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Make a Primitive Bow in an Afternoon with Only One Tool

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Make an effective and deadly primitive bow in just a single afternoon using just one tool, a hatchet or heavy knife. This is survival bushcraft at its finest.

Primitive archer Shawn Woods is up for a challenge. SnowJoe sent him a Nisaku Takenata stainless steel hatchet to field test, and Woods decided to try to make a survival primitive bow using this tool alone.

The hatchet looks more like a Japanese chef’s knife than what we think of as a traditional hatchet, and it’s fairly small as well. But Woods puts it to good use in making his bow.

I don’t think it’s necessarily important what brand or style of hatchet is used in this project. You can use a heavy fixed blade knife or regular hatchet and probably achieve very similar results. Choosing the wood you use for your primitive bow and the manner in which you fashion it is more important than the tool you use.

Woods selects the ocean spray shrub (Holodiscus discolor), common to the Pacific Northwest, for his bow. Indigenous people used this strong, woody shrub for many things, including spears, furniture, bows and arrows, digging sticks, tools and more.

Woods chooses a shoot that is around three inches in diameter and five feet in length, large enough to fashion a bow of 20-25 pounds in draw weight. That’s plenty strong enough to kill small game animals.

He also indicates that where he cuts the stave from the shrub, new shoots will later appear and will make great arrow shafts.

He leaves the bark on the back of the bow, while he chops material from the bow’s belly until both limbs are fairly even and he can begin to bend the bow. He also tapers each limb as they get close to the tips.

He initially uses the hatchet to chop away larger pieces of wood, but as each limb gets closer to its final shape he uses the hatchet as a draw knife to further refine the limbs. The Takenata hatchet is well suited for this task, given its longer cutting edge, but you may be able to do something similar with a regular hatchet or especially a knife.

He avoids tillering the bow (getting both limbs to bend more or less evenly) and shapes the handle the fit his hand. He made this working bow in very little time. To string it you will have to make a bowstring from plant fibers or from sinew. Click the following links to see Woods’ videos on making a bowstring from cannabis and from flax plants. His video on making a bowstring from sinew will follow shortly.

He fashions an arrow and gives the bow a shot. It works splendidly. There should be no problem with a bow like this taking down small game animals, assuming that you can achieve killing accuracy.

Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.

NEXT: Slaying Dragonflies with Primitive Archery

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Make a Primitive Bow in an Afternoon with Only One Tool