Today, there are three main types of bow – the traditional bow, the recurve bow, and the modern compound bow.
Can be further broken down into 2 subsections: Longbows and Flatbows.
The longbow or “6 foot of bent stick” is the traditional English bow. In the past Longbows were made from Yew but this is now in very short supply, so laminates of various more common woods are used instead. Arrows used by longbow archers are made of wood with feather fletches. Longbows have no ‘artificial aids’ to help the archer to shoot.
A flatbow is a bow with, flat, relatively wide limbs that are approximately rectangular in cross-section. Because the limbs are relatively wide, flatbows will usually narrow and become deeper at the handle, with a rounded, non-bending, handle for easier grip. This design differs from that of a longbow, which has rounded limbs that are circular or D shaped in cross-section, and is usually widest at the handle. Flatbows are often of laminate or composite construction.
A typical modern recurve bow, as used by archers in the Olympics and many other competitive events, will employ advanced technologies and materials and will have been made by a professional company such as Hoyt, or Win and Win. The limbs are usually made from layers of fibreglass, carbon and/or wood on a core of carbon foam or wood. Carbon limbs will shoot the arrow faster for a given draw weight when compared with wooden limbs, but they are much more expensive. The riser (the handle section of the bow) is generally separate and is normally constructed from aluminium or magnesium alloy. (Risers for beginners are usually made of wood or plastic).
The limbs of the bow will fit into pockets on the ends of the riser, and will be held in place by the tension of the bowstring.
The high-technology materials of a modern bow allow predictable manufacture for consistent high performance, and also permit the easy attachment of modern aids to accuracy, such as stabilisers. The greater weight of a modern bow is in itself an aid to stability in the grip, and therefore to accuracy.
The modern recurve is the only form of bow allowed in the Olympic Games, and is the type most widely used by European and Asian archers.
Recurve archers often have many other pieces of equipment attached to their recurve bows, such as stabilisers, (for balancing the bow and absorbing some of the vibration) sights (for improving accuracy), and pressure buttons (for fine tuning the arrow’s flight). A piece of leather called a tab is worn when shooting to ensure a smooth release and save wear on the fingers.
A compound bow is a modern development of the bow which uses a system of cables, wheels and cams to draw the limbs back.
The limbs of a compound bow are usually much stiffer than those of a recurve bow or longbow. This limb stiffness makes the compound bow more energy-efficient than other bows, but the limbs are too stiff to be drawn comfortably with a string attached directly to them. The compound bow has the string attached to the pulleys / cams, one or both of which has one or more cables attached to the opposite limb. When the string is drawn back, the string causes the pulleys to turn. This causes the pulleys to pull the cables, which in turn causes the limbs to bend and thus store energy.
The use of this system and the type of cam used gives the compound bow a characteristic draw-force curve which rises to a peak weight and then “lets off” to a lower holding weight.
The compound bow is little-affected by changes of temperature and humidity and gives superior accuracy, speed, and distance in comparison with other bows. Instead of standard sights, magnifying scopes are used in conjunction with a ‘peep’ sight in the string, and the arrows are shot with a release aid, similar to a trigger, rather than with the fingers.