How to Make a Primitive Bow and Arrows

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Primitive cultures developed a highly efficient method for crafting hunting supplies out of natural materials. Primitive bows and arrows were a staple of survival throughout North America for hundreds of years before the arrival of European settlers. Native Americans, hobbyists and archaeologists today have kept the skill of primitive bow and arrow making in its traditional form, although some of the tools to make these items have changed.

Things You'll Need

  • Wood appropriate for bow and arrow making
  • Animal sinew
  • Horn and hoof glue
  • Knife
  • Animal fat or grease
  • Fire pit or smoke house

Primitive Bow Making

  • Choose a wood that is appropriate for bow making, such as osage orange, ash, juniper or oak and cut a sapling in winter to prevent the wood from cracking.. Cut the sapling to your desired bow length. Longbows should be as tall as you or from foot to nose height, and traditional bows should stand approximately 4 inches above the hip.

  • Shape the bow staff by scraping or whittling while holding the wood in the center and scraping away from the hand holding the bow. Leave the center as thick as your hand so that your fingers grip the wood and the fingertips barely touch the palm.

  • Create a bow backing by applying dried and pounded animal sinew from deer, elk or buffalo and glue with a hoof or horn glue. Place two thin layers of fine white clay material in between the sinew in this order: wood, clay, glued sinew, clay, glued sinew. You can then oil or grease the bow with animal fat and heat over a fire to help create flexibility.

  • Cut a notch on the ends of the bow 1/4 to 1/2 inch down from the tips of both ends. Take the pounded sinew and peel it off into shreds and twist the strands in between fingers and knot together until you have a string that is twice as long as the bow, then fold it over and twist it together, apply beeswax to the string and trim off any burrs.

  • Wrap the string around one end and tie a secure knot, then stretch with force and tie a half-hitch loop onto the other end. Test bow tension by firing a few arrows.

Making Primitive Arrows

  • Use appropriate wood to make arrows--such as cane, willow or birch--but ensure that the wood is straight or you must straighten it. The width should be as thick as the tip of the little finger. Cut the wood to at least 28 inches to make a shaft.

  • Wrap the shafts in animal skin or cloth and smoke the bundle for up to three weeks in a smoke house or over a fire pit suspended at 2.5 feet over the flame. Grease the shafts after with animal fat or bacon grease.

  • Cut a notch at the end of the shaft to accommodate the width of the bowstring, then attach large bird feathers such as from goose or turkey as fletching with horn or hoof glue and trim the feather to 3/4 inches high off the shaft in a straight line

  • Cut a slot in the other end for the arrow point, then insert the arrowhead and apply glue lightly in the notch. Tie securely with thin sinew.

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