A Glossary of Terms for Archers and Bowyers





anchor point

A reference point on an archers face, located by the drawing hand in order to produce a consistent draw length and arrow release.



archers paradox

This refers to the way an arrow bends around the handle of a longbow rather than being deflected to the side by the centrally travelling string. This is made possible by the way the forces are exerted and the natural flexibility of the wooden arrow shaft. This flexibility or 'spine' of the arrow allows longbow archers to aim directly at the target. Below is a series of four photos showing the archers paradox in action.

1. At full draw



2. Releasing the arrow, showing the archers paradox.



3. A close up of the previous photo.



4. Arrow in flight.




arrow plate

A small slice of a hard material that is attached to the bow where the arrow passes. Intended to stop wear on the wood of the bow, they can be any shape and made from any material.

Cow horn arrow plate



The 'back' of a bow refers to the outer surface, the one that faces away from you and towards the target as you are drawing the bow.




Backing is the term used to describe a material that has been glued to the back of a bow. Common backing materials are wood, sinew, rawhide and plant fibres. Backing a bow can reduce its chances of breaking under tension and in certain cases give increased performance.




The 'belly' of a bow is the surface that faces towards you as you are drawing the bow.



bending in the handle

This term refers to a bow that bends throughout its length, as in the case of war bows, rather than having a stiff non bending handle area such as those seen on most target bows. Bending in the handle is also known as a D shaped tiller and when the bow forms a perfect arc of a circle it can be described as a bow that comes round full compass.




Billets are two pieces of wood that are joined together to make one bow. Each billet forms one limb of the bow and they are glued together at the handle area using a spliced joint. Basically they allow the use of wood that is too short to make a bow from on its own.



bowyers knot

The bowyers knot, also know as the timber hitch, is an adjustable loop knot used to secure the bow string to the bottom nock on a longbow.



bow stringer

A device used to aid the bracing (stringing) of difficult bows such as heavy weight war bows and recurved bows. It usually consists of a loose string that attaches to each end of the bow and allows the archer to place one foot on the string and then pull the bow upwards into tension and thus allowing the proper bow string to be placed in its nocks.




bow woods

A term used to describe woods considered suitable for making self bows. The following is a short list of some of the more widely used woods. Yew, Ash, Elm, Oak, Sycamore, Lemonwood, Osage orange and Hickory.



bracing a bow

A term to describe the act of stringing the bow, attaching the bow string in place.




A device worn to offer protection to the archers wrist and inner forearm from the released bowstring, traditionally made from stiff leather.



brace height

When the bow has been braced this is the greatest distance that can be measured between the string and the bow.



buffalo horn

The harvested horn from the buffalo. A hard and strong material that works well and takes a high polish. the most commonly used material for longbow nocks.




Another name for the compacted straw targets used in archery.



A powdered resin wood glue often used to glue together the wood strips in laminated longbows.




The distance a bow can shoot an arrow. Cast can also be used to describe the speed a bow can shoot an arrow, measured in feet per second (fps).



cabinet scraper

A cabinet scraper is a tool used by bowyers to precisely remove very small amounts of wood. It consists of a metal plate with either straight or curve sides filed square along each edge. The cutting / scraping edge is achieved by running a hard metal rod down an edge of the scraper using a rolling motion and enough pressure to create a microscopic burr along that edge. The cabinet scraper is then used as a highly efficient scraper that can remove extremely fine wood shavings.



carriage bow

A carriage bow, also known as a 'take down bow', is a bow that folds or separates at the handle for ease of transportation.




A type of long distance archery in which the target is a flag post.



composite bow

Traditionally a composite bow is one in which the limbs of the bow are made from two or more different materials. Sinew and wood composites were used by several American Indian tribes and in Asia and the near east composite bows were usually made from horn, wood and sinew, sandwiched together in three layers. Composite bows are often recurved to exploit the maximum, in terms of power and performance, from the different materials used.  




This is a description of the force that is exerted on the belly of a bow when it is braced and drawn.



A popular material used for making longbow strings.



Danish oil

A blend of natural mineral oils used as a wood finish.



D shaped cross section

This is a description of the shape found in a cross section of the limbs of an English longbow and most other types of longbow. This rounded D shape usually becomes more circular towards the tips of the bow.




Drawing the bow. The act of pulling the bow string back in preparation to shoot an arrow.



draw knife

A tool used by bowyers that consists of a long blade with a handle at each end. The blade is usually around 6 - 10 inches long and though generally straight some draw knives have a curved blade. Large shavings can be removed by pulling the blade towards you while cutting into the surface of the wood.



draw length

An archers draw length is measured as the maximum distance between the bow and the string when at full draw. The draw length of a bow is the distance distance between the bow and the string that the bowyer recommends for the bow when at full draw.



draw weight

A bows draw weight is the force (measured in pounds) required to pull the string back to its draw length, (usually 28 inches).



A term used in archery to describe a single sequence of shooting and then retrieving your arrows. This is commonly as a set of three or six arrows.



English longbow

An English longbow should display all of the following features. Firstly it should be long, somewhere in the region of six feet. It should also be straight or slightly deflexed but not reflexed, (Note: Though not a common feature, some English longbows have recurved tips).

It should have a D shaped cross section, most often well rounded but sometimes more flattened. It should also have horn nocks. These were traditionally made from cow horn but today most are made from buffalo horn.

The traditional wood of choice used for English Longbows is top quality yew. In the middle ages it was imported in great quantities from many parts of Europe. Today the best yew comes from the north west of America, in Europe the yew from the alpine regions of Italy is also highly rated.

An English longbow can also be made from other woods ( English ash or wych elm were common traditional alternatives) but yew is the best suited wood for the English longbows particular design.

lighter weight longbows, (traditionally used for hunting or sport), can bend in the handle or have a stiffened or more pronounced handle area. Heavy weight bows, (traditionally used for warfare), usually bend in the handle.

Hand grips and arrow plates are also optional.



equilibrium moisture content

A term used to describe the moisture content of wood once it has stopped drying out and has reached a state of equilibrium dictated by the surrounding environmental conditions.


flat bow

A flat bow is basically one in which the bows limbs are much wider than they are deep. Unlike the deep rounded cross section of the English longbow the flat bow generally has a highly flattened rectangular shape in its cross section.

Flat bow designs can allow the bows to be shorter than longbows and can also accommodate a wide choice of suitable woods.



field archery

A form of archery using flat and 3-D targets spaced out over a varied terrain outdoor course.




A coating applied to worked wood that both protects and enhances the visual appearance of the wood. Commonly used finishes are Danish oil and varnish.



finger tab

A small piece of leather worn on the hand in order to protect the fingers pulling the string.




The description of a way of measuring a bows brace height using a clenched hand with upturned thumb.



Flemish string

A type of bowstring where one or both ends form a continuous loop, the loose ends being plated back into the string.




The name used for the attached feathers on an arrow.



flight arrow

An type of arrow designed specifically for shooting long distances. Features are usually small sized fletching, a barrelled shaft and an overall light weight.



footed arrow

A type of arrow that has a front section of the shaft made from a harder variety of wood. The main reason for this is to make the arrows last longer.



This is an abbreviation for the Grand National Archery Society , the governing body for the sport of archery in the UK.




The grain of wood is the way the woods fibres are laid out. For most woods the grain lies fairly straight but wavy or irregular grains are also found. In many tropical hardwoods the grain spirals out in different directions in regular patterns of growth.



growth rings

Growth rings are a representation of the growth a trees wood over the course of one year. In cross sawn timber they are seen as concentric rings radiating from the centre of the tree. Each ring is made up of a light and darker band, roughly corresponding with summer and winter growth.

Slow growing trees, such as yew, generally have very narrow and tightly spaced growth rings. Fast growing trees usually have very wide growth rings.

A study of a woods growth rings can determine the age of the tree, the various environmental conditions that were prevalent during each year of growth and if it is a complete cross section it is also possible to tell if the wood grew upright or at an angle.



A bow with a handle is usually one that has a built up area where you grip the bow. In longbows the handle is made from wood, either as a part of the original stave or in the form of a glued and shaped riser of wood. Larger handles impart a degree of stiffness to that area of the bow. The main reasons for handles is to improve comfort and  grip and to reduce 'hand shock'.



hand shock

This term refers to what can be felt in the hand holding the bow on release of the string. When the string of a bow snaps back into place a shock wave is sent down each limb of the bow which can then be felt as kicking movement in the bow hand. The strength of this effect varies for each bow but generally the effect will be more pronounced in higher weight bows.

A stiff or stiffened handle can greatly reduce the effect of hand shock by acting as a damper for the shock wave.




Hardwood is wood that comes from any species of hardwood tree. Hardwood trees belong to a group called the 'angiosperms' and are distinguished by their broad leafed leaves, either evergreen or deciduous, and their different cell structure compared to that found on softwoods.




The inner, often harder and darker coloured, portion of a trees wood.

As a tree grows each years growth ring is subsequently covered by the next years growth. While on the outside edge of the tree a proportion of these annual growth rings (known as the sapwood) perform functions such as moving and storing nutrients. As the area of sapwood moves outwards over the years there comes a point where a growth ring that was once sapwood stops performing its functions for the tree and undergoes a chemical change that usually results in a different colour and a distinctive set of physical properties. At this point it becomes heartwood.



Holmegaard bow

A number of archaeological finds of a type of bow that have a particular distinct and unique design are known as Holmegaard bows, after the location in Denmark where the first example was found. These main features of these bows are a stiff handle area that tapers into wide flat working limbs which very gradually taper for around two thirds of the limbs length then there is a strong transition into a long, thin and deep non working tip.

These ‘Holmegaard’ bows ( the oldest one found dating to around 7000BC ) were originally made from a variety of local woods and the many examples that have been found indicate the design was prevalent for around 4000 years.


instinctive shooting

A method of shooting that does not involve any specific aiming or sighting aids. The archer simply looks at the target, draws and shoots all in one fluid movement.



A name given to a portion of wood where there was the growth of a branch from the trunk of the tree. In Yew wood these knots can extend to the outer surface or be trapped within the wood. Knots can be classed as 'live' where they are structurally sound wood, or 'dead', where the wood has decayed and is generally replaced with a plug of good wood.


laminated longbow

A longbow that has been made from two or more strips of wood glued together lengthwise. Almost any type of wood could be incorporated into a laminated longbow  but the best bows will contain wood carefully chosen for its particular properties and attractive appearance.




The bending parts of a bow as seen in two half's, the top limb and the bottom limb.




A word used to describe the act of releasing a drawn bowstring and shooting an arrow.


Meare Heath Bow

The original Meare Heath bow, which dates to 2700 BC, was made from Yew and decorated with a geometric pattern made of wrapped sinew string. It is named after the area in southern England where it was first discovered.

The basic design features of this bow are a stiff handle area tapering into wide flat limbs that taper inwards  very slightly just before the tips.


moisture meter

A device used to measure the moisture content of wood. Expressed as an average percentage.



A bows nocks are the place where the string is attached and held in place. The most common form of nocks found on wood bows are a notched groove cut into the sides of a bows tips or alternatively the groove is cut into another material (such as buffalo horn) which is itself attached to the bows tips.

The reason that traditional English longbows used horn nocks is because the sapwood of yew is quite soft and therefore susceptible to wear and damage from the string, especially on heavy weight war bows.

Arrows also have nocks and these are the notch or groove cut into the end that is placed on the string.



nocking point

A defined point on the bows string where an arrow is placed before drawing the bow.


Pacific yew

Yew wood that comes from trees grown in the Pacific north west of North America.

There are three main species of yew tree, each having many varieties. These three main species are known as the 'Wallichinana group' the 'Sumatrana group' and the 'Baccata group'. Pacific yew trees belong to the wallicinana group and have the botanical name 'Taxus brevifolia'.

Most of the yew growing in Europe is of the Baccata group and has the botanical name 'Taxus baccata'.



pearl glue

Another name for animal glue. Usually found in pellet form it must be soaked in water then heated before it can be used. Its main use in bow making is for gluing on backings such as sinew and hide.




'Piles' and 'points' are words used to describe an arrows tips or head.



pin knot

A small knot ( 5mm or less across ) caused by the death of new branches at a very early stage of development.




Also known as a Dutch plug, a plug is a piece of wood used to replace a dead knot in a bow.



A container for holding arrows.



A bow in which the tips are curved outwards away from the archer. Recurved tips can reduce stacking in a bow and with certain designs can increase arrow speed.




When un-braced a bow with reflex has each limb pointing or curving away from the archer. A design that  is used to store more energy in a braced bow.




A word used to describe the act of releasing the arrow from a drawn bow string.



rings per inch

A measurement of the number of growth rings counted in an inch of square cut timber.

Pacific yew, 59 rings per inch




One or more strips of wood glued onto the surface of a bow in order to make a distinct handle.



roving mark

A type of archery in which the archers walk a varied terrain course laid out with a number of targets (or marks )  at different distances and requiring different angles of elevation for each shot.



The thin outer layer of a trees wood that is responsible for new growth and moving nutrients (the sap) around the tree. often lighter coloured and softer than the internal heartwood.



self bow

A self bow is a bow that has been made from one single piece of wood.




The name for the reinforcing wrapping found on the nocking points of a bow string.





When a bow becomes permanently deflexed over time and use due to compression of the belly wood.




The name for stingray hide. Traditionally used as a grip on samurai swords it also makes an excellent bow grip and backing material.




The leg tendons from stag, deer, moose and other wild cattle. Used by pounding into its constituent fibres which are then glued on as a bow backing. A well applied sinew backing can make a bows back almost unbreakable and on certain bows it can also increase the draw weight.



smooth draw

A bow in which the draw weight rises in smooth and equal increments throughout the draw.




Softwood is distinguished by its cell structure and that it comes from cone bearing trees. Softwood trees are often evergreen and usually have needle shaped leaves. They belong to the botanical group 'gymnosperms' which means, plants with naked seeds.




A measurement of the stiffness of an arrow.




A bow that has been spliced has been made from two billets that have been glued together at the middle of the bow using a spliced joint.



spoke shave

A small hand held adjustable plane used by bowyers. The spoke shave can be pushed or drawn over the wood, cutting to a depth set by adjustment of the blade. Particularly useful for bow making as it can follow the contours of the wood rather than planeing them flat.





A phenomena found in some bows where the draw weight greatly increases as you reach towards full draw. There are many factors that can contribute to stacking including wood choice, bow length and bow design.




The name given to the piece of wood from which a bow is made. Staves can be split or cut from logs and branches.



steam bending

A process where heat, in the form of steam, is applied to wood in order to temporarily soften it allowing it to be bent into another shape. Holding the wood until it cools can cause the bend to become a permanent change.



string follow

A bow described as having string follow is one in which extended use has caused the bow to become permanently bent, the limbs bending back towards the archer when the bow is un-braced.



Tillering describes the act of removing wood from a bow in order to achieve the correct bend, draw length and draw weight.




This is a description of the forces at work in wood on the back of a bow when it is braced and drawn.


war bow

Traditionally made of yew a war bow was one designed specifically for warfare. Their main characteristic was a high draw weight, often in excess of 100lb. This allowed heavy weight arrows to achieve long distances and have armour piercing capabilities.

Generally war bows also have a  characteristic shape, being wider and longer than an average target bow they retain a D shaped cross section throughout, rounding off towards the tips. They have no built up handle and bend throughout the bow.

Another common feature is the use of two string grooves in each nock, to allow the use of a bow stringer.