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The Quickie Greenwood Survival Bow

January 25, 2011

I decided to do an experiment to see how quickly I could make a bow and arrow that would be capable of killing small game. I’ve made a lot of bows and arrows over the years. I’ve always taken the time to cure the wood and taken several days to shape and tiller the bow. I’ve always tried to produce a quality bow with a smooth finish. The same for my arrows. Carefully selected shafts, heated and straightened, knapped points, and fletchings and points attached with sinew and rawhide glue. So my experiment was going to be a big change. Here I am looking for “will it work” and “how fast can I build it using only a knife and hatchet?” And so, I started my experiment.

I decided to make my bow from what we call cedar in East Texas (it’s really juniper). I selected juniper because it is fairly easy to work, it is readily available, and it has fairly good cast even when it is green. The down-side is that it is pretty brittle, and I would never make a cured bow of juniper unless I was going to put some kind of backing on it. This bow will probably work well for a while, but after it dries out it will probably break. But hey, the whole point is to simulate a survival situation where I make a quick workable bow that will last for a few days, or maybe a week. So, cedar it is.

Since cedar is abundant on my farm it only took me about 20 minutes to locate a suitable piece of wood. I selected a limb about an inch and a half in diameter without any side branches coming off of the portion that I wanted to use. The limb was also slightly curved. The curve was smooth and even throughout the length of the limb and I thought that this would give my bow a slight re-curve and help add a little power. I used the saw blade on my Swiss Army knife to cut the limb off. I then sawed off the other end of the limb and was left with an inch and a half diameter stave about four and a half feet long. It turned out to have a little jog in one end, but it wasn’t too bad, and I decided that the stave would probably make a decent bow. Pictured below: Cedar limb that I cut for the bow.

One reason that I selected a fairly small stave is that I didn’t want to have to remove a lot of wood in making the bow. Remember…….. limited time and tools. I turned out that the stave was just right. I was able to use my hatchet like a splitting wedge and split the stave cleanly. I stood the stave up on end, placed the hatchet blade across the end, and used a piece of wood to tap the hatchet/wedge down through the stave. Cedar is a straight grained wood, so once I got it going it continued to split right down the middle. Pictured below: Scraping bark from stave.

I used the blade of my knife to scrape the bark off of the stave, and took a look at what I had. Being a tree limb, the stave was obviously tapered, so one end of my stave was thinner and narrower than the other end. If I was making a quality bow, I would have my straightedge and pencil and be measuring out dimensions. Under these circumstances I took my hatchet and started wacking away. Of course I did all my cutting on the belly and sides of the stave; never on the back. First I shaped the narrow end of the stave to a fairly smooth taper, then I started at the middle and worked toward the other end. When both ends of the stave were tapered about the same I started flexing the bow to see if the bend was even on each limb. It wasn’t. Next came my knife and removing a little wood at a time to try and balance the limbs. When the limbs were pretty close I turned the knife blade up perpendicular and began scraping and smoothing things up a little. Last step on the bow was cutting the nocks. I used both the saw and blade on my knife to do this. Total time on shaping the bow; an hour and fifteen minutes. Pictured below: Belly of bow roughed out flat.

Now to make the bow shootable I needed a bow string. I walked back to where I knew a yucca plant was growing and cut about ten leaves off of it. I split the leaves into strips of fibers a little less than a sixteenth of an inch thick, and twisted the fibers up into a bowstring. For directions on how to make a bowstring see my post for Feb. 24, 2009. Total time to gather yucca, split it, and twist up the bowstring: one hour and thirty minutes. Pictured below: Yucca plant, yucca leaves, splitting yucca leaves into fibers, twisting up yucca fibers, and finished yucca bow sting.

I strung the bow, and it was pretty close to right-on. The limbs were bent pretty evenly. There was a little jog in one limb, but nothing to bad. It had good flex when I pulled it back, and although I wouldn’t recommend it for bear hunting, I think it should easily take rabbits, coons, possums, and (if I was in a true survival situation) I would even try for a whitetail deer with it. Total time on project: about three hours.

Now I need to make a couple of arrows.

  1. Dylan Foster permalink

    Hey Mr. Buchmeyer I’ve been looking at your blog since I was in your science class and you told us about it and I want to do this bow but I can’t seem to find the right sized branch. How thick would you say the branch has to be?

  2. thepalmettowoodsman permalink

    Do you think fire hardening the bow would make it stronger or possibly dry it out and make it break easier?

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