The making of bows for shooting arrows.
|Status||Currently viable (data under review)*|
|Historic area of significance||UK|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK|
* Heritage Crafts are planning to review this data in consultation with the sector in 2023-2024
Two historical and traditional longbow types are still being used today and are being made by members of the Craft Guild. One is the iconic English warbow, a powerful weapon made from a single length of timber. Members have learnt much from studying those from the Mary Rose. The other is the bow use for target and clout shooting, a smaller, less powerful bow, usually made from two billets fishtailed together under the handle binding. The best wood for both of these is, and has always been, yew; although other woods such as Laburnum, Ash, Elm or Hazel are used for the warbow; and target bows are often made of two or three laminations of different timbers.
Cross sections vary from the almost round warbow to the D shaped target bow. After initial shaping, with drawknife and rasp, carefully following the wood, the crucial skill is tillering. The bow is firmly held on the tiller so that the bowyer can draw back the string and see where slight adjustments are required to produce a perfect curve. This also ‘teaches’ the bow to bend.
Smooth horn pieces (nocks) with grooves for the string, are shaped to cover the tips of the limbs to ensure the string loop is not damaged. Grooves for target bows go around the tip, but are set at one side of the warbow tips – known as side nocking.
The skill of making these deceptively simple bows, and ensuring they perform effectively, was almost lost, until the Guild was formed in 1986. Today, those who can present a masterpiece which passes rigorous assessment may call themselves Masters and accept apprentices who will continue the old traditions for a modern world.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- There are too few young people to follow older ones as they retire.
- Bowyers are unable to accept apprentices in the usual commercial manner due to the costs involved.
- There are shortages and increased prices of quality timber.
- The market won’t support prices sufficient to provide a living.
- Most craftspeople are only working part time on the craft and have other jobs.
Craftspeople currently known
A list of bowyers can be found on the website of the Craft Guild of Traditional Bowyers & Fletchers.
- The Worshipful Company of Bowyers
- The Worshipful Company of Fletchers
- Craft Guild of Traditional Bowyers & Fletchers
- Stamp, D, (1971) Challenge of Archery (A & C Black)
- Heath, E G, (1966) Archery, the Modern Approach (Faber)
- Clover. P, (1950) Bowman’s Handbook
- Heath, E G, (1973) History of Target Archery (David & Charles)
- Featherstone, D, (1967) The Bowmen of England (Jarrolds)
- Moseley, W M, (1974) An Essay on Archery 
- Roberts, T, (1973) The English Bowman 
- Longman and Walrond, (1894) Archery (Longmans)
- Ford, H A, Archery, its Theory & Practice (Llanerch Press) 
- Anon (1973) The Archer’s Guide (Tabard Press) 
- Hargrove, E, (1970) Anecdotes of Archery (Tabard Press) 
- Thompson, M W H, How to Train in Archery (Llanerch Press) 
- Mason, R O, (1970) Pro Aris et Focis (Tabard Press) 
- Ascham, Roger, Toxophilus (Simon Archery) 
- Koch, H W, (1978) Medieval Warfare (Bison Books)
- Hay, Ian, (1951) The Royal Company of Archers (Blackwood)
- Milliken (1967) Archery in the Middle Ages (MacMillan)
- Rausing, Gad, (1967) ‘The Bow, Notes on its Origin and Development’, Acta Archaelogica Lundensia, 6 (Bonn: Rudolf Habelt)
- Wood, The Bowman’s Glory (S R Publications) 
- Bartlett (1996) English Longbowman (Osprey)
- Heath, E G, (1978) The Art of Archery (Kaye & Ward)
- Heath, E G, (1980) Archery – a Military History (Osprey)
- Burke, Edmund, (1958) The History of Archery (Heinemann)
- Paterson (1984) Encyclopedia of Archery (Robert Hale)
- Grimley (1958) The Book of the Bow (Trinity Press)
- Edwards and Heath (1962) In Pursuit of Archery (Nicholas Kay)
- Bradbury, The Medieval Archer (Boydell & Brewer)
- Soar, H D, Of Bowmen & Battles (Bradford)
- Soar, H D, The Crooked Stick (Westholme)
- Soar, H D, Secrets of the English Warbow (Westholme)
- Soar, H D, The Romance of Archery (Westholme)
- Soar, H D, Straight and True, a select history of the Arrow (Westholme)
- Hardy and Strickland, The Great Warbow (Sutton)