Longbow - The Bow
Lets start with the bow.
Nowadays, bows can be made not only from one piece of wood (a self bow) but also by glueing layers of wood together (laminated). These can be in 3 or 4 laminates depending on your shooting style and preference.
A self-bow is made from one piece of wood, or stave as it is known. Probably the best and most commonly type of wood used for this is Yew. Bows from medieval times would have been self-bows and generally made from Yew or Ash.
Bows that have more than one piece of wood are constructed so that each section compliments the others. On a 3 laminate bow, the 3 pieces of wood are called different things. The wood on the face of the bow, which is the one which would be nearest the target if pointing it in that direction, is actually called the “back”. Therefore, when you hear a bow is hickory backed, it means that part of the bow is made of hickory.
Whilst still holding the bow, pointing towards the target, the wood that is facing you, i.e. the wood that you would think is at the back and the one you are applying most of your pressure to from your palm is known as the “belly”. Therefore when you hear a bow has a lemonwood belly, it is this.
The wood that is in between the “back” and the “belly” is known as the “core”. It is here where you can have one core or maybe two, depending if it is a 3 laminate or a 4.
The “back” part of the bow gives the bow its speed. The “core” its strength and the “belly” its control.
Types of Wood
The “back” can be made from various woods but in general, Hickory or Maple are probably the most common. More recently, Bamboo is used. Although strictly speaking bamboo is not a wood but a grass, its properties for strength and speed are so good that it is something bow makers cannot ignore. A bamboo backed bow will create more arrow speed than a Hickory backed bow so if this is what you need or want then consider bamboo as an option.
The “core” woods can also be made from a large number of different woods. Many are exotic and many with different colours. Purpleheart, Greenheart, Osage Orange, Bubinga, Ipe or Padauk to name a few. These woods are hard woods and are used to give the bow its main strength. When using 2 woods, often the combination of the woods can make a difference but to be honest most are chosen because of the colour and how you want your bow to look.
The “belly” again can be made from various woods. The most common is lemonwood. Others examples are Elm, Pau Amerillo and Ipe.
So which do I want?
With all this choice of woods and combination of colours, you can have a bow made of exactly what you want. I know when I asked my first bowyer to make me a bow, I asked for something with speed. I needed a bow that did not have a large bow weight, as my build does not allow me to have this, but a bow that could reach 100yds fairly easily. He put together a bamboo backed bow with purpleheart and greenheart cores and a lemonwood belly. The bow was 42lb at a draw of 28 inches. It easily reached 100yds and I was not aiming at the clouds either!
I have since moved from this bow to another 4 laminate bow. It is still Tonkin bamboo backed, with cores of Partridgewood and Gombeira, with a belly of Honduran rosewood. The combination of these woods makes the bow look fantastic and shoots like a dream.
My advice would be to buy your first longbow with a simple construction and the cheapest woods. I would recommend bamboo backed as this adds more speed to your arrows.
You and your bow together
If you buy a bow from new, NEVER let anyone else draw the bow or give it a go. The bow will be used to your draw length. Anything different to that, the woods can become stressed and fracture or break and you wouldn’t want that with your new bow.
On receipt of your new bow, shoot it in. This is a combination of shooting lots of arrows at various draw lengths. This is extremely tedious but essential if you want your bow to last and to become your best friend. Shoot 100 arrows at half draw. Shoot another 100 at ¾ draw, then shoot 2 dozen in increments of around a few inches at a time until you reach your full draw. Although this seems overkill, I can assure you, the bow will appreciate it.
Once the bow is shot in and ready to go, enjoy!
On every occasion when you get your bow out from its sleeve and before you start shooting, make sure you have warmed the bow up. After stringing the bow (always string the bow with the stringer provided), draw the bow half a dozen times at half draw, half a dozen times at ¾ draw and keep drawing a little further each time until you reach full draw and then do around half a dozen at full draw. This will warm the bow up and ready for shooting arrows. You may find it takes a further couple of ends to really get the bow working properly.
So can I buy second hand?
If you can, try not to buy second hand, unless you know the person you are buying it from. Bows get very used to the person drawing the bow and if anyone else uses that bow and has a longer draw length it may put the woods under stress and break. If you intend to buy second hand, find out what their draw length was and if yours is less, you may get better use from it.