I have had tons of requests from my various social media interactions with people asking me how to build a bow. I love answering questions from folks on the subject. Teaching a skill makes the instructor better at his craft, like a journeyman having an apprentice. Once I was able to bring on an apprentice my skills as a tradesman increased incredibly!
Building a bow is a simple process. Teaching a piece of wood to bend and take the strain of drawing and loosing an arrow. That's it, and that is tillering in a nutshell. Now teaching that piece of wood to bend isn't all that straightforward. We must gently remove wood from the belly(side facing you) and the sides until it is reduced enough to bend through the full limb and not have any hinges(too much bend) or stiff spots(not enough bend). I am getting a little ahead of myself here, so lets get back to the start of the whole ordeal.
To build a bow you need to do a couple things first. One is read the "Traditional Bowyers Bible volume 1" and two, spend sometime on the Primitive Archer forum. Those are the two best resources that I can recommend for someone wanting to dive into this pastime. The TTB was written in the early 90's, by several wood bow aficionados who were worried the knowledge of the pursuit would be lost as fewer and fewer folks were interested in wood bows. That is not the case now, as there are hundreds or thousands of new bowyers out there constantly raising the bar on what was once thought impossible. Many of those bowyers frequent the PA forum. Along with some amazing eye candy of bows and arrows, the folks on there are always willing to lend a hand with information and answering questions. Just lurk around and read some posts. Once you have learned some basic terminology you are getting that much closer!
YouTube is your friend. Along with the other two resources, YouTube is chock full of information on anything related to bow building. I really was drawn to Clay Hayes and Boarrior Bow on YouTube. Mick Grewcock and Del Cat are excellent channels from the UK. Also worth checking out is the site called "Poor Folk Bows" Many, many great builders and instructors on the Tube, just do a search and get lost in there!
Lets gather some tools. We don't need to sink a ton into this right off the bat. There are a few tools that are invaluable, but do what you can without blowing the bank. I think a draw knife and a ferriers rasp are two really important tools, however you can get away with a block plan or a shure-form plane and a four way rasp/file. A hatchet or a machete are wonderful for roughing out staves if you are using logs. Cabinet scrapers and sandpaper are perfect for doing your fine work, and don't cost that much. A few other minor tools, like a chainsaw file, can be useful for cutting in your string nocks, and a handsaw of some king for trimming your stave to length. Of course various measuring devices, pencils and sharpies are good too.
Now lets get some wood to work on!. There are lots of options when it comes to what woods to use. Your geographical location can play a roll for sure. I live on an island off the west coast of Canada. I would love to build more board bows, but our hardwood lumber supplies(at least in my community) are limited, however we live where a bow grows in every other tree! Pacific Yew abounds, as does Hazel, Douglas maple, Serviceberry and Oceanspray, plus a few other pretty decent woods. Where you live it might be easier to find a board of a good hardwood rather than a tree stave . Some of the best bow woods include. Osage Orange, Hickory, Eastern red cedar, Elm, Ash, Sugar maple, Dogwood, and plum. There are loads more, so do your research. If finding a log stave is an option, then that is great, Free resource. I wouldn't pay for your first split stave, as you will probably waste a bunch of coin into it, and quite possibly mess it up! Boards are often inexpensive and readily available. Again do your research as to which boards are up to snuff. There is loads of good info online so I won't re-hash it here. Volume 2 of the TBB has a great chapter on board bows.
Take your time! My number one piece of advise for anyone starting out in this hobby. I know you want to be done it already, but if you rush, good chance you will destroy the stave. Spend lots of time getting to know the wood, and learning the tools. One could dig in way to deep really quickly with a draw knife and destroy a board in seconds! Draw on layout lines and follow them precisely. As you work the tiller then you can get inside those lines and bring it down, again, very carefully.
I encourage anyone who is interested in learning the craft of wood bow building to get after it! A highly enjoyable, sometimes frustrating hobby, with rewards that make it an all encapsulating practice. I still remember the time I shot my very first bow, built from a maple board, As I drew back, I was trying to hide my head because I was convinced that thing was going to explode! Of course it didn't, and after a few hundred shots it was still going strong. It has since been passed on to a friend and it will live on for many years. Get after it!