How to Make a Wood Hunting Bow From Hickory

archery image by Vladislav Gajic from

Things You'll Need

  • Bow stave
  • Bowstring
  • Hatchet
  • Drawknife
  • Rasp
  • Cabinet scraper
  • Mineral oil

Making a serviceable hunting bow from a piece of hickory is a rewarding and educational experience. It requires not only good wood selection, but plenty of focused work and attention to detail. As a project, this will require more than an afternoon, but the rewards can last a lifetime and provide you with a fine hunting tool.

Selecting a Stave

Select a dry bow stave (piece of wood) that is between 4 and 6 feet long, straight and has no branches, knots or splits.

If using milled wood, cut it down to 2 inches square and 4 to 6 feet long. If using nonmilled hickory, rough out the shape of the bow with a sharp hatchet. The results with the hatchet will be rougher than with a saw, so to compensate for this, make the stave 2.25 inches square and 5 feet long.

Tidy up the roughed-out bow with a drawknife. Shave the handle in the middle of the bow to 1.5 inches square and 4 inches long, then let it flare abruptly to 2 inches wide. Maintain this width until midlimb. From there taper it gently to 1.5-inch-wide tips.

Remove wood from the belly of the bow only (the side facing the archer). Use the drawknife until the limbs are 1.25 inches thick.

Adjust, or "tiller," the bow by bending one limb against the floor and looking along the curved edge noting any straight spots. These need to be thinned with the plane and rasp so that the curve is even through the whole limb. Hinges, or overly flexible areas, should be left alone while the limb on either side should be thinned. (When bending the bow, bend it only in the way it will be flexed when drawn).

Apply mineral oil daily for about five days.

File the notches in the bow tips to accept the string. These should be filed into the sides of the bow only and not across the belly or the back. With the bow standing vertically, draw a line on both sides from the back of the bow about .75 inches below the tip to a point on the belly about 1.5 inches from the same tip. File along both lines on each tip.

Using the cabinet scraper, finish tillering the bow. String the bow with a practice string such that the bow is only partially flexed and pull it to half draw. Make sure that both limbs curve evenly; if they don't, remove more wood on the stiffer sections, after which you can incrementally increase your draw to a full draw.

Tighten the bowstring so that when strung it sits about 8 inches behind the handle. Shoot the bow about fifty times.


  • The exact length of your bow is up to you; the bow described here is often called a "self bow" and typically ranges in size from chin height to your full height. Never remove wood from the back of the bow (the side facing your target). When tillering, go slowly. Once you have a weak spot from removing too much wood, you will end up with a weak bow.


About the Author

Michael Pewtherer is a wilderness survival instructor with more than 20 years in the field. He is the author of books on the subject of wilderness survival and wilderness living. Pewtherer is also a middle-school technology teacher and animal tracker conducting wildlife inventories for private and public landowners.

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