How Children Can Make Their Own Bows and Arrows
Thanks to Brave action girl Princess Merida, archery has taken our household by storm. When I told my girls I’d signed them up for a Brave junior ranger day in Scotland where they’d be making their own bows and arrows, they were over the moon. I mean, making your own bows and arrows at ages 7 and 9? That sounded pretty cool and Legolas the elf would have approved.
Brave and Lord of the Rings aside, archery is as close as today’s children will ever get to an ancient hunting technique practiced outdoors and the good news is, there are many archer heroes they can relate to. Think of Robin Hood, Katniss Everdeen or William Tell – they’re all good role models kids can look up to. Fortunately, today’s children don’t have to kill anyone or anything to use their bows and arrows. Practicing their aim and going on an archery hike across grassy trails gets top score in my girls’ outdoors book.
Here’s how my girls made their own bows and arrows from wood harvested in a nearby forest the previous day. As you will see, your kids will need the help of an adult for some that require physical strength.
Photo gallery – click on thumbnails to enlarge
TO MAKE A BOW
1. Choose a long piece of wood for the bow
The Scottish ranger who led the activity had harvested pieces hazelnut wood, about 3 to 4 feet long. It was pliable but not so much, which I understand is what you’re looking for. It should be a hardwood that’s free of knots, twists and side branches. You want a wood that’s not brittle but that will still give you good tension when you pull on the string. The piece of wood we used was roughly an inch wide in diameter.
2. Cut notches at each end of the bow
The notches will help hold the string in place. What you want to do is cut an inch into the middle of each end of the bow. We did it with a the saw of a Swiss Army knife but any small wood saw would work.
We used a fishing line type nylon string but you can choose other type of string (ordinary twine, thin nylon rope) as long as it is not stretchy. My girls tied a triple knot at the end of the string and secured it by slipping it in the notch and going around that end three or four times with the string, then tying a final double knot. To measure how much string the children needed, the ranger pulled the string from the secured end along the piece of wood and cut two inches beyond the other end.
5. Prepare a handhold
My girls were more than happy to reclaim possession of the Swiss Army knife for this step. With the knife, they shaved off an area around the middle of the bow that was larger than the size of their hand. It made holding the bow easier at the end. If you have sanding paper, you can sanded it or if you thick twine, you can wrap it around the middle over a couple inches to create a comfortable hand grip.
6. Finish the bow
All that needed to be done was tie a double knot at the loose end of the string, shorter than the length of the wood by roughly two or three inches, and then bend the wood until the string could be slipped inside the second notch. We had to repeat this step with varying lengths of string so as to get the best curve possible the bow. All ready! Now the arrows.
TO MAKE ARROWS
1. Select the wood
Arrows can be made from the straightest sticks you can find in a forest. Lengthwise, our sticks were about half the length of the bow piece.
2. Clean off the wood and sharpen the arrow
For this step, children will need to whittle the wood smooth around the circumference of the arrow by using a knife. To prevent sharp knives ending in legs, the children used a thin rectangular piece of wood that they laid across their thighs as a support. Holding the stick, the kids shaved off the bark all around the stick and holding one tip of the arrow on the piece of wood, sharpened it with the knife until it was pointy. That’s the arrowhead.
3. Make fletchings
If you’ve seen Brave, remember the slow-motion flight of the arrow and the fletchings that improved the arrow’s flight. For this, you’ll need nice big feathers that you can collect around your neighborhood or around a lake in a park. Using a knife, split the feathers in half along the quill (that’s the tough central stem). Then trim the halves so you have bits about two inches long. For each arrow, you’ll need three of those.
Then split the wood at the end opposite the arrowhead in three parts. Slide the feathers in and tightly wrap the end of the arrow with string or duct tape. We also duct-taped the area right below the fletches.
It’s all ready. A precautionary note that seems self-evident – never shoot an arrow if anyone is standing in front of you, even sideways. Wait until the area is clear and everybody is behind you. Now go outside and have fun!