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How to Make Osage Orange Bows

By Barbara Freeman
Build your own bow from osage orange trees.
Men bow shooting. Amateur competition in the sanatorium image by Igor Zhorov from Fotolia.com

The osage orange tree is not really a citrus tree. The fruit are actually inedible, lumpy seed balls. The osage tree is prized by bow hunters for its hard wood. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the the wood is disease free, pest free and rot-resistant. Hunters like to use this wood for their hunting bows. To make an osage orange bow, you need dried, quartered staves that have been cut from an osage tree trunk. You need to shape each stave with a two handled knife, and bend it with steam into the shape of a bow. Then, file the notches for your bow tips, and string your bow.

Split logs from an osage orange tree to make your bow.
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Split logs from an osage tree into quarters. Spray the ends of the quartered logs with polyurethane, which will cause a loss of moisture on the split sides and help the stave to dry faster. Place the split staves into a shed to dry for 12 months.

Use dried, quartered osage staves for your bow.
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Clamp the dried osage stave onto your table vice, and shave off all of the rough bark from the back of the stave, using a two-handled draw knife. Shave the stave down to the hard, dark yellow wood. Shave it down to one growth ring. This part of the stave will become the side of the bow, facing away from you.

Measure the center point for your bow.
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Draw a center line down the stave, carefully following the center line of the wood grain. Measure and draw a center point on your center line, this is where you will place the handle of your bow.

Calculate the length you will need to make your bow.
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Find the length that you should make your bow, by doubling the center point you measured on your center line and adding 10 inches. For example, if your center point was 24 inches, 58 inches would be the length of the bow (24 inches x 2 inches + 10 inches = 58 inches). Add 2 more inches (58 inches + 2 inches) when cutting the stave, to allow for the string nooks.

Draw the shape of your bow.
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Draw a four and one-half inch long handle section, at the center of the bow, with a width of one and one-fourth inches. Widen the handle to one and three-fourths inches, for half of the length of each side of the bow. Taper the handle down evenly, to five-eighths of an inch, at the tips of the bow. Shave the center section of the bow (the four and one-half inch section) down to one-fourth inch using your two-handled draw knife. Shave the next half length on each side of the bow down to three-fourths inch width then taper the bow down to the tips, to five-eights inch.

Use your bandsaw to reduce the wood on your bow.
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Saw the bow down to three-fourths inches thick at the handle and one-half inches thick at the bow tips, using your band saw.

Steam the bow to bend it.
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Place the the tip of the bow over a boiling pot of water and cover it with aluminum foil for 20 minutes; then, place the bow onto the bow form and clamp the tip with C-clamps. Slowly and gently, bend the bow into the form, until it bends 25 percent more than the end result.

Smooth the wood with sandpaper.
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Sand your bow smooth using sandpaper. Cut in the nooks for the bowstring with your file.

Stringing the Bow

Hold the bottom of the bow steady, using your foot.
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Slide the small loop into the notch at the bottom of the bow. Place the bottom of the bow on the floor beneath the instep of your foot, and hold it steady with your foot.

Keep your other three fingers raised, so you do not trap them under the string.
fingers [8] image by Freddy from Fotolia.com

Place the center of the bow in your left hand, with the rounded side of the bow facing away from you. Hold the bowstring in the palm of your right hand, keeping the bowstring four inches below the top loop. Pinch the string one inch below the top loop with your thumb and first finger. Raise your other three fingers up, so that they are not trapped under the string.

Use a target to practice with your bow.
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Pull the bow in your left hand down against your left hip, bending the tip down with the closed palm of your right hand. Slip the large loop of the bowstring, pinched between your thumb and finger, into the notch at the tip of the bow. Practice with your bow by shooting at a target.


Things You Will Need

  • Osage wooden stave (quartered trunk dried for at least one year)
  • Vice
  • Two handled draw knife
  • Pencil
  • Measuring tape
  • Band saw
  • Stove
  • Pot
  • Bow form
  • Sandpaper
  • File
  • Bow string


  • An osage orange bow needs no lamination or backing to give it strength.


  • You may want to ask an expert bowyer to help you find the correct length and weight for your bow, before you cut your wood.

About the Author


Barbara Freeman is a teacher and has been writing since around 1995. She's written curriculum for Discovery NutshellMath software and her NutshellMath tutorials appear on the Discovery Cosmeo homework website. She's also written for Freshfilm.com. Freeman earned a Bachelor of Arts, a credential and a Master of Arts in educational technology.