Is Hickory Wood Good for Bows

Hickory is one of the most popular woods used for making bows due to its combination of strength, flexibility, and density.

For centuries, expert bow makers have relied on hickory for crafting high-quality bows suitable for hunting, warfare, sport, and more.

Let's take a closer look at why hickory is so well-suited for bow making.

Key Takeaways:

  • Hickory wood has an ideal combination of elasticity, strength, and density that makes it well-suited for crafting bows.
  • Its elasticity allows it to bend and flex without breaking when the bow is drawn and released. This is crucial for storing and releasing energy.
  • Hickory's strength enables it to withstand the forces involved in repeated bending and flexing. This resilience prevents cracking or splitting.
  • The wood's high density provides mass for smooth and stable arrow flight after release. It also contributes to durability.
  • Hickory absorbs shock and vibration well, resulting in a "quieter" and more comfortable shot.
  • The workability of hickory allows bowyers to shape and refine it into optimized designs using simple hand tools.
  • Skilled bow makers carefully select and shape hickory using traditional techniques like tillering to create high performance bows.
  • Modern advances like composites and CNC machining are combined with hand craftsmanship to make exceptional modern hickory bows.
  • Hickory remains a trusted and versatile bow making material from Native American times through today. Its natural properties make it an ideal choice.


Is Hickory Wood Good for Bows

One of the most important properties of a good bow wood is elasticity - its ability to bend and flex without breaking.

Hickory is highly elastic, which allows it to bend and store energy efficiently when the bow is drawn. As the archer pulls back the bowstring, the hickory limbs will flex and stretch.

When released, the stored energy is transferred to the arrow for maximum speed and power.

The elasticity of hickory allows the limbs to withstand this bending and flexing without becoming permanently deformed or snapped.


In addition to elasticity, hickory is also remarkably strong for its weight.

The dense wood has tremendous compressive strength to withstand the forces involved in bow making.

As the limbs bend and the bowstring is drawn back, the wood undergoes tremendous stress. Poor quality or weak woods would break under these forces.

But hickory has the strength to flex deeply without cracking or splitting.

This resilience allows hickory bows to be pulled back further for increased power.


The dense grain of hickory wood is another beneficial property for bows.

Density is related to the tightness of the wood grain and number of wood cells in a given volume.

Hickory is a very dense hardwood that packs a lot of fibers into the limbs.

This gives hickory bows good mass and inertia for smooth, stable arrow flight after release.

The density also contributes to the bow's durability and resistance to damage over repeated uses.

Resistance to Shock

Another useful property of hickory is its capacity to absorb vibrations and shock.

When releasing an arrow, the limbs undergo rapid flexing motions that can cause vibrations and jarring forces.

Woods that transmit this shock into the handle can be uncomfortable and unstable for the archer.

Hickory's density and grain structure allow it absorb these forces well.

This results in a "quieter" shot with less vibration and recoil.


While hickory is undoubtedly tough, it's also relatively easy to work using simple hand tools.

This workability has made hickory a preferred choice for bow makers throughout history. The wood can be carefully shaped into curved limbs, narrow tips, and other useful profiles.

After the basic shape is achieved, the bow can be further refined for maximum performance.

Compared to more difficult woods, hickory gives bowyers ample opportunity to perfect their craft.

Traditional Bow Making with Hickory

For thousands of years, skilled bowyers have crafted bows by hand from hickory wood and other select materials.

Let's look at how artisans have historically transformed hickory trees into high performance archery bows.

Selecting Materials

Quality bow making begins with sourcing straight, knot-free hickory logs ideally with dense, straight grain.

Slow growing old-growth hickory produced exceptionally resilient wood for Native American bows.

Bowyers examine their materials closely to find the best portions for the bow's belly, back, limbs, riser, and other parts.

Proper orientation aligns the wood grain with the forces and stresses.

Shaping the Bow

After sawing planks from the log, the bowyer uses a combination of specialized knives, gauges, and rasps to shape the bow.

Techniques like floor tillering leverage the wood's natural flexibility to achieve the desired curves and flex.

This careful, incremental shaping maximizes performance and minimizes wood defects or weak points.

The complete bow is crafted to evenly distribute stress across the design.

Tillering and Finish Work

Tillering involves methodically adjusting the limbs by scraping away wood and allowing the hickory to flex into its final shape.

This fine tunes the bow's draw weight, flex, and performance parameters.

Finally, the bow may be decorated, sealed, waxed, or painted for aesthetics and protection.

Arrow rests, grips, or decorative overlays are added to complete a finely crafted hickory bow.

Bow Strings

The bowstring is vital for storing and transmitting energy to the arrow.

Hickory self bows may use a plain string crafted from plant or animal materials. Composite bows often incorporate sinew string for added elasticity and power.

Modern bows use high tech compound strings, but traditional natural fibers are still used by purists.

Proper stringing and maintenance keeps the bow performing at its best.

Modern Hickory Bows

While traditional handmade hickory bows are still popular, wood bow making has also advanced with modern tools and materials.

Combining old-world craftsmanship with new technology produces exceptional hickory bows.

Laminations and Composites

Layering different materials allows bowyers to craft bows with specialized performance for the riser, limbs, and other components.

Hickory limbs may be laminated with fiberglass, carbon fiber, or sinew for added elasticity and strength.

Exotic woods, horn, and other materials are often used for decorative riser overlays.

Improved Tillering Methods

New tillering gadgets help bow makers achieve precision flex tuning and draw weight adjustment during the design process.

Devices like tillering gizmos and digital draw force analyzers quantify performance metrics for informed tiller adjustments.

This data aids the careful tillering of laminated and composite hickory bows.

CNC Machining

While craftsmen still do the specialized bow shaping and tillering by hand, CNC (computer numeric control) machining helps pre-shape bow parts like the riser with great accuracy.

After the initial CNC milling, the parts still require finishing and tuning by the master bowyer.

The combination of machines and hand crafting boosts consistency.

Synthetic Adhesives

Improved waterproof adhesives allow reliable bonding of laminated limbs, composite risers, overlays, arrow rests, and grips.

Synthetic polymers form bonds that are consistently strong yet elastic to endure the rigors of archery.

The adhesives also help protect the hickory from weathering and moisture damage.

Wyatt Keith

Wyatt is a hickory tree expert with 25 years of experience studying and working with these majestic trees. Wyatt has worked on various research projects and has conducted extensive field work, studying the growth and behavior of hickory trees in different regions of the country. In addition to his research, he has also worked with landowners and land managers to help them properly care for and manage their hickory trees. Wyatt is passionate about sharing his knowledge and expertise with others, and he frequently gives talks and presentations on hickory trees to various audiences.

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