In the sport of archery there are many different types of bows from which an archer can choose. Two of these include the traditional longbow and the recurve bow.
To help you understand the differences (and some of the similarities) between these two bows, below we have described each type in great detail. Lastly, we have also included a section in which we will point out some of the most significant differences between the longbow and the recurve bow
- What Is a Longbow?
- What Materials Are Used to Make Longbows—and How Are They Made?
- What Is a Recurve Bow?
- What Materials Are Used to Make a Recurve Bow?
- What Are the Major Differences between Recurve Bows and Longbows?
What Is a Longbow?
Unlike the recurve bow, which tends to be shorter in height, a longbow is a tall bow that is generally equal to the height of the user if not a little taller. This long design allows for a relatively long draw which creates more energy as the arrow is fired.
The limbs on a longbow are narrow in comparison to the recurve bow, making them circular or D-shaped in the cross section. While flat bows can be equally as long as a longbow, the difference is that the cross section of the flat bow is equipped with limbs that are more rectangular in shape rather than circular.
Longbows have been around since the dawn of time, used historically as a hunting tool and a weapon of warfare. In Europe, they date back to the Paleolithic age; come the dawn of the Bronze Age the bows were very prevalent, with the very early models constructed of yew or wych elem. A longbow, at least historically, could best be classified as a “self bow.” What this means is that the bow was constructed from a single piece of wood.
Those that wish to use a longbow in the various archery competitions that are held throughout the world should know that archery organizations have laid out some formal definitions for the various classes of longbows. Many of these longbow definitions would exclude some of the medieval examples, materials, and techniques of use.
Some archery clubs in the United States define a longbow as “any bow in which the strings do not come into contact with the limbs”; while others, like the English Longbow Society defines these weapons in terms of thickness.
What Materials Are Used to Make Longbows—and How Are They Made?
Most purists would say that a longbow is a bow made of wood—and only wood—and that’s exactly what these bows are “usually” made from. However, there are a few other materials, such as fiberglass, from which the bows can be made. Bows made of more modern materials like fiberglass or carbon fiber can be left strung for longer than wood bows, which may take a large amount of set if not unstrung immediately after use.
So how exactly is a typical wooden longbow made? As we explained briefly above, the longbow can be made from a single piece of wood, which means it can be crafted rather quickly and expediently. Those who make these bows—called bowyers—can usually turn out a handcrafted longbow in 6-10 hours, and the most expert bowyers, including those that make replicas of the medieval English longbow, can churn them out in just a couple of hours.
The traditional longbow is made from yew wood, from which the bow stave is cut from the radius of the tree. This cut ensures the sapwood from the outside of the tree, which will give the bow its tension strength, will be at the back of the bow, where it will make up about 1/3 of the total thickness.
The remaining two thirds of the bow are made from two separate pieces of heartwood, a type of yew that is great for the bow’s compression. Because yew wood was so crucial in the making of traditional longbows, the 16th century saw a major shortage of yew trees. Because of this, other types of wood, such as wych elm, had to be used instead.
What Is a Recurve Bow?
In the simplest terms, a recurve bow is a bow in which the limbs or ends of the weapon are curved away from the archer. Because of its ability to store more energy and deliver that energy more efficiently than a straight-limbed style of bow, the bow is able to shoot an arrow with a greater amount of energy and speed.
Many recurve bows are shorter than longbows by design. This is because a recurve design will allow for a shorter bow than the traditional longbow for a given amount of arrow energy.
This shorter bow + greater amount of energy combination was historically very appealing to some owners—archers in environments where longer weapons would be awkward and bulky, such as in deeply forested areas or those who primarily shot the weapon on horseback.
It is crucial to note that a recurve design can place greater stress on the materials used to make the bow. Also of note is the fact that recurve bows tend to make more noise when shooting an arrow.
Finally, bows with an extreme recurve design can be rather unstable when strung, especially in inexperienced hands, and an unstrung recurve bow, due to its strange shape, is often mistakenly strung on the incorrect side, which can actually damage the bow and even cause injury.
What Materials Are Used to Make a Recurve Bow?
There are many different materials that are used to make recurve bows. These include carbon fiber, fiberglass, wood and even some types of metals. Here we will take a very brief look at each of these types.
Carbon Fiber Recurve Bow
The recurve bows made from carbon fiber, a very lightweight yet tough material to say the least, tend to have a very potent strength to weight ratio. With the help of carbon risers, these bows consist of hollow carbon-based tubes that are carefully interlocked to produce a bow of great rigidity. Carbon fiber bows also tend to promote vibration dampening, making them some of the most quiet recurve bows on the market. Carbon fiber is also a material that is resistant against the cold, a time when a cold riser could negatively impact the accuracy of your shot.
Fiberglass Recurve Bow
Stiffer than wood but not nearly as rigid as carbon fiber, fiberglass is a low-cost alternative when manufacturing recurve bows. Fiberglass also has the advantage of being lightweight, and when two layers of the material are melded together they make for a high tensile strength bow.
Wood Recurve Bow
Preferred by those who like flexibility in their bow, a wooden recurve bow can handle a lot of bending stress without weakening. Many different types of wood are used to make wooden recurve bows, including hickory, yew, ash, walnut, blackwood, iron wood, yucca and basswood, among other types.
Metal Recurve Bows
Metal recurve bows are typically made from aluminum but can also be made from other types of metals as well. Bows that feature a metal riser are going to make that bow heavier yet more durable and stable.
What Are the Major Differences between Recurve Bows and Longbows?
Both longbows and recurve bows can be used by archers for hunting and target shooting, so what exactly is the difference between the two bows? In short, it all boils down to the different shapes of the two bows—the curves, etc.—and the (typical) materials used to create them. Here is a synopsis:
Features of the Longbow
When the traditional longbow is left unstrung it essentially takes the form of a straight wooden pole with a D-shaped cross section where the flat edge is facing the user. A longbow is usually the same height of the archer or up to 3 inches taller. In other words, if you are 5 feet 9 inches tall, you would need to make/buy a longbow that is between 5 feet 9 inches and 6 feet tall. This is the main reason it is called a “long” bow.
Longbows are almost always made of wood. More specifically, the longbow is created by using several layers from different types of wood. These layers are then laminated together to create a single save of wood that is both strong and somewhat flexible.
The laminated wooden longbows are made from wood sources—like yew—that are favorable to compression on the side that faces the archer; and favorable to flexibility on the opposite side of the bow. Longbows are made to be very strong and durable and have very high draw weights, some up to 180 pounds.
Features of the Recurve Bow
A modern recurve bow has outer limbs that curve away from the archer and an inflexible riser. Recurve bows also boast a type of “window cut” into the bow that allows the arrow to fly straighter and truer through this opening. This window allows the archer to use stiffer arrows, which in turn produce a greater degree of accuracy.
Recurve bows are much shorter than longbows, making them more efficient for certain tasks. They are made from a variety of materials—wood, metal, fiberglass and carbon fiber—with most of the modern bows made from the latter material due to its high strength to weight ratio.
Finally, the curved—or re-curved—limbs on the recurve bow are a planned design feature, one which allows those limbs to accelerate faster than the rest of the bow, thus enabling it to better transfer energy and making for more rapid arrow speeds and improved accuracy.