How to make a Bow

Bows used during a Buffalo Hunt

How to make a bow

Native Americas worked with the raw materials and natural resources available to them and their task and knowledge of how to make a bow was critical to their lifestyle, both for hunting and when fighting enemies.

One of the most important roles of the men was to make weapons and his skills in developing methods and techniques on how to make a bow. The Bow  provided long range, accurate weapon with the opportunity to shoot rapid shots on foot or on horseback. There were different types and sizes of bows depending on what they would be used for. A Bow shot from horseback was smaller than a bow used on foot allowing for maximum manoeuvrability. Each Native Indian would enhance his technique on how to make a bow, it was a time consuming but essential task in the daily life of a Native American.

How to make a bow
There were many stages to making a weapon and the different materials and techniques used would vary between tribes. However, every Native American knew how to make a bow. The weapons that he made almost always utilized stone in some way and wood when making a weapon. The stone arrowheads made the bow a deadly weapon. The stages and process of 'How to make a bow' is detailed in the following table. For additional information refer to Bows and Arrows.

  • Task 1: Locating the Materials - the wood: The Native American would be aware of the natural resources in his area. The wood for the bow needed to be  flexible, tough and hard. The best wood was obtained from ash, willow, hickory, juniper, oak, Osage orange, cedar, walnut and birch trees.  The size of the length of wood would be about one yard. The best bows were thicker in the center which gave the bow strength and served as a good grip

  • Task 2: Locating the Materials - the bowstring: The bowstring was made from animal gut, sinew or rawhide. Plant fibers were also used for bowstrings including nettles, dogbane and milkweed or the inner bark of basswood or yukka.
    Task 3: Locating the Materials - the arrowhead: The Arrowhead was made of a hard stone such as Flint that was sharpened into a projectile point by the process of Flintknapping

  • Task 4: Locating the Materials - the shafts for the arrows: Dry, hard, sticks of wood were selected for the arrows measuring about half the size in length of the bow

  • Task 5: Locating the Materials - the feathers for the flight: Feathers were required to give arrows their 'spin' during flight and balanced the weight of the arrowhead to prevent the arrow from tumbling during flight. The feathers of the buzzard and turkey were easy to locate and to work with.

  • Task 6: Making the Bow: A Hatchet Axe was used to cut away any wood not needed from the length of the stave of wood. All the bark would be removed from the stave using a knife refer to Knife and Dagger. The stave would be thinned down to create the desired depth of the bow, following the grain of the wood. A rough bow-shape was created sometimes using heat from a fire to assist the bended shape - the wood was selected for its flexibility. Notches in both limb tips were cut about one inch from the tip.

  • Task 7: Making the Bow - the grip: The centre of the bow was the 'handle' or grip. Leather thongs were used to make a good grip when pulling the bow and shooting the arrows

  • Task 8: Making the Bow - the bowstring: The bowstring was made of gut, sinew or plant fibers that were twisted to make a cord. The bowstring was attached via the notches at either end of the bow.

  • Task 9: Making the arrows: The arrows were then whittled to the required shape and sometimes straightened using heat from a fire. Some Native Americans used tools called arrow straighteners to help with this task. Notches were carved at either end of the arrows to accommodate the arrowhead and the arrow flight (feathers) that were attached using cord.

  • Task 10: Making the arrow flights: Feathers were attached using sinew or a hide glue. The feathers gave arrows their 'spin' during flight and balanced the weight of the arrowhead to prevent the arrow from tumbling in flight

How to make a bow - Stone Age Culture
The Stone Age life style of Native Americans ranged from nomadic, semi-nomadic to static across the vast continent of North America and despite this many of them shared similar culture and tools and weapons and regardless of location and tribe every Native American knew how to make a bow.

Bows and Arrows
Native Indian Weapons and Tools
Native Indian Tribes Index

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