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Yew Longbows

Here are some pics of Longbows:-
I haven't edited this site for a while, I've made a few heavy warbows over the last couple of years. This is the heaviest I've done 130# at 32". It's only a low resolution image as it was grabbed from video. I wouldn't leave a warbow at full draw like that to take a picture. You can see the video of it flexing here:-
On the blog you can actually follow the whole build of that bow from cutting the log to the finished bow being shot.

Below, one I made about 30 years ago from Yew cut in Hampshire, it has a lovely big knot just above the grip (That's a £1 coin alongside it!), I tell the recurve target archers that it's where I screw the stabiliser! The Yew has matured to a lovely colour. You can easily see the dark heartwood which forms the belly of the bow providing the power, (resisting the compessive force) and the creamy white sapwood which is better at resisting the tension on the back of the bow and stops it snapping!

Its shown below on a tiller stick, a simple notched stick which allows the bowyer to see the curve of the bow as it is progressively worked and drawn further and further back.

This bow has been left slightly stiff near the handle because of that large knot, I personally like the curve (tiller) of this bow.
The first true longbow I made was of Elm at the time when Dutch Elm was decimating the species and Elm was easy to come by. I thought the 60 pound Elm bow was great until I made this Yew bow which has remained one of my favourites.

It draws 75lb @ 28" and if I pull it back to a medieval draw length it's 90lb at 31.5" .
It will throw a light arrow about 220yards at a speed of 170 feet per second (about 116 miles per hour)

Yew is of course the wood of choice for longbows but requires some perseverence to find, you must examine maybe 50 trees before finding a decent stave, yet you may be lucky and find 4 on one tree. The ideal piece of Yew would be growing straight up with no side shoots and at least 3" diameter minimum. The limb which made this bow was barely this size but was growing up alongside another limb, so on one side it had no branches, the other side was covered with small shoots which form pin knots deep into the wood. There was just enough wood to make the bow so I didn't risk spliting it with and axe and wedges (the traditional method), instead I simply hacked away the 'bad' side with and axe, sealed the ends with paint to stop it drying too quickly and let it season for a year. During that year I periodically looked at it and cut away more timber to reduce the risk of splitting.

I've recently had a lot of questions about Yew, hopefully this picture will answer some of them as it shows some of the peculiarities of the timber. (Double click it to see it bigger, in higher resolution).

The log could be split along the dotted line (assuming it isn't curved left to right!) As I now have a band saw (I'm slightly ambivalent about power tools, but good Yew is scarce so I want to maximise the yield of staves) I made a first cut at right angles to the dotted line removing about a piece from the right side big enough for a  bow. I then did a second cut on the dotted line.

The next longbow (below) bends slightly more in the handle and has a less rounded tiller

By comparison you will also see the wood in the second bow is much paler, although it will darken with age. 

It was made in 2009 for a commission and has White Water-buffalo horn nocks (The horn was bought from

Highland Horn ) and a mother of pearl arrow plate.

The owner has since added a nice plaited leather grip.

It is slightly shorter than the previous bow and was was tillered left handed for 44lb draw weight at 27" to suit the archer.


The pale Water-buffalo horn is almost tranparent and the top nock has an attractive dark streak down one side.  
My bow (top of page) has self nocks (that is to say they are just grooves cut into the wood) and a small Ivory arrow plate (The Ivory was from an old Piano key). I like the bow with no grip or horn nocks. Over 2010-2011 I've made a few Yew longbows including a new one for myself as I struggle pulling 75lb these days. I used a piece of Yew with rather indistinct heart/sap wood, I heat treated it to put 3" of reflex into it and to temper (harden) the belly, most of this pulled out during tillering, but it's resulted in a fast bow with little set. I used pale horn and Mother of Pearl again, I did the gip in 'Veg Tan' leather which has a nice mediaval look. The nocks are 'side nocks' as found on the Mary Rose bows.
I've also made Longbows from Elm and Ash, these feel decidedly sluggish compared with the Yew.

Many bowyers make and sell longbows laminated from other woods such as Ipe backed with Hickory or Bamboo, a well made laminate bow will perform similarly to a Yew bow and will be cheaper.
This 'Simple Yeoman's Bow' below is cut from Local Yew planted about 50 years ago to screen a tennis court (now a small car park), it's not as fine grained or dark as some Yew. 
It's a bit fatter than the bow at the top of the page and yet lower in draw weight (50 pounds @ 28") It will pull back to 31" at least and shoots nicely.
Left you can see it at a generous 28" draw.

I positioned the top nock
above a small line of pin knots which looks good.
The bowyer's mark indicates the arrow pass and is a play on the D & C of Del the Cat (my nom de plume on the archery forums).

You can see the heart/sap layers are less distinct on that side of the bow. Compare that with the heart/sap wood of the lady's 40 pound longbow finished early in 2011, 
(below right. It's nock with silver rivets is shown on the home page)
The lady's bow was made from the Yew shown in cross section near the top of the page, it's made from the tight grained portion on the left. 

At the foot of the page is a very pretty longbow I made for a young girl at the club, I don't normally like making kids bows as they can be a pig to tiller nicely as the draw weight is so low. I made this one as I happened to have a a suitable off cut of Yew which wasn't big enough for a full sized bow. I made it nice and 'girlie' with a red leather grip and mother of pearl arrow plate, I tillered it out to about 35# at 28" so she can still use it as she grows taller (currently she's only drawing about 24"). It's shown on the tiller at full draw.

I have a small supply of Yew staves seasoning and will custom make longbows (and primitive bows from Yew or other woods) to commission. My staves are currently spoken for until Autumn 2013.
The staves for 2012, came from Yew logs cut from Audley end house by a tree surgeon. I don't have much Yew for 2013
This isn't a business and I only make a few every year to cover the cost of my hobby by paying for club subscriptions and new tools, it just about keeps me in arrows too!
Contact me if you are interested. By the way, I don't ship bows overseas due to the problems it incurs.