Make a Stone-Age Stick Bow

Learn how to turn a simple wooden stave — which you can cut to size yourself — into a bow designed perfectly for your shooting style and preferences.

| December 2019/January 2020


Photo from Adobe Stock/Thomas Siepmann

This past spring, I was fortunate to attend a weeklong course in primitive bow-making taught by Brad Salon and Sarah Corrigan at Roots School in eastern Vermont. Salon and Corrigan are experienced bowyers and members of the primitive-technology community. Far from being a synonym for “crude,” in this context, "primitive” refers to the re-creation of Stone Age technologies with simple tools and basic, natural materials.

The bows my classmates and I made are “self bows” carved from single riven staves of Osage orange wood. As novices, we used modern tools for speed and accuracy, but you could make this bow using only stone tools.

Lethal Geometry

Most bow-making is done by feel, but there’s still a little math involved to determine your bow and draw lengths. Stand with one fist outstretched, as if holding a bow, and bring your shooting hand back to the anchor point you’ll use with this bow. Your draw length is the distance from the knuckles on your fisted hand to the anchor point you choose. Mine, with an anchor point at the corner of my mouth, is 27 inches.



The limbs of your bow must be at least equal to your draw length. To determine the minimum length of your bow, multiply your draw length by 2, add 4 inches for the handle, and add another 3 inches (1-1/2 inches on either side of the handle) for the fadeouts. My bow needed to be at least 61 inches long.

In addition to measurements, consider your stave’s geometry. Are there checks or knots that will need to be avoided or removed? At the length you need, will the tips and handle align vertically? The limbs can snake from side to side dramatically in between, as long as the tips and handle make a straight line.






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