How to Build a Wooden American Flat Bow With Plans

Archer taking aim to hit the bull's eye image by Andris Daugovich from

The American flat bow is a non-recurred bow with wide rectangular limbs. Flat bows are usually long and narrow, becoming deeper at the rounded and non-bending handle. Historically, these bows were used for hunting and warfare by such Native Americans tribes as the Hupa, Karok and Wampanoag. Prehistoric ancient Europeans, Inuit tribes, Finno-Ugric nations and a number of societies also used flat bows. Today, the bow is used for competitive archery and hunting. Flat bows traditionally were made from one solid piece of wood. Modern flat bows are commonly made from fiberglass.

Creating the Bow

Cut down a very straight small tree, about 5 1/2 feet long and 2 1/4 to 3 1/4 inches in diameter. Remove the bark by scraping it, not craving it, to prevent cutting the wood. Split the log in half, then half again.

Draw an outline of the bow on the wood and find the center point. Measure 3 inches from both sides for the hand grip. Use a file to taper the wood back. The thickness around the handle should be about 5/8 to 3/8 inch in thickness at the tip. The width of the bow should be tapered back to 2 1/2 inches at the handle and 1/2 inch at the tip.

Taper the hand grip to a comfortable fit for you. Use scrapers and sanders to finish the design and smooth the bow. Wrap leather strips around the hand grip for comfort.

Oil the bow with a warm mixture of fat and brain matter, applying it with a cloth to coat exposed areas. Warm your bow by a fire or stove to drive the oils into the bow.

Stringing Your Bow

Hold your bow with the front face facing downward. Grip the center riser and place the larger pouch of the bow stringer over the tip of the lower or bottom limb.

Place the smallest pouch over the tip of the upper limb.

Step on the stringer cord and pull up on the riser to make the string taut. Guide the string into the notches of the upper limb.


The benefits of building the bow out of wood are cost, speed and weight. The cons are warping and weaker limbs. Elm, maple, sycamore, hazel and ash are suitable and easily-available timbers that make excellent bows. Oil the bow with natural or synthetic materials. Native Americans used bear or deer fat and brain matter. If using natural materials, warm the mixture before applying.

When shooting your bow, wear a wrist guard to protect your wrist and forearm from the recoiling bow string. Using a bow stringer to string your bow is the safest and most commonly used method.


Never hyperextend or dry fire your bow. This will damage the bow. Dry firing is when the string is pulled back and let go with out an arrow. This will break the bowstring or cause the limbs to explode. Flat bows can shoot with accuracy up to 100 yards or more. A bow is a weapon and you should treat it as such. When shooting, use correct form to avoid injuries.