Many bow makers prefer wood over modern materials partly because of its traditional value and aesthetic effect. However, despite its excellent durability, did you know that you can end up with a flimsy wooden bow if you don’t choose the right wood species?
To help you simplify your decision-making, I’ve listed the best wood for bows you can find in the market. Let’s find that perfect material for your next masterpiece!
Top 18 Wood Types for Making Bows
1. Black Locust
One of the wood species suitable for making a bow is Black Locust. Due to its high-level tension and lower compression than other bow woods, it’s an ideal material for crowned-back arrows.
It’s a very strong wood often utilized for flat-back bows, but you must know it’s prone to fretting. Clusters are more likely to form if the wood fibers don’t go through proper tillering.
Because of this, I don’t recommend this material on wooden parts exposed to frequent straining.
2. Ipe Wood
You may not know, but this wood for bows originally came from South America. It’s a typical home and construction material in Brazil used for decks and floorings.
Thanks to its 3,500 lbf Janka scale strength, it’s a good bow wood to consider if you want the utmost durability. And since it has thinner and lighter limbs than other woods, you can rely on this material for making a faster bow.
Another reason it’s so great for bow-making is its ability to resist rotting and other weather elements.
As a dense hardwood material, it’s not surprising that dogwood has a 2150 Janka scale rating. It’s a good wood for bows with a high compression level and 750kg per cubic meter of density.
And since it doesn’t have a weak tension, I can assure you that it won’t break easily due to frequent usage. My only advice is to avoid using knotted wood parts when making a bow to prevent weak spots.
Not many people will consider cherrywood the best wood for making bows, but there’s no denying that it suits the task since it’s a lightweight material with beautiful colors. Also, this specie is one of the best types of wood for staining. Moreover, cherry bows are not as sluggish as other wood options.
However, a notable concern you must know about cherrywood is its potential toxicity. If you’re set on using it for your bow, I’d advise covering it with rawhide.
5. Eastern Red Cedar
Contrary to its name, eastern red cedar doesn’t belong to the cedar tree species because it’s from the juniper wood family. You can use it for a traditional English longbow with a d-shaped cross-section since it has a light and brittle construction.
Many also consider this material when making a bow because of its 10.0 BI elasticity, but you must remember that it’s a toxic wood specie. If you want to use it, the material must undergo treatment.
You might want to check out: Cedar vs Pressure-Treated Wood
6. Plum Wood
Plum is the best wood to consider if you want a material with a wide color range. Available plum wood boards in the market range from yellow-brown to ones with red streaks.
If you inspect closer, you’ll notice that it has an irregular wood grain with swirls and knots. Besides its aesthetic elements, this material can bend well without reaching a physical breaking point as it offers a MOE value of 1,478,000 lbf per square inch.
Birch includes many species worldwide, but yellow birch is the only one with enough durability to make a bow.
Besides its strength, this wood has a consistent grain pattern suitable for different applications. The only downside of this material is its regular wood color turns darker over time.
8. Red Oak
I’ve worked with a variety of woods over the years, and red oak has always stood out as a top choice for bow-making. One of the primary reasons is its accessibility and affordability. It’s a durable wood, so it can last a long time as long as it’s well-maintained.
However, red oak wood is highly porous in its early growth rings. Because of this, some bow makers recommend choosing ones with thick late-growth rings. And since red oak has a heavier weight, remember that thick boards won’t need any backing.
See Also: Is Red Oak Good for Cutting Boards?
It may surprise you, but bamboo is one of the most versatile woods for bows. You don’t need to worry about the arrow snapping back because this material offers excellent durability and strength.
Besides being affordable, a bamboo bow has a natural resistance to rotting , lowering the chances of repair or replacement. Give it a try, and you’ll truly appreciate the strength bamboo brings to the table.
10. Hazel Nut Wood
Over the years, hazelnut wood has become popular in the bow-making industry. Apart from the visual elements it gives in garden landscapes, the materials this tree produces can produce highly durable and flexible flatbows and longbows.
11. Ash Wood
Like other dense wood, ash materials offer high elasticity. Thanks to this, they can make durable self-bows. This wood specie also grows in different parts of the world, so they’re also commonly used for Asian recurve bows.
Hickory wood is a great starter material for folks making their own bow for the first time. Despite the wood’s bow index rating, you should know that it can resist water exposure better than other alternatives.
One of the standout qualities of hickory bows is their resistance to decay and rot. Having worked with this wood, I can vouch for its resilience in tough conditions. Plus, the wood naturally handles tension gracefully, making it ideal for the bow backing process.
13. Maple Wood
Maple is a durable hardwood material, so don’t be surprised if it can hold well when you draw weight from arrow shafts. Considering that it has a BI rating of 10.4, you can rely on this wood to make the best recurve bow for target archery.
14. Osage orange Wood
As a material commonly referred to as poor man’s yew, osage orange wood is notably a popular wood choice for traditional bows. You can also use it for making bows with single wood staves.
Osage orange woods offer a higher BI rating than yew bows, with an index of 11.5. The material also bends into shape without problem, so it’s safe to say that osage orange materials suit different woodworking projects.
15. Pacific and European Yew
Another common wood material for bows is Pacific and European yew. It features an 11.26 BI rating, which means it can handle bending without the risk of breaking.
Although being a softwood, Pacific and European Yew are one of the best wood for bows. They are hard and durable enough to suit the making of Irish and English longbows.
(More about the advantages and disadvantages of yew wood here!)
Did you know that bows in medieval times are constructed with elm wood? It’s also an alternative to Yew materials when crafting longbows. Besides Northern Hemisphere, elm is widely available in different places. Because of this, you won’t have difficulty buying it.
17. Juniper Wood
Wood boards made from juniper trees may be small, but they offer great density that suits making bows.
The only issue is it’s not easy to find wood pieces from this specie that are large enough to form a bow. Nevertheless, you can always join two pieces together as an alternative.
18. Palm Wood
Making bows out of palm wood may not seem feasible. However, it’s a durable material with a high-density exterior. It’s also supple on the inside, making the wood elastic and rigid to form the shape you want.
|Best Bow Woods||Characteristics|
|Bamboo Wood||Limited Availability|
|Minimal Maintenance Requirement|
|Excellent Rigid-Flexibility Ratio|
|Cherry Wood||Unusual Bow Materials|
|Durable and Long-lasting|
|Ipe Wood||Eco-friendly and Sustainable|
|Less Wood Contraction|
|Hickory Wood||Widely Available|
|Palm Wood||Expensive Wood Option|
|Suitable for Long-distance Shots|
|Great Bending Properties|
|Osage Orange Wood||Expensive & Premium Option|
|Impressive Tensile Strength|
|High Compression Levels|
|Recommended for Thin Bows|
|Red Oak||Expensive Alternative|
|Durable and Rigid Material|
|Eastern Red Cedar||Light and Brittle Material|
|Adequate Price Range|
|Maple Wood||Popular Bow Material|
|Juniper Wood||Light and Thin Construction|
|Limited Size Variations|
|Pacific and European Yew||Strong and Durable|
|One of the hardest softwoods|
|Ash Wood||Excellent Elasticity|
|Janka Hardness: 1320|
|Pulm Wood||Resistant to Insect Attacks|
|Hazel Nut Wood||High Durability and Elasticity|
|Great Shape Retention|
|Strong Domestic Timber|
Best Qualities of a Bow Wood
When choosing a wood type to make a bow, it’s important to note the material’s elasticity, strength, and stability.
You must pick ones that can withstand stretching and bending during the bow’s usage. If you can, find hard and strong options without the risk of becoming brittle over time.
How to Choose the Right Type of Wood for Bows
You don’t have to be a wood expert to choose the right wood for bows. What truly matters is understanding and considering the factors I’m about to share with you.
Not all wood types have attributes that suit all kinds of bows. You’ll need a different material for traditional and recurve bows. Moreover, the same concept applies if you’re working on your first bow since not all options have the same workability.
When it comes to aesthetics, ask yourself if you want painted or laminated bows. Additionally, the overall appearance of the workpiece will also be affected by factors like the material’s texture and color.
Archery involves pushing and pulling, so your material must be elastic enough. You should check how much drawing weight a wood can withstand to ensure that it won’t break easily.
Besides elasticity, the bow must be stable enough to endure frequent usage. Drastic physical changes shouldn’t occur as the wood should resist weather changes like heat and cold.
You wouldn’t want the wooden fibers to tear during usage, so I recommend buying ones with excellent strength and durability. The material shouldn’t show signs of rupturing due to force.
What Do You Mean by Bow Index?
As discussed above, elasticity is a factor to look for when making wooden bows. You can determine this element by checking the material’s BI rating. Woods with higher BI values are more elastic and suit more applications.
Bow Units and Calculations
The unit used for determining a bow wood’s elasticity is BI or Bow Index, which refers to the ratio of its modulus of elasticity (MOE) and modulus of rupture (MOR).
MOE mainly signifies how well the material can bend. Meanwhile, MOR is the wood’s breaking point. You can calculate the BI rating with the formula: BI = MOR/MOE *1000.
One of the best woods with impressive BI ratings is sage orange, with an 11.5 bow index. Pacific yew comes is the runner-up in the list with 11.25 BI.
Recommended Wood Types for a Long Bow
Many woodworkers opt for yew wood when making longbows. If you don’t have that material available, you can opt for red and white oak. Alternatively, elm and hickory wood also fit the category.
Recommended Wood Types for Composite Bows
What is the best material to make a bow?
The best material to make a bow is a composite mix of fiberglass, wood, and carbon. You can choose between elm, maple, cedar, or bamboo for the wood part. If you want, you can also consider exotic woods like Bubinga.
What did natives use to make bows?
The natives use buffalo or elk sinews to make bows. They pound these materials into fine threads and glue them together with a mixture of scrappings and water.
To enhance the bow’s power, the natives would reinforce it by attaching strips of animal sinew or tendons along its back. This method will provide additional tension when drawn.
What type of wood makes the fastest bow?
The fastest bows are always from yew and osage orange materials. You may not know, but these wood types offer high elasticity and BI ratings. On the other hand, you can also consider alternatives like maple, hickory, and red oak.
Is a crossbow more powerful than a longbow?
In close range, crossbows offer more advantage and power. Meanwhile, a longbow’s effectiveness depends on the shooting distance. If we’re going to factor in statistical records, crossbows are more known for their power than longbows.
What is the recommended wood type of a recurve bow?
The most suitable wood type for a recurve bow is maple. If you want an alternative, hickory also works well with it. These materials are elastic and snappy, so you’ll have no issue using them for this task.
More recommendations for you:
Whether you’re a seasoned woodworker or not, working on your first bow can be challenging. It can be hard to choose the best wood for bows due to the many options.
From black locusts to palm wood, I strongly recommend carefully determining the material’s elasticity and BI rating. Remember that these choices are here for your advantage, not to cause confusion and inconvenience.