Survival Bow Making

Crafting your own survival bow is one of the most useful and empowering bushcraft skills. With some basic tools and materials, even novice DIY bowmakers can create a functional primitive bow for hunting and survival.

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to make your first survival bow from start to finish. We’ll discuss optimal wood selection, key tools, proper shaping techniques, stringing and tuning methods, and arrow crafting. Follow along to gain this self-reliant skill.

Why Make a Survival Bow?

Having an effective bow in a wilderness survival situation is invaluable for:

  • Hunting Game – Take down small animals for food with field tipped arrows. Larger animals can be harvested with broadhead arrows.
  • Self-Defense – Fending off predators or threats with bow and arrow. A survival bow can be a lifesaving tool.
  • Target Practice – Hone your archery skills and marksmanship. This also improves hunting ability.
  • Self-Reliance – Being able to craft the tools you need instills confidence and independence.

While modern bows have advantages, a well-made primitive bow is extremely capable in experienced hands. And the ability to create your own gear from scratch is deeply empowering.

Choosing the Best Wood for Survival Bows

Your choice of bow wood will significantly impact performance and durability. Look for wood that displays these qualities:

  • Dense – Denser woods make more powerful, efficient bows. Lightweight woods lack power.
  • Elastic – The wood must flex and spring back into shape without taking permanent set.
  • Stability – It should resist warping and shrinking to maintain tiller and shoot straight.
  • Shock Resistance – The bow must absorb vibration and impacts without cracking or failing.
  • Workability – Easy to shape into smooth limbs using simple hand tools.

Here are some of the top wood choices for survival bows:

Osage Orange

Osage orange is the traditional gold standard for bow making. Its combination of density, flexibility, strength and stability is hard to beat. Straight grained osage staves without knots or twists are ideal.


Hickory is another premier traditional bow wood. The heartwood is very strong, elastic, and stable. Avoid the sapwood which is more prone to insect damage.


Ash has been used for centuries to make effective bows thanks to its strength, workability and resistance to shock. Look for straight grained, knot-free staves.


Hard maples like sugar maple generate excellent performance. Birdseye figure should be avoided, but curly maple is fine. The wood must be free of defects.


For tropical regions, larger bamboo poles make superb survival bow material. Look for thick-walled culms with few nodes.

Essential Tools for Crafting Primitive Bows

You don’t need an entire workshop full of specialty tools to make a survival bow. Here are the basic tools required:

  • Knife – For safely removing bark/sapwood, roughing out shape.
  • Hatchet – Debarking, limb taper, floor tillering. Use with caution.
  • Rasps – Coarse and fine rasps for aggressive and smooth shaping.
  • Scrapers – Help smoothly remove material in thin controlled layers.
  • Sandpaper – Finer grits (120-220+) for final smoothing and tiller adjustments.
  • String – Bowstrings can be improvised from plant fiber, paracord, etc.
  • Linseed Oil – Protects and preserves the finished bow.

Nice extras to have are draw knives, planes, specialized tillering sticks and bow strings. But the basics will get you started.

Shaping Your First Survival Bow – Step-by-Step

Follow these key steps to transform a stave of seasoned hardwood into a functional survival bow using just simple tools and patience:

1. Prepare Your Bow Stave

Debark the stave and seal the back with linseed oil or wood sealer. Allow to dry fully before continuing.

2. Taper the Limbs

Shape the limbs, leaving the handle section wide. Taper smooth and even, avoiding abrupt shoulders.

3. Floor Tillering

Check limb stiffness. Adjust limbs as needed so both bend evenly.

4. Thin the Limbs

Carefully remove wood from the belly side to desired draw weight. Leave more at handle.

5. Refine Shape

Create final recurve, smooth any tool marks. Round edges and tip.

6. Tillering

Continuously check tiller and make small adjustments until both limbs bend evenly.

7. Strings & Tips

Install bowstring and reinforcements. Then seal, allow to cure fully.

8. String & Tune

Brace height, center shot, nock fit, draw weight – adjust as needed for smooth and accurate shot.

Have patience throughout the process and your efforts will be rewarded with a usable survival bow. Consider backing your first bows with sinew for insurance.

Stringing Options for Survival Bows

A well-fitting durable string is crucial on a primitive bow. Here are some options:

  • Paracord – Easy to obtain and use. Durable modern material. May require twisting strands.
  • Hemp – Traditional choice. Twist strands tightly for strength and stability. Linen thread also works well.
  • Sinew – Versatile animal sinew is very strong. Must be twisted and treated properly.
  • Plant Fibers – Natural options but weaker. May need frequent replacement in wet conditions.
  • Composite – Combining modern and natural materials gives a good compromise.

No matter the material, the string should be waxed for protection and tuned to proper brace height. Carry extras when relying on your survival bow.

Tuning and Troubleshooting Your Bow

Correctly tuning a primitive bow takes patience and practice:

  • Brace height – Start around 6-8″ based on draw length. Adjust to find the bow’s sweet spot for power and smoothness.
  • Nock fit – Arrows should rotate easily but not fall off the string when braced. File nocks if needed.
  • Tiller – Refine slowly over time, sanding down the stiffer limb to achieve equal bend. Check the floor tiller often.
  • Draw weight – Reduce by removing belly wood if needed so you can safely and accurately draw the bow.
  • Center shot – Align the arrow through the bow’s center by filing the arrow shelf and adjusting brace height.

Don’t overstress the bow while tuning. Shoot facing a net or target to be safe. With small refinements, you’ll achieve the accuracy and power you want.

Crafting Survival Arrows

A primitive bow is only half the equation – you need a supply of straight, well-tuned arrows:

  • Wood Selection – Light yet stiff woods like ash, cedar and birch work well for arrows. Find straight grained shafts.
  • Spine – Match the stiffness to your bow’s draw weight. Heavier bows need stiffer arrows.
  • Nocks – Carve narrowed notches to fit your bowstring. Reinforce with bone or wood.
  • Fletching – Add real feathers or improvised plastic vanes with wood glue for stability.
  • Points – Carved wood, fire hardened tips, stone, bone or metal arrowheads.

Take the time to craft high quality arrows matched to your bow. Developing your fletching and arrowhead making skills is extremely worthwhile. Never hunt game until you can consistently hit your targets.

5 Key Tips for Beginner Bow Makers

Making your first primitive bow is very rewarding but also challenging. Keep these tips in mind as you get started:

  • Seek out the highest quality materials to give yourself the best chance of success.
  • Take your time shaping the wood. Rushing causes mistakes and poor performance.
  • Check floor tiller frequently as you thin and taper the limbs. Never till just by eye or feel.
  • Don’t over-stress your bow during the tillering process. Draw slowly and carefully, building up gradually to your desired draw weight.
  • Craft plenty of practice arrows and spend time honing your shooting skills before relying on a survival bow in a real wilderness situation.

Patience and persistence will allow novice bow makers to craft excellent primitive bows with hand tools and natural materials. Keep practicing and learning to hone your skills.

Additional Tips for Survival Bow Making

Here are some additional pointers to support your success crafting primitive bows:

  • Seek guidance from experienced mentors or bowyers when possible. Hands-on training is invaluable.
  • Use a tillering stick and measure brace height precisely. Don’t rely on “eyeballing” the tiller.
  • Backing the limbs with sinew greatly strengthens the bow and prevents breakage. Highly recommended for beginners.
  • Store unstrung bows properly to avoid warping. Never leave strung for prolonged periods.
  • A well-crafted wood bow can last for many years if maintained properly. Re-seal and wax regularly.
  • Treat your tools with care and keep them razor sharp. A dull blade is dangerous and makes clean cuts difficult.

With practice comes intuition. But even seasoned bow makers stick to proven methods and never cut corners. Follow the fundamentals and let your skills progress over time.


The satisfaction of launching your first arrow from a hand-crafted primitive bow is hard to beat. While it takes determination and patience to master, survival bow making empowers self-reliance and is a deeply fulfilling traditional skill to learn.

Use this guide as a starting point, stay committed to improving, and you’ll be crafted effective bows for wilderness survival in no time. Your self-made arrows will fly straight and true after sufficient practice.

Now get started on sourcing quality materials for your first survival bow. The path towards greater self-sufficiency awaits!

Leave a Comment