Wood is the material that automatically comes to mind when making bows. It’s partly because of the incredible qualities of a wooden bow and partly because our ancestors did the same.
Unfortunately, not all wood types make great bows. Therefore, you must be extra cautious when choosing wood for bow making.
What is the Best Wood for Bows?
Osage orange, black locust, ash, yew, and hickory are the five best wood for making a bow. However, many experts consider yew the best choice, with hickory coming a close second. That said, most hardwoods, including oak and maple, are decent options.
Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Wood for Making a Bow
Bow makers consider several factors when shopping for bow wood. However, the choice often comes to five critical factors;
- Strength: You need strong wood for a strong, durable bow. Otherwise, the bow will break in the first use due to stress. The bow would easily rapture as the wood fibers tear.
- Stability: The wood’s dimensional stability is very important. Otherwise, the bo would lose shape after a few users. Moreover, you want a wood species that withstand extreme cold and hot temperatures.
- Elasticity: Though potentially confusing, dimensional stability and elasticity are different. Dimensional stability focuses more on temperature-occasioned changes, while elasticity is mainly affected by push and pull forces. You want a bow with a maximum draw weight that can bend without breaking.
- The type of bow: There are many bow types, from traditional bows to recurve bows and d-shaped cross-section bows. Other categories include compound bows and the own bow (self bows). Also, is it your first bow? All these factors impact your choice of bow wood.
- Aesthetics: Finally, you want a pretty bow you’re excited to bring along whenever you head out for your archery trips. To this end, consider the wood color, texture, and other aesthetics. For instance, do you want laminated bows or prefer a painted one?
What is Bow Index?
We’ve mentioned elasticity is one of the main factors when choosing bow wood. An easy way to determine whether a wood species is sufficiently elastic is to check the wood’s bow index (BI).
The higher its BI value, the more suited the wood. So, what’s BI? Bow Index (BI) describes the ratio of the wood’s modulus of elasticity (MOE) to its modulus of rupture (MOR).
- Modulus of Elasticity (MOE) defines the “bendability” of wood. It tells at what stress level the wood will permanently deform when bent. MOE is given in pounds (of force) per square inch.
- Modulus of Rupture (MOR) describes the physical breaking point of a piece of wood, again expressed in pounds of force per square inch.
- BI = MOR/MOE *1000
Osage orange has one of the highest bow indices at 11.5, with the Pacific yew a close second at 11.26. Meanwhile, Balsa, 5.73, and Pacific silver fir, 5.70, are some of the worst-rated.
15 Best Wood for Bows
The following are fifteen options to consider when searching for good bow wood. Ensure to compare the costs to find one that fits your budget.
1. Pacific yew
The pacific yew is at the top of our list because it’s the wood specie most famous for making bows. It has been used for bow making for thousands of years with many success stories.
Yew is especially common in making the longbow, also popular as the Irish or English longbow. It’s an extremely hard softwood with a very high elasticity rating and a BI rating of 11.26. It means that yew bows can bend significantly without breaking.
- High elasticity rating
- High Bow Index rating
- It’s very strong and durable
- It’s rare and threatened
- Pacific yew is expensive
2. Osage orange wood
Many bow makers consider osage orange the poor man’s European yew. It is quite popular because it possesses similar characteristics to the European yew.
Indeed, it’s arguably the best wood for self bows, i.e., bows made from single wood staves. It’s also very common in traditional bows.
Osage orange has a BI index of 11.5 (slightly higher than the European yew). Additionally, Osage orange wood boasts an extremely high tensile strength and compression, making it easy to bend into shape.
- It boasts a high tensile strength
- It’s excellent for self bows
- It’s rot-resistant
- Osage orange wood is a fire risk
3. Maple wood
Maple is another great material when looking for a good bow. It is a hardwood and thus holds firm against the draw.
Moreover, hardwoods traditionally store more energy when you draw the arrow shafts, allowing you to release a more powerful shot. However, what truly sets maple apart is its flexibility.
With a BI of 10.4, it makes the perfect recurve bows comparable to units made from modern materials, such as fiberglass. In fact, many manufacturers combine maple and fiberglass to achieve optimal strength and flexibility.
- It holds firm against the draw
- Maple bows are highly flexible
- Maple makes exceptional recurve bows
- Maple wood is expensive
Hickory is a popular wood for making bows. However, its popularity has more to do with the wood’s availability and strength than efficiency.
That’s not to say it’s not a good wood. But conversely, hickory is a very strong wood with a high density and incredible water resistance. It’s also rot and decay-resistant. No wonder it also doubles up as the best wood for an axe handle.
Unfortunately, its low MOE gives hickory a poor BI rating. As a result, hickory is most often used by first-timers. So, it’s a great choice when making your first bow. That said, though, the shellback hickory (9.58 BI) makes exceptional rugged flatbows.
- It’s strong and durable
- It’s weather and rot-resistant
- It’s a high-density wood that resists tear
- It has a low MOE
5. Ash wood
Ash is another dense hardwood that grows in abundance in the US. These qualities, combined with ash’s high elasticity, make it very popular for making bows. In particular, ash makes excellent self-bows. It’s also common in Asian recurve bows.
Unfortunately, ash bows require more maintenance than other wooden bows. Moreover, ash wood is prone to beetles, moths, and termite attacks. So, you need to be careful with your bow.
- It’s strong and durable
- Ash wood is affordable
- It has a high BI (9.86 for blue ash)
- It requires significant maintenance
6. Hazel nut wood
The American hazel nut shrub is famous for its landscaping attributes. Its yellow catkins and “lamb tails” add color to stale landscapes, while the tree’s visually arresting branch network gives texture to the garden.
However, did you know it also makes one of the best bow-making materials? It’s strong and highly elastic, making it the perfect choice for bow design. Alternatively, consider its sister, Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.
- It’s hard and strong
- It’s highly elastic
- It makes amazing flatbows
- It’s not very common
Bamboo is one of the most versatile woods. It’s strong, hard, and durable. Moreover, bamboo items are naturally rot-resistant.
We also love bamboo as a bow material because it’s one of the cheapest options on this list while providing enough snapback to launch an arrow.
Above all, bamboo wood is highly elastic. Feel free to heat it slightly to make your bow even more elastic. The only downside of bamboo as a bow material is it requires a lot of work to craft and shape.
- It’s strong and durable
- Bamboo is highly elastic
- It is affordable
- It takes more work to shape
8. Red oak
Red oak is one of the most common hardwoods in the US and, therefore, a staple in the average timberyard. So, it’s very affordable (compared to other hardwoods).
It’s also strong and durable, making it ideal for woodworking applications. A red oak bow can last many years with good care. However, we must warn you of a few things.
First, red oak is highly porous. Therefore, we recommend older logs with thick late growth rings. Secondly, red oak is slightly heavy. So, you should consider other alternatives if you want a light bow.
- Red oak is strong and durable
- It’s highly elastic
- It’s affordable
- It’s highly porous
Birch trees are native to Europe, Asia, and Japan, where more than 40 species of this hardwood tree grow in the wild.
It’s characterized by a yellow-white or reddish-brown to light brown color, though it darkens significantly over time. Its medium pore structure, the figured grain pattern, and incredible strength make it attractive to bow makers.
However, we only recommend the yellow birch as it’s the strongest and most durable birch wood species. The other species are perishable.
- It’s hard and strong
- It’s highly elastic
- Birchwood is affordable
- Birch is perishable
10. Plum wood
Plum is a hardwood that comes in many colors. Typically, it’s yellowish-brown. However, pink, orange, purple, and red streaks are common.
It also boasts a beautiful, swirled, irregular grain, typically with knots. All these qualities make it an interesting choice for turned objects, inlays, and knife handles.
However, it also makes a wonderful choice for bow-making. It’s highly elastic, with a MOE value of 1,478,000 lbf/square inch. This allows plum wood bows to bend significantly without breaking.
- strong and durable
- Plumwood is weather resistant
- It is highly elastic
- Plumwood is rare and expensive
11. Eastern red cedar
The eastern red cedar is not a true cedar species. Instead, it’s from the juniper family. It’s a highly brittle wood and very light, two qualities that make it ideal for longbows.
In particular, it’s good for English longbows with d-shaped cross-sections. Its weak tension and high compression properties complement excellently.
The eastern red cedar also boasts high elasticity (10.0 BI) relative to its mass, making it even more suited to making bows. Its main downside is that it’s toxic. So, you must treat it to make it safe for humans.
- It’s very elastic
- It boasts a high compression ratio
- It’s very lightweight
- It’s toxic
- It’s rare
Although many bowmakers overlook it, cherry wood is a good choice for making bows. The tree grows tall and straight and comes in an attractive bright color.
Moreover, cherry bows are lightweight, agile, and less sluggish than many bow woods. The only downside of cherry wood bows is that it’s unsafe for humans.
So, you should apply rawhide on the bow to make it as safe as unbacked wood. Otherwise, it’s a strong and highly durable wood species.
- It’s lightweight
- It’s highly elastic (9.8 BI)
- Cherry bows are very agile
- Cherry wood is toxic
Dogwood is more common in Europe than in North America. Therefore, it’s a little harder to find than many wood options on this list. However, it makes excellent bows.
For one, dogwood has high compression and is very dense (750kg/cubic meter). Therefore, it doesn’t easily break when pulled. Additionally, dogwood is very strong.
It’s rated 2150 on the Janka scale, making it one of the hardest woods on earth. However, avoid knotted sections as these create weak points.
- Boasts a high compression value
- It’s hard and strong
- It’s highly flexible
- It can form knots if stressed
14. Ipe wood
Ipe wood is native to South America, particularly Brazil, where locals use it in housing and construction applications. It makes beautiful and durable decks, siding, and floors.
Its extreme strength (3,500 lbf on the Janka scale) makes ipe wood furniture almost unbreakable. The same qualities make ipe wood ideal for bow making.
Specifically, it’s the perfect choice for thin, lighter limbs, thus, a faster bow. In addition, remember that ipe wood is also highly resistant to rot and weather elements. The only downside is that it’s hard and difficult to craft.
- It makes thin, fast bow limbs
- It is decay-resistant
- Ipe wood is extremely durable
- It isn’t easy to craft
15. Black locust
Finally, you can also turn to black locust wood to make a bow. The wood boasts high tension and low compression and makes a particularly good candidate when making crowned-back arrows.
That said, you can also use it for flat-back design bows. Unfortunately, locust bows are susceptible to fretting.
The wood begins to form clusters or frets on a few areas if it isn’t tillered properly. Therefore, avoid subjecting isolated sections of the bow to excessive strain.
- Locust is a high-tension wood
- Locust wood is hard and strong
- It’s ideal for crowned-back bows
- Locust bows are prone to fretting
Read Also: Places to Buy Wood For Woodworking
What is the best material to make a bow?
The best material for making a bow is composite formed by gluing together layers of different woods, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. The woods most commonly used in these composites include elm wood, bamboo, maple, and cedar, though some manufacturers use exotic woods, such as Bubinga.
What wood makes the fastest bows?
Yew and osage orange are the best woods for making bows. The two wood types boast high elasticity ratings and lead the pack in Bow Index (BI) values. Maple and hickory are excellent alternatives, though. The same goes for red elm, ash, and walnut.
What’s the best wood for a longbow?
Many experts say yew is the best wood for making longbows. However, this doesn’t mean you cannot make excellent longbows from other wood types. On the contrary, white oak, red oak, American elm, red elm, and hickory are other excellent choices. It depends on availability, cost, and personal preferences.
What’s the best wood for recurve bow?
The best wood for a recurve bow is maple, with hickory a close second. These two wood types provide the strength and durability required of recurve bows. Moreover, the best recurve bow must be flexible and snappy. Maple and hickory woods provide these two qualities in abundance.
Generally, any wood type with good elasticity and a high Bow Index (BI) can make a good bow.
However, if you’re wondering, yew, osage orange, hickory, black locust, and ash are the best wood for a bow. A few good alternatives include cherry, maple, and ipe wood.