A longbow is a type of bow that is tall (roughly equal to or greater than the height of a person), is not recurved and has relatively narrow limbs, that are circular or D-shaped in cross section. The traditional English longbow is made so that its thickness is at least 5/8 of its width. If the thickness is less than 5/8 of its width then the bow would be considered a flatbow. Typically a longbow is widest at the handle. Longbows have been used for hunting and warfare, by many cultures around the world, with the most famous example being the English, during the Middle Ages (see English longbow).


Longbows are made entirely from wood and have been used for hundreds or thousands of years, for hunting and warfare by, among others, the ancient Nubians, Native American tribes such as the Cherokee, South American tribes like the Bari, African tribes such as the Bassa, Neolithic Europeans, and medieval Europeans. As a hunting weapon, longbows are simple, reliable and capable of taking game as large as African elephants. As a weapon of war the longbow has been instrumental to several cultures. The Nubians were famous for their prowess with their six to seven foot longbows, becoming known as 'pupil smiters', because they would shoot their enemies in the eyes during armed conflicts. World wide the average power for bows of all designs is about 50 pounds at 28 inches of draw which is suitable for most hunting applications. Bows for warfare tend to be much more powerful, with the most powerful bows being the English longbow and the African elephant bow, both of which topped the 100 pound mark.

In ancient Japan, very distinctive bamboo and wood composite longbows, known as Yumi, became important to mounted samurai warfare. Modern Japanese archery (called kyudo or kyujutsu) still uses this style of longbow. Modern yumi can be made of fiberglass or carbon-fiber, as well as of the traditional wood/bamboo laminate. Yumi are recurved bows, and have the unique characteristic of being off-center. That is, the lower arm of the bow is shorter and heavier than the upper arm; this is useful when the bow is used from horseback, so that the archer can turn without the bottom of the bow hitting the horse.

In the Middle Ages the English were famous for their very heavy, long-ranged English longbows, used to great effect against the French in the Hundred Years' War (notably at the battles of Crécy (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415)).

Although firearms supplanted bows in warfare, wooden or fiberglass composite longbows continue to be used by traditional archers and some tribal societies, for recreation and hunting.

Design and construction

Because the longbow can be carved from a single piece of wood, it can be crafted relatively easily and quickly. Amateur bowyers today can craft a longbow in about ten to twenty hours, while highly skilled bowyers, such as those who produced medieval English Longbows, can craft wooden longbows in just a few hours.

Longbows, because of their narrow limbs and rounded cross-section (which does not spread out stress within the wood as evenly as a flatbow’s rectangular cross section), need to be either less powerful, longer or of stronger wood than an equivalent flatbow. In Europe the latter approach was used, with yew being the wood of choice, because of its high compressive strength, light weight and resilience.

One of the simpler longbow designs is known as the selfbow. It is made from a single piece of wood and in such a way as to maximize both the elastic and compressive properties of a single cut of wood. The bowstave is cut from the radius of the raw wood so that the sapwood centre becomes the back and the the heartwood becomes the belly. Truly traditional English longbows are selfbows.

Wooden composite longbows can be made by gluing together two or more different pieces of wood. Usually this is done to take advantage of the mechanical properties of different woods: some woods can better withstand compression while others are better at withstanding tension. Examples include hickory and lemonwood or hickory and yew longbows: hickory is used on the back of the bow (the part facing away from the archer when shooting) and so is in tension, while the belly (the part facing the archer when shooting) is made of yew and undergoes compression (see bending for a further explanation of stresses in a bending beam). Traditionally made Yumi are also composite longbows, made from laminated strips of wood: the core of the bow is bamboo, the back and belly are bamboo or hardwood and hardwood strips are laminated to the bows sides to prevent twisting. Bows made entirely from yew have a natural composite effect because the sapwood and heartwood in yew have different properties. Hard woods, like elm, oak, ash or maple are more suitable for flatbows. The traditional Finnish flatbow is made from ash.

Today composite longbows made of wood, plastic and fiberglass can be purchased commercially. These bows will withstand more abuse and are more resistant to heat and humidity changes than traditional wooden longbows.

See also


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