There are many options available when it comes to archery bow wood. Some wood types make great bows, others are less than ideal. Each archery bow wood comes with its own advantages and disadvantages so you must first understand the details of each wood type. Once you learn the good and bad qualities of some of the more popular bow wood options, you can then decide on a wood choice that’s right for you.
Whether you’re a new archer who’s looking to make your first purchase or you’re interested in building your own traditional bow, you should first gain a complete understanding of the wood options available.
Today’s archery bows are made using a variety of materials, including but not limited to wood, horn, metal, plastic, and fiberglass.
Types Of Archery Bow Wood
Every bow wood type comes with its own unique qualities. The trick is finding a type of bow wood that offers the flexibility your bow needs with the proper draw weight and appropriate hardness. Below you’ll find the positive and negative qualities of each wood type so you can make an informed decision on your archery bow wood.
Hickory is a popular archery bow wood choice, especially for making self/simple bows. The different types of hickory trees mean some types work better than others. Ash is one of the more popular types of hickory used for constructing bows, as well as Pignut and Shagbark.
- The Good: incredibly durable so it will last for many years; strong tension; very affordable
- The Bad: has a high rate of moisture absorption so not a good option when shooting in damp, wet environments; over time becomes brittle
Maple is a commonly used hardwood that provides strength and flexion. This hardwood stores a lot of energy and really propels an arrow with force upon release
- The Good: strong and sturdy; very durable and thus long-lasting; affordable
- The Bad: prone to scratching
Red oak is a hardwood that comes in pinky-reds to light browns making this archery bow wood option one that’s also very appealing.
- The Good: strong, dense, and durable; affordable, readily available in most cities
- The Bad: can be difficult to work with; tends to splinter and/or shatter when using thin pieces to make a bow; a heavier bow wood choice
Also known as Cornus, this bow wood option ensures durability. This wood has excellent shock resistance and one of the hardest woods in the United States and Canada.
- The Good: offers high compression, strength, and density
- The Bad: difficult to find; expensive
Also known as Juniperus Virginiana, eastern recedar actually comes from a juniper tree. When used correctly, this can be a good bow wood option.
- The Good: this bow wood ranks high on the best bow wood list due to it being light; minimal tension and strong compression pair together to make eastern redcedar a great choice for longbow designs.
- The Bad: must add backing to address the minimal amount of tension and is difficult to find
Known as The King of Bow Woods by experienced archers, this bow wood is a popular choice for making an archery bow.
- The Good: offers great compression strength; doesn’t rot; one of the best archery bow woods available today
- The Bad: osage orange wood bows tend to be hard to find; possibility of allergic reaction; expensive and become more flexible with heat.
While there are more than 600 bamboo species, only 5 or 6 of them make for good bow construction. More often than not, bamboo is used to back a bow.
- The Good: very affordable; should last for a few years if made using quality bamboo
- The Bad: requires more time and effort to make a bow using bamboo wood
This super-strong, dense, durable hardwood choice works great but only when dried out properly.
- The Good: good tension so very bendable; easy to find
- The Bad: tends to be on the heavier side; doesn’t last as long as other archery bow wood types
Indians of past often used the wood from a black locust tree to make their bows. While both black and yellow locust tree options are available, black is preferred.
- The Good: a good choice for making a self-bow
- The Bad: extremely dense making it difficult to work with
When choosing elm wood, use winged elm tree wood, cedar elm tree wood, or rock elm tree wood. These hardwood elm tree options work best when making a self-bow.
- The Good: very durable; offers great bending qualities; a good bow wood choice for making a self/simple-bow
- The Bad: prone to cracking over time making backing the bow necessary to add strength
Since this Brazilian hardwood option is very dense it’s best to pair it with hickory wood and/or bamboo to make a strong and sturdy laminate bow.
- The Good: works very well when under compression
- The Bad: an unstable wood so develops compression failure after 6 to 18 months of use
This stable softwood isn’t used as often as other bow wood types due to its particular characteristics.
- The Good: lightweight; easy to work with; pleasing to the eye
- The Bad: not very strong; low density doesn’t result in quality, long-lasting bows; rots easily over time
Yucca wood is a softwood making it a better backing option.
- The Good: a strong and lightweight bow wood option
- The Bad: not a very sturdy bow wood option
A hard and springy archery bow wood choice that ranges from light yellow to light brown in color. One of the highest competitive scores in archery was made using a lemonwood bow.
- The Good: a good, basic bow wood choice: affordable
- The Bad: difficult to work with; slightly on the heavier side
Yew is a popular English wood that was commonly used to make longbows as weapons for war. It’s not as common today as there are many other bow wood choices now available that have better characteristics.
- The Good: makes for a good temporary, lightweight hunting bow
- The Bad: the hardness and stiffness of yew make bows more brittle over time; yew bows tend to be expensive
This bow wood was often used to make short and stout bows as weapons for war.
- The Good: a popular bow wood option for flat and broad-limbed bows
- The Bad: low draw weight; over time wood becomes brittle, causing the bow to fall apart in a short amount of time; unseasoned green wood doesn’t support a long-lasting or strong bow
The hawthorn tree produces a hardwood with a tight structure, making it best for flat bow construction.
- The Good: hawthorn wood that’s been properly seasoned makes for a strong bow
- The Bad: the interlocked structure makes it difficult to use so not recommended for new archers
While a rare wood, laburnum makes for a decent bow wood choice if you can get a wood piece in the right size and length.
- The Good: a great bow wood choice when used to make D-section English longbows
- The Bad: archers are more apt to experience string follow issues
Bow Wood Characteristics
Bow woods must include certain characteristics that make them acceptable for crafting a new bow.
Archery bow wood should be both stiff and flexible. The stiffness of each wood type helps give it its overall strength and flexibility counts due to the necessary stress and bending required when taking a shot.
Compression & Tension
Pulling back a bow places a lot of tension on the wood. Compression causes certain wood fibers to separate and splinter, eventually leading to a cracked bow. While both characteristics warrant attention, focus on tension. Backing (see below) helps to solve this common dilemma.
Since some woods don’t do well in hot environments it’s a good idea to avoid using certain types of woods when shooting in high-temperature climates. Changing shape and warping are 2 of the more common types of temperature-related bow wood problems.
Know that some bow woods will last for many years while others only last a matter of months. How long do you want your bow to last?
Backing A Bow
To minimize tension and compression damage, archers can back their bow using glue and other materials. There are many different types of materials used to help stop eventual bow wood breakage, including but not limited to sinew, silk, thin wood strips, and animal skin.
Choosing The Best Archery Bow Wood
Archers who decide to make their own wooden bows must learn about their bow wood choices to ensure they make the right wood type choice. Archers who want to find and buy a wooden bow made using a certain type of wood should either purchase from a reputable online website or a local retailer.
When it comes to choosing a bow wood type, the bottom line is it simply depends on your individual shooting style. Since the best archery bow woods differ from one archer to another, you must choose your bow wood based on your specific needs and circumstances. Be sure to choose one of the woods listed above after you’ve chosen your bow type.
Laminated Longbow Wood – great longbow wood choices include yew, hickory, maple, ash, purpleheart, greenheart, satinwood, lemonwood, and osage.
Wooden Recurve Bow – great wooden recurve bow choices include maple, hickory, bamboo, red oak, eastern redcedar, dogwood, oak, ipe, and osage orange.
Don’t underestimate the importance of selecting the right type of archery bow wood to support your shooting style. Even though there are many wood options available, be sure to focus on your chosen shooting discipline to help you make the best selection. Since each archery wood option offers its own unique characteristics, you must decide which ones matter to you most. If you plan on making your own bow, always choose the highest quality wood to ensure the safety and longevity of your equipment.
As a beginner in archery now construction but with familiarity with most of these woods due to arborist and woodsman experience, I found this article to be very helpful in choosing optimal bow making options and learning preferred characteristics of each.