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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 circular or D shaped in cross section. 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 made entirely from wood 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 as 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. In ancient Japan, very distinctive bamboo and wood composite longbows, known as Yumis, became important to mounted samurai warfare. In the middle ages the English became famous for their archery, using their very heavy, long-ranged English Longbows to great affect against the French in the Hundred Years War.
Though 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

Longbows are one of the two major designs for wooden selfbows (bows made entirely from one piece of material), the other being the flatbow. Because they can be carved from a single piece of wood, longbows 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 in Europe because of its high compressive strength, light weight, and resilience.
Wooden composite longbows can be made by gluing together two or more different pieces of wood. Usually this is done to take advantage of different woods mechanical properties: 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 Yumis 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.
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.


  • Gray, David (2002) Bows of the World. The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-58574-478-6

  • (1992) The Traditional Boyers Bible Volume 1. The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-58574-085-3

  • (1992) The Traditional Boyers Bible Volume 2. The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-58574-086-1

  • (1994) The Traditional Boyers Bible Volume 3. The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-58574-087-X