the 20th century, skill with the composite bow was an essential part of the qualification for officers in the Chinese Imperial army.
The composite bow was adopted throughout the Arab world, even though some Bedu tribesmen in the Hijaz retained the use of simple self bows. Persian designs were used after the conquest of the Sassanid Empire, and Turkish-type bows were widely used after the Turkic expansions. Roughly speaking, Arabs favoured slightly shorter siyahs and broader limbs than the Indo-Persian designs. Sometimes the protective cover on the back was painted with Arab calligraphy or geometric patterns. No design was standardized over the vast area of the Arab conquests. It was said that the best Arab composite bows were manufactured in Damascus, Syria. The first surviving treatise on composite bow construction and archery was written in Arabic under Mamluk rule about 1368.
Later developments in the composite bow included siyahs made of separate pieces of wood, attached with a V-splice to the wooden core of the bow, rather than strengthened by external reinforcement. Mediaeval and modern bows generally have integral wooden siyahs and lack stiffening laths.
A string "bridge" or "run" is an attachment of horn or wood, used to hold the string a little further apart from the bow's limbs at the base of the siyahs, as well as allowing the siyah to rest at an angle forward of the string. This attachment may add weight, but might give a small increase in the speed of the arrow by increasing the initial string angle and therefore the force of the draw in its early stages. Large string bridges are characteristic of Manchu (Qing dynasty, 1644–1911) bows and late Mongolian bows, while small string bridges are characteristic of Korean, Crimean Tatar, and some Ming dynasty (1368–1644) bows. String bridges are not present in artwork in the time of Genghis Khan or before.
All Eurasian composite bows derive from the same nomad origins, but every culture that used them has made its own adaptations to the basic design. The Turkish, Mongolian, and Korean bows were standardized when archery lost its military function and became a popular sport. Recent Turkish bows are optimized for flight shooting.
This is the Ottoman development of the composite bow, presumably brought from the steppes. Turkish bows evolved, after the decline of military archery, into probably the best traditional flight bows. Their decoration often included delicate and beautiful multicoloured designs with gold.
For millennia, archery has played a pivotal role in Chinese history. Because the cultures associated with Chinese society spanned a wide geography and time range, the techniques and equipment associated with Chinese archery are diverse. Historical sources and archaeological evidence suggest that a variety of bow designs existed throughout Chinese history. For much of the 20th century, only one Chinese traditional bow and arrow making workshop was active. However, in the beginning of the 21st century, there has been revival in interest among craftsmen looking to construct bows and arrows in the traditional Chinese style.
The Mongolian tradition of archery is attested by an inscription on a stone stele that was found near Nerchinsk in Siberia: "While Genghis Khan was holding an assembly of Mongolian dignitaries, after his conquest of Sartaul (Khwarezm), Yesüngge (the son of Genghis Khan's brother) shot a target at 335 alds (536 m)." The Mongol bowmaking tradition was lost under the Manchus, who forbade archery; the present bowmaking tradition emerged after independence in 1921 and is based on Manchu types of bow. Mounted archery had fallen into disuse and has been revived only in the 21st century.
Archery with composite bows is part of the annual festival of the three virile sports (Wrestling, Horseriding, Archery), called "Naadam".
The Hungarian bow is a fairly long, approximately symmetrical, composite reflex bow with bone stiffeners. Its shape is known from two graves in which the position of the bone plates could be reconstructed. Modern Hungarians have attempted to reconstruct the composite bows of their ancestors and have revived mounted archery as a competitive sport.
A traditional modern Korean bow, or gakgung, is a small but very efficient horn-bamboo-sinew composite bow. Korean archers normally practice at a range of approximately 145 metres.
The Perso-Parthian bow is a symmetric recurve under high tension when strung. The "arms" of the bow are supposed to reflex far enough to cross each other when the bow is unstrung. The finished bow is covered by bark, fine leather, or in some cases shark skin to keep out moisture.
Perso-Parthian bows were in use as late as the 1820s in Persia (ancient Iran). They were then replaced by muskets.
When Europeans first contacted Native Americans, some bows, especially in the area that became California, already had sinew backing. After the reintroduction of horses, newly mounted groups rapidly developed shorter bows, which were often given sinew backing. The full three-layer composite bow with horn, wood, and sinew does not seem to be recorded in the Americas, and horn bows with sinew backing are not recorded before European contact.
Modern replicas of traditional composite bows are commercially available; they are usually made with fibreglass on both belly and back, easier to mass-produce and easier to take care of than traditional composite bows.
Other less satisfactory materials than horn have been used for the belly of the bow (the part facing the archer when shooting), including bone, antler, or compression-resistant woods such as osage orange, hornbeam, or yew. Materials that are strong under tension, such as silk, or tough wood, like hickory, have been used on the back of the bow (the part facing away from the archer when shooting).
A self bow is a bow made from a single piece of wood. Extra material such as horn nocks on the ends, or built-up handles, would normally be accepted as part of a self bow. Some modern authorities would also accept a bow spliced together in the handle from two pieces of wood.
An effective self bow can be made from widely-available local material in most inhabited parts of the world, with limited tools whose functions include chopping, shaving, and scraping. A day of work may be needed, as against a week for a composite bow which requires also a much greater range of materials and skills. However self bows must be long, approximately the height of the archer, if they are to allow a long draw, and they are less efficient in the specialized art of flight archery. The higher arrow velocity is only for well-designed composite bows of high draw-weight. At the weights more usual for modern amateurs, the greater density of horn and sinew compared to wood usually cancels any advantage. "A combination of many technical factors made the composite flight bow better for flight shooting..." For most practical non-mounted archery purposes, self bows can perform as well as composite; "the initial velocity is about the same for all types of bow... within certain limits, the design parameters... appear to be less important than is often claimed."
In many parts of the world including much of Africa, the Americas, northern Europe, and Southern Asia, the great majority of traditional bows are self bows. The first bow artifacts, the Stellmoor and Holmegaard artifacts of Northern Europe, are self bows. The Stellmoor bow was made from the heartwood of a Scots Pine while the oldest Holmegaard bows were carved from small-diameter elms. In primitive flight archery competitions, bows inspired by the design of the Holmegaard bows perform very well because of their light, non-bending tips.
In most inhabited areas, common timbers can be made into high-quality self bows. The pieces must be long enough (approximately the height of the archer), and the grain must be sufficiently straight. Denser timbers normally store energy better and can be made into narrower bows with less effort – high-quality yew allows for particularly narrow self bows, such as the traditional European version of the longbow. The Eastern Woodlands tribes of North America used hickory, tribes in parts of the Midwestern United States osage orange, Native Americans of the west coast used short, wide, recurved bows made of American Pacific Yew, Brazilian rainforest tribes used palm wood, and many others. In Europe and North America, common woods such as maple, ash, elm, and oak will make excellent flat bows, and are far easier to obtain than good-quality yew.
The fibres on the back of a self bow must be, so far as possible, continuous. This may be achieved by using the outer, under-bark surface of the tree as the back of the bow (convenient with most white woods), by the painstaking process of removing outer growth rings (often used with yew and osage orange), or by making or following a cut or split surface which happens to have continuous grain (a usual approach if starting with commercially sawn wood).
The density of timber correlates well with its ability to store energy as it is bent. Denser timbers can make narrower bows. The same design for less dense timbers will result in the bow taking excessive set/string follow, or even breaking. However, equally effective bows may be made from less dense timber by making them wider near the centre. The mass of equivalent bows will be closely similar whatever the density of wood; approximately the same mass of wood is required whatever the density of the timber.
The overall length of bending wood must be about 2.3 times the draw length. Narrow bows (known as "longbows") can bend in the handle. Wider bows (known as "flatbows") must be narrow in the handle if they are to be practical, but the handle must be made thicker so as not to bend, and the complete bow will therefore tend to be longer.
Self bows may be of any side-view profile; moderate recurving can often be achieved with heat and force.
A bow's cast is the distance it can shoot an arrow in archery.
There are many different kinds of bow shapes. However, most fall into three main categories: straight, recurve and compound. Straight and recurve are considered traditional bows. In archery, the shape of the bow is usually taken to be the view from the side. It is the product of the complex relationship of material stresses, designed by a bowyer. This shape, viewing the limbs, is designed to take into account the construction materials, the performance required, and the intended use of the bow.
If a limb is 'straight' its effective length remains the same as the bow is drawn. That is, the string goes directly to the nock in the strung (braced) position. The materials must withstand these stresses, store the energy, and rapidly give back that energy efficiently. Many bows, especially traditional self bows, are made approximately straight in side-view profile. Longbows as used by English Archers in the Middle Ages at such battles as Crecy and Agincourt were straight limb bows.
A recurve bow has tips that curve away from the archer when the bow is strung. By definition, the difference between recurve and other bows is that the string touches a section of the limb when the bow is strung. Recurve bows made out of composite materials were used by, among other groups, the Scythians, Hyksos, Magyars, Huns, Turks, Mongols, and Chinese.
The unqualified phrase "recurve bow" or just "a recurve" in modern archery circles usually refers to a typical modern recurve bow, as used by archers in the Olympics and many other competitive events. A reflex bow is a bow that has curved or curled arms which turn away from the archer throughout their length.
If a limb is 'straight' its effective length remains the same as the bow is drawn. That is, the string goes directly to the nock in the strung (braced) position. When the limb is recurved (tip of limb away from the archer), the string touches the limb before it gets to the nock. The effective length of the limb, as the draw commences, is therefore shorter. However, as the bow is drawn, the recurve 'unwinds', the limb becomes effectively longer, and the mechanical advantage of the archer increases. Counter to this, stresses are building up in the materials of the limbs. The belly of the bow (nearest the archer) is in compression, the back (furthest away from the archer) is in tension, and the line between is in shear.
The materials must withstand these stresses, store the energy, and rapidly give back that energy efficiently. The amount of energy stored is determined by the stresses withstood and the shape of the limb, from the unstrung position to strung (consider as pre-stressed), then de-formed further to full draw as the recurve unwinds. These basic principles of changing mechanical advantage, to efficiently store more energy, and deliver it to accelerate the arrow, were clearly understood in antiquity, as shown by the examples that follow.
Many bows, especially traditional self bows, are made approximately straight in side-view profile. They are generally referred to as straight, despite the minor curves of natural wood and the "set" or curvature that a wooden bow takes after use. When the archer commences the draw, mechanical advantage is at its greatest and the bow limbs are only pre-stressed to the strung position; therefore drawing weight is at a minimum. However, the drawing weight rapidly increases because mechanical advantage reduces (consider the string is pulling more and more directly on the limbs) and stresses are building up in the limbs. Consequently, drawing weight 'stacks' (very rapidly increases). On release, the reverse happens, the arrow is accelerated by maximum force, and this force rapidly decreases. Hence, the arrow must be sturdy enough to withstand such acceleration and, as the string may decelerate, it is possible for the arrow to leave the string prematurely, which is inefficient.
Longbows as used by English Archers in the Middle Ages at such battles as Crecy and Agincourt were straight limb bows. Usually made of yew, these bows were used to great effect by many archers shooting together in massed volleys. The arrows were long and heavy ('clothyard shafts') with armour piercing 'bodkin' heads. Practice for such long range warfare survives today in a Clout shoot, named after a type of shirt.
A recurve bow has tips that curve away from the archer when the bow is strung. By definition, the difference between recurve and other bows is that the string touches a section of the limb when the bow is strung. A recurve bow stores more energy and delivers energy more efficiently than an equivalent straight-limbed bow, giving a greater amount of energy and speed to the arrow. A recurve will permit a shorter bow than the simple straight limb bow for a given arrow energy and this form was often preferred by archers in environments where long weapons could be cumbersome, such as in brush and forest terrain, or while on horseback.
Recurved limbs also put greater strain on the materials used to make the bow, and they may make more noise with the shot. Extreme recurves make the bow unstable when being strung. An unstrung recurve bow can have a confusing shape and many Native American weapons, when separated from their original owners and cultures, were incorrectly strung backwards and destroyed when attempts were made to shoot them.
Recurve bows made out of composite materials were used by, among other groups, the Scythians, Hyksos, Magyars, Huns, Greeks, Turks, Mongols, and Chinese. The recurve bow spread to Egypt and much of Asia in the second millennium BC. Presumably][ Greek and Phoenician influence would have introduced the recurve form to the rest of the Mediterranean region. The standard weapon of Roman imperial archers was a composite recurve, and the stiffening laths (also called siyah in Arabic/Asian bows and szarv (horns) in Hungarian bows) used to form the actual recurved ends have been found on Roman sites throughout the Empire, as far north as Bar Hill on the Antonine Wall in Scotland. During the Middle Ages composite recurve bows were used in the drier European countries; the all-wooden straight longbow was the normal form in wetter areas. Recurve bows depicted in the British Isles (see illustrations in "The Great War Bow") may have been composite weapons, or wooden bows with ends recurved by heat and force, or simply artistic licence. Many North American bows were recurved, especially West Coast bows. Recurve bows went out of widespread use, for war, with the availability of effective firearms. Self bows, composite bows, and laminated bows using the recurve form are still made and used by bowyers and amateur and professional archers.
The unqualified phrase "recurve bow" or just "a recurve" in modern archery circles usually refers to a typical modern recurve bow, as used by archers in the Olympics and many other competitive events. It employs advanced technologies and materials. The limbs are usually made from multiple layers of fiberglass, carbon and/or wood on a core of carbon foam or wood. The riser (the centre section of the bow) is generally separate and is constructed from wood, carbon, aluminium alloy or magnesium alloy. The term 'riser' is used because, in a one-piece bow, the centre section rises from the limbs in a taper to spread the stress. Several manufacturers produce risers made of carbon fibre (with metal fittings) or aluminium with carbon fibre. Risers for beginners are usually made of wood or plastic. The synthetic materials allow economic, predictable manufacture for consistent performance. The greater mass of a modern bow is in itself an aid to stability, and therefore to accuracy. It should be remembered, however, that accuracy is also related to a bow's draw weight, as well as how well an archer handles it. It's therefore imperative, particularly for beginner archers, to never overestimate their capabilities, and to choose a draw weight that is appropriate for their body build and level of experience.
The modern recurve is the only form of bow permitted in the Olympics (though the Compound bow is permitted in some categories at the Paralympic Games) and is the most widely used by European and Asian sporting archers.
The modern Olympic-style recurve is a development of the American Flatbow, with rectangular-section limbs that taper towards the limb tips. Most recurves today are "take-down" bows—that is, the limbs can be detached from the riser for ease of transportation and storage, and for interchangeability. Older recurves and some modern hunting recurves are one-piece bows. Hunters often prefer one-piece bows over take-down bows because the limb pockets on take-down bows can be a source of noise while drawing.
Archers often have many other pieces of equipment attached to their recurve bows, such as:
A reflex bow is a bow that has curved or curled arms which turn away from the archer throughout their length. When unstrung, the entire length of the bow curves forward from the belly (away from the archer), resembling a "C"; this differentiates a reflex bow from a recurve bow in which only the outer parts of the limbs turn away from the archer. The curves put the materials of the bow under greater stress, allowing a fairly short bow to have a high draw weight and a long draw length. The materials and workmanship must be of high quality. Highly-reflexed bows are more difficult to string and may reverse themselves suddenly; they have seldom been used for hunting. However, they were the main armament of the Mongol armies that conquered much of Asia and Europe; their short profile compared to longer bows made them ideal for horseback use.
Bows of traditional materials with significant reflex are almost all composite bows, made of the classic three layers of horn, wood, and sinew; they are a variant of the recurve form normally used for such bows. Highly reflexed composite bows are still used in Korea and were common in Turkish and Indian traditional archery.
There is an interesting section in Homer's Odyssey when the suitors attempt to string Odysseus' bow and are unable to do so, whereas Odysseus is able to string it without standing up. A reflex bow is almost impossible to string unless one knows the technique and is easiest to string from a sitting position. This passage has been suggested as evidence that reflex bows were just beginning to spread into the Aegean area at the time of writing.
A decurve bow is a bow that has arms curved or curled at the ends to turn towards the archer. This bow form reduces the strain on the bow when it is used, and the bow may be under no tension at all when strung, so that it can be kept ready for immediate use at all times. It also reduces the energy stored in the bow, and the speed of the arrow. The form is seldom used in modern or historical bows, but was occasionally used by groups such as the Mohave who did not have easy access to good quality bow wood. It allowed them to make effective hunting weapons from the poor-quality material available.
A deflex bow is a bow that has arms curved or curled at the base, to turn towards the archer when unstrung. This bow form reduces the strain on the limbs and also the energy stored by the weapon. Most modern recurve bows are built with some degree of deflex. It has been used occasionally in traditional bows, for example to make a bow that looks like a traditional hornbow without using any actual horn.
The compound bow, not to be confused with a composite bow, is a modern bow that uses a levering system, usually of cables and pulleys, to bend the limbs.The limbs of a compound bow are much stiffer than those of a recurve bow or longbow. This limb stiffness makes the compound bow more energy-efficient than other bows, in conjunction with the pulley/cams. The compound bow has its string applied to pulleys (cams), and one or both of the pulleys have one or more cables attached to the opposite limb. When the string is drawn back, the string causes the pulleys to turn. When the draw commences, the archer has reduced mechanical advantage, but during the draw, as the pulley cams rotate, and the archer gains mechanical advantage over the bending limbs, more energy is stored, in comparison to other bows.
Bows usually taper from the handle to the tips. Tapering reduces mass in the outer limb and dissipates the limb stresses; this increases the speed at which the tips move which propels arrows faster. Shapes may be optimized for various purposes, especially maximum speed of the arrow; the details are the subject of active research.
Narrow bows normally taper uniformly. However, the taper of flatbows varies. The working limbs of "paddle" bows maintain width for almost the entire limb length, "pyramid" bows taper uniformly from the handle to a narrow tip, and "Holmegaard-style" bows remain full width to about two-thirds of the way along the limb, then narrow sharply. "Eiffel Tower" bows taper sharply, but smoothly, to a very narrow outer tip.
The optimal cross-section of the bending section of a bow limb is rectangular, and almost all modern bows have such limbs. However, many, perhaps most, traditional bows have had a cross-section closer to circular, with every possible variation being used at some point. Current definitions of the traditional longbow require approximations of a D-shaped cross section.
Bow and arrow
An arrow is a shafted projectile that is shot with a bow. It predates recorded history and is common to most cultures. An arrow usually consists of a shaft with an arrowhead attached to the front end, with fletchings and a nock at the other.
In 2010, during an excavation at the Sibudu Cave in South Africa, led by Professor Lyn Wadley from the University of the Witwatersrand, researchers discovered the earliest direct evidence of human-made arrowheads: 64,000-year-old stone points which may have been shot from a bow. These had remnants of blood and bone, confirming their use in hunting.
Arrow sizes vary greatly across cultures, ranging from eighteen inches to five feet (45 cm to 150 cm). However, most modern arrows are 75 centimetres (30 in) to 96 centimetres (38 in); most war arrows from an English ship sunk in 1545 were 76 centimetres (30 in). Very short arrows have been used, shot through a guide attached either to the bow (an "overdraw") or to the archer's wrist (the Turkish "siper"). These may fly farther than heavier arrows, and an enemy without suitable equipment may find himself unable to return them.
The shaft is the primary structural element of the arrow, to which the other components are attached. Traditional arrow shafts are made from lightweight wood, bamboo or reeds, while modern shafts may be made from aluminium, carbon fibre reinforced plastic, or composite materials. Composite shafts are typically made from an aluminium core wrapped with a carbon fibre outer.
The stiffness of the shaft is known as its spine, referring to how little the shaft bends when compressed. Hence, an arrow which bends less is said to have more spine. In order to strike consistently, a group of arrows must be similarly spined. "Center-shot" bows, in which the arrow passes through the central vertical axis of the bow riser, may obtain consistent results from arrows with a wide range of spines. However, most traditional bows are not center-shot and the arrow has to deflect around the handle in the archer's paradox; such bows tend to give most consistent results with a narrower range of arrow spine that allows the arrow to deflect correctly around the bow. Higher draw-weight bows will generally require stiffer arrows, with more spine (less flexibility) to give the correct amount of flex when shot.
The weight of an arrow shaft can be expressed in GPI (Grains Per Inch). The length of a shaft in inches multiplied by its GPI rating gives the weight of the shaft in grains. For examle, a shaft that is 30 inches long and has a GPI of 9.5 weighs 285 grains, or about 18.468 grams. This does not include the other elements of a finished arrow, so a complete arrow will be heavier than the shaft alone.
Sometimes a shaft will be made of two different types of wood fastened together, resulting in what is known as a footed arrow. Known by some as the finest of wood arrows, footed arrows were used both by early Europeans and Native Americans. Footed arrows will typically consist of a short length of hardwood near the head of the arrow, with the remainder of the shaft consisting of softwood. By reinforcing the area most likely to break, the arrow is more likely to survive impact, while maintaining overall flexibility and lighter weight.
The arrowhead or projectile point is the primary functional part of the arrow, and plays the largest role in determining its purpose. Some arrows may simply use a sharpened tip of the solid shaft, but it is far more common for separate arrowheads to be made, usually from metal, horn, or some other hard material. Arrowheads are usually separated by function:
There are two main types of broadheads used by hunters: The fixed-blade and the mechanical types. While the fixed-blade broadhead keeps its blades rigid and unmovable on the broadhead at all times, the mechanical broadhead deploys its blades upon contact with the target, its blades swinging out to wound the target. The mechanical head flies better because it is more streamlined, but has less penetration as it uses some of the kinetic energy in the arrow to deploy its blades.
Arrowheads may be attached to the shaft with a cap, a socketed tang, or inserted into a split in the shaft and held by a process called hafting. Points attached with caps are simply slid snugly over the end of the shaft, or may be held on with hot glue. Split-shaft construction involves splitting the arrow shaft lengthwise, inserting the arrowhead, and securing it using a ferrule, sinew, or wire.
Fletchings are found at the back of the arrow and act as airfoils to provide a small amount of force used to stabilize the flight of the arrow. They are designed to keep the arrow pointed in the direction of travel by strongly damping down any tendency to pitch or yaw. Some cultures, for example most in New Guinea, did not use fletching on their arrows.
Fletchings are traditionally made from feathers (often from a goose or turkey) bound to the arrow's shaft, but are now often made of plastic (known as "vanes"). Historically, some arrows used for the proofing of armour used copper vanes. Flight archers may use razor blades for fletching, in order to reduce air resistance. With conventional three-feather fletching, one feather, called the "cock" feather, is at a right angle to the nock, and is normally nocked so that it will not contact the bow when the arrow is shot. Four-feather fletching is usually symmetrical and there is no preferred orientation for the nock; this makes nocking the arrow slightly easier.
Artisans who make arrows by hand are known as "fletchers," a word related to the French word for arrow, flèche. This is the same derivation as the verb "fletch", meaning to provide an arrow with its feathers. Glue and/or thread are the main traditional methods of attaching fletchings. A "fletching jig" is often used in modern times, to hold the fletchings in exactly the right orientation on the shaft while the glue hardens.
Whenever natural fletching is used, the feathers on any one arrow must come from the same side of the bird. The slight twist in natural feathers then makes the arrow rotate in flight, which increases accuracy. Artificial helical fletchings have the same effect. Most arrows will have three fletches, but some have four or even more. Fletchings generally range from two to six inches (152 mm) in length; flight arrows intended to travel the maximum possible distance typically have very low fletching, while hunting arrows with broadheads require long and high fletching to stabilize them against the aerodynamic effect of the head. Fletchings may also be cut in different ways, the two most common being parabolic (i.e. a smooth curved shape) and shield (i.e. shaped as one-half of a very narrow shield) cut.
A flu-flu is a form of fletching, normally made by using long sections of full length feathers taken from a turkey, in most cases six or more sections are used rather than the traditional three. Alternatively two long feathers can be spiraled around the end of the arrow shaft. The extra fletching generates more drag and slows the arrow down rapidly after a short distance, about 30 m or so][.
Flu-Flu arrows are often used for hunting birds, or for children's archery, and can also be used to play Flu-Flu Golf.
The nock is a notch in the rearmost end of the arrow. It serves to keep the arrow in place on the string as the bow is being drawn. Nocks may be simple slots cut in the back of the arrow, or separate pieces made from wood, plastic, or horn that are then attached to the end of the arrow. Modern nocks, and traditional Turkish nocks, are often constructed so as to curve around the string or even pinch it slightly, so that the arrow is unlikely to slip off. In English it is common to say "nock an arrow" or "notch an arrow," when one readies a shot.
The bow and arrow is a projectile weapon system (a bow with arrows) that predates recorded history and is common to most cultures. Archery is the art, practice, or skill of applying it.
A compound bow is a modern bow that uses a levering system, usually of cables and pulleys, to bend the limbs.
The limbs of a compound bow are much stiffer than those of a recurve bow or longbow. This limb stiffness makes the compound bow more energy-efficient than other bows, in conjunction with the pulley/cams. The compound bow has its string applied to pulleys (cams), and one or both of the pulleys have one or more cables attached to the opposite limb. When the string is drawn back, the string causes the pulleys to turn. When the draw commences, the archer has reduced mechanical advantage, but during the draw, as the pulley cams rotate, the (limb plus cam radius) distance gets longer, and the archer gains mechanical advantage over the bending limbs, and less force is needed to bend the limbs more, in comparison to other bows.