How To…. Build a Father & Son Bow

A very quickly made bow – It should take anyone competent with a knife and saw about 1 hour to make. The bow is made up of two poles – The larger is the Father and the smaller is the Son. I still have the first Father & Son bow I made about 5 years ago and it still shoots well. I use these bows typically on ranges of less than 20 metres but on a high arc they will shoot an arrow between 60 and 70 metres. Not bad for something made in an hour but only about 20 to 30lbs in draw.

Two Father & Son Bows (Centre & Right) up against my Holmegaard (left)

I was introduced to this sort of bow from Mark of Kepis Bushcraft when he posted a You Tube video where he made one for his son (I have put a link to the video at the bottom of the article). I realised instantly that this would be an excellent tool to use with my Sea Cadets. Funding is always tight so the thought that I could make bows quickly and that they could shoot well got me going.

I was originally told that there was no historical record for this type of bow apart from being created by some locals in the States during the 1930’s to fool some Anthropologists but since have come across these types of bows being called the Penobscot or Wabanaki bow (I have included a link at the end of the article to the Primitive Archer website to give more detail on the history). So far from my reading this type of bow dates back at least 1500 years and comes in a number of different types.

My cadets like to refer to the bow as the X Wing Fighter Bow. I can kind of see why.

The X Wing


This step by step is to guide you through how I make one of these bows. I have tried to make the steps as clear as possible but please leave a comment if you are unsure about any stage.

I do not make them in a primitive way as my aim is to have a useful tool in limited time that my cadets or my own children can use quickly. After researching this bow more though I will be interested in making one in a primitive way.


Finlay’s choice
Catherine’s choice




The Limbs

I typically use coppiced shoots of Hazel but I will use young Ash if it is available. I have tried Sycamore before but I found that this wood tended to snap easily.





Cut at the base





I cut poles about thumb thickness in diameter (but use what you can find). I always make my cut at the base of the coppice so to stimulate regrowth.


Three Father & Son Bows ready for making





I like the Father pole to be as straight as possible but the Son can either be straight or curved. When making one for myself I cut the Father to the height of my chin. With younger children I normally make the bow just bigger than them. I have found if you make the bow too short they can snap quickly. For the Son I normally cut another pole about two thirds of the length of the Father.



Finding the Belly



I work the Father first. I let the pole roll in my hand to determine the Belly and the Back of the Bow. To keep things simple the side of the pole facing the ground will be the Belly, the side facing the sky will be the Back. If you want to play about with recurve shapes feel free to switch things around.


Mark the Belly




I then mark the Belly side with my knife.


Using a string to measure the length of the bow






I use string to measure the length of the pole


Fold the string





Fold the string in half.



Find the centre






 Lay the doubled up string back on (the Belly) the pole).


Mark the centre






Make another cut on the Belly side to mark the centre of the bow.


Mark out the handle






 Holding the pole in the middle with the Belly facing me I then make a mark on either side my fist to show where the handle area will be.


Marked out





 The marks I have made also help me to see clearly which part of the pole is the Belly at this stage. I want that as I am leaving the bark on this bow and I have found I can lose sight of pen or pencil marks on bark. If you take the bark off then pencil or pen marks will work well.






Getting that Curve

Start at the tip
Work your way to the handle


The next stage is to see if you can make both ends of the pole curve evenly. I usually find that the thicker end of your pole needs to be shaved down. I work from the end of the pole backwards to the handle area shaving off small pieces at a time. I will take off more wood from the tip of the pole than I will from the handle area. You want to have a tapered shape on each limb.





Keep testing the curve






Keep testing the pole until you get a consistent curve on both limbs.



Trim the sides if needed





I do not like to go past the Pith of the wood as this will cause the limb to form a hinge and snap. If you are getting near the Pith then take some wood of the side of the limb.


Keep checking the curve





Trim back the wood on both sides if needs be. If you can get a good curve then stop but it does not need to be perfect (you are not making a Longbow).


Cut the Son to about two thirds of the Father







Cut the Son pole to about two thirds the size of the Father. I have seen though where the Son is very curved that it can be half the size of the Father.


Belly of the Son





I find the Belly of the Son as I did with the Father and mark it. Any trimming of the limbs this time is done on the Back of the bow and not the Belly. This is because the Back of the Son will be attached to the Back of the Father.


Mark the centre of the Son with string.

Measure again using the string
Mark the centre







Checking the curve





Trim the limbs (on the back) and test for a good curve.





Producing the X Wing

Setting up the join



It is far easier to join the limbs if you have some help (thanks Roddy). I sometimes join the poles with a common whipping and sometimes just use strong tape. For this bow I am going to use tape and then at the end make a handle with a bit of whipping.


Joining the poles




With one person holding the two poles (make sure the Backs of each poles are touching) the other person can attach tape. I find it best if you roll the poles rather than wrapping the tape. Tape the whole handle area.


Prepping the spacer



If the Son has a very pronounced curve you do not need to do the next step. Most of the bows I make have poles that are not very curved so I put spacers in near the handle. Take one small branch and trim if necessary.


Battoning in the spacer




Then using a baton hammer the spacer down to the handle.


Trim the spacer





Trim the spacer. Be very careful to keep your hands clear of the blade here. Out in the woods I don’t always have a handy makeshift table to work on.

Last trim






Repeat on the other side and you will find that the Son pole goes into a more pronounced curve.

Secure the spacers







Tape around each of the spacers to secure them (or whip them).





The Nocks

Mark the X



I then lay the bow on its side to work on the nocks. The nocks on the Father pole need for this type of bow to be in the shape of an X. This is to accommodate the string to the Son and for the main bow string. I firstly make an X cut.


Carve the X nock




Then cut the knock out until I get this shape. Make the edges of the nock that are closest to the handle as flat as possible so as to catch the bow string when it is strung.



To make the nock on the opposite side of the pole roll the knife around the pole from the middle of your completed nock and repeat the cuts. Repeat the whole process on the other limb so you have four nocks.


Line up at the middle of the completed nock
Roll the pole


Make the other X nock on the opposite side of the pole


Cut the Son nock



The nock on the Son should be pointing towards the nock on the Father. An X nock is not needed but just a single nock on each side. Remember to repeat the nock on the end of the Son.



Lined up nocks



Here you can see the nocks lined up. On some primitive Father & Son bows the Son limbs are tied of to the Father limbs about half way down the Father limb. I do not do that with these quick bows as I find the poles are not wide enough to incorporate a separate set of nocks half way down the limb. Experiment if you can though and let me know if it works for you.


Stringing up

Keeping things as cheap as possible I like to use Bailer twine for the string (thanks Phil). Either tie the ends off or use tape to seal the ends to stop it fraying. I like to use tape.  Bailer twine has the benefit that it does not stretch under tension. Use whatever string that comes to hand but try to find something that does not stretch. In a primitive bow the string could have been made up of sinew broken down into fine strands and woven into cordage.

Tie off the bottom Father & Son limbs





I decide firstly which part of the bow will be the top and which will be the bottom. On the bottom I attach the Son to the Father with string. Use knots that you can easily untie. Also the string needs to be taught but not overly tight.




Make a loop



To make the main bow string cut a length about one and a half times the length of the bow and make a loop at one end. To make this loop I just made an overhand knot on the bight. The loop needs to be small enough to catch the nock when you string the bow but big enough to be slid down the upper Father limb when unstringing the bow. Try to keep the knot loose until you get the loop the right size.

Tying off the bow string





Get someone to help you measure how long you need to make the bow string (thank you Kate). With the loop attached to the upper Father limb hold it in place about one hand width down from the nock and tie a knot to the bottom nock on the Father pole. This will allow about a brace height of one fist.





Again your knot should be able to hold under strain but easy enough to untie to make adjustments. I like to wrap the string around the nock then back on itself (shown in the enlarged example around the tree) then I wrap the remaining string a few times around the nock before finishing with overhand wraps or similar. This makes it easy to untie to make adjustments.

Knot the bottom nock
Enlarged example before tying off












After warming the wood up by bending it from the middle slide the bow string loop up into the top knock. To do this I trap the bottom of the Father bow on my instep, hold the handle in one hand and with the other hand both bend the upper Father limb and slide the loop into place.

Ideally the brace height (handle to the bow string) should be a fist and thumb in height. You may need to adjust the string length to get this.
Then attach a piece of string to the end of the other Son limb and tie it off over the bow string loop on the father limb in a knot that will come undone easily. Try and get the distance of these limbs to match the distance on the other end. This way you can always brace the bow fully.

When unstringing the bow all you need to do then is untie the knot on the top Father limb (the string to the Son) and then slide the loop on the Father limb down towards the handle.

Bow is strung ready to have the final knot done
Finally strung up with taped off ends









As Bailer twine can be hard on the fingers I roll tape onto the nocking area of the bow string (you may not need to do this if your string does not cut into your fingers).

Strip of tape ready to be rolled
Rolled tape. Do not make it to thick








The Handle

It is not a requirement but I like to make the handle more comfortable with some Common Whipping.

Common Whipping start
Common Whipping end






Finished handle

The Finished Bows

 Two happy children looking forward to trying out their new bows. Finlay’s bow developed a hinge so I added some extra tape to support it. It still shoots well.













Bows in action.

Airborne arrow
Good for all ages









This is just one way of making this type of bow but it has been tried and tested by hundreds of Sea and Marine Cadets over the years.
Good luck and it would be great to hear of anyone making one of these bows.



Kepis Bushcraft video on a quick Father& Son bow

Barry Minditch video on a primitive Father & Son bow

Some history on the Father & Son bow


Bushcraft and Adventure Leader Training – Pip Park, Ashdown Forest – Feb 2013

My first Sea Cadet trip this year was down to Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest. This is an MOD training area but as I like to think of it as one of the best playgrounds in the world.

We went down to practice some Bushcraft and train one of the younger instructors on some navigation skills.

I was with my friends Keith Coleman, Charlie Brookes and Emma Deasey.

Beautiful Pip Park

As we did not have any cadets to teach we took our time setting up our camp. We had our hammocks and a main tarp for a fire. It was a tad on the cold side but we had enough kit to stay toasty.

Taking a break setting up camp

The site is full of great sites. One of my favourite trees is the Kissing tree.

The kissing tree

The MOD have brought Exmoor Ponies in to help manage the land. They are a hardy breed and are quite happy to graze the low quality grazing found here so helping to manage the landscape as heathland.

Exmoor Ponies

The park has over 600 Red and Fallow Deer so spotting droppings is not a problem. The droppings seemed to be pointed on one end and indented on the other so I took these to be Fallow.

Deer droppings

Some great fungus to shelter under.

Large Artists fungus

Much of our time was spent mooching around and as usual we were always picking up material for tinder.

Foraging for tinder

The park has six lakes to wander along and it was not long before we spotted something…………….

Lads have spotted something

The remains of a Deer by the waters edge.

Deer remains

Further on on a stump I found some fox droppings.

Fox droppings

But the surprise was spotting the Witch of the Woods.

The park allows filming and this was a scene from the tales of Albion.

Filming for the Tales of Albion

We had to try out our new hammock seats from UK Hammocks

These are great for instructors as you can stuff them in your pocket and pull them out wherever you are.

The three stooges

A new convert in Emma.

Happy (but cold) Emma

As Sea Cadet instructors to go hungry is a crime.

A typical Sea Cadet Breakfast

As usual I try and find Fire Faces in the fire.

Cat Mask Fire Fac

The park is packed with archaeology. Please see the link below for further info on the park. This link is useful for all instructors bringing cadets here.

Iron Age berm

One thing you always have to remember is that you are on MOD land.

Got to remember you are on MOD land

More information on the history of Pippingford Park can be found here –


Our little Quinzhee

One wintry day last January while my kids and one of their friends were pelting me with snowballs I figured it was time for a little distraction for them.

Stand by to fire……………………..

I asked them if they fancied helping me build a little home in our garden from snow.

As you could guess they were up for it. I like to think that given the chance most kids would be up for something like this.

So off we started. We gathered up as much snow as we could to form a mound. You can produce a shelter like this quicker if you pack all your rucksacks into the centre and pile snow around them. Then when you dig it out you can just pull the rucksacks out. We just used snow though.

Pile all your snow up

When you think you have enough snow piled up you need to compact it down as much as possible. I used the back of a spade for this. I have read that it is advised to let the snow settle for 24hrs but in any sort of survival situation make the best of what you have. I found that after really packing it down it was very strong. I am sure different types of snow will react in different ways.

I cut down a load of sticks  and stuck them all into the dome to a depth of about 30cms with a little bit left protruding at the surface. This is helpful when you are excavating the snow out.

The Hedgehog effect

I used a saw and spade to dig the snow out.

When I came into contact with one of the sticks I would stop excavating that area and move on.

Excavating the interior

The main bulk of the interior of the Quinzhee came out easily but I did spend quite a while smoothing the inner surface down. Both to ensure the snow was still packed well and to stop any drip points forming.

One Quinzhee

My daughter is lying fully flat here. When I tried it I had to curl up slightly.

Add one daughter

The boys were happy.

The structure stayed up for about a week before the thaw made it to unstable for the kids to go into it.

Two happy lads



How To…. Knife Safety Tips

screen 1
1: knife in a robust sheath

Welcome to the first of my Bushcraft Step by Steps.

I will be building a range of Step by Steps in the future.

Like all good Bushcrafters I like to use a knife for much of my work and over the years I have taught many Sea Cadets how to use a knife. The following Step by Step covers some safe knife handling techniques. At the end of the article I have included a link to an excellent article on Knife Law in the UK. The first thing to consider about your knife is the sheath. Ensure your knife sheath is in good repair and is attached securely to you. Here (picture 1) my knife is attached via a dangler to my belt. I also carry a small necker knife on some cord around my neck. This sheath is made of leather but when I use a knife when prepping any food I prefer to use a stainless steel Mora knife (or similar) that has a plastic sheath as plastic is easier than leather to clean after preparing food (I try not to put my knife back in the sheath while prepping food but do forget sometimes).





Screen 2
2: Un-sheathing a knife



When un -sheathing your knife look at what you are doing (Picture 2). Always be aware of where the knife edge is. This sheath has been wet formed around the knife so when the knife is sheathed it is locked in. I pull on the knife gently so that it unlocks from the sheath then I draw the knife out slowly with the back of the blade touching the leather. When using a knife that is not attached to me I again pull gently on the knife to unlock it but then rather than removing the knife from the sheath I remove the sheath from the knife. This means that the hand holding the knife is still and it is the hand holding the sheath that is being moved. Far safer to teach this method with groups of children.





Screen 3
3: Full grip



To begin with hold the knife in an all round grip being careful to make sure your forefinger is clear of the edge of the blade (Picture 3). Be aware of who is around you at all times. I was taught to consider the ‘blood bubble’. Your blood bubble is the area around you out to two arm lengths. Anyone coming into that area while you are working with a knife has a good chance becoming a ‘burst blood bubble’. All potentially very messy so if someone comes into your bubble stop work and put the knife in its sheath.





Screen 6
4: Side cut standing


A good safe position when trimming some wood is to work to your side (Picture 4). Here I have my knife arm locked with the blade at 90 degrees to my arm. Rather than moving my knife I moved the piece of wood I am working on. When using this position I like to use the part of the knife edge closest to the handle as this causes least movement to the knife. This technique works equally well with the knife held out in front of you while standing up.








Screen 5
5: Side cut sitting



Here the movement can be seen in the wood and not the knife while in a sitting position (picture 5).







Screen 8
6: Shoulder cut

Using a log to rest the work piece on you can get some very powerful and safe cuts.

Place the end of the work piece on a log (to your side or well in front) and with your knife arm kept straight push the knife down on the work piece (Picture 6). If your knife arm is kept straight you will be using your shoulder and back muscles so giving you a much stronger cutting force. Be aware where on the log the end of the work piece is located so that it does not tip the log over or that you end up rapping your knuckles. I like to use this technique working off to my side.








Screen 7
7: Knee brace



A very safe and powerful cut is to use your knee as a brace for the back of your knife (Picture 7). Again the knife is locked and you are moving the work piece to make the cuts. Brace the back of the blade below the front of the knee (if sitting) or against a small tree (move the wood not the knife). Here your main area to keep an eye on is that your forefinger on the hand holding the work piece does not come into contact with the blade tip.






Screen 4
8: Elbows on knees

When sitting and you do not want to work to your side then place your elbows on your knees while working with a knife (Picture 8). This ensures that the tip of the knife is well away from your ‘Triangle of Death’ – that is the area from your groin out to your knees. Any cuts in this area are potentially fatal due to the close proximity of the femoral artery in your thighs. In this picture I am making very fine cuts with the knife creating a bevel at the end of the work piece. I like to use my thumbs for fine work to push on the back of the knife as I find this gives me more control. Be careful not to put undue strain on your thumb as this can lead to stress on your lower arm. If more pressure is required then return to a full grip with the arm locked out.


Screen 17
9: Chest lever


A very powerful and controlled cut is to use the Chest Lever position (Picture 9). With your arms locked against your chest and pushing your ellbows into you while expanding your chest provides a powerful cut. This is actually a very safe method when done properly as the knife hardly moves.









Screen 9
10: Fine cut





For fine cuts, push your thumbs against the back of the handle or blade (or some people prefer one thumb on top of the other) (Picture 10). Remember this is only for fine cuts requiring little pressure.







Screen 10
11: Rosette Cut



You can make these fine cuts safely all the way around a stick in order to snap it cleanly (Picture 11). When you have made fine cuts all around the stick turn the stick around and make another series of cuts around the stick to produce a V-shaped channel.




Screen 11
12: Rosette split





Keep repeating this until the stick snaps easily (Picture 12).






Screen 12
13: Wedge





Here I have created a wedge to use when battoning with a knife (Picture 13).







Screen 13
14: Battoning set up



When battoning with a knife ensure the work item is on a stable platform well in front of you and the knife is placed in a position 90 degrees from your body (Picture 14). If the knife then slips the follow through line is away from you.








Screen 14
15: Splitting with a wedge



Then use your wedge that you created before to safely split the wood and release the knife (Picture 15). With the wedge you can split the wood far enough apart so that the knife can be removed smoothly or it drops out onto the ground.








Screen 18
16: Feather stick


With your split wood you can make some feather sticks to get your fire started (Picture 16).   Here I am kneeling, my arm is locked out and the work piece is off to one side on a stump.










Screen 16
17: Sheathing the knife




When you have completed your task, put the knife back in its sheath keeping your fingers away from the blade as you do so (Picture 17). (Take care: this is a common time for cuts).







An excellent article on knife law in the UK can be found on the Bushcraft UK site – UK Knife Law

Why Bushcraft Days?

20130907_114701-2751319013-OI believe passionately in the importance of teaching kids about the outdoors and about themselves. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the pride and delight on the face of a child who’s made fire for the first time out of nothing more than sticks, grass and elbow grease. In a world where kids are cushioned, cossetted and cocooned, where they spend most of their leisure time staring at screens, getting them into the wilderness and engaged with the most basic skills of hunting, tracking, shelter-building and camp-fire cooking is transformative.

I’ve been involved in outdoor education pretty much all my life, and a qualified Bushcraft instructor for the last 5 years. I will be adding posts on my adventures and adding ‘Step by Step’ tutorials on some crafts and skills.